Volo’s Guide to Monsters (2016)

Volo’s Guide to Monsters (2016) uses a sort of remix of the old 3.5E sourcebook formula. For those that don’t know, 3.5E sourcebooks had a little bit of everything – new rules, prestige classes, spells, monsters, magic items, etc. – all hewing, give or take, to an established theme (like Frostburn had everything you could want to know about cold stuff under one cover). This was great for making you feel like you got the most out of your buck, but the decentralized nature of 3.5 made it a not very portable reference nightmare.

Volo’s is, instead, one part player’s handbook, introducing a number of playable monsters, and monster manual, with a sprinkling of monster ecologies kind of sort of tying it all together. The conceit of the ecologies is that they are the first hand observations of Volo, an explorer who, in Marco Polo fashion, had a series of guides describing regions of the Forgotten Realms back in 2E. Elminster also appears in the margins, taking issue with facts Volo gets wrong, which is a clever way of subverting the idea that anything in the guide is definitive (and keeps it all campaign setting agnostic, to boot). Volo provides a nice overview of behavior for the subject monsters – hags, gnolls, beholders, mind flayers and more. I like it. But I am a sucker for monster ecologies.

The monsters section reintroduces a host of critters that weren’t in the original Monster Manual, as well as some interesting variations of some that were. I am not sure what the criteria was for inclusion, but the 100 or so monsters are definitely a weird mix of b-side and deep cut monsters from previous editions. Blessedly, the house style is less oppressive here and there is a good variety of style and character showing through.

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