BOOK REVIEW: DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS MONSTER MANUAL – FIFTH EDITION / AUTHOR: VARIOUS / PUBLISHER: WIZARDS OF THE COAT / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Dungeons and Dragons editions come in threes; The Player’s Handbook, Monster Manual, and Dungeon Master’s Guide. This new iteration of the game has to be a world-beater - the previous edition of D&D wasn’t a hit with the fans and this jeopardised the game’s position of top dog in the hobby. The first book in the series (The Player’s Handbook) was a critical and commercial success, but one good book on its own is not enough to save the game. Roleplaying games need well thought-out monsters in order to be playable, and believe it or not previous editions have gotten this vital component wrong in the past.
The fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual is, fortunately, a skilful blend of previous design elements. Much like the earlier editions, most monsters have unique challenges associated with them, making it easier for the Games Master to invent fresh challenges. The squeamishness of previous editions has been excised; these monsters are as nasty as they need to be, and often much worse than that. Most of the beasts have a solid write-up as well, with plot and story ideas baked into each concept. Obviously, creatures like vampires and demons get a bigger write-up because there are more things a storyteller might want to do with them. Dragons, being the monster in the title of the game, get the best descriptions, with lavish illustrations, 40 separate types of winged lizard, and plenty of plot ideas, many of which scale nicely depending on the party.
Old-school fans may be pleased to know that things such as ‘Giant Frogs’ are also included, but as a stat block in the back; there’s plenty of critters in the appendix that don’t need a detailed description (we all know what a wolf is) but need stats to be used in the game. Some beasties have been added for the sheer fun of it as well; The Flumph, a monster that has often been the punchline in many a geek gag, gets its own page. Even better, they actually make the silly-looking bag of gas worth your time - it could even be plot critical if you wanted it to be.
A good monster compendium should be a source of inspiration for any would-be games maker. It needs to be filled with well written ideas, diverse creatures and plenty of lavish illustrations that will ignite the imagination and send the creator on a flight of fantasy, all the better for the production of an evening’s entertainment amongst friends. Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual Fifth Edition achieves all of these goals effortlessly, making it quite possibly the greatest bestiary ever produced for a dungeon-crawling roleplaying game, the product of decades of development. This difficult middle book has passed with flying colours; we await The Dungeon Master’s Guide with eager anticipation.
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