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Dungeons & Dragons — Monster Manual Review

“Apprehensively excited” would be how you could describe my reaction to the new edition of Dungeons and Dragons. I participated in the public playtest, but it didn’t really electrify me in any way. The Player’s Handbook, though, got me wanting to play D&D again, and the new Monster Manual really has me chomping at the bit to roll some dice with friends.

The first thing I noticed when opening up the new Monster Manual was how pretty it is. Wizards of the Coast really went all out when it comes to illustrating the monsters. The art walks the fine line of keeping the monsters somewhere between realistic and cartoony, and I think it’s a perfect design aesthetic for the game. The monsters aren’t off-putting, but they aren’t adorable, either.

Monster ManualI would be remiss to not mention the great cover image of the legendary beholder attacking a group of adventurers who stumbled into its lair. That picture alone makes me want to jump into the game as soon as possible.

This is also the first Monster Manual in awhile that made me actually want to read the lore portions. Generally, I just want a bestiary with a bunch of stat blocks that I can use in my game, but I was engrossed while reading about the giants, drow, and dragons. Some story hooks emerged in my mind while reading the flavor text, so the writers really did their work well in that regard. It’s more than just a rulebook, and I appreciate that.

Each monster feels basically unique, too. There weren’t many times when I felt like a creature was basically a reskin of another creature. Most monsters have unique abilities that set them apart. Again, that’s super helpful for people who are running a game and want to keep things fresh.

The selection of monsters is pretty decent; though, I considered complaining about the 33 pages or so of dragons, but then I remembered what the name of the game was.  The system (right now) seems more heavily weighted towards early game, with most of the monsters being challenge level five or under. (Challenge level is a quick metric of how powerful a monster is. A challenge level of one means that four level one characters should have a decent challenge when encountering the creature).

I tend to think that RPGs get really interesting after level five. While there’s plenty for adventures of mid-to-high level to battle, I wish WotC would’ve dropped some of the lesser-known, low-level monsters for some more advanced creatures. That’s a minor quibble, though. A good DM shouldn’t have any problems crafting unique adventures with what’s there. (And what’s there is A LOT. There are over 400 creatures in the book.)

Speaking of high-level monsters, I love the “legendary” monster rules. Monsters like the Tarrasque have “legendary actions” that afford them extra actions that they can perform after another creature’s turn. Maybe they can attack, or stomp on your adventurer, stuff like that. It’s a great idea and kind of breaks the game in favor of “boss” creatures. I really like that for some reason. Maybe because it reminds me of the final battle in a Final Fantasy game.

If you were wondering if the new version of Dungeons & Dragons was worth playing, I think this Monster Manual could be just the thing to heighten your desire to play the game. Head to your friendly local game store and check it out; I think you’ll find that D&D is back with a vengeance. With the Monster Manual, Wizards of the Coast strove for greatness, and I think they hit their target.

The Monster Manual for Dungeons & Dragons releases on September 30th. The Cool Ship was given an early review copy of the book.

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