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Tome of Beasts Hardcover – November 8, 2016
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One odd thing I noticed was the large number of monsters that were variations on "beautiful woman lures men to their dooms, before sucking them dry/draining their life force/drowning them". Several, such as the Lorelei and the Rusalki are legit creatures of legend. I just wonder if it was absolutely necessary to include so many... Abominable Beauty, Drowned Maiden, Eleinomae, Ice Maiden, Lorelei, Mirager, Rusalki... I probably overlooked one, it is a big book. What the hell, guys? Did someone have a bad relationship?
That aside, this is a great book. Writing is good, art is largely top-shelf, and the quantity of material you get is beyond reproach. I think this is about 1.25" think of monsters. Buy it. Seriously.
If this were the year 2002, Tome of Beasts would probably fall neatly into that trap. Fortunately this is not the year 2002.
The authors wisely followed D&D's lead on presentation, giving a brief description of each monster followed by two or three notes about habitat, culture or roleplaying, followed by the stat blocks. Large, high-quality illustrations are provided for each monster. Stat blocks seem reasonable, and many monsters have unique and interesting abilities rather than simply reskins of abilities from the Monster Manual. It's difficult to gauge the balance of the new creatures, but nothing jumps out as particularly egregious power creep.
Most of the monsters seem to hover around the middle of the challenge rating scale, which is much appreciated. There are a handful of extremely powerful, high-challenge rating monsters, but the authors clearly were trying to make a general bestiary that a GM could use throughout the entire life of a campaign.
Most of the monsters are quite good. Some of them are variants. There are new hags, new trolls, new ghouls, new kobolds, but each feels like a useful and interesting addition to the game rather than a simple palette swap. There are new dragons themed around elements, which breaks the chromatic/metallic dichotomy and provides a solid thematic hook to slot them into a campaign. Also, the Void Dragon looks like something from the cover of a power metal album, which is pretty awesome. As others have noted there is perhaps a preponderance of fey (and one too many "sexy dryad" types), but overall the various monster types are well represented.
There are around 400 new monsters, which will no doubt please people who wished Volo's Guide had been a little heftier, and while not all of them are knockouts (Hedgehog men? Evil Ioun stones?) they at least well-crafted with 5th edition's design philosophy in mind. That said, there are a lot of really fun monsters in this book. If the Doppelrat doesn't give you an evil GM chuckle, check your pulse. And if you were dying for 5th edition stats for a Shoggoth, now you're all set.
Physically the book is sturdy and feels well bound. Kobold Press forewent glossy pages, which I'm sure keeps the book's cost down but makes me even more nervous about spills. I can live with it. At $50 it's right at the edge of what I would consider acceptable for a game supplement of this size and production value.
All said, if you want some new monsters for your game, this is an easy buy.
As a DM you should already have the DM Guide and Players Handbook. You need the standard Monster Manual because it has so many standard creatures, but your NEXT BOOK should be THIS ONE. It is indispensable. Merely looking through the manual will give you dozens of ideas for adventures using whole categories of creatures. Want to create an adventure with Elementals and only elementals? With this book there is a huge variety of elementals to choose from. How about want to create a dungeon full of oozes? No problem, there are numerous oozes in here. Need to have a wide variety of Celestials? They're also here! There are literally 30+ creatures of each creature type in here at minimum.
The art is excellent, the physical quality of the book's binding, paper and ink are in my opinion superior to the standard DND books. Its 3X the size of any other DND book you can find.
Sure enough, there are like 400+ monsters in this massive book and some great additions to what is already out there. The biggest is like 7-8 fey creatures that I was looking for and some leveled up standard monsters. It is very much like a good extension of the MM.
I gave it 5 stars because it is a good book on its own, but if you are going to only buy one extra monster book get the Volo's guide, there are things in that one that I liked just a bit more but in no way does that excellent book take away from how good this one is.