Monstrous Races is clearly a labor of love, showing the sort of dedication and forethought that helped make the RPG hobby what it is today. I'd gladly welcome it at my table, warts and all -- and I say this as someone who's generally skeptical of sketchily-balanced third-party supplements.

What it is: Nearly 300 pages of playable races for every monster in the Monster Manual. Yes, this includes the suicidal gas spore, the body-hopping intellect devourer, and the mighty tarrasque. You simply apply the racial traits the way you would any other playable races, like elf or human. Each entry also includes role-playing advice with tips on how to integrate these weird creatures into the party.

Each race is built using a well-defined system of "racial build points" to eyeball game balance. While this system isn't perfect, it's close enough to for D&D purposes. Better yet, it's highly transparent -- detailed "design notes" accompany each monster, describing exactly how the race was priced, including discussion of alternatives for weird monster abilities. Most notes offer suggestions for how to increase or decrease the race's power level if the race proves imbalanced in game-play.

What it is not: A way to EXACTLY replicate monster statistics. For many monsters, it would be impossible for a PC to use a that stat block and be anywhere close to balanced. Instead, most monsters game mechanics are adjusted and watered-down. For example, no monsters are Large sized; the biggest they get is Medium. (Which is kind of weird for creatures like giants that are defined primarily by size.) For most monsters, this can be rationalized by claiming that the PC is a youngster of the species, or simply less experienced.

There are no "level adjustments" or "effective character level" or "monster classes" to let you play fleshed-out full-grown monsters. The closest thing you get are acquired templates, which can have levels unto themselves, kind of like prestige classes. That system works well, but it's odd that template monsters can get levels but ordinary creatures only get racial traits.

Why it's awesome: So many reasons. For starters, it's incredibly comprehensive. It's literally every single monster in the Monster Manual, including the animals in the animal appendix. Because they're all designed by the same person using the same system, the racial mechanics are very consistent with each other; but a lot of thought was also put into making each race distinct, with its own unique feel, especially compared to very similar monsters.

The flexibility of the race-building system is incredibly useful, and its transparency means you can easily tweak the races to suit your tastes. More subtly, the fact that nearly every race varies considerably from its monster stat block drives home the important concept that monster statistics that work well as challenges do NOT work well for player characters. This is an important realization for any group that wants to include monster PCs.

Role-playing advice for each race is spot-on. For each race, the author gives several suggestions on how to build characters of that race, as well as reasons for why they might become adventurers. Often these are presented as thought-provoking questions. The design notes show how the monster's game mechanics take the role-playing angle into account, often choosing racial traits that are fun for players instead of those that are mechanically better for the monsters.

What could be better: Some of the design choices don't really float my boat. For example, dopplegängers, the ultimate shapeshifters, simply get disguise self once per rest -- kind of weak. The absence of Large races is also disappointing; I know that's a very hard thing to design for, but for many creatures, a Medium-sized version just seems weird. (One way to solve this is "monster classes" where you can level-up your monster abilities. Building classes would be an even more ambitious project than races, but it's one I hope the author undertakes, because I'd love to see how he allocates and improves monster abilities.)

It's also worth noting that I don't think these races saw much playtesting, if any. It's certainly not discussed anywhere in the document. Instead, the author leans on the build-point system; it's a good system, but inherits the weaknesses of similar point-based character creation (point-buy systems in RPGs are notoriously vulnerable to underpricing synergistic effects and overpricing situational abilities). The suggestions to increase or decrease the race's power are a welcome mitigation for races that look fine on paper, but aren't.

There are also a ton of typos, spell-os, and copy-paste-os in the document. The design notes often contain boilerplate text about creature type that contains copy-pasted names of other monsters. Sometimes the design notes mention an ability that the racial writeup lacks, as though they are notes for an earlier version of the monster.

Finally, the formatting is kind of bland. It's easy enough to read, but hard to navigate. It's often unclear where one racial entry ends and another begins. I know not everyone can be a "formatting artiste," but a good visual veneer can really increase player's confidence in third-party supplements.

How I'd use this: I love the concept of monster PCs and I'd like to allow them at my table, but they are difficult to integrate properly, by their very nature. There needs to be a discussion with the group about both the mechanical and role-playing aspects. It's almost too daunting a prospect to even try.

Monstrous Races does a fantastic job of starting that conversation and framing it constructively. Sometimes a player might want more than the racial traits presented here, in which case, Monstrous Races is a starting point for figuring out what the player really wants and how to give it to them. Other times, a player might be happiest playing a monster on a more superficial level, and enjoying the benefits of class levels like a regular PC -- in this case Monstrous Races already has what you need. And while no such system could ever be balanced exactly right, the races here are definitely close enough to get you started and get playing without a ton of up-front work and negotiations.

At the current price of $3, this document provides a tremendous value. I'd call it a must-have for anyone considering a monster-heavy campaign, or even just interested in the subject of monstrous PCs.