I quite like monster manuals. I like the fact that you can have, at your fingertips, everything you need to challenge players with some pretty nifty encounters. It’s good if you’ve got something planned, great if you need a quick off-the-cuff monster to have a bit of a fight with, and excellent when the monsters slot neatly into the campaign and you don’t have to do too much work on their stats or abilities. Yes, monster manuals take a lot of work out of the Dungeon Master’s design process and games are lot better off with them involved.
I like my lists of beasties to be concise, easy to use, adaptable to the campaign I’m running and illustrated. Thankfully, the D&D 5th Edition Monster Manual ticks all those boxes for me.
This hardback book uses the same cover layout of the other books – which, and I hate to say it, I’m not a fan of – but it’s the interior where it shines. The front cover illustration of a somewhat anti-social Beholder is a great piece of art and quite dynamic but, once again, I don’t think it’s the best image to help sell a book like this. Once again, as I did with the Player’s Handbook, I’m looking to the interior illustrations and I find a cracking picture of a dragon on the first glossy page that would have looked great. I’m fully aware that this is personal preference and doesn’t really make an impact on the contents of the manual, but – and I hate to use the phrase – where books like this are concerned beauty really is in the eye of the beholder, and the cover doesn’t really strike me as an inspirational choice.
The book gets to the meat of the manual pretty much straight away. The introduction is short and sweet and gives you everything you need to get stuck in with just a few pages of pointers and advice on how to use the book and what all the statistics mean. It talks about monsters, where they dwell, which ones to use and when, the different types of adversary and how things like alignment, armour class, skills and special traits work, and anything else pertinent to the stat block including actions and equipment. Old hands with manuals will pretty much know what to expect from this book and will no doubt dive in with a cruel smile, but newcomers will find this introduction very helpful. It’s not that much of a chore to get through, either, as it’s just six pages of text and is easy to understand.
Then the book begins in earnest. The monsters are laid out in alphabetical order from the get-go, so there’s no sections of creature types and if you want it, you can just page-flip for it without having to go to a certain section beforehand. Not only this, but there’s a really handy alphabetical index at the back so you can get to your chosen beastie in seconds. The new D&D 5th Edition game plays much quicker than the previous editions so this doesn’t slow down the action at all, especially if you suddenly need to get hold of a creature you didn’t prepare for. That makes referencing the book easy and quick, which is something I like in my games as I tend to strip back a bit on rules so that I can keep the action fast and flowing. This book allows me to keep that speed going.
After the long list of monsters we get to three appendices; a collection of miscellaneous creatures, again all in alphabetical order, so that you can get hold of some more mundane, and not so mundane, smaller creatures. Then there’s a pretty good NPC appendix which, I’ll be honest, I wish was a bit more detailed and longer as there are some good characters in here, from an acolyte to a gladiator to a spy and people in between. They’re very handy if you need a quick NPC and you can use the stat blocks for a variety of different characters, not just the ones listed. In some of my games, my players sometimes take an interest in NPCs that I had no intention of lasting more than a few moments or minutes in my adventure, so if they do take an interest for whatever reason it’s great to have stat blocks like this handy in case the NPC ends up doing much more than even I bargained for. Players are unpredictable like that. The final appendix is the full index that, of course, is invaluable in a book such as this.
This is an impressive book; it’s easy to use, quick to reference, has some cracking creatures in there, some new ones as well the old favourites, and – most importantly for me – it’s fully illustrated throughout. This is important for me because I’m the kind of DM, as I mentioned earlier, who likes to keep the action flowing. Unless I’ve prepared a creature and I have a definite idea of how it looks and acts, I much prefer to be able to hold the book up and point at the monsters and say ‘This is it’. Depending on the monster you’ve chosen you get a much better reaction from the players when they actually see the adversary than when you try to describe it to them, and just saying ‘it’s a Manticore’ is a little flat. The illustrations, all of high quality and full colour on glossy pages, do for you what a page of written description can’t. A picture really is worth a thousand words.
The D&D 5th Edition Monster Manual is easy to use, doesn’t beat around the bush and is designed to be as user friendly as possible. The stat blocks are clear and concise, special abilities are well described and there’s enough background information for you to flesh out a variant or two. There are longer entries for the more dynamic monsters, such as Beholders and Dragons, but ever monster gets a fair crack at the Balor’s whip. In fact, on top of everything else, this book is also a great read. There’s some good stuff in here that’ll help you come up with your own adventures based around the creatures themselves.
I’ve been impressed by D&D 5th up to yet and this book only enforces my opinion of this new edition. It’s invaluable as you really will need it to get the most out of the Player’s Handbook and the game at large, but it’s a solid product on it’s own merits.
Now… let me see… page 100… oh, yes – he’ll do for my next encounter. Mu-hahahahah!!