There Be Monsters Here! (A Pre-Release Review of D&D Monster Manual by Wizards of the Coast)

Despite the ending of the summer and the lull after GENCON and PAX PRIME, the excitement at the release of the new 5th Edition Player’s Handbook last month is still going strong! And by all accounts, the new adventure arc Hoard of the Dragon Queen is doing quite well, with many D&D fans enjoying the new organized play activities presented each week in stores around the country.

But now, D&D enthusiasts have a new release coming up at the end of this month – the D&D Monster Manual goes on sale this Friday the 19th of September in select stores, and for general retail sales on the 30th! As the second core rulebook for the new 5th Edition of D&D, the Monster Manual is an absolute essential purchase for any Dungeon Master looking to create their own worlds and adventures.

Don't Miss: Review of Hoard of the Dragon Queen | Review of the Player's Handbook | Review of the D&D Starter Set

So how does this new D&D Monster Manual compare to its predecessors? Read on and find out!

D&D Monster Manual (5th Edition)

  • Lead Designers: Mike Mearls & Jeremy Crawford
  • Monster Manual Lead: Chris Perkins
  • Stat Block Development: Chris Sims, Rodney Thompson, Peter Lee
  • Story Development: Robert J. Schwalb, Matt Sernett, Steve Townsend, James Wyatt
  • Cover Art: Raymond Swanland
  • Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
  • Year: 2014
  • Media: Hardbound (352 pages)
  • Price: $49.99 (Available for pre-order on Amazon.com for $29.97)

The D&D Monster Manual is the second hardbound book released for the new edition of Dungeons & Dragons (5th Edition). The D&D Monster Manual includes more than 400 iconic monsters from the previous editions of Dungeons & Dragons, and comes complete with monster stat blocks, full-color illustrations, description of powers, ecologies, lairs, and much more...


Production Quality

The production quality of the D&D Monster Manual is much like its predecessor in the D&D 5th Edition core rulebook series – it’s another stunning jaw-droppingly gorgeous book! Like the Player’s Handbook released last month, this D&D Monster Manual is designed to impress even the most picky RPG rulebook collectors. The authorship of the writers on this project is simply incredible, with prose which cannot help but fire the creativity of Dungeon Masters as they read the lore of their favorite monsters. The layout of the pages is designed for maximum effect of being both useful to the DM and beautiful to look upon. It is one of those RPG rulebooks that simply compels a gamer to pick it up and leaf through its pages over and over again.

The D&D Monster Manual possesses both a table of contents and an index of the creature stat block locations for quick reference. But regretfully, the index font is tiny 6pt fine style which makes it very frustrating to puzzle out without a magnifying glass. And the D&D Monster Manual lacks a listing of monsters by the CR (Challenge Rating) - a troubling oversight by the designers when trying to make a user-friendly edition of D&D.

Looking at the tome itself, this new D&D Monster Manual is a heavy beast of a rulebook, weighing in at just over two and a half pounds. It has a good sturdy binding, like the Player’s Handbook and solid glossy cover panels heavy enough to let the book lay open on a table. The cover art wraps around the through front and back, and it has the same thick black endpapers on the inside. Again, like the Player’s Handbook, the inner pages are slick to the touch and of good weight with a faint parchment style graphics. The monster stat blocks appear in gold boxes which really stand out on the page, and any special text or notes of interest appear in vibrant mint green boxes.

And the Art Directors at Wizards of the Coast have really kept their artists busy this year with the new D&D 5th Edition releases! Many of the same artists who worked on the amazing illustrations for the new Player’s Handbook are back again with art for this new D&D Monster Manual, but there are nearly twice the number of illustrators working on this new sourcebook! Fans of MTG will likely recognize the names and styles of some of the artists who contributed their talents to this project – the cover depicting the infamous Xanathar disposing of some pesky unwanted visitors was rendered by Raymond Swanland. Leafing through the interior pages, A Reader will find that nearly every monster listed in the new D&D Monster Manual has an accompanying illustration, most of which are new imaginings of classic D&D monsters and beautifully rendered. And in some cases, the full-color illustrations are accompanied by a smaller sketch or two showing the monster in different action poses or as a close-up image. Certainly there might be some gamers not particularly fond of a new rendition here and there of their favorite monster, but given the fantastic work of the artists, those complaints will likely be few.

In overall production quality, the new D&D Monster Manual is perfectly designed to impress, awe, and inspire Dungeon Masters riffling through its pages. It’s a handsome companion to the new Player’s Handbook – and it certainly makes one wonder what the new Dungeon Masters’ Guide might look like when it is finally unleashed!

Somebody Order the Oldies but Goodies?

For the most part, the new D&D Monster Manual is populated with creatures and beasties that will be completely familiar to anyone who has played any D&D in the past 30 years - or any heroic fantasy MMO or video game for that matter. If a gamer has played at least one edition of D&D, the monster recognition could easily be as high as 75% here, and certainly even higher for gamers who have played two of more editions of Dungeons & Dragons (or Pathfinder).

The new D&D Monster Manual for 5th Edition is presented in the straightforward fashion of previous Monster Manuals before it – alphabetically. Monsters which belong to a particular family of creatures -such as demons, lycanthropes, and oozes – are listed alphabetically under that grouping. Other than the monster listings, the new D&D Monster Manual has an introduction, two appendices, and an index at the end – the vast bulk of the pages are devoted to hundreds and hundreds of monsters for D&D!

Statistically, there are about 435 monsters in the book, with more than half of the creatures listed as being of Challenge Rating (CR) 2 or lower. The chart below reveals that there is a largest numbers of monster listings at CR 2 (58 entries), CR 1/4 (44 entries), CR 1/2 and CR 1 (35 entries each). At first glance, this might seem to be an issue with so many monsters designed for low-level play and few at high level play. However, this is not the case when taking into account the bounded accuracy design concept in the new 5th Edition D&D, which keeps AC and to-hit bonuses from reaching extreme levels. Of course, the stats and abilities vary considerably across monsters even of the same CR, but the theory is that a party of four decently equipped heroes will find themselves evenly matched by a monster of the same CR as their character level.


In the Introduction of the D&D Monster Manual, the authors discuss the various working parts of a monster entry – including the aforementioned CR. A creature’s Size, Type, Alignment, AC, Saving Throws, Ability Scores, and the rest of the mechanics are explained in detail here, giving a DM all the information needed to design and run an encounter with any monster in the book. To gamers familiar with at least one edition of Dungeons & Dragons – particularly d20 or 4E – much of this information is quite familiar, although there are a few new mechanics for monsters that are quite new for 5th Edition.

It should be mentioned that despite there being some new mechanics, the authors did a solid job of capturing the essential “classic” combat abilities of each of the monster. Although the infamous “save or die” mechanics in the D&D Monster Manual are now “save and then save again or die”,so heroes have two chances to avoid a grisly end from a medusa’s gaze or a beholder’s disintegrate eye-stalk.

Monsters capable of grappling is quite a common trait in the new D&D Monster Manual, and these creatures only require a single hit to allow them to have the hero in a grapple hold. Further, these automatic grapple effects are often the prelude to a more vicious assault such as gaining advantage for additional attacks or simply swallowing a hero whole!

Another mechanic used frequently is limited usage, which typically appears as X/Day. However, the Recharge X-Y mechanic from 4E has some monster abilities coming back based on a d6 roll (i.e. Recharge 5-6).

But one of the more interesting and potentially dramatic abilities that a few monsters have are the Legendary Actions. Monsters like dragons, beholders, the Tarrasque (yea, it’s in there!) are deemed as Legendary Monsters and gain three special actions they can use each turn at the end of another creature’s action. Further, these Legendary Monsters have Lair Actions which can cause effects to occur within their abode once per turn. A Red Dragon might cause the ground in her lair to shake violently nearby, possibly thrown heroes to the ground unless they make a saving throw. Charging into a monster’s lair has never been quite so frightening! Some Legendary Monsters even have legendary resistance in the form of a daily number of automatic saving throws. Bottom line – Legendary Monsters are tough, mean, and very, very dangerous! In some cases, Legendary Monsters even cause effects around the countryside near their lair, like earth tremors or strange feelings experienced by the PCs and NPCs - a clear warning that some very bad thing is lurking in the region.

But one should not get the impression that this new D&D Monster Manual is all about stat blocks and rules. Quite the contrary, this newest incarnation of the ubiquitous monster manual has a great amount of lore and “fluff” about the monster, presenting considerable amounts of roleplaying material for DMs to utilize. Each monster entry has descriptors of its habits and ecology, much the same way that a character in this edition will have ideals, flaws, and backgrounds. These descriptors are much like the aspects used in FATE CORE - a short tag-line that encapsulates a monster’s nature, followed by a paragraph or two explaining more about that tag-line in terms of lore. For instance, a Hook Horror is tagged with Echoes in the Dark, Pack Predators, and Dedicated Clans, with a paragraph describing how hook horrors communicate by tapping their exoskeletons with their claws, how they hunt prey, and how they organize their family units. In essence, a DM can grasp the main concepts behind a monster’s behavior, ecology, and hunting style with a few short phrases, and can reference the more detailed lore for creating encounters or adventure hooks.

As far as monsters covered in this new D&D Monster Manual, there are clearly too many to list in a review of this size. It has all the classic humanoids and giants, dragons, demons, and devils, and all the famed monstrosities loved by D&D fans the world over like owlbears, mind flayers, and drow. But it also has quite a few of the rarer monsters from the early editions, ones found in the AD&D Monster Manual II and from the Fiend Folio, so from there one can find githyanki, githzerai, death knights, behir, and the preposterously Twitter-popular flumpfs.

It should also be noted that there are plenty of side notes and references to other settings beyond the Forgotten Realms made in the new D&D Monster Manual. One can find blurbs about Lord Soth from Dragonlance, Strahd von Zarovich of Ravenloft, and Shemeshka the Marauder of Planescape. Whether this portends the release of new versions of these famous D&D settings is anyone’s guess…


Overall Score: 9.1 out of 10.0


Conclusions

It’s possible that the new 5th Edition D&D Monster Manual might very well be the grandest MM ever produced for this RPG. Certainly, the D&D Monster Manual is physically one of the sturdiest designs -not all of the old MM’s were so well made as anyone who owned a 2nd Edition Monster Manual can tell you. And from a writing and illustration perspective, this new D&D Monster Manual is wonderful to read and contains some downright amazing new renderings of iconic fantasy monsters.

And it would seem that that this new D&D Monster Manual has more monsters between its covers than any single MM has ever had before. Considering the sheer bulk of monsters and lore in this might new Monster Manual, the price to own a copy of is very reasonable indeed! Definitely a must-have book for any DM planning on taking up 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons for a long term campaign!


Editorial Note: This Reviewer received a complimentary playtest copy of the product in hardbound format from which the review was written.


Grade Card (Ratings 0 to 10)

  • Presentation: 9.25
  • - Design: 9.0 (Fantastic writing; Great layout; font for the index and some sidenotes very hard to read)
  • - Illustrations: 9.5 (Illustrations are mind-blowing. Done. )
  • Content: 9.0
  • - Crunch: 9.0 (Great legendary monster mechanics; good adherence to “traditional” monster attacks )
  • - Fluff: 9.0 (Tons of lore and ecology for monsters; adventure hooks abound!)
  • Value: 9.0 (A gargantuan pile of monsters for a decent price!)

Don't Miss: Review of Hoard of the Dragon Queen | Review of the Player's Handbook | Review of the D&D Starter Set
 

Comments

Connorsrpg

Adventurer
You know, I am not that fussed about the lack of a CR list in the MM. Maybe that will be in the DMG? It would actually better in another source other than the MM, so you can have it open beside you whilst you flip through the MM. If it was in the MM, you would tend to print another copy to do this anyway. So, finding one on the net until the DMG comes out is fine by me. If it is not in the DMG either, then yeah, that is an oversight, but one that is easy to correct, as I am sure several people will post such lists online. There is already one. :)

A great review though. Nice summary. I am wondering what it takes to get a 10 in your categories though? "Mindblowing" doesn't do it? ;)
 

Winterthorn

Monster Manager
Last night I brought my new shiny copy home and spent a good 3 to 4 hours reading the introductory chapter and leafing through every single page to admire the art, read bits of stats, and savour some of the fluff text, notes and sketches in the margins. Honestly, this review is really on the mark: the production quality and the content are near perfect - and speaking as a grognard - certainly the most polished than any previous edition published.

My own initial reaction is Wizards hit it out of the proverbial ballpark by including a fantastic collection of iconic monsters, crunch and fluff together. I don't believe anything can be perfect, but, notwithstanding a missing CR table, I think this book deserves excellent grades and high praise.
 
Last edited by a moderator:

Nebulous

Hero
Maybe it is because the internet is more vocal from dissenters regarding the missing CR table, but i have NEVER personally used such a chart, like ever, and its lack of inclusion doesn't bother me in the least. If that is the worst thing about the 5e MM then it must be pretty darn great overall.
 

Gebrothru

Explorer
Great book, except for the lack of size information for many of the creatures (yes, I know they have a size category, but how big is an Aboleth, for example - 20' long? 30' long?).
 

In Our Store!

Advertisement

Advertisement

Top