Monster Manual Review

Posted October 14, 2014 by Chris Lincoln in Nerdy Bits

I hold the tome in my hands, running my fingers over the cover. I can feel the dark power emanating from from this fiendish volume. It pulses with the power of a hundred villains, demons, devils, and dragons. I can almost feel the beasts crawling inside, ready to escape into the worlds of my creation.  Today we discuss the new Monster Manual and all the horrors it contains.

The first thing that struck me is just how nice the book is physically. Quality paper, amazing art on nearly every page, and the back cover is glossy and matte which isn’t necessary but really lends some class to the whole affair. Like the Player’s Guide before it, this book is a joy just to hold and to browse through.

5e Monster manual


5e Monster Manual back

Matte and glossy, a very nice touch.

Before the monsters arrive you’re treated to 11 pages on what makes up a monster, some general ecology and behavior notes, and good examples of where you might encounter some of these creatures.

5e Monster Manual Intro

In this section is the important new mechanic of legendary actions which helps make the more powerful monsters stand out and really make them feel, well, legendary. For example, beholders get an extra use of their eye, or the tarrasque has an extra chance to eat someone. They make the foes more fearsome and help flavor them a bit more. In many instances the creature can tap into the magic of their lairs, gaining access to lair actions. Mummies can have fellow undead in their lair detect living creatures, or a black dragon can cause nearby pools of water to grasp at its foes. In a similar vein, some of the more prominent/powerful creatures affect the landscape around their lairs while they live. When you get near a vampire’s lair you’ll notice thick fog and mist along the ground, or water sources near a red dragon’s lair are all warm and tainted by sulfur. I absolutely love these touches as they really help emphasize how powerful and unique these monsters are as well as give clues to the players as to what might be ahead.  Speaking of what’s ahead, let’s talk about some monsters!

My favorite monster.

My favorite monster.

Oh, what a selection of strange and wondrous creatures we have here. There’s your classics, every kind of dragon and giant you could want, mind flayers, dinosaurs, but what really surprised me was some of the older or stranger creatures that made it into this book. Like flumphs.

5e Flumph

What’s not to love?

I realize the flumph has been in every edition, but they’ve been a bit of a joke for something like a decade now. In 4th edition D&D, when I started, they were mostly a punchline, an example of how weird some of the older D&D monsters could be. Now they’re actually kind of neat. They’re intelligent, communal, and kind by default. I genuinely want to encounter these things in a dungeon, and if my players ever visit the underdark I’ll definitely throw a flumph commune into the adventure. There’s cloakers, crawling claws, smothering rugs, even a selection of modrons!

5e Modrons

What friendly faces.

Don’t worry, there’s plenty more where that came from, and some of your old favorites might be more terrifying now. I’m not just talking about mechanically, the art style for this edition of D&D really gets across how monstrous these creatures are. In 4th edition, goblins looked rather cute and never seemed like a threat. Now they look like this:

5e Goblin

I’d actually run from one of these.

D&D has creatures called aboleths. They are giant terror-whales that existed before there were gods, but I never realized how terrifying they were until I saw the picture of the beast in the 5th edition Monster Manual.

5e Aboleth

One of the many faces of fear.

Quasits are small demons that I always thought sounded adorable, but now I know they are the stuff of nightmares.

5e Quasit

“Let’s be friends!”

I love how fearsome these creatures look in all of this art. Even those modrons look pretty scary.  I know we don’t have the Dungeon Master’s Guide yet, but just flipping through these pages has me planning new adventures. The details they list for many of the monsters inspire me even further. Every one of them has a habitat, a place they belong, and many have relationships with each other. All the goblinoids interact a lot, beholders are xenophobic isolationists, ettins prefer solitude as two minds is already more than they can handle. You can pick one monster you like and follow its information like it’s Wikipedia and end up with an entire campaign. The monsters really come alive in this volume and they practically write their own stories for you.

5e Brass Dragon notes

There’s practically a whole campaign on this one page!

Since you’ll be writing these stories, and since the D&D writers know improvisation and customization are core to the D&D experience, many monsters have templates and/or variants you can use to spice things up. Maybe you want to make an orc vampire, maybe your villain has a quasit as a familiar, or perhaps some of the mephits in the dark lord’s pit can summon more mephits to deal with interlopers.

5e Mephit Variant

In addition to all these fantastical creatures the book also contains an appendix of more common creatures like wolves, horses, or fire beetles and another appendix of NPCs, humans the party might meet like a bandit leader or a noble. These help round out the book and are a big help when your party wants to charm the local guard captain or deceive a wandering mage.

If you are a Dungeon Master you need this book. Not just for monster statistics, but for the wealth of inspiration it contains and the quality with which is presents it all. This book is amazing, and I’m genuinely excited to start building and running adventures with these fearsome fiends. We need to buy these core books to run the game and with the quality I’ve seen I don’t mind picking up every single one.

5e MM and PG

A great start.

Pick up the Monster Manual, bask in it’s terrifying glory, write up some amazing adventures, and don’t forget about the giant frogs.

5e Giant Frog

About the Author

Chris Lincoln

A gamer through and through. A first class nerd. All games are his realm, but the tabletop is where he sits upon his throne.