Where Be Dragons--A Single-Take Review of Volo's Guide to Monsters (Dungeons & Dragons 5E)

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As you may know, I (Firestone) have jumped down the kobold hole of RPGs lately. I’ve played the excellent Star Wars Roleplaying Game from Fantasy Flight Games. And I have a group that meets every two weeks to play Pathfinder. And now I’m dipping my feet into Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition. I’m collecting books and getting ready to run my first campaign as a DM with my 11-year-old and his friends. So we’re going to be including some D&D supplements with our regular board game reviews. Don’t worry: We still love board games, and we’ll be reviewing those as usual.

This first book we’re reviewing is a supplement that gives DMs more info for running the monsters in the game. I’m not sure who Volo is, but he’s got a lot to share about monsters. So is this book everything it’s krakened up to be, or is it just mis-guided? Let’s find out!




The central conceit of the book is that an explorer named Volothamp Geddarm is giving his knowledge on the races of the D&D world. And then the famed mage Elminster is commenting on the observations. It never really plays out like that, though. It’s just a straight-forward book told in the same style as the others, with the occasional small sidebar from one or the other of the authors. That’s fine, because I just want the info; I don’t care about the flavor text.

The book is divided into three sections:

  1. Monster Lore

  2. Character Races

  3. Bestiary

Let’s go through each of them.

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MONSTER LORE

Monster Lore is the first chapter, and it takes up 100 pages—it’s also the best part of the book. It takes some of the iconic monsters in the D&D world and greatly expands what we know about them. Let’s take gnolls. The book talks about their motivations, their tactics, their treasure, and language. They also provide charts for how to roleplay gnolls, including rolling dice to provide ready-to-go physical features, personality traits, flaws, names, and other things. It talks about the make-up of a gnoll war band, including each role and behavior, along with some allies you might expect to find with the war band.

Most of these same sort things are provided for the other monsters, along with sample lairs and hideouts.

Some of the other monsters in this section include giants, orcs, beholders, hag, kobolds, mind flayers, and yuan-ti.

CHARACTER RACES

Chapter two includes new character races and new options for ones we’ve already seen: aasimar, firbolgs, goliaths, enku, lizardfolk, tabaxi, and tritons. I was completely unfamiliar with most of these, and they’re really for players who are looking for something beyond the normal races for D&D. It only takes up 20 pages of the book, so there’s not much to say.

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BESTIARY

Finally, in chapter three, we have the Bestiary., which takes up another 100 pages. This is just what it sounds like: new monsters that aren’t in the already-published Monster Manual. And to dovetail with the Monster Lore from earlier in the book, it includes some of the new monsters that we learned about there. So the Monster Manual has a regular kobold and a winged kobold. But this book also includes a kobold dragonshield, a kobold inventor, a kobold scale sorcerer—along with stat blocks for them. But it’s not just monsters from the Monster Lore section; there are also a bunch of just cool new baddies to foist on your party.



THE VERDICT

The Lore section was easily my favorite part of the book. Even a “small” encounter with a hag can have new depth and life just by adding a few small details found here. I love it. I’m doing (very) advance prep for running the Storm King’s Thunder adventure, which is about giants. So that extra info on giants and their world will only help me flesh my world out.

I have almost no use for the new player races at this point in my DM life, but down the road, they might be of more use. Still, something for players and not just DMs is a nice addition.

As far as the Bestiary? Well, who doesn’t like more baddies to throw at the players?! And some of these look super fun.

There’s not much to complain about here…but there is a bit to complain about, and that has to do with value. Volo’s clocks in at 224 pages, but it has the same $49.95 MSRP that the Monster Manual has—and that clocks in at 352 pages. So I feel like they could have easily included more monster lore, and more monsters. This is especially true since there are some monsters I expected to see here, and just aren’t there. Dragons, for instance. Or trolls. Or elementals. I have a hard time swallowing paying $50 for a book that has 125 fewer pages than others that cost the same. If you’re going to keep that page count, at least drop the MSRP.

You should also know that almost all of the monsters here are level 10 or below, so if you’re looking for higher-level foes, look elsewhere.

Firestone’s Final Verdict—Volo’s Guide to Monsters is great. It’s not a must-have, but it’s the sort of addition that can truly increase the feeling that your world is alive and real—even where the players aren’t. A key to world-building is convincing people that things happened before the events that you’re describing, and that things will happen after these adventurers are long dead. Volo’s helps with that. It’s an excellent resource.

Well that’s it! We hope you liked this foray into the world of RPGs. We’re going to be doing this much more often as I jump into the world of 5E. Let us know your RPG experience. And thanks for reading!