Monster Manual (Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition/D&D Next)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
Cost: $49.95 ($29.97 at Amazon.com)
Page Count: 352
Release Date: 09/30/2014
Get it Here: Amazon.com
Another month, and another fantastic entry for Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition. So far Wizards of the Coast has brought us a Starter Set, free downloadable Basic Rules, the Player’s Handbook and the first half of the Tyranny of Dragons campaign – Hoard of the Dragon Queen. Of course, the one thing missing from all of this were things to kill and gain experience points (XP) from. Sure the PHB and Starter Set had a few monsters, but that wasn’t enough to really homebrew your own content. Hoard of the Dragon Queen had a downloadable PDF, but again, the selection was limited. What if you wanted a campaign set in Egypt, or you wanted to play Dragonlance complete with Draconians and Death Knights? Well, you’d need a book of monsters for that, and it’s finally here. After going through this book several times, I can honestly say that not only was the Monster Manual worth the wait, but it’s the best incarnation of the book out of all five editions of D&D in terms of content, page count, art and quality. I never thought anything was going to take the top spot away from my 2e AD&D Monstrous Manual and Monstrous Compendiums, but I honestly think this is the best overall book of monsters slash things for PCs to slaughter that I’ve ever seen.
Let’s start with the art. This book has the best overall art I’ve ever seen in an antagonist stat block collection like this. Sure, there have been other books in full colour, but not with this quality art or the production values in the book. Right off the bat the cover hits you with a wonderful shot of the most iconic of D&D monsters, the Beholder, in battle with a dwarf and a female human rogue. You can’t help but pause and look at the Eye Tyrant in all its glory, with spittle dripping from its maw and eyestalks that appear to be looking right at you. This is just terrific. The interior art is equally fantastic. There are so many high quality visual pieces in the Monster Manual that it is almost as much fun to look at as it is to read. Even pictures that didn’t really feel like the monster in question to me (like the Basilisk and the Banshee) were still fine pieces of art in their own right. Meanwhile characters like Lord Soth, whose art adorns the page for Death Knights hasn’t looked this good since Larry Elmore was drawing him. Mind Flayers and Flameskulls have never looked better. The entire book just looks fabulous. Add in the fact the Monster Manual is done on a high quality glossy paper most companies don’t both using this days and the entire book just exudes style in addition to its 350 pages of pure substance. Visually I think my only complaint is that the token vampire art which is supposed to be Strahd Von Zarovich looks nothing like him. It looks more like Vlad or Mannfred Von Cartstein from Warhammer in their pre sixth edition forms.
The Fifth Edition Monster Manual also boasts a higher page count than any that has come before it. 1e AD&D’s Monster Manual was on 112 pages and its follow up was 160. Even the Fiend Folio clocked in at only 127. Third Edition’s Monster Manual was only 224 pages. The only thing that comes close to 5e’s 352 pages is the Monstrous Manual of AD&D 2e, which had 384 pages. While that IS more, remember the Monstrous Manual is a collection of the first two Monstrous Compendiums and some entries from some campaign setting specific MCs as well. When you realize the sheer size of this latest and greatest Monster Manual, the $50 price tag that caused some of us sticker shock, starts to be a lot more reasonable. Of course, the fact you can get this on Amazon for only $29.97 is such an amazing deal I’d be hard pressed not to tell you to go BUY IT RIGHT NOW. It’s also worth noting that my Monstrous Manual from 1993 has a cover price of $24.95 so if that doesn’t sell you on Amazon’s price tag for this book – I don’t know what will.
Of course, like with every Monster Manual, some old favorites are left out and some unlikely bits make it in. For example, the Flumph made it into the Monster Manual while Wolfweres, Skeleton Warriors, Crimson Deaths, and others didn’t make it in. Lycanthropes like Wereboar and Weretiger made it in but Wereravens and Werebats (Ravenloft staples!) did not. I think a lot of people will be able to look at the monsters and say, “XYZ is a favorite of mine and it didn’t make it in.” but that’s what Monster Manual II will be for. I’m sure there will be one after all, it’s been done since 1e AD&D. What matter is that all real big monsters are in here. Lizardmen, Beholders, Umber Hulks, Displacer Beasts, Drow, Purple Worms, Carrion Crawlers, Rust Monsters, Green Slime, Stirges, Owlbears and even the Tarrasque are here for your perusal and use. Sure, Wooly Rupert and Bone Golems aren’t in this one, but the overall selection is top notch. Some monsters even have multiple examples. Standard Skeletons can be found, along with variants like Minotaur Skeletons and even Skeleton Steeds. Thirty-three pages alone are devoted to Dragons for crying out loud. There is an insane amount of content in this book. Of course there are few things I would have put into this Monster Manual instead of others, but there’s no denying that this is the biggest and most content filled MM ever! Still kind of shocked Grells and Gricks made it in and Wolfweres didn’t though…
In the Starter Set and Hoard of the Dragon Queen monster pieces, there was a stat block and maybe a paragraph of descriptive text for each monster. This had some gamers worried that the Ecology and Habitat/Society fluff would be missing in the 5e Monster Manual. Well, I’m happy to report that is not the case. Every single entry gets at least a full page of stats and descriptive text, which is a huge change from previous edition. Yes, even the Nothic and Shambling Mound get fleshed out to a degree we haven’t seen since 2e. Looking back at the 1e, 3e and 4e monster collections, sometimes a creature had to share a page with one or two other creatures. No, with Fifth Edition, each monster gets several paragraphs of information to go along with its stat block and that is not only awesome, but it’s going to be extremely helpful to newcomers or younger people try to write adventures or run a game for the first time and who have never heard of a Ankheg before. I know that I’ve always said that Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Second Edition was the best in terms of providing DMs with descriptive information about the creatures that are being set up for slaughter, but 5e’s Monster Manual pretty much meets (and sometimes beats!) the gold standard that was put in place for our industry almost two decades ago.
Besides all the monsters, there are two additional sections in the book. Appendix A: Miscellaneous Creatues is a collection of (mostly) real world creature stat blocks like dogs, goats, sharks, bears and dire wolves. There are also some thingies like Flying Snakes, Giant Centipedes and Phase Spiders to be found here. Even the Blink Dog makes it in here, and I was starting to think it had been left out too. Appendix B: Nonplayer Characters (I know, it’s missing the hypen) which contains premade nobles, pirates, thugs, assassins, archmagi and more. I like that both of these groups have been sectioned off from the rest of the Monster Manual as it makes them easier to find and use.
The final thing I’d like to bring up about the Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition Monster Manual is that it continues the trend we saw in the Player’s Handbook – that of paying homage to older editions and campaign settings. I’ve already mentioned how the Death Knight entry brings up Dragonlance and Vampires has several bits on Ravenloft‘s Strahd Von Zarovich, but whenever there is a monster or race that is especially tied to a setting, you’ll get a reference to it. The Thri-Kreen has a sidebar about their Dark Sun variant, even though Athas isn’t mentioned by name. You did the the Athas weapons and mention of Psionic powers though. Of course, the Monster Manual isn’t the place to debut Psionics as an entire new system, so when you see Psionics in here, it’s just another form of spellcasting. Still, it gives us hope that a Psionics Handbook is in the near (far?) future for Fifth Edition D&D.
Overall, the Fifth Edition Dungeons &Dragons Monster Manual is terrific and well worth every penny. There is as much fluff as there is crunch and nearly every bit of it should win over the biggest doubting Thomas. There’s never been a Monster Manual with this high a page count, this level of production values and the sheer plethora of killable antagonists that you will find in the D&D 5e version. I’ve been impressed with every release for 5e so far (well, not some of the D&D Next adventures) and the Monster Manual is no exception. If you’re a D&D fan – you will absolutely want to pic this up. If you’re a fan of RPGs but have left the D&D fold due to disinterest in a previous edition, 5e will win your respect even if it doesn’t win you back. The Monster Manual is by far one of the best releases of 2014, regardless of system and within its pages await a myriad of horrors and fiendish thingies for you and your friend to do battle with. Just go buy it already!