Hello, sprites and pixies of the Internet!
Today, we nerds couldn’t wait to get our grabby little claws on a new release from Wizards of the Coast. All around the ‘net, I have been seeing pictures and teaser images floating around: of froghemoths, a spam of too many giants to count (probably due to the release of Storm King’s Thunder) and rumor that there are new playable races that are considered ‘monstrous’.
After going on a fetch quest that lasted most of the early afternoon, calling two stores and going to two more, I finally was able to track it down: a book called ‘Volo’s Guide to Monsters’, and the version with the nice Mind Flayer hard cover.
The fictional author of the book, an explorer named Volo (and remarks and quips by famed NPC Elminister Aumar), goes through many of the iconic Dungeons and Dragons monsters with more lore and information on them. This includes giants, gnolls, hags, beholders, yuan-ti, orcs, goblinoids, and kobolds. Later on, we get a slew of new races along with some items/weapons, lairs for each of the races covered, and a massive beastiary of monsters to have at your disposal as the Game Master.
Before I get ahead of myself, let’s do this review in sections. The first part here is going to be on some of the lore sections, because let’s be frank, there’s too much info to cover in one blog post.
A Giant Chunk of Text
I’ll skip to one of the larger sections of the book, which spans fourteen total pages. That’s overkill, and I think someone at Wizards has a serious hard-on for giants. We get it, your favorite story when you were a child was Jack and the Beanstalk.
Surely spurred on by Storm King’s Thunder, Volo describes giants according to their original Monster Manual entries and expands upon it. Given in the giant passages are first impressions about them, how they were born of a creator named Annam the All-Father along with their origin stories. This also includes some detail about why dragons and giants do not exactly like each other.
The language of giants is odd to me. They are largely inspired, from what I can tell, from Norse mythos but one of their key ideals is called Maat. Now, maybe it’s because I’m a geek and a perfectionist about these kinds of things, but ma’at is Egyptian, and is the name of a goddess in their pantheon. Having this mingle with primary Norse influence just puts a sour taste in my mouth. Nothing else about the giants reflect Egypt. Their language uses silent and hard j sounds, as well as in general very harsh, contrasting letters.
The Ordning is a cultural aspect to the giants which has not been mentioned in previous books (at least, that I’m aware of). I get the impression it’s a caste-like system or a way to keep rule, though I could be missing something here. Ordnings vary from giant subraces, which was in itself interesting to see. If not that, it could just be something that they hold important. Fire giants consider craftsmenship one of their highest importances.
For some reason, what a giant carries in it’s bag is a part of this section, and how what is carried inside of it is used for. I never really imagined giants having a backpack save for maybe Hill Giants, but I’m not one to judge.
Interest Rating 1-5: Two. I never did like giants terribly much, and to that extent, goliaths. But at least if I were to use one, I have more insight to them.
No More Gnoll Matriarchs
First, I want to apologize to my friend Doctor Necrotic at Daemons and Deathrays for ever telling me about gnoll matriarchs and their six breasts. Second, apparently Wizards had enough demand for the hyena people to warrant an entire chapter of the Guide to Monsters. Let’s head right in then, shall we?
Lore says that the first gnoll were created by a demon named Yeenoghu, who comes to the Material Plane quite often and leaves a path of death and decay in his wake. Hyenas are his chosen animal of preference, and those who ate the corpses of the ones he killed became upright-walking hyena people. What a lovely origin.
Insatiable killing machines, I get the impression that they belong in Scar’s pack in the Lion King. They crave violence and blood over all else, especially the blood of intelligent creatures. It also says that while Yeenoghu cultists amongst gnolls is all too common, finding one that is not of canine lineage is rare.
We are given also a look into the pecking order of a gnoll war band or tribe. Pack Lords come over all others save for the Fangs of Yeenoghu. And even in death and dire situations, devoured gnolls (called Witherlings) are useful. Like their hyena origins, they are scavengers. Yet, in the war band, they will not attack non-gnoll devotees of Yeenoghu so long as they “join in the slaughter when the band finds prey” (Volo’s Guide to Monsters, page 37).
There are also ways to create a gnoll war band, which is a nice little touch since more tribal societies can sometimes be a hard thing to flesh out. From names for the band itself to those in it’s ranks, later on we are even given stats for gnoll Flesh Gnawers, Hunters and Witherlings. So in case your players don’t like these fleabags, they can try to kick them down and perchance fail.
Interest Rating: three. I did not know terribly much about gnolls up until this point, only loose information and the unyielding interest of one of my friends (I’m looking at you, Cody). They still seem like your average raider band.
Hags: No Damsel In Distress
Okay, I have a deep-seated love of hags. Why would anyone have that, though? They’re ugly, cruel and could make your local lunch lady wretch in horror at their mere sight. Maybe it’s because they’re fey creatures who are a little more formidable then a pixie or dryad.
Your typical hag is the archetype of an evil witch: living in desolate places, luring mortals to their doom and gaining rewards for tricking said adventurers into falling into their own traps. Yet hags are also cowards, and won’t actively go looking “for people to make deals with” (Volo’s Guide to Monsters, page 53). Maybe Night Hags, since they are considered fiends and prefer stealing the souls of sentient beings.
Lair effects and actions, in case you need a super powerful witch queen (perhaps Baba Yaga would suffice then?) are provided, and run through the entire list of provided hag species; annis and bheur hag (included in Volo’s Guide), green, night and sea. They all vary, and makes each of them seem not so cut-and-copy. Make sure you laden these lairs with their minions, which are often times corrupted by vile magics.
And just as I mention Baba Yaga, we are also given a bevy of provided mounts and vehicles for hags. A normal creature such as a horse won’t do. Instead, odd animals like giant pigs, cows and goats are used. If your a hag who’s feeling particularly egotistical, they can always opt for a clay statue, giant cauldron or roc’s nest. Hags have nearly no bounds in creativity for non-living vehicles, which will obey only her command. Now I want to ride a peryton skull across the night sky.
Hags are also largely solitary, but will form covens together if they see a goal is worthy for such cooperation. The more hags in a coven, the more powerful each member becomes. Given also in this portion are alternate coven spells, and there is a chance that a non-hag can join their dark sisterhood with possible dangerous effects on the newcomer.
Interest rating: 5. Any new fey content is always a plus to me, and having expanded options for hags is something I desperately wanted from Wizards.