This book gave me a rather nice problem: I had already given the 5e MM a 5-star review, and this book is better.
The book is pretty straightforward in both what it claims and what it delivers: this is a big book of monsters, very much in the style of the MM. In fact, it's very similar to that book, with each monster being prefaced with a handful of salient points, then a stat-block (formatted just like the MM), artwork, and details of legendary and/or lair actions as appropriate. And at $50 for 400+ monsters, in hardback and full colour, it's a steal.
I do have a couple of nitpicks, of course, because the book isn't quite perfect. I noticed some few cases where a word was incorrect or missing, where a sub-title wasn't bolded where it should have been... and I daresay there are at least a few errors I didn't spot. But those are quibbles. Perhaps slightly more salient, one thing I would have very much appreciated would have been a table of monster traits, similar to the one in the DMG - so that a DM building a variant on one of the monsters (or, indeed, a new monster) knew easily how the various traits should affect the CR. (Of course, there's always more that could go into a book!)
Overall, though, I'm delighted with this book. And my recommendation is simple: if you're a 5e DM looking for more monsters, get this book. (If you can, get both this and "Fifth Edition Foes"... but if you have to choose, this is by far the better deal.)
A really, really useful book. It's as pretty as the official MM, and considerably bigger. Armed with the book, you'll constantly surprise your players who may be familiar with the contents of the MM. And if not, it's heavy enough you can probably just knock 'em out with it.
While I kvetch, it IS still an excellent book. And while I argue that it could be better – that there are a lot of monsters from myth or the history of the game that could have been included – I honestly cannot fault Kobold Press for opting to convert monsters they had already published. And while the book is certainly influenced by the Midgard Campaign, the presence of the world is not overt and focus on *ahem* Midgardian monsters is simply the result of those monsters more easily and cheaply updated.
Of its 350 new types of monsters in the Tome of Beasts, there are easily 145 are monsters I would definitely use (or to to find a flimsy excuse to use) and an additional 135 I could give or take depending on the situation. This leaves just 70 monsters I consider uninteresting, redundant, or just plain lame. This is a very reasonable hit:miss ratio, and I expect to get a lot of use out of this product, especially when my campaign gets higher in levels.
This book is a must for campaigns nearing the teen-levels, or for a game with experienced players who are no longer surprised by standard monsters, or for Dungeon Master that want an increased presence of fey. While you’re unlikely to enjoy every monster in this book, there WILL be lots of monsters you do like.
Disclosure: I backed Tome of Beasts during its kickstarter run, receiving both PDF versions and print.
Tome of Beasts is a huge 400+ monster resource created by Kobold Press, for those few who might not have known those things. When I backed the project it was with some degree of trepidation, as I had no prior experience with Kobold Press. Fortunately, the faith in them was well founded, as this is an incredible product and one of the best things I've kickstarted to date. That said, on to the particulars:
- Many high level threats, greatly expanding the somewhat anemic list of challenges found in the 5e MM for high level play
- Great diversity in monster offerings, while some of the more popular groups (dragons/demons/giants) receive additional content, the book has huge offerings in the way of Fey and Far realm beasts, which is a breath of fresh air.
- Monster lore is loosely tied to Kobold Press' Midgard setting, but most if the info is so general as to be easy to adapt to most settings
- The PDF is well optimized and has good picture quality, runs very well on my tablet
- Monsters seem to be stronger for their CR than the MM options, which is refreshing for those of us who felt the MM low-balled it a bit too much
- Good paper/ink quality, at least in my book there have been no smudging or legibility issues.
- Artwork is amazing, with some real standouts like the demon lord of worms and the fey courts.
- A lot of the enemies are humanoid in nature, even if they're classified as fey, and some of them are obvious filler, like (not)dwarves with magic hats, or humans affected by portal magic that just have more HD and innate spellcasting.
- A lot of redundant/questionable beast races. I have no idea why we need a race of hedgehog folk and a race of lemur folk, but a number of these smack of filler.
- A few mismatches between how the creature is described/plays and the art representing it. One of the most egregious is a devil-scorpion that serves as a mount to devilish generals, but the artwork depicts it as a humanoid wielding a scythe.
- While better than the MM, there's still a habit of adding spellcasting onto creatures to make them more dangerous rather than have them possess unique abilities or attacks.
Overall, I would absolutely recommend Tome of Beasts to any GM running 5e, it's an incredible supplement and will keep your players on their toes for a long time to come. What flaws it does have are greatly overshadowed by the amazing quality of its positives.
Disclosure: I don't know if this needs to be said, but I did kickstart this project, so there you have it. So this review has been a long time coming. I have had this book for a long time, I have looked at a good number of the monsters in detail (though not all, it may take another few months to a year to do so). I think I have a pretty good handle on this book and its contents in a way that I can deliver a relatively in depth review, and hopefully I can tell you something you didn't already know. What you likely do know is that this book is amazingly well done. It has many great monsters that are very well thought out and excellently written. It has a lot of baked in adventure ideas that can be based off of nearly any of the monsters within. It has art that is the envy of the 1st party publishers. It has enough monsters to keep your players entertained and challenged for many a campaign. Lets start with some of my favorite monsters. First, I thoroughly enjoyed the Chained Angel. It is one of very few examples of a creature that can be redeemed, and gives a very good reason for wanting to redeem it. Most creatures are made for bashing to death, or at the very least to present formidable opposition with no choices outside of victory and defeat. The art for the chained angel is excellent. Interestingly, the chained angel had a good number of errors in its mechanical text that have since been fixed in errata, so be wary if you have a print copy. That having been said, the errors do not make this creature unplayable. Second, I have to call out Camazotz as being one of my favorite creatures. I won't go into its mechanics for being a CR 22 creature, but the art is fantastic, and the fact that it is derived from a Meso-American myth is something that pleases me to no end. Overall, well done, and a good candidate for a demon lord. Third, the Drakon makes me happy because it is a beast. Beasts need more love, and one of the central issues with the "animal" type in Pathfinder is that they are too boring. 5e, and Tome of Beasts in particular, seem to dispel this notion and make beasts as interesting as any other creature type. The art work is of course evocative and great, and its stat block is brief but useful. Finally, in a sweeping category I love the NPC section, as it expands the very useful but relatively limited NPC section in the 5th edition monster manual. Not only do we get pictures (unlike in the aforementioned monster manual) for every NPC, and the statistics can easily be used for a plethora of occasions. This is a good addition to the Tome of Beasts, but actually makes me wish that Kobold press would put out a book of NPCs on its own! An honorable mention goes to the various Cthulhu creatures. There is one other book that has Lovecraft monster and I hope to do a comparison on my blog, but so far I am loving the Kobold Press take on them. Now on to the things I didn't like. Now I know a lot of people have mentioned this, but I have to echo that the "dangerous water maidens" are pretty prevalent. In all fairness, it is an artefact of Pathfinder; Pathfinder probably has more of the dangerous water maidens throughout its various bestiaries. However, I would have wanted maybe... one entry for a dangerous water maiden, and an ample side bar or page dedicated to the various cultural variations that comprise the numerous myths surrounding women and water (and boo for not having "la llorona", if you are going to go full on water maiden, be all inclusive!). Really, I get that water maidens are an interesting cultural touchstone like vampires and dragons and ghosts and so on, but I think that it could have been approached more elegantly, with an eye towards the curious cultural differences and what they say about the collective myth. I also am somewhat disappointed that some of the potential playable monsters (things like the Ramag or the Rat Folk) weren't given sidebars for play as PCs, but this is hopefully just to preempt more products like Midgard Heroes and Southland Heroes, both of which I enjoyed and recommend. If I had one other quibble, it is that there are no comprehensive lists as with the Pathfinder Bestiary, with breakdowns of creatures by type, terrain, and so on, but that's really just me being lazy, and I don't fault them for not doing that. I'm sure that the layout on this monster (book) was enough as it was. Moreover, I'm sure that some industrious individual will create such a list soon, if not already. Now, my dislikes of this book were actually few and shallow. I have to end this review by saying that I love this book, it was very well done, and it is an essential book for anyone serious about running 5th edition games. It should be essential if you love bestiaries as I do, and fancy just paging through monsters for any reason. This book is essential as a designer, because every stat block tells a story through its intricate use of the rules. This book is just essential. Trust me, you won't regret the $20 that you will spend on this book as a pdf, and if you should have the extra money, pay to get it in print. I can't tell you how impressive the book really is as a physical text. You will marvel at the size of it, then at the beauty of its full color and glossy pages. It's as big as those obnoxious textbooks you had to carry around in college or perhaps high school, with the important distinction that you will want to see every page and thumb through it. Yes, get this book. Get it now. What are you waiting for!? 5 stars and my royal approval.
This book is excellent in every way, from the art, to the writing, to the stats. I also love the Book of Lairs and the cardboard pawns that they released along with it, which I also bought. I rarely by non-core bestiaries. I barely have time to run through many of those in the MM, much less Volo's Guide to Monsters. But so many of the monsters in this book are evocative. Ultimately, that is the test. If I page through and find my self losing myself in the pages and wanting to build encounters and adventures around what I see, that is a successful bestiary. Few third-party bestiaries do that for me. But Tome of Beasts hooked me and has already provided many hours of entertainment.
Overall I really like the Tome of Beasts. I picked it up from Amazon for $45, so it was a good deal. It has a good selection of high level creatures (especially fey) which I greatly appreciate. It also has a crazy amount of monsters. The downside is that I probably won't use many of the monsters. If you want more monsters for your 5E game this is a good purchase and is in a battle for the 2nd Monster book you should buy for 5E (after MM and battling VGtM for 2nd).
You get 407 monsters by my count, which is pretty close to the Monster Manual which has 409 monsters. All illustrated in full-color. Font size is a bit bigger than the Monster Manual, particularly when it comes to stat blocks.
The monster design is generally on point and consistent with 5e, though there are a few delightful surprises that take bolder riskier decisions. For example, there are several monsters (e.g. Beli, Cambium, Gray Thirster) that impose exhaustion. Other monsters siphon spell slots or steal time. It's wonderful stuff.
I found the "flavor" to be pretty good, in some places outstanding, and fairly consistent with the amount of flavor found in the Monster Manual. There are some nods towards Open Design's Midgard setting which are even interesting to someone not familiar with that setting. There are also several delightful nods to H.P. Lovecraft with references to Leng and the Void.
I found the selection of monsters to be all over the place. There is lots of support for aberrations and other Cthulu-esque monsters. There is lots of support for shadow fey. There is lots of support for a variety of clockwork creatures and other constructs. I was pleasantly surprised by just how much attention these monsters get. Many leap off the page and say "use me in your campaign!" However, other monsters are...just strange...leaving me without a sense of how to use them in a game. Several of the fiends, such as the Malakabel, "demonic messengers" who are the "embodiment of all that is forbidden and destructive" did nothing for me. And the number of "evil seductresses" in the book is almost ridiculous – do we really need Lorelei, Miragers, and Rusulkas? Or does that just lead to the PCs not trusting beautiful women (and most are presented as women) as a matter of habit?
Given my appreciation for old school aesthetics, there are some monsters that just made me giddy. The Cobbleswarm – leaping little monsters that look like bricks and cobblestones and carry prone creatures along with them – reminds me of something straight out of The Labyrinth (with David Bowie). The Gray Thirster actually reminds me of a creature introduced in one of the old Al-Qadim books. So is the Zaratan. You rock, Wolfgang There are definitely several monsters that seem to have a more Arabian-esque or Egyptian theme – some are converted from Open Design's Southlands setting.
The overlap in monsters between Tome of Beasts and Volo's Guide to Monsters is quite minimal. The only ones that stood out as occupying the same design space are ToB's Deep Ones – a direct parallel to Deep Scions in VGtM.
I am waiting on my print copy, but it's my understanding that while the print may lack certain indexes, the PDF has indexes by CR, terrain, and monster type. Awesome.
Overall this is a 5 out of 5. Can't wait to use Tome of Beasts in my games!
TLDR - Do you need more monsters for 5E? Buy this book. Then buy its sequel, Creature Codex.
WOTC left us all with a big conundrum. The official Monster Manual provided great fodder for a year or two, but the (lack of) variety of design (and ravenous players) left DM's needing a go-to game-ready high-quality successor. Deciding to plug this gap, Kobold Press (who also authored 5E's leading 5E Adventure Path Hoard of the Dragon Queen) set to work. The result was a huge professionally illustrated book packed with interesting monsters that pushed the boundaries of 5E monster design in good ways.
Having used many monsters from this book I can confirm that the quality level and game-readiness of its contents is very close to the WOTC Monster Manual, but with more variety and interesting novelties. Considering how long WOTC had to perfect the Monster Manual, while the Tome of Beasts was produced at almost breakneck Kickstarter speeds, this is a huge achievement.
One of my all-time favorite monsters is in this book - The Gilded Devil. A perfect example of lateral thinking in 5E monster design. Go find this book and look him up. His "Scorn Base Metals" ability is a great example of what Tome of Beasts will bring to your table - mystery.
I'll end with a couple notes. This was produced on a tight schedule and sometimes things slipped through. The design leanings of Kobold Press to present more flavorful experiences sometimes produced odd abilities and powers that may not suit your DM'ing style. Having said that, the samey-feeling of many monsters in the Monster Manual makes these quibbles easy for me to ignore.