D&D General 5E Retrospective: Dissecting the MM and the DMG


The purpose of this thread is not to provide WotC with feedback as to the layout of the MM and DMG so they can be altered for 5.5E, as I presume they have already finalized much of the layout of those books and probably wouldn't take into account a random poster's thoughts anyway, it's more of an opportunity for myself and others to reminisce on what made the MM and DMG good, and what made them bad, as well as how good they were overall in order to better approach the 5.5E variants with a fresh mindset.

I have decided not to rank the options in the player's handbook because that has been done very extensively over the past 10 years, and no one needs a re-hash of that.

That being said, I will first break down my opinion of the MM, then the DMG, and will do each on a chapter by chapter basis, followed by a brief summary.

Chapters and books will be rated out of 10.

The Monster Manual

The introduction begins with some fluff, and then transitions into flavor, telling you where monsters might live, and quickly transitions from that to a brief rundown of how to read a stat block and what the terms used within the book mean. Right off the bat, I am not fond of the fact that the MM simply tells you to reference the PHB for information on the size of monsters and how much space monsters of different sizes occupy. Sizes are given in feet, but not squares, which is weird. That kind of information should absolutely be featured in the MM, as it's already hashed out in DMG, the PHB, and this is the one damn book where it's really, truly necessary. Not a dealbreaker, but it is a portent of what's to come.

Next up are monster types, these are mostly fine, and the explanation of how tags work in the context of specific magic items and features, such as spells or class abilities, is concise but helpful. Nothing is really missing here, you have all the essential types of enemies from past editions of DnD and the summaries of each type are fine.

The alignment tab lines up with my personal philosophy on alignment, which is that it serves as a shorthand for a monster's behavior, but even barring my love of it, I think it's fine, it doesn't really limit your creativity and explains in simple terms what alignment can be used as. I do wish that it didn't tell us to reference the PHB though, just give us a small alignment table or grid and cut down the fluff in the "Types" section.

Armor class and hit points (as well as hit dice, but who uses those) are explained succinctly and intelligently. Here I don't mind being told to reference the PHB for more information on hit points because they seem pretty intuitive.

The section on speed is very nice, it gives detailed but short descriptions of burrowing, climbing, flying, and swimming as well as their limitations and applications. The writing here is economical and communicates all you need to know.

Ability scores, saving throws, and skills are explained decently. Once again, here I don't really have an issue with ability scores in general being relegated to the PHB and telling players to reference it. I am confused why they bothered to add a table for proficiency bonuses by challenge rating but neglected to include any explanation of alignment, I guess it's because it doesn't line up with how proficiency bonuses scale in the PHB? It's fine.'

The paragraph on vulnerabilities, resistances, and immunities is poor, it essentially does nothing other than stating that some monsters have these things. It does not explain, in the MM itself, what these keywords mean or reference an example. Might seem like a nitpick, but convenience and clean design are always nice to have, especially when it means cutting down on sentences like "Some creatures have vulnerability, resistance, or immunity to certain types of damage." which should be obvious from a glance at a stat block.

Senses are covered briefly but in enough detail to tell you what's going on. There is a reference made to the Ethereal Plane under the truesight entry, but that's probably fine given the fact that monsters such as the Ghost make explicit explanations about how they behave when on the Ethereal Plane, as do spells, so it's not too big a deal.

Languages are covered, as is telepathy, and the rules are, again, concise but helpful.

The challenge rating section is where things really get interesting. The MM tells you that a party of four adventurers who are well-rested should be able to defeat a monster with a challenge rating equal to their level, which is a very strange notion to me, as all monsters higher than 20 CR are described as a specifically taxing test of player skill, yet many are included in the MM and it seems, from my experience, at least, that the CR system really does not hold true to this general rule at all. Most encounters in WotC adventures aren't even designed this way, it's more often that you'll see a party of 3rd level characters fighting a bunch of CR 1/2 baddies led by a CR 2 mage or something of the like than it is to see a single CR 3 enemy. The MM, despite being THE monster book, doesn't really give any guidelines on creating encounters, and instead refers you to the DMG. That's probably fine but I question the inclusion of the example if you're just going to axe it anyway and tell people to read their damn DMG.

The half-page on Special Traits exclusively covers spellcasting and psionics, and while both innate spellcasting and spellcasting are covered decently well, psionics is sort of just meh. It says that the tag has no special rules but that it "typically doesn't require any components" and that "other parts of the game might refer to it". I have a feeling that WotC initially planned to release more psionics-related supplements but couldn't nail down something that felt different than spellcasting but wasn't absurdly OP or too crunchy for 5E's design philosophy. This section is okay but it does foreshadow a major quibble I've had with MMs for a long time, you can't just tell the DM to reference the PHB every time a spellcasting enemy casts a spell. I think WotC themselves realized that this was really annoying and inconvenient later on, which is why a lot of spell-like abilities get rolled into actions in Mordenkainen's. Talk about a step back from 4E, jeez.

Now onto the section on actions, this one is I think fine, it is very dry and does reference the player's handbook again, which irks me a little bit, but unlike spells, these things are really easy to memorize. Grappling, dashing, hiding, all those things are really simple and once you read over them a few times they won't be a pain in the ass to run. The Reactions paragraph is another "if it says it has a reaction it can use a reaction" nonsense blurb.

Limited usage and equipment are simple, the former defines terms very explicitly, the latter offers some suggestions but doesn't really help you that much, these are two very different types of simple. I really wish there was at least a d100 table or something fun to enable DMs to decide how battered a slain foe's gear was by the end of a fight so it feels less like something you have to cobble together on the spot.

Legendary creatures, their legendary actions, and their lairs are described briefly but decently well.

Okay, so that's all that's featured in the Introduction, and let me say: I am not impressed at all. What is here is mostly fine, with a few really bad exceptions like lazy wording on equipment, psionics, and reactions, but there's so, so much that's missing. There are no substantial encounter design rules, no equipment tables, no explanations of how many spaces monsters occupy on a grid or how tiny creatures or swarms work. I get that WotC probably didn't want to make their introduction any longer than it had to be to fit a few more monsters in, but something like a visual breakdown of a stat block would be really helpful to new players, even if it's already been broken down in words. More visuals are always nice, with the important bits circled in red with giant arrows pointing to each part and sidebar paragraphs that really break down how to read a stat block quickly and easily. It's just the introduction though, I'll give it a solid 6/10 for providing all the basic information in a pretty good way.


Right off the bat, on page sixteen, we're hit with an angel who has a bunch of spells listed but not explanations of what they do. I'm sorry, and I know this might be unpopular or considered a nitpick, but this isn't good game design. Lots of these spells require a lot of fiddly flipping through the PHB and I'm guessing most people don't want to have to do that or photocopy the spells to run every spellcasting monster. When you're selling "spell cards" which reprint info from the PHB because it's that much of a pain to use your books, you know something's gone awry. That's gonna remain a problem throughout the book, but you know what, it's not terrible, it's just a little inconvenient.

What is also a little inconvenient is the seemingly arbitrary decision to sort most enemies alphabetically, clump others into categories, and then just NOT clump extremely similar monsters into a similar category heading. In my ideal MM, all the categories would be sorted alphabetically distinctly from each other, but in the MM we got, we have angels, demons, devils, and even BLIGHTS sorted into their own categories, where they're all within a few pages of each other, but something as ubiquitous as undead has absolutely no category of its own! Zombies get one, as do skeletons, and even vampires, but all of them are separate from each other and separate from wights, wraiths, revenants, ghosts, (for some ungodly reason, they are literally zombie HANDS!!!) crawling claws, demiliches, liches, death knights, and everyone else! Hell, even demiliches and liches are separate from each other. The categories seem to be to be almost completely arbitrary, and that's frustrating, and makes using the MM frustrating.

The funniest example of this is probably Fungi getting their own section while elementals are spread throughout the book.

I won't comment on the balance of the monsters because I think that has little to do with the layout of the book itself.

What I will comment on, however, is some of the inclusions in the MM. Now, of course this comes down partially to personal preference, so I'm judging this from how iconic to DnD or how generic a concept a monster is, not how much I like that specific monster. The inclusion of many, many types of lycanthropes, the half-dragon, Nothics, Half-Ogres, Pseudodragons, Thri-kreen and more feels very strange to me. Maybe I am just out of touch, but I feel like a lot of this space, which I assume is partially meant to encourage creativity, which is of course great, could have been better filled by some more iconic or essential (but no less creative!) examples from DnD history.

Overall though, it's a bunch of good monsters with a solid variety to keep you well-fed for many, many campaigns. The layout is honestly quite terrible, and I HATE having to look up spells but I can't complain with much else except perhaps how much of the pages gets filled up by lore. The lore is cool, it's neat, it's flavorful, but when it's several pages long I hate to say it but it needs to be cut out to squeeze in a few more blocks. All things considered, it is better than the introduction but lacking sorely in a few key aspects which have only become more obvious the longer I've played 5E. It gets a solid 7 out of 10.

Appendices A and B:

I am lumping these two together, and there is a good justification as to why. Both provide simple, barebones stat blocks for common creatures and NPCs you might need in your campaign, and for the most part, I can't really find fault in how these stat blocks are laid out or how the creatures are presented. That being said, I do really wish that a lot of the animal options were axed in favor of some more CR-varied NPC enemies. The gap between acolyte and mage and archmage is just too big, as are the gaps between similar PC-class adjacent enemies. Other than that, no complaints. 9/10,

Overall Rating: 7.3/10

I think the 5E MM really, really struggles as far as organization goes, it is an absolute pain to leaf through and has been filled with many index cards over the years. Furthermore, it's a pain to run a good third of the monsters in the book, and the information pertaining to encounter design and the "customization" of monsters is pretty lacking. I can't complain that it doesn't have monsters though, even if some of the inclusions strike me as bizarre. Thri-kreen? Quaggoths? Xorn? It's a solid book with one major organizational flaw and a bunch of flaws it inherits from the system it was built for.

The Dungeon Master's Guide


The introduction to the DMG lays out the sections that will follow, provides a bit of fluff, blah blah make your own world whatever, but then it does something really interesting. It addresses knowing your players, and I think the choice to put this at the very introduction is a pretty great one. It explicitly lays out the role of the DM as a sort of facilitator for the enjoyment of the players who also gets enjoyment themselves out of creating scenarios for the players to tell stories in. This is a pretty good way to view DMing, I think. The players create the story with the DM, and the DM sets the stakes, acts as the antagonists, the allies, etc. and helps lay out the basics of the narrative, it's up to the players to decide how it all goes down. I think this explanation probably helps a little to curb railroading as a new DM, and offers some interesting advice for engaging the seven main types of players the author of this section identifies. It's basic, but I don't think these explanations of how to engage players should act as rules (and they don't) but rather advice. It's a very good way to start the book and a very positive way to the start the book, 9/10.

Chapter 1: A World of Your Own

Given how many subheadings there are in this chapter, I am not going to go over every one as exhaustively as I did for the MM, but I will run over the chapter in general as well as a few key takeaways.

I will first say that I am a really, really big fan of this chapter. It covers everything you could want, starting big scale, starting small scale, religion, philosophy, mapping, how factions work, the different assumptions core DnD uses compared to more niche DnD settings, how you could tweak things to make your world more distinct from standard Heroic Fantasy fare, different genres, it's got the works.

Plus it has tables! Lots and lots of tables. Tables for designing interesting settlements, with good descriptions of different government systems to boot. Tables on cataclysmic events to kick off an adventure or a campaign, tables on starting equipment by magic level. It's great, I love to see tables and I love to see dedication to all the core aspects of building a setting or running one while still reminding the DM that they can always start small if they feel daunted by crafting a whole world.

The "Flavors of Fantasy" section is a personal favorite of mine because it demonstrates in simple terms how many different tones of gameplay DnD can support, and doesn't make any suggestions as to how things are "supposed" to work beyond saying that the "baseline" assumption is Heroic Fantasy. It even has a table here! Wuxia weapon names, featuring dubious comparisons between Chinese and Japanese martial weapons and the variants offered in the PHB.

Overall rating: 10/10. There is not really a lot more crunch you could add here without importing a lot of assumptions about the dwelling habits or flavor of specific races, monsters, etc. IN MY OPINION. Pretty much a perfect chapter.

Chapter 2: Creating a Multiverse

Whew, and we've gone from great to troubling. I get that this is DnD, and you gotta throw in the great wheel somewhere, but the very first chapter after the one where you designed a campaign setting? The same chapter where you were told it's alright to start small? Seems a little tiny bit silly to go directly to this rather than designing adventures and encounters but that's how it is.

The descriptions of the planes offered here are pretty okay though, I think. They're basic, too basic, but I didn't expect more from the DMG: The optional rules for planes like Ysgard, Mechanus, and Hades are all fun and flavorful, and the chapter does make it clear which planes are generally "required" for normal DnD and tells you that you're encouraged to make your own. Hell, it even offers several suggestions for an alternative cosmology.

I am gonna be a nit-picker and quibble with the lack of explicit (optional) mechanical support for introducing differences in these planes or for creating planar rules in general. I think these things should always be framed as optional, and maybe the intent here was to leave as much room for creativity as possible, which I love, but come on, just a few more pages of crunch, please!

Overall rating: 6/10 because it offers an above-average explanation of the planes but is placed horribly in the book itself and lacks mechanical depth.

Chapter 3: Creating Adventures

I really wish this chapter preceded the former one, but that's enough of that.

The first thing I'll say is that this section is really way too short. It does provide supporting information for four (Location-based, Event-based, Mystery, and Intrigue) distinct types of adventures, but the crunch is absolutely lacking, even if the advice is pretty good and the tables are a lot of fun.

Consider that "location-based adventures" get around 3 pages of advice, over half of which is just tables to roll on, and things start to look a little bleak. I expect a lot more here, I know the job of the DM is to do the heavy lifting on this, and I definitely don't mind. However, it just seems lazy to introduce the notion that we're learning how these different types of adventures work and then not going into much more detail than "flesh out the location details" (given only a single paragraph in this chapter!) and "plan encounters". We're given a six-point process of planning a location-based adventure and all six of those points could probably fit on a page and a half!

Event-based adventures fare a little better in that there is a healthy mix of tables and text, with there being only ONE table to around 3 pages of text. Again though, there isn't really much here aside from the bare bones, which are definitely going to help a newbie DM but will not do ANY hand holding beyond that. A lot of the info that could be put here is probably better covered in the upcoming chapter though, so I'll hold my finger.

Mysteries have it the worst because they're described as a subset of event-based adventures and get only a little under a page of detail. The stuff written here is good, but it's not really in-depth enough to be super useful.

Intrigue describes a way of playing which involves a lot of management of NPCs, influence in factions or among specific groups of nobles, certain guilds, etc. There is little mechanical support for anything here, but for me that's okay, as I don't think Intrigue needs to involve a social combat system or anything of the like. I feel like here would be a good place to go into more depth on influence and perhaps the way different aristocratic structures might support or hinder player efforts though.

Skipping over the twists, complications, side quests, etc., I come to encounter design. Oh man this is not a good section. The calculation itself is okay-ish but we only get bullet-points on how to spice things up using interesting terrain or dynamic setpiece elements. I feel like this is a huge missed opportunity as far as an opportunity for some crunch goes, give detailed explanations of how differing terrain and dynamic elements could greatly change the challenge level, describe monster tactics here, not later. It really does feel like the biggest issue the 5E books suffer from is just godawful organization.

There's a couple pages on random encounters here as well, but they're fine, so I'll skip over them, nothing special and nothing atrocious.

Overall rating: 3/10. Offers all of the barebones ideas and tips but elaborates on nothing and has frankly terrible encounter design recommendations. It does not fail outright, but it is very poor for new DMs and useless for seasoned ones.

Chapter 4: Creating Nonplayer Characters

This is another section with a lot of tables, but here it works well. This is a pretty short chapter, and manages to cover generating simple NPCs, the essentials you should have written down for a detailed NPC, NPC party members, an optional Loyalty rule, and some basic help on creating villains (as well as two villainous subclasses) all within the space of 9 pages.

There isn't really much to say here as most of this chapter is tables and the rest is succinct, but decent advice. I think the villains section is pretty weak though, generally focusing on the basics rather than how to create a compelling or interesting villain for a given narrative style.

Overall rating: 4/10. Would be middle of the road but it wastes significant space on two villainous class options which are, in my view, largely superfluous.

Chapter 5: Adventure Environments

Again, 5E suffers from poor organization. A lot of the information in this chapter, specifically the tables concerning settlements, could easily be put into the already-great first chapter, with some inclusions from later in the book being shifted to this one. It's a shame because this chapter is pretty okay.

It has lots of tables, deals with the logistics of a dungeon environment, describes multiple different methods of wilderness gameplay, and goes into significant detail on dungeon inhabitants, traps, encounters on air, land, sea, underground, and in all sortsw of hostile environments. The wilderness hazard rules are particularly elegant, as are the traps, and the explanations on how to run wilderness travel are genuinely very good, explaining the difference between travel montage and hour-by-hour well while giving tips on how to make each interesting.

Overall rating: 8/10 for strong content but points docked for very poor organization and material missing which is included in later chapters (such as the random dungeon tables).

Chapter 6: Between Adventures

Another chapter that suffers from lacking crunch. The rules on keeping a property are very poor and the carousing rules are functional but uninspiring. The most valuable part of this chapter for new DMs is probably the advice for planting the seeds of a new adventure in between the action and the various methods you can use to do so. That's always a hard one to pick up, especially if your players just hate engaging with anything you throw out at them.

Overall rating: 4/10. Boring, lacking in crunch.

Chapter 7: Treasure

As with the MM and individual monsters, I won't attempt to rate the balance of individual magic items here, but I will run over my thoughts on the chapter in general.

Firstly, the tables are all very helpful. I was using them as an early DM and I used them up until I stopped DMing 5E regularly. In a similar vein, the explanations of what each type of magic item is and how they recharge and can be used are all short but helpful, as tends to be the case with most explanations of features in 5E. The variant rules introduced here are interesting as well.

The organization of the items is decent but I still wish all the swords were wiith all the swords just as all the staves are with the staves and all the wands with the wands, and all the rings with the rings and so on and so forth. It's a lot better because they're a lot closer but it's still mildly annoying to have the vorpal sword and vicious weapon under V instead of S.

Artifacts are fun, as are the rules for sentient magic items, but the artifacts really, really need a guideline as to how to balance them. Simply saying "Use them as guides when creating your own artifacts" (in reference to the examples) is not really sufficient or acceptable, throw in some level to ability tables god damn it.

Blessings, charms, marks of prestige, etc. are all mostly insubstantial obvious nonsense, good to have it but it's whatever.

Boons are an absolute joke.

Overall rating: 6/10 for good execution all the way though until artifacts when it falls off a cliff.

Chapter 8: Running the Game

Really feels weird to have this chapter this late in the book rather than as the second or first, as it discusses extremely basic concepts like metagrame thinking, rules dicussions, and missing players, but that's neither here nor there.

Among the dry rules on tracking, the variant rule inspiration, etc. etc. there is an interesting section on resolving social interactions using charisma checks and a DC based on a creature's attitude (friendly, indifferent, or hostile). This provides a little bit of crunch as far as roleplaying and social interactions go, but it ultimately comes down mainly to making a bunch of charisma checks with a lot of DM judgment. I think this is a pretty decent system but I know many will disagree and desire more crunch, not docking points personally though.

Here we see a lot of rules and guidelines as to how to run combat encounters, including suggestions for keeping track of initiative, tracking monster HP, representing monsters of different size classes on a grid or hexmap, and essential rules like line of sight, half and three quarters cover, and all of the optional combat rules included to spice up your game's tactics. I really wish a lot of this information was at least paid lip service in the MM, especially the "Creature Size and Space" table, but what are you gonna do.

The optional tactical rules are where it gets interesting. Flanking is obscenely overpowered and way too easy to get as a party. You can, in most dungeon scenarios, easily flank and get 2 free advantaged melee attacks, often before a slower monster like an ogre has even had a chance to go.

Diagonals is... interesting, and facing just seems like a whole lot of unecessary trouble to me.

The rules on chases are okay but, as with most things in 5E, just come down to making checks with advantage or disadvantage depending on circumstances.

Siege equipment, poisons, diseases, and madness are all simple but fine, they serve their purposes well and are detailed sufficiently.

Now back to the neat stuff: Experience Points.

The advice offered pertaining to absent characters is very wishy-washy as it should be, because it depends on who you're playing with. Similarly, all of the options outlines, such as milestone XP, noncombat XP; level advancement based on the story... are left extremely basic and I think that is actually to the credit of the DMG in this instance. Trying to create some arbitrary measure of what is a "significant" campaign moment or a "milestone" would be a fool's errand.

Overall rating: 6/10. Basic, with one very poorly balanced optional rule, should honestly have a lot of its content shifted around to other chapters.

Chapter 9: Dungeon Master's Workshop

This is one of the few chapters I think is placed perfectly. Delving into homebrew and variants of the base game should absolutely be saved for last. Because of the many options offered, I'll run over each major rule variant individually.

Proficiency dice are something which seem like they could be fun mechanically, but narratively, it just does not work for me. The difference between a plus 2 proficiency bonus and a plus 4 proficiency bonus is very signifiant in terms of narrative and level progression, and having a chance to roll a 4 on my proficiency die at 1st level just does not jive with me.

Skill variants are likewise unappealing to me. There are three suggestions offered, one of which is simply having proficiency in ability checks, with no skills offered as part of the game. I guess I can see how this would streamline things quite significantly, but it does not appeal to me at all. The skills in 5E are already very abstract and cover a lot of ground, simply removing all of that specialization altogether once again flies in the face of my precious narrative. The second option is background proficiency, where a player has proficiency in checks which would, per the DM's discretion, reasonably be supported by details from their background. To me, this feels like a great opportunity for someone to have been raised a child prodigy who then became a renaissance man traveling the world as a privateer while picking locks for a living but with a group that loves to maintain extreme narrative cohesion and doesn't powergame, I could definitely see the appeal. The third and final option suggested is personality trait prificiency, which is another mushy but potentially great for hardcore roleplayers variant which absolutely does not jive with my enjoyment of the game.

Hero points are a neat way to add a resource-based option to the game that turns PCs into overpowered champions of justice, but I feel like that type of campaign would be better served by just softballing all the encounters and pitching enemies way under the party's CR with some reskins to make it feel more epic. A neat rule., but nothing special.

The new ability scores, honor and sanity, are interesting to me and are well.detailed. I like how they each hit on a set of skills which require both intelligence and wisdom, or intelligence and charisma, and instead just create a new ability score that covers all of those niche cases. An Honor check to find out what is honorable could normally be int, a check to determine someone's Honor wis, and a check to act honorably cha, but instead it's all rolled up into one neat package. I am less a fan of Sanity as an ability score because it is less fleshed out both narratively and in terms of gameplay examples but it's an okay attempt at offering some CoC fare for DnD players.

Fear and Horror might play well with some groups who enjoy seeing their PCs as disconnected from themselves, but I know I would hate these rules and I'm pretty sure most everyone I've ever played with would as well.

The optional healing rules are okay for the extreme ends of gritty and epic fantasy but I would not ever use them because they seem too OP on one end and too painful to deal with on the other.

The rest variants are similar, good rules for those who might like them, but very much not for me.

The firearms rules are way too barebones to be at all useful, it essentially says absolutely nothing about how to balance firearms, but at least it provides a table with examples of renaissance and modern firearms with basic rules as to how they work and how a PC could become proficient with them. I am pretty sure the firearms as written in the DMG would be busted as all hell but that's probably the point.

Explosives are actually given decent detail in terms of how they work, and I can't claim that I really want a guide on how to make them.

Plot points provide a really interesting framework for introducing more player control of the narrative into the game, or even having rotating DMs. I think a game like this could be a lot of fun but I've never tried it out, it is a really good inclusion though, because it introduces DMs to alternative modes of gameplay from the very start of their experience.

The initiative variants range from very cool to absolutely terrible. Speed Factor initiative is something I would love to implement in a modified form with a more patient playgroup and I think it's great to address initiative in the DMG itself. Side initiative is absolutely terrible and an awful idea that will lead to so, so many TPKs if you do not modify your encounter design. Initiative score is fast but obvious.

The new action options are all great and should be in the PHB.

Hitting cover is basic but helpful.

Cleaving through creatures is another obvious but nice rule I've implemented into most of my campaigns because it makes sense that a powerful fighter swinging a mighty greatsword can cut through two skeletons in one swing.

Injuries are an interesting concept but this implementation is very poor.

Likewise for massive damage, interesting in theory but this implementation is unfun.

Morale is a decent way to mechanically determine whether or not a group of monsters should run away from the PCs but not much else.

From there, the DMG goes into customizing monsters, class options, race options, and then provides a random dungeon table that should've been included many chapters earlier.

So, overall, I would give chapter 9 a solid 7/10.

Which brings the DMG itself to... around a 6.5/10.

What are your thoughts? Do you agree, disagree? Got any particular gripes, anything that you loved?
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I agree with most all of this analysis, good points.

I just want a MM to be able to help my game by allowing me to use the statblocks cut and paste and to find monsters when I need and in a logical place.

The DMG I have less use for since I have been playing so long and do not look at much beside the magic items. I did like the 4e DMG where it had a detailed town in the back.


I agree with most all of this analysis, good points.

I just want a MM to be able to help my game by allowing me to use the statblocks cut and paste and to find monsters when I need and in a logical place.
I definitely found the 5E MM absolutely INFURIATING in terms of its organization. I get why dragons, demons, devils, Drow (who are listed under E for elves?), etc. are listed together, but why not the rest of the elementals, fey, undead, aberrations? Just seemed really, really silly because how often are you going to need to flip between a few pages of chromatic dragons versus a few pages of CR 1 and lower undead?


Yep! Try running an encounter with 3 different types of Spider, a common low-level beast foe.
Giant wolf spider 330
Giant spider 328
Phase Spider 334

The NPC statblocks are sorely lacking. One of my to-dos is a 1-2 page chart covering generic stats for the different armor types (unarmored caster, light armor dex, medium armor shield/no shield, heavy armor shield/no shield, barb) at various levels, what their saves and HP will generally be, etc.


Actually, one thing I liked in the 5e MM is the introduction section, especially "Where Do Monsters Dwell" and the breakdown of monster "Types."

Would love for the DMG to have something similar for Traps – what sorts of traps to use in different environments, a typology of traps/triggers, etc.


The MM is my favourite of the three 5e core books, but it's not my favourite MM of the various editions (that would be 2nd Ed's "Monstrous Manual"). As always, it suffers a great deal from being the book that has to include all the iconic monsters while also being the first monster book for the edition - that means that all the iconic monsters have the weakest monster design of the whole edition, which is a shame.

And the OP is dead right about the lists of spells pointing to the PHB - a massive step back from 4e. And, in all honesty, so too is the move away from the defined monster roles and the minion/elite/solo split from 4e.

The DMG actually quite impressed me on my first read-through, to the extent that I felt it was probably the best DMG of all the editions (albeit from a really low base - 1st Ed sacrifices utility for Gygaxian language; 2nd Ed is almost entirely worthless; 3e is absolutely fantastic if you love doors, walls, and floors as much as the designers; 3.5e takes the same material, reorganizes it badly, and then adds a near-useless subset of the almost unusable Epic rules; and 4e... I might be being unfair on that one).

After many years of play... no. The 5e DMG is worthwhile for a couple of tables on monster design (but not the description of the process), and the magic items, and that's basically it. (Which still places it high in the DMG rankings.)

I'd like to think WotC will do better with the 2024 DMG, in particular, but I'll believe it when I see it.

the Jester

Oh man. Yeah, let's talk about the organization of the Monster Manual and the supposed shift to "everything is alphabetical" in Mordenkainen's Monsters of the Multiverse.

When they initially announced this change, I was excited for it. I thought that it was a great idea; especially new DMs shouldn't have to look for "glabrezu" under D for demon. It made sense.

Then I went through the book and the actual delivery was half-hearted. If you're going to do that, why the hell would you choose to move "necromancer" to W for wizard??

In my opinion- and it's quite a strong opinion- if you're going to go all alphabetical, ACTUALLY GO ALL ALPHABETICAL. The only exception should be dragon age categories, and even then, instead of "Adult Red Dragon" under D for dragon, it should be rewritten as "Red Dragon Adult" under R. And "red dragon hatchling," "red dragon ancient," etc.

Giant eagle? Under G. Monstrous pertyon? Under M. If you want to put it under P, find a way to make it "Peryton" first- "Peryton Monstrous Killer" or something.

Now, on spells- yeah, I am in the minority in that I am okay with spell lists referencing the PH. My compromise position- because oh my God do stat blocks get bloated if you include ten spell descriptions- is to write out the most important combat spells in the stat block. I think Candlekeep basically does this, as opposed to MMM's approach of "well, let's just make something up that pcs can't get access to and then we'll list a few meager options as spells too anyway".

And let's take a moment to reflect on how poor the design of a lot of monsters in 5e is, at least compared to the end of 4e, where monster design reached (IMHO) its apex in D&D. So many boring monsters, when you really just need one interesting trait or option to make them far more fun. So many of 4e's great innovations got tossed in a reactionary way, and it's a damn shame. I've long made variants and versions of monsters that integrate 4e design principles to make them more fun in 5e, and I've tried to integrate more uses of reactions and bonus actions to make it so that things that take away reactions and bonus actions actually matter when you use them. I find the lack of using the amazing lessons learned in 4e to be frustrating and sad. While some of 5e's monster design choices are good- let's not give everything that flies the same Flyby trait- others are baffling. None of them need to be boring.



In my opinion- and it's quite a strong opinion- if you're going to go all alphabetical, ACTUALLY GO ALL ALPHABETICAL.

I don't necessarily agree that all alphabetical is the best approach, but I do agree with this - if that is your choice, actually stick with it! :)

The only exception should be dragon age categories, and even then, instead of "Adult Red Dragon" under D for dragon, it should be rewritten as "Red Dragon Adult" under R. And "red dragon hatchling," "red dragon ancient," etc.

I'd recommend "Dragon, Red (adult)" - keeps all the dragons together, then the colours together, and then separates the age categories. That said, I'm less inclined to make the exception, because as soon as you make an exception for anything, you open the door for making an exception for anything.


Moderator Emeritus
I prefer monsters grouped by some types rather than full alphabetical but think some monster types (like undead) are too varied to be listed all together. Others, while varied, I find too weirdly and non-intuitively named to be easily found if not grouped together. I am never gonna remember glabrezu, but I am gonna remember "I want a kind of demon, let me look through the demons."

I have no problem looking up spells for some monsters in other books and prefer that to truncated spell-like powers. Maybe it is just that I don't use those kinds of monsters too often, though.

I want number appearing, frequency, and climate/terrain to come back to the main block (as listed in the MM, I think a block to be listed in an adventure should be different) and think initiative bonus should have its own listing (and prof bonus too - though they have started doing that) and AC should be broken down parenthetically to all its component parts - like 3E did).

It is for this reason I have my own stat block I use for my own stuff.

I can't say I've really read the 5E DMG and still refer to the 1E one most often.


I prefer my monsters grouped*, but the 5E MM is schizophrenic in this regard - especially with putting all the "beasts" in a separate section in the back. I think having a pure alphabetic list in the front (as done in the recent Planescape MM) with the page and then having classic D&D's sorting method for the actual book would be what I want (so all the Demons are under one entry, all the Devils under another, all Giants in one place, etc.).

Going pure alphabetic would drive me nuts - demons/devils would be scattered all over the place, dragons would be showing up in clumps and all the "Giant" animals would be in one annoying big lump. However, if the MM is going to use groups, it might be smart if the MM was grouped by creature type - Aberrations, Beasts, Celestials*, Constructs, Elementals, Fiends*, Humanoids, Giants, Fey, Monstrosities**, Plants, Undead and then broken down by subgroups - Angels, Demons, Devils, Chromatic Dragons, Metallic Dragons, Genies, Golems, True Elementals, etc. But that almost goes back to the days of sorting spells by Class and then Level, instead of alphabetic. I'm not sure what the best answer really is - it's mostly preference.

As far as spells go, I do find the current method of actually spelling out spell attacks helpful, but I'd like to also see a sidebar with a suggested spell list (just the spell names & level) as a sidebar for those cases when the enemy is a long-running villain, ally or encounter and might have expanded abilities/effects that go beyond a few rounds of combat.

* I did get burned on this in 4E - spending an hour looking for the Tarrasque, to eventually find it under "Abomination" instead of under "Dragon" or simply "Tarrasque".

** I do wish we'd go back to Monstrous Beasts and Monstrous Humanoids, the Monstrous category is a bit too broad

*** We need an "Outsider" category for extraplanar creatures from the Outer planes that are neither Celestial or Fiendish - Modrons, Slaad and Rilmani are at least three examples I think would fall here

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