Faith Reviews: Volo’s Guide to Monsters, Part Two

And we are back, friends, with more reviewing on Volo’s Guide to Monsters! I haven’t touched this series of updates recently, since I have been doing several projects for Dungeon Master’s Guild, but with this I hope to resume progress on my opinion on the text.

Keep in mind that while I will aim to write about different aspects about the book, that I may not touch upon each and every little thing (that in itself is a massive undertaking!). Though, if you want my opinion on something specific, please let me know and I’ll return an answer catered to you.

Let’s begin!


Monstrous Races: A Terrifying Good Time

A commonplace complaint that I hear about 5th Edition is that people constantly want more playable races, and sometimes their requests are quite…odd. One of my players wanted to be a gigantic shark-man, which I allowed after he ingested a bad potion.

Volo’s has presented us with many a number of sparkly new races for the most part. Aasimar and Goliath were already mentioned in previous texts for 5e, in Sword Coast Adventures and in the Dungeon Master’s Guide. I wonder why Eladrin, by proxy, are not mentioned here in this book? Hmm..

In no particular, we have:

 

Image result for dungeons and dragons firbolg

  • Firbolg: giant-blooded beings with connections to the fey. While traditional mythology has the Firbolgs as warrior druidic spirits, they made them seem more docile and peace loving over anything else. There aren’t any official races yet though which have both Wisdom and Strength as their racial stats, so this seems like the perfect build for Nature Clerics and Moon Druids. Hidden Step is also at-will invisibility which you can use once before regaining on a short or long rest.

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  • Kenku: glorified flightless corvids. Perfectly thematic for Raven Queen Warlocks (see my previous post for that!), I find that the inability to speak naturally is greatly hindering and difficult for most players to do with success. You need to imitate others using Mimicry in order to get your thoughts across. While the challenge may tickle an advanced player’s fancy, it turns me off to the race as a whole. The rest of the racial boons are meh at best.

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  • Lizardfolk: I can see fluff-wise Lizardfolk lining up with the Charlatan Background just from the ‘Cold and Calculating’ titled section, though their stats don’t lend to persuasive characters very well. Natural attacks, such as their Bite and Hungry Jaws, could be interesting if utilized to maximum capacity but in a game where the damage is a mere 1d4, I would not see much use for this. Hold Breath and the swim speed of 30 feet though could be invaluable, depending on the campaign they are played in.

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  • Tabaxi: the Khajit of D&D. The lore of the Tabaxi is as bland as the Dragonborn (even though I do enjoy that race in particular, if done right) history, but the Personality Quirks do add some more substance to them. Any creature with a plus to Dexterity is always  good as is Darkvision. Racial Perception and Stealth are another nice addition, though it suffers a bit from Natural Attacks like the Lizardfolk.

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  • Triton: Don’t we already have something similar in the Water Genasi? I don’t like how they have an racial plus-one to THREE stats. They seem to have just too much stuff going on for them (innate spellcasting, communication of simple ideas with sea life, and cold damage resistance). In an ocean-faring campaign, these guys are the undisputed overpowered special snowflakes, though  I suppose they at least make sense with the terrain.

 

Other Races

Starting on page 118, we are given even more odd races: Bugbear, Goblin, Hobgoblin, Kobold, full-blooded Orc and Pureblood Yuan-Ti. Not completly out of place with the lore sections in the front of the book, I wonder why they also did not add a section on Gnolls or half-Hags as monstrous race options.

I am surprised that Orcs have a NEGATIVE to their racial stats (a minus two to their Intelligence), as I don’t think I have seen a race that has that sort of thing to their stats in 5e yet. Kobolds suffer a same fate, with their minus two going into Strength. So all of you who want to play Kobold Barbarians, you’re going to be at a disadvantage. Other then that, all of the options for monster races have increases which stay in line with the ‘plus one’, ‘plus two’ formula. Image result for dungeons and dragons kobold

Hobgoblin’s Martial Training seems out of place for a racial feature, as something like that is reserved mostly for a class such as Fighter. Though since most of their innate stuff is ‘meh’ at best, I would not mind it so much.

Kobold’s Sunlight Sensitivity can be absolutely crippling if you don’t play your cards right, and Grovel, Cower and Beg seems thematically funny while situational. Though personally, I don’t like playing such cowardly things.

Yuan-Ti Purebloods have a lot going for them, perhaps too much. I have heard they have levels of power creep to them, but I don’t terribly see it since their Innate Spellcasting is in line with any other race who has this. Though, Magic Resistance is a HUGE thing which people at higher levels are salivating for (mostly begging for a Mantle of Spell Resistance). Immunity and not just resistance to all poison damage as well as unable to be poisoned is also a huge thing, again though situational.

Overall, I think the races add some good variety but should still be carefully considered for both players and Dungeon Masters. Firbolg and Tabaxi seem the most balanced and in tune with the format for what we have in the core Player’s Handbook, while Triton and Yuan-Ti should be kept on a tight leash. Feel free to disagree with me though, but do it in a civilized manner.


 

A Menagerie of Beasts and How to Stat Them

Image result for dungeons and dragons volo's guide to monsters art

There is over fifty pages of just new creatures to throw at your players (or possibly tame, if your Animal Handling skill is off the charts) as well as several new Non-Playable Characters. Of course, they include sections on what was covered in the Lore portions at the start of the book (Giant, Mind Flayer, Gnoll, Hag, Goblinoid).

What surprises me the most though is just how many more fey creatures we were given. These include the Boggle, Darklings, Annis and Bheur Hag, Korred, Meenlock, Quickling, Redcap, Wood Woad, and Yeth Hound. While none reach over a CR 10 rating, there are significantly more terrifying choices then just a Green Hag or a group of Pixies turning your party into squirrels via polymorph. Such a sharp increase in these types of creatures makes me think they may have a new campaign module where the fey are a prominent part of the story line. But that’s just my hope.

Five new Yuan-Ti? We already have three I believe in the core Monster Manual. How many more do we need? There’s two more Gnoll typings, technically three if you count the Witherling, and many throwback references to previous editions. Flail Snails and Grungs, for example, all hearken back to eras before 5e.

Did I also mention there are dinosaurs in Volo’s? For the Moon Druid who wants to bring Jurassic Park to your table, now they can do so appropriately by turning into a raptor.


Final Product Review 

In total, if your Dungeon Master has gotten everything they could ask for, this might be a good reference for them to have at their disposal. While most of the book tends to be lore heavy, which I understand some people may be turned off at the sight of, there is plenty of juicy bits to stay latched onto.

The races can be considered experiments on the whole, with only a small handful seeming like they meet the balance scale of the Player’s Handbook criteria. Similar to the Unearthed Arcana content, it seems like most of the stuff that players can access here are in the early stages of being finished, though that does not mean the options are bad.

The monsters are top notch, as is the artwork. I am particularily terrified of the Draegoloth, and I would never want to meet him down a dark alley in a tunnel system.

I would give Volo’s Guide to Monsters a solid: 7 out of 10.

 

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Crow of War: Review on the Raven Queen Warlock Pact (Unearthed Arcana)

It has been several weeks since Wizards of the Coast gave us the Unearthed Arcana packet of both Warlock and Wizard, and it quite surprised me while not surprising me at the same time.

I quote my boyfriend currently: he absolutely adored the 3.5 Hexblade Prestige Class. I personally hate the notion of Prestige Classes but that’s a personal preference above all else. As soon as we saw that a new Patron had been added for the Warlock, called the Hexblade, I could just hear his little prior edition gears going into overdrive and childlike joy emerging into him.

But wait: what was this Raven Queen Pact that was also in the segment? Curious, reading into it’s fluff text, it fascinated me even more. Considering how corvids are some of my favorite creatures in the world and that the goddess Morrigan is super bad-ass in Celtic mythos, I took it upon myself to test this new shadowy Pact out myself.

So let’s dive right in, shall we?

The Raven Queen, like the Feywilds, is a product of editions past, and it seems that Wizards is investing in the ‘reintroduce new players to old content’ market: with ‘Tales of the Yawning Portal’ being released by the end of the year, this just solidifies that notion. While some dislike the idea of the Raven Queen in my social group, I think the fluff behind the Patron is an interesting one: a being who may be seen as evil but is not totally that.

SPELLS 

Warlocks do not get many spell choices as is, so Expanded Spell Lists are always a welcome addition. Though, I do question some of the choices that are given on it.

1st Level: False Life and Sanctuary. False Life is perfectly okay, but Sanctuary is a spell which thematically does not seem to fit the undead hatred and battle lust of the Raven Queen. I could see Inflict Wounds being a better choice, or even Compelled Duel being in tune with this Patron (especially if one chooses Pact of the Blade at 3rd Level as their Boon). Inflict Wound could also work here.

2nd Level: Silence and Spiritual Weapon. Silence is always handy! Spiritual Weapon? Not so much. I would opt for Pass Without Trace. Combined at later levels with your ability to merge with your raven companion (more on that later on), I could see that being a deadly combination.

raven woman

3rd Level: Feign Death and Speak with Dead. Both are okay, though I question if the Raven Queen would be okay with you faking being deceased.

4th Level: Ice Storm and Locate Creature. Not exactly good choices for the Raven Queen Patron. Having each of those spells once a day seems like a waste of spell options, and you’re going to want something that has more impact. Phantasmal Killer is more thematic with both the Patron and the Warlock in general.Locate Creature is situational at best, and you should probably let someone who has more spell slots then you take the lead on that one.

5th Level: Commune and Cone of Cold. Telekinesis could be a better option for either/or. Battlefield control is good for everyone, especially Warlocks who don’t have the largest hit point pool in the game. At least you aren’t a Wizard.

Sentinel Raven

Beastmaster Rangers and anyone who can cast Find Familiar (including other Warlocks), eat your heart out! This is significantly better then any familiar you can get (yes, even the Improved Ones as Warlock).

Features of the Raven:

  • Telepathically can speak to and give commands to up to 100 feet away. You can also see through it’s eyes and perceive what it hears for up to 100 feet away.
  • Darkvision 30 feet (which I am guessing stacks if you naturally have Darkvision already), and a bonus to Passive Perception and Perception rolls that’s equal to your Charisma modifier while it’s on your shoulder. When it’s also perched there, it can’t take damage or be targeted by attacks. You’re the only one who can cast spells on it, but it’s considered incapacitated. WOW.
  • ‘In combat, you roll initiative for the raven and control how it acts. If it is slain by a creature, you gain advantage on all attack rolls against the killer for the next 24 hours’. WHAT THE HECK, that’s insane! I’d expect this sort of thing at least at Level 10, not 1.
  • Doesn’t need to sleep and can wake you up up to 100 feet away as a bonus action.

See? I told those Rangers they’d be jealous. Sentinel Raven is honestly one of the best animal companions you could have, if not the BEST (though it could definitely use reworking to not be so bonkers).

Soul of the Raven

6th Level. You can now merge with your Raven as a bonus action, and take on the Raven’s stats. Your actions are limited in this form, but you essentially get at-will fly as a bonus action. Now you can free up a spell slot!

Raven’s Shield

Have really bad luck on death saving throws? The Raven Queen has mercy! Advantage on death saving throws, immune to the frightened condition and resistance to necrotic. You could easily put the necrotic resistance at first level, since some races come with a damage resistance at the start, such as Tieflings and fire resistance.

Queen’s Right Hand

You can cast Finger of Death once before you need to regain it on a short or long rest. Isn’t this essentially a Pact Invocation? A cool spell you can’t get access to, though the 10th Level feature could be used for something else.

 

Eldritch Invocations

Yay, more for the Archfey! This makes me super excited, as in the Player’s Handbook, the Archfey didn’t seem to get much love at all. There are several Seeker Pact options in here as well, which I find interesting.

Yet, the one thing which greatly disappoints me is how there are still hardly any Chain Pact Invocations. It’s like Wizards just hates the idea of having creature friends you can conjure forth. Granted, the Sentinel Raven shouldn’t be considered in that same catagory.

Maybe one of the options for Chain Pact Warlocks would be an option to give them more hit points as the character leveled up. It could be called ‘Master’s Vitality’, and when you level up, it gains their hit die plus your Charisma modifier. It makes them able to take more of a hit while also being useful still.

The Raven Queen Pact also suffers a lack of Invocations as well. Hexblade, Archfey, Seeker and Great Old One all have Patron exclusive ones, while the Raven Queen has maybe one or two. This is strange, considering how much content they just gave us for Warlocks in general. Granted, this is all still test material. Hmm…

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Final Thoughts

While I applaud Wizards of the Coast for giving us constant updates using Unearthed Arcana, there is massive gap between the disappointing under-powered to powerhouse builds and setups.

If one thing would need to be changed, I would say much of the aspects of Sentinel Raven. many of those could be Eldritch Invocations in themselves, with some of the larger portions of it being given at later levels like 7th and 10th (I’m looking at you, death saving  throws!).

Spells need to be looked at some more, to be relelvant to the flavor text of the Raven Queen. I don’t see her casting Sanctuary at any point.