No automatic monsters here
The worlds of Dungeons & Dragons are inhabited by all sorts of creatures. Some are harmless and friendly, others are terrifying and hostile and, to be honest, some are terrifying and friendly and others are harmless and hostile (though these kinds don’t tend to last long). To ensure that Dungeon Masters can inhabit the adventures they’re running with creatures that can be encountered and fought, we have been given the Monster Manual; a compendium of literally hundreds of different monsters, creatures and classes of enemies that players could face. Some background is provided for each creature so DMs know a bit about the creature itself and how it might act, stats are also provided so the DM can control the creature in combat.
While the Monster Manual isn’t essential reading for players, unless a DM wants to make up all the stats for all their creatures, the Monster Manual is pretty much essential reading! We’ll take a look below at how well the Monster Manual manages to accomplish its goals.
The Monster Manual is a 352 page book of details around hundreds of different monsters, creatures and other enemies. There’s all the classic creatures you’d expect in here such as dragons, demons, ogres, gnolls, giants, trolls, beholders and mind flayers, as well as some less common creatures like yugoloths, gricks, ettins and driders. In terms of pure quantity, there’s so much here that you could play for years with encounters with different creatures each session, and this doesn’t even factor in the fact that a DM can choose to adapt certain attributes of creatures, the environment and the combinations of creatures.
But it’s not all about quantity is it. In reality, what a DM needs is creatures that offer an interesting combat experience with unique abilities, capabilities and natural puzzles for players to solve. The good news is that there’s variety here in abundance. There’re creatures with a variety of resistances as well as abilities to fly, swim, turn invisible, burrow and all sorts of other things. Some creatures are tiny enough to sneak without being noticed, others are large enough to swallow a character whole. This offers an impressive amount of variety.
Some personal favourite encounters have involved creatures like beholders, banshees, helmed horrors and vampires who have all allowed for a huge amount of challenge in different ways. And challenge levels are varied too to allow you to prepare equally as well for a 1st level party as for a 20th level party.
Perhaps the only downside from our point of view is that some creatures have so many abilities and spells that it becomes difficult to know exactly what the creature does, especially when handling multiple enemies. This is particularly problematic for something like an archmage who has 25 different spells to manage. While this is realistic for a character of similar abilities, it’s impractical for a DM that doesn’t play this character each session. Personally, I’d have preferred more stylised archmage types such as an arch-necromancer and an arch-transmuter with a more limited spell set that focuses on spells relevant to that subclass of mage. It’s not an insurmountable problem (a DM could just choose to focus on a handful of spells for instance) but it does mean spending time working out which spells to use and which to ignore.
The artwork on show is stunning, as we’ve come to expect from 5e books. It’s gruesome, varied and provides the opportunity for DMs to really visualise the look of each creature and even show players so they can see what they’re fighting. Creatures are also easily recognisable from one another too.
It’s easy to recommend the Monster Manual to DMs. Without it, preparing combat encounters is going to be a time-consuming slog, with it, you can just flick to the right page, read a few rules and you’re ready to go. There’s interesting lore to take from here so if you love to read about monsters, lore and to know how to combat whatever your DM might throw at you, it’s a great book too. It’s not necessary for players however so if you don’t intend on DM’ing, you may want to save your money for something else.
The sheer number of creatures and their vast variety mean we give this book a huge thumbs up! And if all these monsters isn’t enough for you, Wizards of the Coast have also released Volo’s Guide to Monsters and Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes adding hundreds more monsters to your repertoire as well as delving more into the lore and history of some of the most common enemies.