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.

Image result for dungeons and dragons kenku

  • 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.

Image result for dungeons and dragons lizardfolk

  • 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.

Image result for dungeons and dragons triton

  • 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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Faith Reviews: Volo’s Guide to Monsters Part 1

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.

Admit it. Your jealous. H.P Lovecraft, eat your heart out.

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

gnoll
Yes, gnoll matriarchs have six breasts. Your welcome for the visuals.

 

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

Bheur hags: the cold never bothered them, anyway.

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.