Volo’s Guide to Monsters is one seriously cool book, but is it another Monster Manual, a sourcebook, or something else entirely?
Answer? All of the above. Yes, it’s a new Monster Manual. Yes, it’s a sourcebook. That plus some other stuff and all mixed together makes it something else entirely. In some ways, it’s 5th Edition’s Fiend Folio yet also so much more.
Check out this video review, or read on below. Either way don’t forget the photo gallery at the end of this post!
Volo’s Guides have a storied history that spans decades and multiple editions of D&D. Let’s look at the “author” (in reality mainly Ed Greenwood plus other D&D authors over the years):
Volothamp “Volo” Geddarm is a minor mage, adventurer and somewhat reliable scholar who has written several Forgotten Realms guide books and is often at intellectual odds with his editor Elminster. His books are a great mix of humor and lore for any DM or player wanting to learn more about the Forgotten Realms, which has become D&D‘s primary setting.
More info on the illustrious Volo: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volothamp_Geddarm
- Cover Price: $49.95 (Amazon lists it much cheaper but make sure to support your FLGS!)
- 224 pages
- 3 chapters
- 3 appendices
- 7 maps of monster lairs
- 9 sections of monster lore on monster races from the Monster Manual
- 7 new playable character races (plus advice on adapting 6 of the monsters from the Monster Manual to character races)
- 127 new stat blocks*
*By my count there are 100 new monsters, 4 new beasts and 23 new NPCs. Not bad!
Note: There are no new classes, spells, magic items, feats or etc. (Whaddya want, look at all that other stuff)
As with the 5th Edition books we’ve had to date, the book looks great and the artwork is fantastic. Continuing kudos for Wizards of the Coast on the level of quality of these books.
Volo’s Guide to Monsters gets a special shout out for the limited special edition for core game stores, which is what I got my hands on without realizing it was the one I was getting (I always try to get my stuff through my Friendly Local Game Store). It’s the same on the inside but the cover is… sinisterly gorgeous. Really amazing silver on black mind flayer artwork on the front and back cover by Hydro74. This is one of those rare books I want to put in a safe spot and not touch. I may actually by another copy with the standard cover for regular use.
So what does Volo’s bring us for 5th Edition D&D? Let’s take a look!
A Monstrous Amount of New Lore
The first chapter contains lore on nine monster races from the Monster Manual:
- Mind Flayers
The lore is fairly comprehensive for each monster type, considering they also needed to leave room for other sections in the book. You get a nice amount cultural and roleplaying notes. Battle tactics are included to make your use of the monsters in general more effective, as well as random tables for physical characteristics, personality traits, ideals, bonds and flaws to make individual monster NPCs more individual. There are also maps of lairs and strongholds for several of the monster races that are a cool inclusion.
There’s a lot to like here whether you want to use these monsters in a campaign or just love to read lore.
The Race for New Character Races Never Ends
Players love having new races to choose from, so I suspect they will love Volo’s Guide to Monsters. In addition to seven new playable races, there is also advice on adapting 6 of the monsters from the Monster Manual to playable characters.
The new playable races:
*Full race info, just like the races in the Players Handbook
Monstrous character advice:
*Tips and advice on adapting existing monster stat blocks into playable characters
I’ll let Volo’s Guide to Monsters speak for itself regarding the Bestiary:
“Many of these monsters, such as the froghemoth and the morkoth, have been around since the earliest editions of the game. Others, such as the banerhobb and the vargouille, came later but are equally beloved. Some of the new creatures found herein are variants of the monsters discussed in chapter 1.
“[The Bestiary] is a continuation of the Monster Manual and adopts a similar presentation.”
Really, it’s as straightforward as that. This chapter of Volo’s Guide to Monsters could be tacked right on to the Monster Manual. Some of the creatures are updated from older D&D editions. Some are new.
It personally reminds me of the first Fiend Folio. A lot of the monsters are just plain exotic and weird. Not all of them, but a lot. No adherers in site, however.
I personally can’t wait to unleash some vargouilles on my party while they’re on a mission from a ki-rin, and during a long rest after fighting off some gnoll witherlings.
Assorted Beasts and Where to Find Them
The Assorted Beast appendix “contains statistics for various beasts, expanding on appendix A of the Monster Manual“.
I’m not exactly certain why D&D books separate beast entries from the monster entries. Perhaps it’s because they don’t get as much lore written up with them.
Regardless, Volo’s brings up four new beasts for 5th edition:
- Swarm of Rot Grubs
I have to digress here. In what meeting did someone throw out there we really need stats for a swarm of rot grubs? What context does that even happen in?
As gamers, we probably love that it does.
New NPCs are Nice
23 entries for humanoid nonplayer characters add to appendix B of the Monster Manual.
As a DM, I think I actually might be more excited by this section than the Bestiary.
There are entries for abjurers, apprentice wizards, archers, bards, diviners, enchanters, necromancers, swashbucklers and more. There’s even warlock entries for the three main warlock types.
Very helpful for planning adventurers or when you need an NPC on the spot.
Again, this is a cool book with a lot of cool information, from lore to stats and more. It’s well designed, well written, pretty and a lot of fun. It will scratch the itch of those wanting a monster sourcebook as well as those wanting Monster Manual II. Well done.
I’d also like to mention the Monster Lists appendix. You can look up stat blocks by creature type, challenge rating and environment. Super handy. I’d like future Monster Manuals and similar books to use these same tables. There’s also the standard alphabetical index of monster stat blocks, yet it appears at the beginning of the book rather than the back.
Is Volo’s Guide to Monsters Worth the Time and Money?
Normally with game book reviews I offer a spectrum of recommendations depending on types of DMs and players and etc.
This time however I will simply say yes, pick this book up. It’s got something for just about everyone that plays D&D. I don’t know what else they could have done to make this a more compelling RPG book other than simply adding more content to the individual sections to give us more and more and more.