Fifth Edition Monster Manual Review

I just received my copies of the new D&D fifth edition core rulebooks. I only had time to look through the monster manual, but here are my initial thoughts.

My friends and fellow gamers will tell you that I am not easily impressed. In fact, I’m hypercritical to point of being offensive about TV shows, movies, books, and games. So when I say that I am thoroughly, truly, impressed with the quality and content of the new monster manual, it is high praise. I grumbled and complained when I had to convert from second to third, but I came around and have played 3.5 for fifteen years. I own nearly every 3.5 book (I skipped fourth edition all together because it was an abomination so vile it should have been smothered at birth and fed to a grick), so I am deeply invested in 3.5. That said, when I look through the fifth edition books, I get a sense of excitement and novelty that I haven’t felt since I started playing D&D over twenty years ago.

In no real order:

The Good Things

  • The artwork (for the most part) is the best since the second edition Monstrous Compendium, but more so because these monsters are in color.
  • The stat blocks are so clean, succinct, and easy to use, a novice DM can pick up the book and not be confused.
  • Flavor has returned to D&D. One complaint I had about my beloved 3.5, is that much of the flavor and fluff present in second edition was removed and replaced with mechanics. The 5e MM has small inserts that outline legendary and familiar monsters or villains from D&D forty year past. For example, next to the Death Knight is a passage about Lord Soth and his history. The vampire entry features a picture of Strahd Von Varovich with a blurb about his history. The same is true for the Demilich, Acerack is pictured and a small insert details his story. (Not to start an edition/game war, but this deep history of beloved characters is what Pathfinder is missing)
  • The stat blocks list average damage next to each attack along with the dice like this: 23 (4d8+5), this seems like a small detail, but it will greatly aid a DM running several monsters or a monster with numerous attacks, like a dragon or a hydra. Fifth edition truly strives to streamline the game when possible.
  • Certain powerful creatures are “Legendary”, and have powers that lesser monsters don’t possess. Cooler still, is when you encounter a legendary creature in its lair, it gets to activate a lair power on 20 in the initiative order. So the red dragon might stomp the floor and cause a spurt of lava to jet up from the floor of his cave and burn the party. These legendary creatures also have regional effects that warp a radius around their lair.
  • NPC’s. There is an appendix full of pregen NPC’s. Think of the second edition MM’s entry for humans. It listed pirates, laborers, spell casters, and knights. The 5e appendix is similar, filled with cultists and commoners that a DM’s job easier.
  • A CR 30 Tarrasque. Finally, Big T is the baddest thing in the MM.

The Bad

It is honestly hard to find anything bad to say about this book. I’ve added the few complaints that I came up with as I read, but they seem nit-picky.

  • Flump? Seriously? You wasted a page on this?
  • Not sure we needed a three-page spread dedicated to Modrons. I guess people dig em.
  • Many monsters have been reduced in challenge rating. These creatures haven’t necessarily been reduced in power, but the MM is full of low CR monsters and it seems that fleshing out high-level adventures might be more difficult. For example: In the NPC section, the archmage is like level 18 (don’t quote me on that) and a CR of 12.
  • My Biggest complaint: page 140 and 141 are blackened and completely unreadable. I will reserve nerd rage on this until I find out if I can return my copy for a replacement. In the meantime, my players can rest safely at night in the knowledge that I can’t send gargoyles after them.
  • Dragons have been reduced to four age categories. Not sure this is a problem, I liked that there was a dragon for a variety of CR’s, but the drawback was that they weren’t completely fleshed out with feats. Now there are only four dragons and they give a complete stat block for each.
  • The size of several monsters has changed and left many of my miniatures obsolete. The reverse is also true though, many monsters have changed to a size that is easier to manage. For example, the mimic is now medium (which makes more sense than a ten-foot wide chest) and I can use the amazing mimic miniature from Reaper’s Bones line.

Overall, the 5e MM is the best in years, if not the best ever in my opinion.

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