Last week, Wizards of the Coast released their latest D&D 5th edition fall supplement book, Volo’s Guide to Monsters. I’ve had a week with the book to read it over and even try out some monsters and extended lore in game. Volo’s Guide provides monster lore, new character races and a bestiary with nearly 100 monsters. Read on for my in depth look at this book to find out if it is a must buy for you and your gaming group.

What is Volo’s Guide to Monsters?

Volo's Guide to Monsters CoverThis 224 page book mixes up monster lore, new character races and a bestiary with nearly 100 monsters and is geared towards both players and Dungeon Masters. Volo’s Guide is an interesting read and an excellent resource for creating player characters, a source of monster lore for favorites (such as kobolds, goblins and mind flayers) and stats for nearly 100 new and variant monsters (especially those featured in the lore). It presents this information from both the perspective of loremaster Volo and the famous Forgotten Realms sage Elminster (in the form of notations of Volo’s entries).

From the Official Website:

Research has never been so dangerous…

Explore the breadth of D&D’s monsters in this immersive 224-page volume filled with beautiful illustrations and in-depth lore. Volo’s Guide to Monsters provides something exciting for players and Dungeon Masters everywhere!

The esteemed loremaster Volothamp Geddarm is back and he’s written a fantastical dissertation, covering some of the most iconic monsters in the Forgotten Realms. Unfortunately, the Sage of Shadowdale himself, Elminster, doesn’t believe Volo gets some of the important details quite right. Don’t miss out as Volo and Elminster square off (academically speaking of course) to illuminate the uninitiated on creatures both common and obscure. Uncover the machinations of the mysterious Kraken Society, what is the origin of the bizarre froghemoth, or how to avoid participating in the ghastly reproductive cycle of the grotesque vargouille.

Dungeon Masters and players will get some much-needed guidance as you plan your next venture, traipsing about some dusty old ruin in search of treasure, lore, and let’s not forget … dangerous creatures whose horns, claws, fangs, heads, or even hides might comfortably adorn the walls of your trophy room. If you survive.

Price: $49.95 (C$63.95)
Release Date: November 15th, 2016
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 224

giant

What Do You Get?

Volo’s Guide breaks down into 3 chapters, covering monster lore, new character races and a bestiary with nearly 100 monsters

Monster Lore

In this chapter, Volo provides additional information about the origins, dispositions and behaviors, and lairs (above and beyond what is written in the Monster Manual) for nine iconic D&D monsters. 

  • You get a deep dive look into beholders, giants, gnolls, goblinoids, hags, kobolds, mind flayers, orcs and yuan-ti.
  • You’ll find lots of charts for rolling up minions, backstory and roleplaying, name, treasure and more
  • Each lore section also provides a map and ideas for creating a lair for the monster type

Character Races

This is the shortest of the three chapters and provides players and Dungeon Masters with detailed entries for five new character racial options and two we have seen before. We also get six racial trait blocks for turning common monsters into racial options.

  • The new options are: Firblog, Kenku (crow), Lizardfolk, Tabaxi (cat), Triton (sea)
  • Options we have seen before:
  • We also get racial traits for monstrous options which include bugbear, goblin, hobgoblin, kobold, orc and yuan-ti.

Bestiary

Chapter 3 provides a bestiary with game statistics and lore for nearly one hundred monsters

  • You’ll find new monsters such as the froghemoth, the neogi, and the vargouille
  • You’ll find new entires for the monster families found in chapter 1 such as the Hobgoblin Devastator, Bheur Hag, Cloud Giant Smiling One and the Mind Flayer Elder Brain
  • The appendices provides some additional beast such as cattle and a dolphin (which I actually needed last campaign and had to homebrew).
  • You’ll also find a good selection of NPCs to provide a ton more variety when you are throwing magic users and warriors at your players in the appendices. I think these will be super useful to anyone who has found themselves having to create NPCs that have abilities similar to player characters that weren’t provided in the Monster Manual.
  • The book provides monster lists by type, challenge rating and environment in the appendices!

My Impressions

When I first received my review copy from Wizards of the Coast last week, my initial impressions were mostly positive. The book looks great and the monster entries look as good as anything in the Monster Manual (2014), with tons of illustrations to go with stat blocks for nearly 100 new monsters. A minor concern I had when I first held the book was it was only 224 pages, a much lower page count than the 3 core books which all push past 300 pages. As I found the time to dig deeper into the book, I quickly stopped worry about how many more monsters the book could have had and started to really enjoy everything I was reading. This book isn’t just a Monster Manual 2, a player option splat book or monster lore tome. Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide did a good job mixing lore and mechanical options and I think that Volo does an even better job.

orc

Conclusion

This is one of my favorite 5th edition books and should be useful for more games out there than the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide (2015). I’ve already used lore (gnolls) and addition monsters (gnolls, NPC Blackguard) in my current game, and the content is really helpful when prepping for an encounter.

Who Might Want to Avoid It?

  • Players who like to be surprised when taking on monsters
  • Players who are not interested in playing more obscure racial options
  • Players who are looking for a substantial amount of player options
  • Dungeon Masters who haven’t purchased the Monster Manual yet
  • Dungeon Masters who just want a big giant Monster Manual 2 with 300+ monsters

Who Should Buy It?

  • Players who are interested in playing interesting new racial options
  • Anyone who likes monster lore (if you liked reading through the Monster Manual, you’ll love this), especially Dungeon Masters looking to create monsters powered with more backstory and roleplaying for their players to encounter
  • Dungeon Masters who find themselves wanting (or homebrewing) more monster variations to send at their players
  • Dungeon Masters who are running Storm King’s Thunder and are looking for more backstory and variety for their giants

I highly recommend it to anyone who falls into the ‘Who Should Buy It’ above. I would consider it a must buy for anyone who regularly runs a game with typical D&D monsters such as kobolds, gnolls, giants, orcs, goblins and iconic monsters such as mind flayers and beholders. The Monster Manual does a good job providing lore for dragons, devils, demons and some other monsters. It’s nice to see goblins, orcs, kobolds, etc getting the same attention (and then some) in this book.


Hobby Store Exclusive

dnd_trpg_volosguidetomonsters_alt_coverVolo’s Guide to Monsters also released a limited edition, exclusive to core hobby stores, that feaures an alternative-art cover, beautifully illustrated by Hydro74.

This version of the book will only have a single printing, so if you need to have it, get out there and find one before they are all gone.

Where Else Can I Find Volo’s Guide?

You can also find Volo’s Guide available via Fantasy Grounds and Steam, as well as via Roll20. Check our Mike’s look at Volo on Fantasy Grounds.

Check out our Volo’s Guide to Monsters previews collection to see lots of illustrations and some page previews.

 

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher’s PR agency.

 

Shares
  • Shawn E.

    If anyone else has read the book, let us know your impressions and share any hands on you’ve had with it in your game. Thanks!

    • yama

      I think I commented when this book was announced to the effect that I would rather have seen a Monster Manual 2, as I’m happy with the amount of lore monsters got in MM1 and more than content to flesh them out if I want more details.

      I’ve had a chance to look at this now and while my personal opinion is still that more monsters would have been preferable to the expanded lore sections, I can definitely agree with everything about Shawn’s review.

      My personal opinion aside this IS actually an excellent book:

      – Even if there are less monster statblocks than I personally might have wished, there are a still a fair chunk of new or variant monsters and for the most part they are all exciting, I can’t wait to add some to my game.

      – I was also particularly pleased with the section on new playable races. I practically giggled with glee as I read this section, because it was like they’d written it for MY campaign – which heavily features Kenku, Lizardfolk, Orcs, AND Tabaxi, all four of which are in Volo’s Guide. The Tabaxi were the big surprise for me, as they are definitely a more obscure Realms race.

      – Even if I feel that I didn’t particularly need the lore sections, I’m sure I will still pull some tidbits of lore from them and have no doubt they will be a convenient way to enrich my game with a little less effort on my part.

      All in all, this really is an excellent product, but the value for money will definitely differ from individual. Shawn’s lists are pretty much on point – although as I’ve mentioned, I actually fall into the last group of people who “might want to avoid it”, and I still found enough there to keep me satisfied.

    • Shawn E.

      might 🙂 Thanks for your feedback and notes to share with other readers.

    • Shane

      I did something with this that I haven’t done with a sourcebook since Shadowrun 1st Ed – I sat down and read it cover to cover.

    • Shawn E.

      very cool. thanks for sharing.

  • MTi

    Hey, nice review!!! Short but thorough and analytical.

    I had written a short review of the book myself in the topic of the Previews Collection, it was actually a first impression review and it remains the same today, as I haven’t found the time to thoroughly go through the book. Anyhow, here it is:

    “Arrived at my local gaming store yesterday and of course I rushed to pick it up, braving awful traffic and a car with a faulty clutch.

    First, the complaint. I wish it was bigger. I wanted more monsters. At least for that price tag.

    But beyond that, it is all gold. The “conversations” between Volo and Elminster are great and give so much flavor. The monsters that are covered are more or less typical D&D monsters (beholders, gnolls, goblinoids, orcs to name a few) and there is such a wealth of information about each, that as a DM I’ll feel sorry for my poor critters getting slain by the PCs. Even lairs are given complete with (awesome Mike Shley) maps. The best for me are the personality trait tables that are given, in order to better your RP of BBEG monsters, like the beholder.

    The new PC options are cool, although we had seen Aasimar and Kenku in the DMG and Goliaths in the PotA Player’s Companion PDF. For some of these new PC races that are not otherwise covered in the book we also get a “Quirks” table that gives more depth in RP. The interesting thing about them is that we see a PC Race getting a bonus in three ability scores (Triton) and we have a return of the decrease in ability scores as in 3.x (Orcs, Goblins and Kobolds if I’m not mistaken).

    The updated “bestiary” looks good, although I just flipped it through. There are lots of fey, more types of the monsters covered in the first section of the book (more beholders, more orcs etc) and some random monsters (like the Flail Snail).

    Finally, there is an Appendix with lots of NPC types of various levels (i.e. the Archer, the Necromancer etc).

    So, I like it a lot. There are so many ideas in there. And I’ve come to really enjoy these hybrid books they issue now. Once again, they made we want more.”

    • Shawn E.

      thanks for the repost. we used to get the books early, so it was easier to get a review out on launch day.

    • MTi

      Yes, this must be a bummer. But hey, better late than never.

    • Shawn E.

      getting a review copy is great, but I don’t like releasing a review a week after wide release…

    • MTi

      Yes in the Internet era this is close to not making the review at all. But once again, it is better to have it on the site than none at all.

Shares