You can buy Volo's Guide to Monsters on amazon here.
You can buy the lair maps very cheap right here. I love the hag maps and the mind flayer lair.
There is also a limited edition cover. Those are only available in game stores.
I'm going to go over the good stuff, then the bad stuff, and at the end I'll give my overall view.
Short Version: It will be very helpful for any DM to own, but this book won't change your life or anything like that.
This book is broken up into three chapters:
- Monster Lore: We get huge amounts of information on classic D&D monsters.
- Character Races: You can now make aasimar, firbolgs, tabaxi, orcs and more.
- Monsters: Tons of new monsters and variations on existing monsters.
This book takes the previous lore from old editions and adds to it. I love that. Here's some of the stuff I liked the most:
Beholder Dreams: They took a weird turn with the beholders. Beholders now dream other beholders into existence. In other editions, they barfed up an egg to make new beholders. This is fine with me, but it feels a little vague. I would have liked a few more examples of how it works.
Goblin Society: I love the goblin caste system and I think people could really expand on it and do some fun things.
Here are the goblin castes:
- Lashers: Trained in battle
- Hunters: Wolf riders
- Gatherers: Get berries
- Pariahs: Do hard labor, cleaning, menial tasks. Oversee slaves, if there are any.
They also did a fantastic job of giving an overall view of how mind flayers live. They serve their Elder Brain and each of them is a repository of knowledge that the Elder Brain can draw from.
Raxivort, God of the Xvarts: They update/revise the story of Raxivort. In 2e, Raxivort is the god of the Xvarts who tried to steal from Graz'zt. He was hiding in Graz'zt's city of Zelatar.
Now we learn this stuff:
- He stole the Infinity Spindle from Graz'zt, which made Raxivort a god.
- Raxivort created a realm in Pandemonium called The Black Sewers.
- Graz'zt got revenge by telling many dangerous creatures that Raxivort had the spindle.
- Raxivort created Xvarts - doubles of himself - so he could hide among them.
- He wandered the planes, spawning more xvarts.
Full of Fun Details
Here are some of my favorites:
- Gnoll with a vestigial twin embedded on its back.
- Bugbears form gangs. Their god will enchant severed heads of mighty slain foes.
- Some hags turn into other types of hags over the years.
- Mind Flayer Flaw: "I have a memory that is not mine."
- Orcs don't have romantic relationships. "Mating is a mundane necessity of life."
- The Hierophants of Annihilation: 7 bodaks who serve Orcus.
The Cow of Doom: Check out page 207. We get cow stats. I know they are meant to be stats for bison, rothe and etc., but you know a lot of people are going to use these stats for regular milking cows, too.
A cow has 15 hit points, +6 to hit and 7 damage! There are going to be quite a few level one characters who will be killed by a cow. That just cracks me up. +6 to hit! When they charge, they do an extra +7 damage!
DMs the world over will entice the heroes with a drunken bar bet involving cow tipping that goes horribly, horribly wrong.
Nods to Other Settings
|Mind Flayer Nautiloid|
Tzunk, the guy who had the codex of the infinite planes and attacked the city of brass, has a quote in this book.
Spelljammer: There are repeated spelljammer mentions. There is a lot of discussion about nautiloids, which are mind flayer ships right out of the Spelljammer boxed set. There's also talk of Neogi mindspiders, the neogi ships. That is greatly appreciated!
The neogi are really underused, in my opinion. Way back when, I played in a Spelljammer campaign where there was a recurring villain who was a neogi. I love how they have umber hulk bodyguards and they're slavers - they are easy bad guys that anyone would love to hate.
Planescape: We even get cranium rat stats, who are heavily associated with Planescape. I would have liked one more stat block for a massive horde of cranium rats, but this was a really awesome surprise.
Linking Monsters to Major NPCs
In this book, they go out of their way to link most monsters to a certain deity or demon lord. I think that's cool because it helps people get familiar with the different D&D entities and it gives the monster another dimension that makes them more interesting.
- The kenku once served a powerful entity, possibly Graz'zt or the Wind Dukes of Aaqa.
- Orcus is linked to bodaks and devourers.
- Babau sprang up from the blood of Graz'zt when he fought the archdevil Glasya.
Maybe the best thing of all about this book is that in chapter one, there are a bunch of sample lairs. The lair maps by Jared Blando are really, really detailed. I liked them so much that I bought two of them. You have a complete mind flayer settlement in this book all ready to be used.
As always with 5e, you are going to have to dig through this book to populate and detail your mind flayer lair, but the map is great and the monsters seem really cool. Elder Brains really don't get a lot of attention in D&D. I guess it's because they are a very high level threat.
I don't have too many major beefs with this book. It's more of an overall "eh" feeling in regards to some of the content.
I didn't really care for the character races. There's only two that are interesting to me: The aasimar and the goliath. It's so weird, this feels like an end-of-the-edition pile of character races. In 4e they really rolled out crops of cool races in clumps.
Bottom line, I don't know too many people who want to play a triton.
I think a lot of people will disagree with me on this. A lot of the art is professional, but it doesn't grab me, if that makes sense. In any other edition of D&D, there would be a few artists that would really stop you in your tracks. In this edition, there's not.
I do like some of the art. The yuan-ti abomination and broodguard are really good creations. The abomination here looks a million times better than that abomination that had a 4e mini with the cobra hood.
The mind flayer art is good, the gnoll art is good and I love the gnoll witherling.
Whoever did the Shoosuva worked a miracle. I never liked the shoosuva but that picture is awesome.
I guess part of the problem is that a lot of the monsters in this book are goofy looking, so it's hard to get a cool picture out of them.
Poor Monster Selection
This book is full of what I consider to be goofball monsters. Nilbogs, boggles, redcaps, catoblepas, grung, flail snail, etc. I decided to sit down and look through older monster manuals to make a list of monsters that I'd have preferred to be in this book.
11/22/16: Somehow in my slavering frenzy, I missed this note right on page 5:
"You might be wondering why certain monsters were chosen above theirs. Where are dragons and githyanki? What, no fiends or undead? We hope to tackle other monsters in other products over time."
While doing so, I realized something. This book has:
- Very few undead.
- No dragons.
- No devils.
- Just a couple of demons.
- Very few planar creatures.
- Open Grave: Book of undead, awesome book.
- Draconomicon: Two books! One full of chromatic dragons, the other metallic. There are a million types of dragons in D&D worth putting in a 5e book.
- Demonomicon: A book full of demons. Fantastic book, there is so much demon stuff out there that they could have made three more Demonomicons and they would all be awesome.
- Plane Above & Plane Below: Two great planar books full of planar monsters.
Devils are awesome and they are perfect villains. It is entirely possible we'll see a devil book at some point. The city of Dis alone could fill a book.
So, after having all of those thoughts tenderizing my brain, I realized that if you take all those monster types out, it is really hard to fill a second monster manual.
The monsters that I came up with after you take out demons, devils, dragons, etc. is a very underwhelming list. Here's what I got:
- Umber hulk variants
- More drow stuff
- Oozes - This is a big one. They should have done a whole section on oozes in this book.
- More golems - There are a million types of cool golems in previous editions worth updating.
- Eldritch giants and other giant types.
- Other hydra types - If you're not going to have dragons in the book, why not some hydras?
- Gargoyle variants - Runic gargoyles, Obsidian gargoyles, etc.
Volo's Guide to Monsters is a decent book that I think will help DMs, especially those who run homebrew stuff. You can take those dungeon maps in chapter one and go nuts. In general there's just a ton of material that you can inject into your game.
This book is definitely worth getting. If you keep in mind that there are not any dragons in this thing, then I think you'll be satisfied.
I collected all of the pdf previews of this book here.