The Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual is releasing this Tuesday (September 30th), although game stores in a preferred network with Wizards of the Coast have been selling it as of September 19th. As with the the Player’s Handbook in August, in the interests of science I’ve plunked down my $49.95 plus tax to get an early copy for review purposes. I plan to do the same for the Dungeon Master’s Guide in December, so make sure to keep an eye out for that review as well.
For those of you that prefer to watch and listen to reading, check out this post’s companion YouTube video. Either way, you’ll find a summary and photo gallery following the video.
Weighing in at 352 pages and chock full of monsters, the Monster Manual is the second (of three) core rulebook for D&D. Out of the three, it could be argued that it is the “optional” rulebook but truly, anyone serious about playing the game really needs all three, especially if you are the Dungeon Master and not a player. Yes, Dungeon Masters are players as well, but you know what I mean.
As with the Player’s Handbook, the book looks great. The 5th Edition books are receiving almost universal praise for their design and artwork, and they deserve it. The Monster Manual exceeds the Player’s Handbook in this area, mainly due to the fact that there is a great piece of artwork on almost every page. Not including appendices, every monster entry gets its own artwork. If that amazing cover artwork with the adventurers fleeing a really ticked off beholder doesn’t impress you, you may be just really hard to impress but do yourself a favor and at least browse a copy at a bookstore to see the art and design going on here.
Aside from the artwork, what about the book itself? The first few pages contain information on how to use the book and also necessary rules explanations, some of which has of course changed from previous editions. The most notable of these in my mind is Challenge, which is a system that helps Dungeon Masters choose level appropriate monsters for their players’ encounters and also how much experience points to award.
After that it’s the monsters of course, hundreds of pages of cool creatures, descriptive text, excellent artwork and tons of little extras that give personality to the book and the monsters. Many of the monster entries include a little piece of paper (see the photo gallery below for examples) with scribbled notes from adventurers or even the monsters themselves. There are lots of little sketches and other extras as well.
The book wraps with appendices on Miscellaneous Creatures and Non Player Characters, which are several pages with short descriptions and stat blocks but not full entries. One thing that puzzled me is giant spiders make the Miscellaneous Creatures appendix but not an actual entry in the Monster Manual (while creatures like the stirge rate their own entry) . Since they are well known monsters in both gaming and literature, not sure what the criteria are but it’s a very minor quibble in an overall excellent, high quality product.
Regarding the cost, I feel there is $50 worth here, where I didn’t quite feel that with the Player’s Handbook. Perhaps it’s because I am getting used to the new price of D&D books, or perhaps the nature of the Monster Manual’s encyclopedic format with its hundreds of monsters helps me grasp the amount of work and effort involved.
The Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Monster Manual is highly recommended from me to you, whether you are a D&D player, a table top RPG player in general, or a fantasy enthusiast who just likes a book with cool monsters.