Sunday, 19 October 2014

D&D 5th Edition Monster Manual Review: A Fun Collection of Deadly Monsters

A Look at the New Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual

Pros:

  • Art style is nice and full colour.
  • Lots of nice fluff/flavour text with the creatures that help bring them to life.
  • It is quite big (just over 350 pages long).
  • Wide range of badies.
  • Generally very clearly written.
  • Easy to house rule.

Cons:

  • Small number of descriptions I had to read twice to understand.
  • Where is my morale rating?*
  • No PDF*
* Denotes nitpicking.
D&D Monster Manual Front Cover
The front cover of the Monster Manual.

Introduction

As of September 30th, the Monster Manual for the new edition of Dungeons & Dragons has been out. Since I have been having a blast with the rules so far, I was looking forward to seeing what the Monster Manual would look like (in past editions, the Monster Manual was my favourite book). Based on the above pros and cons, I think it is fair to say I liked it a lot. If you need more detail, I'll go over it all below. Notes I made while reading are listed at the bottom under "Other Stuff" and "House Rule Notes". Don't forget to check out the basic edition if you are interested and haven't already, as the monsters there are similar to the book, excluding the art and flavour texts.


The Monsters

In general, the creatures themselves are organized nicely. Creature stat blocks don't seem too big and I found them easy to reference (will require you to look elsewhere for some of the spells). The art was nicely laid out and I found it very easy and enjoyable to just read through the book. When I used them in my games (I couldn't resist but run some high level games using the book) the mechanics worked well and were varied. There are some old style creatures with their list of attacks and spells. There are some that have some abilities tied to “recharge dice” (like 4th Edition). Some monsters have liars, making them even deadlier when you fight them on their home turf as they use it against you. The monsters themselves are quite nicely varied as well. There are undead. There are a lot of dragons. There is an entire section for NPC's and animals (really like this part). All in all, I think there is a very nice variety (in terms of creatures and mechanics) of creatures presented in the Manual.

The descriptions of the monsters are quite detailed and thought provoking. Of the 4 pages for devoted to Drow, 2 of them are descriptions and art. As can be seen below with the troll and their mutations, the descriptions are meant to be interesting and try to inspire you to use the creature. In my case, it worked beautifully.

The monster design was also hit by the bounded accuracy of this edition, something I find to be a good thing. The threat of lower level creatures never fully goes away meaning you can challenge your players by throwing a big enough group of level ones (or at the very least weaken them for the big important confrontation later). I was able to see my players slowly realize that even though they were having no problems turning skeletons to dust, they were being slowly whittled away (note to self: make adventure with lots of zombies) and had to adapt. As a result, there needs to be less variants of the same monsters (not a new type for every 5 levels or so). Monsters, while changing in terms of the level of challenge they present one on one with player characters, remain useful for arguably the whole 1-20 level span of a player character. It is also nice to be able to run a game for a smaller group (I tried it for 2 players at level 5) and still make them feel like they were fighting a significant force by including some mobs of weaker creatures and some higher level ones.

The monsters generally follow the same rules as the player, with attack bonuses and saving throws in the same range as players of that level. The armour, weapons and spells they use also are the same as player characters, making the creatures feel internally consistent (though some have more attacks than a player character at that level, but also fewer hit points, etc.).

Having said that there were some descriptions (mechanically speaking) that took me a second read through to understand, but they were the exception, not the rule and generally focused around effects like curses or reduced health.
D&D Monster Manual Entry for the Troll.
The entry for Troll from the monster manual. Variant section and small details (such as the fake water damage and fake torn corner) are present.

There are also some glimpses of the proposed modularity through Variant sections in some monster entries (just look at the troll page above). As someone who fully supports this kind of modularity (and options in general), it was great to see. 


The Art and Book Build Quality

I generally liked the art and the art style. To me, it looks like the kind of thing a Wizard with decent painting skills might put together through his studies. The little details like the small notes that look like they are written on small pieces of parchment, the fake water damage spots and the fake torn corners help make the book feel like it is actually part of the world. The implication is that maybe some of the notes are wrong, leaving the door wide open for and possibility even encouraging house rules. It also makes it a more pleasant experience to read the book as you read about these monsters and get backgrounds of some of the more iconic examples. However, look at the images and judge for yourself. Most of the book is monsters arranged like that, though many have a long description section describing culture, ecology etc. The overall layout isn't cluttered and I found the book easy to read.

The book itself is nicely bounded and pages are reasonable quality. I don't know what else to say. It is good, as you would expect from people with this much experience. However, there are no tokens like in the 4th Edition Monster Vault so if you were expecting tokens, you will be disappointed.


Price

For the suggested retail price of this product, you can check here. Other future D&D products as well as their prices are listed on the website as well. However, since I've noticed that many places have the Monster Manual for 40 bucks or less, it may be best to shop around.


What I Felt was Missing

I would have liked some kind of extra sorting based on environment to make building adventures easier. However, it is perfectly possible that such a list will be released on the website later like the one by challenge rating.

I also would have liked the return of Morale Ratings for creatures, as it was one of the things I miss most from the old version I cut my teeth on. Being able to see how relatively brave a creature is and when it might run, rather than fight, is something I think would have been done well through a morale system. It is also a difficult thing to come up with by yourself, as two monsters of the same level might have completely different levels of morale (one might be much braver than another). Hopefully this kind of feature will come in some form later.

It would have been nice if a PDF was included too (to make searching easier), but there isn't one. Still, it isn't very hard to use the table of contents or glossary to find stuff, so I consider this minor (but a nice to have).


Summary

This is a very good Monster Manual. In general, the book is full of useful and well thought out monsters, good art work and formatted beautifully. I found it a joy to thumb through. There is also a lot of content here, with just over 350 pages, a good amount of illustrations and flavor text. Overall, I think this is a very good product and I can't wait to getting back to gaming with it. If you liked the new edition so far, the troll page posted above and the basic version of the game that Wizards of the Coast put up for free (link in "Other Stuff"), you will most likely like this. 


Other Stuff

  • There is a list of creatures by challenge rating on the Wizards of the Coast website here.
  • There is the basic rules for the new version of Dungeons & Dragons here. This includes a Dungeon Master document with some monsters, though it lacks the flavour text and art of the Monster Manual and has far fewer monsters. 
  • Armor Class listed for Drow under Variant seems to be off.


House Rule Notes

  • Monsters largely follow the same logic and math player characters do. As such, many house rules you put in place will also directly affect monsters. I consider this a plus, since anything seen as a possible problem on the player side will be fixed on the monster side as well, thanks to how general the rules are.



The pictures are courtesy of Wizards of the Coast.

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