What’s that coming over the hill…
Volo’s Guide to Monster’s is Wizard’s first supplemental book released for 5e. If one of the core components of D&D’s success is its ability to be a very different adventure each time you play (which it is), then it’s no wonder that we quickly get a book that expands on the cultures, stats and abilities of the many, many monsters that inhabit Faerun and beyond.
Volo’s Guide to Monsters details the lore, culture and lairs behind 9 of the most prominent monsters of the D&D universe, adds 7 more playable races to its repetoire and adds 127 new monsters, complete with stat blocks and descriptions. It’s a vast and informative resource and we’re here to help you know if this is the book for you. Just read on for details on the contents of the book and a review of whether it stacks up.
97 pages are dedicated to monster lore. You’ll find lots of detailed information on the following creatures:
These sections of the book are wonderful resources for DMs who often must make up vast amounts of information, sometimes on the spot. Having a solid understanding of the cultures and motivations of some of the more highly-encountered creatures in D&D will help DMs come up with this information quickly.
Each section is interesting and really showcases the diversity of the D&D universe from the gargantuan giants (each type has its own micro-culture) to the wicked and sadistic manipulations of hags to the insatiable thirst for power of the mind flayers.
D&D is replete with all sorts of races and the Player’s Handbook doesn’t properly represent the variety on offer here. Volo’s Guide to Monsters provides players details on the following playable race:
Each race represents a unique type of creature and details the differences between their abilities cultures and how they typically might act (though, as we know, playable characters in D&D are rarely typical).
There are some races that appeal to me more than others to play as. I found myself particularly drawn to the Aasimar, Goliaths, Tabaxi and Tritons. Others might gain more interest in playing as other races, but I personally found that Firbolgs and Kenku were a little 1 dimensional and had little interest in playing as these characters.
Monster Stat Blocks
The monster stat blocks provide details for many of the creatures detailed earlier in the book with new types of many of the creatures already detailed in the Monster Manual such as the Mind Flayer Lich, Fire Giant Dreadnought, the Yuan-ti Nightmare Speaker and the Kobold Scale Sorceror. These variations delve deeper into the culture and allow for more varied monster encounters.
I liked the variety of these monsters with creatures of varying challenge ratings and abilities. In particular, many of the monsters offer a very different combat experience. Bodaks, for instance, are terrifying abominations forming when a worshipper of the demon lord Orcus performance a ritual vow transforming them into a life-sucking creature that can cause instant death with its gaze alone. A slithering tracker, on the other hand, slithers its way into places others cannot, stealthily taking revenge on those that wronged it in its previous life.
Volo’s Guide to Monsters is a fantastic resource with interesting lore, ideas, monster stats and new races to play as. The variety on offer means you’ll likely never use all the options provided in here and ultimately, it feels like a hugely satisfying offering, particular for Dungeon Masters that’re always looking for new ideas of nasty things to throw at their players.
There are perhaps 2 drawbacks to the book itself, the first is that it is clearly geared primarily towards DMs rather than players. Yes, there are playable races on offer but that’s a minor portion of the book. This is really a book for those that either care about lore or who are DMs but is difficult to recommend for those that only have the role of players.
The other small criticism is that a couple of the races felt a little dull and uninspiring (I’m looking at you Firbolgs and Kenku). Yes, they are unique, but I see few people opting to play these types of races, opting for more interesting species instead.
However, if you are a DM, then this book comes with a big recommendation and is as close to an essential for any DM as it gets outside of the 3 core books.