Volo’s Guide to Monsters (US$49.95/Canadian $63.95) is a Monster Manual 2 of sorts for 5e. The Forgotten Realms personalities of Volothamp and Elminster are featured in this sourcebook, which purports to be written by Volo. Elminster critiques both Volo and his purported writings (the fluff) about the creatures. It reminds me a little of the Post-Its scattered through Evil Hat’s Dresden Files RPG core books, although I don’t find these quite as fun. But perhaps it is only that I am not nearly as familiar with these Realms denizens as I am with Harry and Friends and Forgotten Realms fans may enjoy the Elminster and Volo comments more than me. That said, do not fail to read the small print disclaimer on the publication page opposite the contents page–it is hilarious!
The book starts out with more extensive information of 9 iconic D&D monsters– orcs, goblinoids, giants, gnolls, mind flayers, hags, kobolds, beholders, and Yuan-ti–expanding the information on the select creatures from the Monster Manual‘s several paragraphs to several pages (up to 15). There are plenty of details on where and how they live, plus lots of suggested tactics for GMs to use in encounters. Speaking of tactics, each entry includes a full color, detailed lair map, very good additions for a game that is still quite tactical. The maps would have to be enlarged to be used with miniatures, as each is only the size of a page. (I looked on the maps and the publication pages for a “permission to copy for personal use” note, but I didn’t find one, which may make it difficult to get enlargements made at some libraries or copy stores.)
Chapter 2 adds some non-standard character races–Aasimar (divinely touched humans), Firbolg, Goliath, Kenku (crow people), Lizardfolk, Tabaxi (feline), and Triton. These are full PC write-ups with mechanics as well as background information, Traits, and various personality tables. I personally have serious reservations as to how suitable some of these are for an ongoing campaign. Some have characteristics that if played up at all, would quickly get on the nerves of PCs and their players. For example the Kenku’s constant mimicry and the Lizardfolk’s total lack of empathy, to the point of sociopathy. One of the 2 Aasimar subtypes does almost as much damage to themselves as to opponents when using their class abilities. Perhaps an unusual approach to game balance, but not one I would have fun playing. Of them all the Tabaxi seem to be the best bet for a longer-term PC. This chapter includes a short section on monstrous PCs such as orcs.
Chapter 3 is the Bestiary section. These are new creatures and subtypes. New for this edition at least. All the monsters showcased in Chapter 1 have new subtypes or related monsters presented in this chapter, as do other monsters, it appears. I found the Bestiary entries ranged from “Wow, this is pretty cool/interesting” to “Ugh, this is just plain gross” or even “Why?” Again, that is just my take. My favorite are the Grungs, who are sentient, very oversized poison tree frogs. Grungs don’t have many redeeming qualities, however, being lawful evil slavers. The book ends with appendices covering beasts and NPC types.
This a very attractive volume. The mind-flayer cover art above is the limited edition store only variant we bought as a present for my husband. In person it looks enough like carving that it’s odd that it feels flat. This cover is what got my and my son’s attention when shopping at the FLGS. The maps, as I mentioned, are very detailed and also great looking. The book is full of colorful monster illustrations. Looks aside, however, my overall take on this book is that it is a nice but not absolutely necessary sourcebook for a GM. I wouldn’t recommend Volo’s Guide for a player unless they are an extra-dedicated completist or intend to play a lot of the supplemental or monster PC races.
If you’ve picked up Volo’s Guide, what did you think of it? And what’s your favorite creature?