Volo’s Guide to Monsters which is available on November 15th (and earlier in a store exclusive versions) will bring a lot of great options to your 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons table. I got an early look on the program Roll20 (they’ll also have the book on the 4th) which many groups are using to play together via their computers when they can’t all get into the same physical room. So what’s in the book, digital or otherwise? Well, there are serious in depth guides to a few iconic creatures (like Mind Flayers) and stats for over a hundred new monsters… but most importantly there are thirteen, yes thirteen, new playable character races ranging from Tritons to Goblins and it’s awesome.
To be specific, Volo’s Guide contains fully fleshed playable race entries for seven PC races including Aasimar, Firbolg, Kenku (crow people), Lizardfolk, and as mentioned above, Tritons. They also have stats for six more different types of “monstrous adventurers” including most of the goblinoids, fullblood orcs and surprisingly, pureblood Yuan-Ti. Monstrous races are presented as essentially DM optional and are not expressly meant to be available to all players right out of the gate. Still, I expect to see more than a few “monstrous” PCs at tables going forward including in Adventurer’s League games where I am happy to confirm that all 13 new race options will be fully league legal to play. More on that in a second.
Let’s look at some of the highlights in the more standard PC races added in this book. Each of the races presented here have interesting new features and abilities especially the Aasimar who play much less like mirror images of Tieflings than you might have expected and gain a sort of divine power-up at 3rd level. I suspect we’ll see a lot of those going forward.
To me the most interesting new races are Kenku and Lizardfolk, not because of any specific rules, but because of how much work has been done to explain their distinct or unusual cultures and mindset. Kenku for example can’t so much speak as mimic sounds they’ve already heard. This means that they come off as some combination of Bumblebee from the Transformers films and Michael Winslow from Police Academy.
Lizardfolk on the other extreme don’t really understand emotions and have trouble with metaphors. They also describe the world in active rather than passive verbs. So instead of saying “We are in danger!” they would say “This room holds danger.” Focusing on actions instead of effects. Both of these are great examples of player race options that add fun roleplay challenges as well as a new suite of abilities which doesn’t hurt either.
The monstrous adventurers are all tied to larger lore sections of the book that detail the races from a more anthropological standpoint. On top of the rules included to play as for example a Goblin, you can also read up on their culture and society. The racial traits are otherwise presented rather bare-bones, but combining both sections gives you a great foundation for character building.
To explore Goblin PCs specifically, the rules are about what many have expected. Goblin’s maintain the “Nimble Escape” feature as in the Monster’s Manual which will make for a lot of great synergy with martial classes, but has an anti-synergy with rogues as it basically replicates most of the Cunning Action feature that the class is built around. They also gain an ability to do extra damage to larger creatures once per short rest which scales at level. Its nothing to write home about, but it’s going to be helpful in a pinch. Back in the lore section on Goblins you can roll on a table for typical goblin social “status symbols” and end up with something like “A Gnome’s boot used as a hat” and now you have the start of a great character.
As I mentioned above all these races and monstrous adventurer races will be playable in Adventurer’s League games at conventions or on your regular Wednesdays. Some of the more esoteric races will have some stipulations, however, in the form of limited faction choices and mandatory story elements. For example, our Goblin PCs must trace their origin to the Goblin tribes of Cragmaw Castle and some of the story elements many will remember for the Lost Mines of Phandelver adventures. I was initially a little concerned about these limitations, but I came to realize that by tying a few racial options to specific stories and factions the writers in Adventurers League could capitalize on that for future stories. Don’t be surprised if subsequent adventures have handouts for any Orcs at the table with specific information their PC knows in this unique situation.
I’ve had my hands on the Roll20.net version of this book for the last week now (Thanks to them for the early look!) and I’ve read it cover to cover. Using an online “virtual table top” was not the most conventional way to read through a book to be sure but I actually really liked it. Certainly having the option to cross-reference on the same screen was a boon to writing this article and there are definitely similar benefits for DMs. They’re also offering the book on the 4th, which is its early release date, so if you’ve been wanting to try running games on Roll20 now is the time. You can grab the book for your Roll20 goodness here.
As to my final thoughts on the book? I have to say this feels like a great new direction for 5e with a huge focus on story and character building and all the fun rules and new abilities thrown in. It also does something very interesting and I think perhaps important: It adds a lot of options for character diversity at tables going forward. This book more than doubles the amount of playable races and all the race-class synergies that entails. It’s going to make the world seem more full, and that’s a very good thing. Half the reason to play a fantasy RPG is to step into that fantasy world and this paints that world with a broader more color laden brush.
In case you’re wondering my first new PC will be a Goblin Fiend-Pact Warlock with a boot on his head and a love of wolf riding. Because now I can.
Will you be grabbing Volo’s Guide? What playable race are you most excited about? Do you use Roll20 in your home campaigns? What should I name my new Goblin character? Tell us your thoughts in the comments!
Image Credits: D&D / Wizards of the Coast & Roll20 screenshots used with permission.