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Review: Volo’s Guide to Monsters (5E)

November 6, 2016 2 comments

volo

TLDR: If you’re running 5E, you need to buy this book.

When I heard that the next book in the 5E lineup was Volo’s Guide to Monsters, I was a little disappointed.  I’ve never been much of a Forgotten Realms fan, and Volo’s Guide sounded like it was going to be a fluff piece with articles similar to the old Dragon Magazine “Ecology” pieces.  While that’s great for magazine content, I didn’t get too excited about the prospect of a $45 book with minimal new information.

Fortunately for me, Wizards really outdid themselves in packaging a variety of things in this book that make it a very valuable addition to my growing 5E collection.

Volo’s Guide starts with the following disclaimer in small, easily missed print, under the cover attribution:

Disclaimer: Wizards of the Coast does not vouch for, guarantee, or provide any promise regarding the validity of the information provided in this volume by Volothamp Geddarm.  Do not trust Volo. Do not go on quests offered by Volo. Do not listen to Volo. Avoid being seen with him for risk of guilt by association.  If Volo appears in your campaign, your DM is undoubtedly trying to kill your character in a manner that can be blamed on your own actions.  The DM is probably trying to do that anyway, but with Volo’s appearance, you know for sure. We’re not convinced that Elminster’s commentary is all that trustworthy either, but he turned us into flumphs last time we mentioned him in one of these disclaimers.

I enjoy the fact that wizards is having fun with this volume, and it made me enjoy getting into the book a bit more than if I hadn’t noticed it.  I also appreciate Wizards sold a special limited edition FLGS cover for only $5 more (pictured above) to help the local shops get a leg up.

The book is broken into three parts: Monster Lore, Character Races, and a Bestiary.

Monster Lore

Monster Lore, the first 100 pages of the book, is what I had expected, but some crunch where I otherwise expected fluff for lifestyles of Beholders, Giants, Gnolls, Goblinoids, Hags, Kobolds, Mindflayers, Orcs and Yuan-Ti.

Examples of neat details that might constitute crunch include beholder charts detailing size, shape, texture, and a great random name generator, with tactics, variant eyestalk abilities, minions, treasure and a lair map.  History, mindset, and biological function is laid out in a depth previously unvisited in text as far as I’m aware, allowing the GM a deeper background on this favorite of monsters.

The Chapters going forth are what I’d call asymmetrical, being that they don’t follow a routine pattern.  Chapters on Giants have more details about origins, their habitat and personality traits. Gnolls have details on tactics, random traits and features, and tables to help build a gnollish warband.  Mind Flayers have some magic items listed that are specific to their culture.  Yuan-ti have a variety of charts detailing their variable physiology.

Each race detailed has a map of their typical lair, which gives some great examples where the trappings of the race might be otherwise somewhat mysterious (Mind-Flayers in particular).

Overall, these chapters are well written and flesh out the background of these common and popular monsters.  Is it essential? No.  Is it helpful? Yes.  My fear had been that for $45.00 I was going to get that, and that be it. Fortunately, it goes on.

Character Races

Now we start to hit things I can work with, and things that people invariably try to do on their own with varying degrees of success.  I happen to currently be playing a kobold priest of Kurtulmak in our Out of the Abyss game, and have been playing a kobold trapper race variant my GM got off the internet somewhere.  I yearned for canon guidance on what a kobold PC should look like.  Fortunately, Volo delivers.

Races detailed are Aasimar, Firbolgs, Goliaths, Kenku, Lizardfolk, Tabaxi, and Tritons with a separate section for “Monstrous Adventurers” giving blocks for the already detailed bugbear, goblin, hobgoblin, kobold, orc and yuan-ti pureblood.

I’ve always been a guy that likes the idea of playing the monster as a PC, and this opens doors for me.

Bestiary

This, by far, seals the deal for this book being a must-have for the dedicated 5E player.  100 pages of new and classic monsters that were conspicuously absent from the Monster Manual.  A few personal favorites include:

  • Barghest
  • Bodak
  • Catoblepas
  • Darkling
  • Baubau
  • Devourer
  • Flail Snail!
  • Froghemoth!
  • Several new Variant classed giants, very cool
  • Girallion
  • Flind
  • Leucrotta
  • Quickling
  • Shadow mastiff
  • Spawn of Kyuss (Greyhawk?)
  • Trapper
  • Vargouille
  • Vegepygmy!
  • Xvarts (Eric Mona must have been involved in this)
  • Yeth Hound
  • Many more!

Also a number of “Beasts” (including a rot grub swarm) and 21 new stock NPCs which are sure to prove super useful on an ongoing basis (in particular, it appears a mage of each spell casting school, archers, archdruid, war priest and so on).  Not mentioned in my list are also special “classed” versions of various orcs, yuan-ti, hobgoblins, and so on, as well as some subcategories of other races like beholders that will prove useful in putting on games that utilize those species.  This is where the book proves out its crunchiness but give me stat blocks that I can use to have a more interesting game.

Overall

Wizards has done a good job of bringing a little more than just the basics to each book it has published.  Each adventure module has had a few spells and a few more general stat blocks that make each book tempting to pick up.  This book, as a sourcebook, doubles down on that principle making there elements that you just can’t afford to miss.  This book has extended value for the GM of your group, but remains optional for the player short of playing a racial variant.   That said, I think anyone who picks it up is going to find it’s a great addition to their collection.

All Praise Kurtulmak!

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More Kickstarters!

June 14, 2013 Comments off

Just in time for Free RPG Day, here are some great Kickstarter projects that I have been watching:

*** ENDING SOON ***

  • Dogs Playing D&D Posters – This poster is a parody of Dogs Playing Poker and would make a great addition to your gaming space.

GAMES:

  • OVA: The Anime Role-Playing Game – This one ends soon and is going to be great. Get in on this one!
  • Mekton Zero – I loved Mekton through Mekton Zeta by R. Talsorian Games, but this one is going to be less mecha mechanic wargaming and more role-playing.  After Robotech, this was my mecha go-to RPG.
  • Deep Magic: A Tome of New Spells – A supplement for Pathfinder made by Kobold Press.  The stretch goals on this one are fantastic.  I highly recommend this one!
  • Kaosball – Arena sports boxed game!
  • The Red Dragon Inn 4 – The fourth installment of this highly addictive card game.
  • WarGods of Olympus – Mythological boxed game.  It looks very cool.  Stretch goals include additional game pieces!
  • Whisper & Venom: RPG Adventure Boxed Set – An entire set of everything needed to play this multi-system adventure,

MINIATURES:

GAME MATERIALS:

Check out Monday’s article:  Eyes of Lamashtu – Cooperative Summoning

Creatures Critters Denizens Review

April 8, 2013 Comments off

ccd coverHere is the short review: Creatures, Critters and Denizens delivers a whole lot of bang for the buck.

Now the long review: Weighing in at 251 pages for $9.99 (PDF version) or $14.99 (Print on Demand) This is a whole lot of material for not a lot of money. Detailed within are really nicely done stat blocks for mundane creatures like dogs and chickens (helpful in the funnel if your farmer peasant starts with an animal, or wizard familiars) to the most fantastic mutants, demons, and fey creatures you can imagine. Also included are a lot of optional rules and the methodology that was used to create these creatures, so you can create your own.

This book has a very authentic old-school feel to it, which is good in some ways, bad in others. The book has a lot of flavorful black and white drawings illustrating many of the beasties within. Unfortunately, it looks like they have been “enhanced” with lens flares and blur effects, which may be a matter of taste, but I find pretty annoying. It makes it look like someone was using a color scanner and the lid has some light leaks, so the scans of what would be excellent black and white art are kind of ruined. Its a shame too, because a lot of it would be really cool without the effects. Also some of the layout is a bit crowded compared to most recent books, but again is true to the old-school feel of 1st edition books. To Cognition Pressworks’ credit, they do pack this book to the gills!

The actual critters themselves are really well presented with a lot of flavor text and back story for each entry, as well as relative sizes for hatchling, juvenile, and adult versions of several of the entries. This allows for putting some version of the creature you want, at an appropriate level of difficulty for the party you have; Very handy!  It also includes some stats you wouldn’t think you would need, but who knows? Maybe you’ll need to know how much a small raccoon can carry, or drag, or … lift. It is possible! This again, leads to it’s old-school mentality which is both quirky and endearing.

Overall this is a solid buy. It is a TON of material for the money, and works well to augment the creatures available in the Core DCCRPG book. It also allows you to peek behind the curtain and use the same approach to create your own monsters for your adventures to face. Support DCCRPG and support 3rd party publishers!

Categories: DCCRPG, Monster, Retro, Reviews, RPGs

Under the Goblin Moon

August 4, 2012 1 comment

We love our goblins in the Asheville Pathfinder Lodge, mostly because some of our members were introduced to Pathfinder Society through the most excellent adventure, We Be Goblins! We have a few regular GMs who really put a lot of effort in to goblin voices, and some of our most hilarious anecdotes from our adventures involve goblin PCs.

Recently, the founder of the Lodge came up with a brilliant idea: Let’s Goblinize some of the regular society scenarios! Our plan is to run a special session, maybe once every three months or so (Once in a Goblin Moon), that would use goblin PCs. It wouldn’t be for regular society credit, but our little gobbos would level up as normal for use in these special scenarios. Currently, we are working on goblinizing the First Steps intro modules. Hopefully they’ll still be recognizable when we’re done. Maybe we’ll make some goblin factions? Its too early to tell.

We are not alone in our love of the watermelon-headed pyromaniacs. The fourth season of society play kicks off with a goblin scenario: Rise of the Goblin Guild!

If you’re a Pathfinder fan and haven’t played We Be Goblins, you are missing out. It helps to have a very committed, extroverted GM, but any way you play it, goblin PCs are hilarious. Once we run our goblin scenario, I’ll report back and let you know how it went. I think we’re in for a very explosive, horse-hating, hilarious time!

Squealy Nord!!!

Turning a newbie into a GameMaster

July 4, 2012 1 comment

As fans of this blog know, Free RPG day was a resounding success! The first thing I ran that day was the Pathfinder Beginner Box. A few of us who were trying to find a game early in the day started talking about what we wanted to play. One of the guys milling about had the beginner box tucked under his arm, freshly purchased. He had read it was a good intro to RPGs, and had never played one before. I immediately offered to run it for him, as I had run it in the past, and we quickly gathered a full table. We all had a blast and got through the included adventure in about two hours.

Fast forward to yesterday, I stopped in at the Wyvern’s Tale to pick up the monastery flip-mat for the Asheville Pathfinder Lodge meeting this Saturday. I chatted for awhile with Siméon (one of the owners) about upcoming events, and how the lodge is growing exponentially. He let me know that the same guy who had just purchased the beginner box a few weeks ago gathered up a few players looking for a game and GMed it himself! He was getting so in to it, Siméon said he could hear him from downstairs! Hearing this filled my heart with absolute joy. To be able to take a hobby that I enjoy so much, and personally spread the love of the game to others is what its all about.

Also in our conversation was an awesome upcoming release that piqued my interest: the Bestiary Box! I’ve never been in to collecting minis, but I do like having a cool representation of both heroes and baddies on the table. The pawns included with the beginner box were a really cool and inexpensive way to make the game come to life. No doubt minis are even better for this, but they’re also pretty expensive and somewhat hard to store if you have a lot of them. Enter the Bestiary Box! For MSRP $35 you get more than 250 different baddies to drop on the table, and the right size bases for large and huge creatures! That’s a steal in my book.

Also, lest you think Skyland Games is all Pathfinder all-the-time, I’ve got the DCCRPG adventures on order from the Wyvern’s Tale. I can’t wait to check out what each one holds! I’ve been making enough noises on the blog and at the Lodge meetings to garner some interest in running a table or two of DCCRPG. Once the guys are a little burned out on Pathfinder, we’ll get back to the coolest old-school/new RPG on the block!

In other news, the Skulls and Shackles Pirate Campaign is going swimmingly (sometimes literally). We’re about at the end of the Wormwood Mutiny, and I have to say I’m impressed. Our intrepid GM Micheal has put a lot of prep-work in to making it awesome for us, but there are certainly a lot of excellent and varied encounters throughout, without losing that distinctive pirate feel. Nice work Paizo, and thanks to our awesome GM and players!

Some of the Skyland Games guys are taking this holiday to get together, grill out, and roll some dice! Hope you get to do the same. Speaking of which, I’ve got some maps to draw. Game on!

Putting the Fun in the Character Funnel of DCCRPG

May 7, 2012 2 comments

I had the pleasure of GMing a zero-level DCCRPG session for most of the Skyland Games regulars on last Wednesday, and it was some of the most fun I’ve had playing RPGs, period. The picture attached to this post probably appears to be a complete non sequitur, but it will make sense in moment. I created my very own zero-level adventure, The Tower of Crowan the Conjuror, since some of the guys had already played Portal to the Stars. We’ll probably release it in one form or another soon, but it’s currently being revised and polished up a bit. Minor spoilers ahead:

When you roll up a zero-level character in DCCRPG, you start with an occupation or day job, some kind of primitive weapon (say, a pitchfork), and some type of trade goods, as bartering is very typical and coin money somewhat scarce. One of our guys rolled up a farmer with a pitchfork and a hen. In one particular encounter, the party happens upon a cockatrice. If you aren’t familiar with the creature, it’s essentially a demon rooster that can turn people into stone.

Our quick-thinking, intrepid farmer turned his chicken around and offered the business end of Pamela (the chicken) as a distraction. This was the most ingenious use of trade goods I had ever heard of, so as a good GM, I let it play out. With the cockatrice “distracted,” one of the other PCs landed a solid hit on the creature, killing it, but also turning Pamela to stone. The farmer put Pamela in a bag and attempted to use her as a bludgeoning weapon later in the game, but she was never as effective as her first game interaction. There were a lot of other great moments that evening, but that one was particularly hilarious.

The fact that your PCs start with so little allows them to come up with some incredible uses for their limited gear. It also leads to some really memorable stories. Starting out with 5d12 copper, 1d4 hit points, and a chicken may not sound like its going to be fun, but believe me, it is not to be skipped! I’m interested to see what other 3rd party developers come up with for DCCRPG. Purple Sorcerer is coming out with what look to be some very cool adventures for DCCRPG, not to mention some really cool tools to generate characters quickly, or virtually roll some of the weird dice you may not own yet. Thick Skull Adventures is coming out with Attack of the Frawgs! which looks to be a cool old-school scenario as well. Goodman Games has a good round up of all the 3rd party developers towards the bottom of the page here, as well as the new Fan-zine, CRAWL!

I’m really looking forward to running Portal Under the Stars on Saturday for GeekOut 2012. If you live anywhere near the Asheville area and want to get some gaming in on Saturday, sign up and at the Warhorn, and come on down! See you there!

PS – All the submissions are in for the One Page Dungeon Contest, and there were 107 entries! Best of all? You can download all 81 MB of them from the contest page. Free dungeons for all!

Classic Monsters Revisited – Pathfinder Chronicles Review

March 8, 2012 Comments off

Pathfinder seems to have it’s own distinct style when it comes to monsters. The recent Pathfinder Battles miniature line recently brought these iconic creatures to the game mat, but Paizo has been writing about toothy watermelon-headed goblins for years. Classic Monsters Revisited in the Pathfinder Chronicles series came out in 2008, but is still an excellent resource for looking at very common foes in a whole new light.

Reading down the table of contents of this book is like a greatest hits album of monsters that, if you’ve ever spent any time playing DnD or Pathfinder, you’ve encountered these guys more times than you can remember: Goblins, Hobgoblins, Bugbears, Gnolls, Kobolds, Lizardfolk, Ogres, Orcs, Trolls, and Minotaurs. Unlike a typical monster manual, that list is a complete list of all the monsters in this 63 page book. This book isn’t geared towards someone looking for a complete creature catalog, or a casual GM who just sketches out a map on some graph paper, fills it with some baddies, rolls on a random treasure table and calls it good. Not that there is anything wrong with that. This book is made for GMs who want to know how hobgoblins organize themselves in their society, or that a bugbear lives to cause terror, as the scent of fear has narcotic effects on them. This is for GMs who want to throw a twist or two at their players.

All the common creatures in this book have general background information, but it goes so much deeper than a blurb in a monster manual ever could. For each creature there are several paragraphs not only providing a physical description of the average specimen, but their habitat and societal structure, as well as their typical role in a campaign, what treasure they would likely have, dangerous variants, and where they would be found in Golarion. Of course, if you don’t play in Golarion it will still give you an idea of the climate and general environment in which you could place them in whatever world you adventure in.

This is a fantastic resource for low-level campaigns, especially for veteran GMs and players. The variants of common monsters can bring a certain amount of mystery to even the most grizzled, campaign-proven adventurers; and the section on campaign role and ecology of the monsters is a sure-fire cure for GM writer’s block. This is a great book, and the first of a series of “revisited” titles by Paizo. This one is a keeper.