Get a Fresh Take on Dungeons & Dragons in Volo’s Guide to Monsters

Get a Fresh Take on Dungeons & Dragons in Volo’s Guide to Monsters


There have been 18 different iterations of the Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual since Gary Gygax authored the first one in 1977. Over at, Charlie Hall has authored a fascinating article about the upcoming 5th Edition resource book Volo’s Guide to Monsters, which takes a fresh angle to the D&D monster book — by adding a story. Hall talked to lead designer Mike Mearls to get the scoop.

This time around, [Mearls] and his team have decided to do something a little bit different. Their next take on the Monster Manual will be called Volo’s Guide to Monsters and, for the first time, it will have a lot more character to it.

“It’s risky,” Mearls said. “In the end, it’s still a giant book full of monsters. No one would argue with that. But I just think that if that’s all the Monster Manual is, then we’re selling ourselves short. So the idea was, the kind of genesis of it, was that want to do something that’s more story oriented.”

Volo’s Guide will have a narrator — two actually. One will be Volothamp Geddarm, an over-the-top, braggadocious explorer. The other will be Elminster, the wise Sage of Shadowdale. And the two will often be at odds with one another. Their differing accounts will be scattered throughout the book, and take the shape of comments scribbled in the margin.

Put simply, the goal is to create a book that high-level players and dungeon masters will enjoy reading. The goal, in the end, is to inspire new stories at the table, not simply reinforce the lore of the Forgotten Realms and ram storylines down player’s throats.

“I have this pet phrase I use,” Mearls said. “I like to say that we’re living in a post Game of Thrones world. Fantasy has changed.”

Read the complete article, “Dungeons & Dragons is changing how it makes books,” here. It includes several full-color sample pages from the upcoming book.

Volo’s Guide to Monsters will be published by Wizards of the Coast on November 15, 2016. It is 224 pages, priced at $49.95 in hardcover. There is no digital edition.

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Bob Byrne

I was going to write a post on this myself because I’m uncertain about the approach. It seems to me I have a book or two with this narrative approach – maybe something Ravenloft? And I wasn’too thrilled about it. Guess I’ll just have to wait and see if they pull it off.

I’d rather have some monster lairs included, like they did in 3rd Edition Monster Manuals and in The Warlords of the Accordlands MM.

No digital edition. It must work for them (maybe because Hasbro has an unlimited budget), but no digital is another reason I prefer Pathfinder to D&D these days.

James McGlothlin

This idea reminds me, somewhat, of Chaosium’s Malleus Monstrorum. I’ve never actually looked at the book, but my understanding is that the book is something like a collection of survivor’s eyewitness accounts and folklore about the monsters within. I’ve heard that there is even blurry photos and rough sketches. All of the relevant game data is provided for each monster, but the descriptions are more game-text flavor than clear and accurate descriptions. Interesting idea.


Thanks for the link to Polygon, John. I like the narrative approach. In some respects you get a little of that already in the 5E Monster Manual with little quotes here and there for some of the monsters. And it’s not like this is entirely a new idea since the old Volo’s Guides were narrative–just not a monster manual I suppose. The current Swordcoast Adventurer’s Guide also is written in a narrative form like the old Volo’s Guides.

I actually like the print-only format of the books. It means that FLGS’s can continue to survive. Also, these books are works of art (and I’m not just talking about the artwork in the books–but the coloring of the pages to make them look aged and stained from use) that should be appreciated on paper. A digital version would be an entirely inappropriate medium. If people need a digital reference during a game (a need I’m skeptical is real since finding things in the physical books is easy–the indexing is excellent), there is the SRD.

Again, I’ll state my position that RPGs are storytelling. Why do they get short shrift in comparison to fiction? People act as if short stories, novellas, and novels are so much more enlightening and insightful, whereas RPGs are just playing games. With Bob Dylan winning the Nobel in literature, maybe the genre world can place Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson on the same level as George R.R. Martin and Tolkien.

Joe H.

As someone who’s much more likely to just sit & read the books than ever actually play them, this does seem of interest.

And I still have my copies of Petersen’s Guides to the Cthulhu Mythos and the Dreamlands.

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