Context: we’re playing Princes of the Apocalypse and there’s a temple of elemental evil that we snuck into underground that has large canals of water flowing through it. We started fighting three trolls on the other side of the canal from us by shooting through an arrow slit at them from behind another arrow slit. We decided that the smart thing to do was to defend the bridge that they would need to cross but we left the rogue in the room with the arrow slit in case one of the trolls would stay there.
DM: the third troll is going to pass by you two to get to the sorcerer.
Monk: (ooc) I’ll do an opportunity attack.
Fighter (me): (ooc) I’ll do one too. And I’ll yell “Galindan, get over here!” As I hit.
DM: you all hear “Galindan, get over here!” Echo through the temple.
So, I am really excited, because I found THIS BAD BOY AT TATE’S LAST WEEKEND.
I love it. It’s like something my old Planescape Wizard would carry around and reference when making knowledge checks…
This is Volo’s Guide to Monsters, the third splatbook for D&D 5th Edition (following the free Elemental Evil Adventurer’s Guide, and the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide).
Volo’s Guide to Monsters is supposedly written (in universe) by the famed wizard and guidebook writer, Volothamp Geddarm, with heavy editing by the famed wizard Elminister. Volo is one of the most enduring figures in the Forgotten Realms setting, famous for his questionably accurate guidebooks, and penchant for being too curious for his own good. Fortunately for people concerned with accuracy (and unfortunately for anyone who enjoys reading in-universe fiction), Volo’s Guide to Monsters is mostly written from an out of universe perspective, with Volo and Eliminster’s (and amusing) notes being relegated to frequent captions throughout the book. The clever DM who prefers to refer back to older editions of D&D Lore (or their own interpretations) can always claim Volo’s information is inaccurate if need be, but for the most part it’s presented as is… at least for the Forgotten Realms.
The book is divided into three parts. The first chapter, Monster Lore, expands upon the stated lore of nine iconic D&D adversaries; Beholders, Giants, Gnolls, Goblinoids, Hags, Kobolds, Mind Flayers, Orcs, and Yuan-Ti. A preface at the beginning notes that, while they would have loved to examine other D&D monsters (such as Dragons, the Gith, and the various Fiends), they’ve elected to set those aside for future supplements. (Here’s hoping for a Planescape splatbook!)
The Monster Lore chapter mostly serves as a recap for D&D Lore, at least to people who haven’t encountered it before. People who have been playing a while (or who are just big fans of AD&D Settings) will find a lot of familiar stuff here; there are subtle references to Planescape and Spelljammer, and call backs to AD&D supplements like The Ilithiad. Each section goes into detail about the personalities, psychology, and cultures of the various creatures listed within, often revealing unexpected or unusual bits of lore. Some fun examples;
Beholders reproduce by dreaming other beholders into existence; almost always by accident.
Stone Giants have a deep, philosophical culture where they practice their own brand of psuedo-platonism. The less intelligent Stone Giants are sent to the fringes of society, where they’re likely to encounter adventurers.
Gnolls reproduce through slaughter; their victims are fed upon by hyenas, which then bloat and explode into gnolls. A single gnoll can create a warband if left unchecked.
Hobgoblins designate a lone Goblin as jester when forming a war host, out of fear one of the Goblins will attract the vestige of a trickster god and become a powerful Nilbog.
Hags can transform into different flavors of hag, and some deliberately try to spend a few centuries as every different kind. (As a side note, why are there only lady hags, Wizards? Give me an Evil Miracle Max please.)
The lone Kobold attacking the adventurers is not stupid, but merely buying time for the rest of the tribe to escape.
Kobolds are also sequential hermaphrodites, so gender isn’t really a thing for them.
A Mind Flayer retains memories of their host body, but the Elder Brain suppresses these. If a Mind Flayer leaves their enclave, they can become independent thinkers… though they still need a way around the brain thing. Get a ring of sustenance, a circlet of disobedience, and a bottle of gith repellent and you could be a functional member of society, almost!
Luthic, the Orc Goddess of Birth and Death, is the thing holding most tribes together. It’s said that when the rest of the pantheon falls and she’s forced to enter the battlefield, she’ll single handedly put an end to the war with Maglubiyet. Probably by kicking his ass and crushing him between Acheron’s Battlecubes.
Yuan-Ti Purebloods eagerly seek out luxury while in human lands, for while in Yuan-Ti territory they’re bottom rung snake people.
The second chapter is focused on Character Races! Unusual ones, too. Each of the new races is given a brief write up like the ones in the Monster Lore chapter, and each comes with their own unique quirks and lore.
Aaismar are back, having previously appeared as an example of a generated race in the DMG. These celestial humanoids are no longer the spawn of humans and angels; instead they represent blessed births, and people born to be agents of the divine. Every Aaismar comes with their own invisible celestial guide (who offers advice and guidance), and each Aaismar can transform into a more obviously celestial form once per day, sprouting wings and gaining additional powers. There are three flavors of Aaismar now; Protector (the classic angel), Scourge (in which the light is SO BRIGHT IT BURNS), and Fallen (the Edgelord). Over all, a huge buff over the DMG version.
Firbolg are a new race, having gotten a big lore overhaul from previous editions. They’re a giant, fey like race that hides in the forests and specializes in Druidic magic. They also specialize at avoiding detection, being able to vanish from sight or disguise themselves as smaller humanoids.
Goliath are back! Wanna play a jolly mountain giant? Now you can! Their classic D&D traits are still there; powerful build (which is pretty common in this book), athleticism, endurance..
Kenku are an interesting race. Crow men, cursed to be unable to fly, or produce anything original. Kenku speak by mimicking sounds they’ve heard, and can never come up with ideas of their own… however, they’re excellent plagiarists, and get a huge chunk of roguish skills for free.
Lizardfolk have an alien viewpoint on the world, never fully empathizing with humans. They are cunning hunters and artisans, able to craft goods from the bones of their enemies between fights. Plus, they start with free armor! Good armor!
Tabaxi are agile cat people, created by the Cat Lord of the Beastlands, who dedicate themselves to exploration and curiosity. They are also SO FAST. Like, Sonic fast. The fastest.
Triton are a noble, aquatic people. Somewhat pretentious, but skilled at warfare and magic. They’re not familiar at all with the surface and kind of tend to act like Fish Thor.
Finally, Bugbears, Goblins, Hobgoblins, Kobolds, Orcs, and Yuan-Ti Purebloods all get playable race rules! Orcs and Kobolds are particularly interesting; both are the only races in the game with an ability penalty (-2 INT and STR respectively), but in exchange they end up with two of the most potent racial abilities in the game (the ability to charge to foes as a bonus action, and the ability to always have advantage provided an ally is within 5 feet of your target).
And to top it all off? All of these races are organized play legal! Though you do need to adhere to a predetermined faction and backstory.
The last chapter is the Bestiary, which makes Volo’s Guide a kind of Monster Manual II. There’s a good mix of NPCs in here; some are variants of the creatures covered in Chapter I (like the Annis Hag, or the Stone Giant Dreamwalker). The real star, though, are the classic D&D creatures that have been reimagined for 5e. Flail Snails! Vegepygmies! Cranium Rats! Every team member was allowed to put one of their favorite classic monsters in the book, making Volo’s Guide a nostalgic romp through the weirder days of D&D history. Rounding it out are some generic NPC statblocks for things not covered in the PHB or the Monster Manual, like Wizard’s Apprentices, Blackguards, and Warlocks.
All in all, Volo’s Guide to Monsters is probably the first “must purchase” 5th Edition Splatbook. Unlike the Forgotten Realms focused Sword Coast Adventure Guide, the information inside is broad enough to be setting agnostic, and the lore inside is super entertaining. The thirteen new races also make it an appealing purchase for players, though the book only has a single new spell and no new archetypes, feats, or equipment. If you’re coming here looking for some sick racial exclusive sub-classes, you’re gonna be disappointed.
There also aren’t any race specific backgrounds either, disappointingly. You’re stuck with re-fluffing the generic ones, which can be a bit weird in some cases (Though I look forward to people playing Kobold Nobles).
Still, if you have any interest in 5th Edition… GET THIS BOOK. DO IT.
The special variant cover edition of Volo’s Guide to Monsters is available at your friendly local game store. You can also purchase the basic cover for a lower price on Amazon. If digital content is more your thing, you can grab a full digital copy of the book (with tokens and maps) on Roll20.
The Temple of Elemental Evil, credited to Gary Gygax and Frank Mentzer, with Keith Parkinson’s evocative cover. All printings of T1: The Village of Hommlet stated it would be followed by T2, but 6 years passed before T1-4 appeared, only after Gygax turned his notes over to Mentzer for completion. At one point Gygax had intended Lolth to be the big bad in T2, but her use in Q1 led to Zuggtmoy’s appearance in T1-4.
*flails* IT’S DARK WINCEST I WOULD HAVE TO BE DEAD TO NOT SAY YESSSSSSSSSSssssssssss. God. It’s got the BEAUTIFUL Wincest elements that we love from the traditional Wincest with this dark, twisted, dirty, kinky, EVIL element that just brings so much more to the table. UGH. YES. Y E SSSSS.
The party approaches the moathouse near the Village of Hommlet (AC5: Player Character Record Sheets, TSR, 1984, featuring artwork originally proposed for AD&D module T1-4: The Temple of Elemental Evil)
So I’m in a group with all relatively new players (myself included) and our DM has stuck us in a world flooded by a lich. We have a Drow Ranger, a Human Cleric, a Dwarven Paladin, a Human Projectionist (homebrew) and me as the Fire Genasi Sorcerer. (I pulled the Elemental Evil Player’s Companion.)
This conversation takes place while the DM is talking shop prices with the Projectionist and Ranger. We just found out that we can buy spells, so I’m browsing the spell list.
Me (OOC): I should buy the Create/Destroy Water spell.
Cleric and Paladin (OOC): Why?
Me: Since it uses sand to destroy water, and there’s a lot of sand because beaches, I could just slowly destroy all the water and restore the world.
The Cleric and Paladin stared at me for a bit before realizing how great/stupid that was before bursting into laughter, which caught our DM’s attention. After explaining what we came up with, he told us that there wasn’t a spell scroll for that.
A more cleaned up version of the build I shared with @weareluchador , pretty self-explanatory, min maxes grapple potential while also being good at impressing others in a sense, it’ll require high Strength and Charisma with average Dexterity and Wisdom if necessary. On the downside, your character might lack in Intelligence and Constitution resulting in more meh saving throws and low-ish hit points and in situations against especially large or Tanky opponents and in general, ones you can’t grapple, your character is sort of literally left to their own devices such as whatever weapons they chose for their equipment.