Sprite – Ok, I’ll cop to it. I’m going to mix these guys up with pixies basically all the time. They look more like Tinkerbell than the pixie are, honestly. That said, aside from an ability to read emotional state (which seems almost entirely unpoetic) they’re just flying harassers.
Stirge – In an odd turn, this is only a half page entry, though the picture is pretty gross. This is a classic monster, so the only real curiosity is how they handle the drain. Simple answer: Keeps doing damage after it hits, until it’s bloated and flies away.
Succubus/Incubus – Super curious entry. It’s not a demon, and the incubus is the more cheesecake of the two. In fact, apparently, they are basically freely able to swap between succubus and incubus form, which is doubly awesome. They’re lieutenants to a variety of infernal baddies, though at CR 4, they’re no pushovers. They’ve got a powerful charm and their kiss is an energy drain attack, but they’re obviously more dangerous outside of the battlefield.
Tarrasque – This is basically a stunt entry. The tarrasque largely exists to establish the upper bounds of monster capability, and at CR 30, it performs admirably. Obviously, the thing is terrifying, with every trio we’ve seen so far. Legendary resistance (it can make 3 saves), legendary actions, swallow, big pile of immunities and, of course, gigantic damage output. All of which is awesome.
Thri-Kreen – another monster I was first exposed to on monster cards, I’ve always had a fondness for these insect-men. They do need to face “the humanoid question”, but being insects is a solid initial schtick, and the other elements which make them fit Dark Sun so well (exotic weapons and some psionics) round it out well.
Treant – I admit, I immediately checked the CR (9) to see if these things are the holy terrors I imagine them to be. Answer seems to be “almost”. Interesting lore in that they are all trees that have awakened, rather than a species in their own right. Curious implications to that.
Troglodyte – Or, as we know them, “Those humanoids who smell really bad”. Because yep, that’s still their combat schtick. In fact, it’s basically the only thing of any real note about them.
Troll – This entry is delightful. Yes, a big chunk of it is predictable, they’re big, they regenerate, sometimes you get crazy troll freaks whose regeneration has gone crazy (sadly, no stats for those) but these all pale besides the awesomeness of the “Loathsome Limbs” sidebar. Basically, if you do more than 15 points of slashing damage to a troll, you lop off a random limb. But, it being a troll, it will keep fighting. Basically, after all of these editions, they have explicitly put in the rules you need to run the scene from Three Hearts and Three Lions which defined the D&D troll. I profoundly raise a glass to this entry.
Umber Hulk – They’ve kept the insectoid look of recent editions, but otherwise this is the familiar monster – a burrowing bruiser who causes confusion if you look in its eyes. There’s some note about averting your eyes, but no real explanation what that means mechanically, though I would presume disadvantage.
Unicorn – Historically, this was one of the most boring critters out there. A magic horse that could teleport once a day, it was hard to take them too seriously. This perspective has been revised, and the Unicorn is now laid out as a hard core protector of the wilderness, with solid multiattack and spell casting abilities to supplement their healignand teleportation. More importantly, they’re now legendary creatures, which means legendary actions and regional effects. And the unicorn’s regional effects are great in a way that the good dragons kind of teased – they’re all things that make the forest a better, safer place. While mechanically interesting, the really cool thing is how much narrative weight the give to the presence of a unicorn in a forest. Beautifully done.
Vampires – In much the same way they have made Unicorns hew closer to their lore as potent magical beings, they have similarly tuned up the vampire (who did not need as much of a makeover). They’re still dangerous (CR 13), enough so that they’re pretty clearly laid out in the Dracula/Strahd school of design, with legendary actions, lairs, regional effects and so on (Strahd actually gets his own sidebar). This is a big V villain. And for all your lesser needs, Vampire spawn are a “mere” CR 5. Definitely a useful package.
Water Weird – Another very dungeoney monster, they’re interesting insofar as they tend neutral, but will tilt towards the water they inhabit (something which can make purify food and drink very situationally potent). They’re colorful – watery snakes, bound to guard sources of water – but there’s very little depth to them.
That said, there’s one interesting visual to these – they look a lot like larval Salamanders. In my head, this suggests some plane of water equivalent critters.
Wight – Ok, this is one of those cases where the art is kind of badass. The classic image of the hunched over figure is replaced by an armed and armored badass undead warrior, and the color supports that. These are warriors of undeath. And one mice touch – they have a life drain attack, but they also have more mundane attacks with weapons, so a fight with them is not just a touchiest.
Will o’ Wisp – Another super situational monster, I mostly go into this entry curious if it will be anything but a one trick pony. The answer? Not really. Well, ok, they have effectively a super coup de grace which is nasty, but otherwise they remain killer balls of light.
Wraith – If wights are soldiers, Wraiths are lieutenants, and I like that framing for them, since sit allows for smart undead villains at low levels. At CR5, a wraith makes a good background villain early on, limited only by the fact that their agendas are largely limited to “hate everything”. But with their ability to create specters, a single wraith is a great way to populate a dungeon and create a larger threat.
Wyvern – When you want something like a dragon that is not a dragon, the go with the time-tested brand; Wyvern! A little bit less necessary in modern play (they made more sense when dragons were less smoothly graded) but they make for a fun, tough fight, albeit on that is not as dangerous as, say, a manticore because despite their ability to fly, all their attacks are melee range, so flight is unlikely to be a real signature of a wyvern fight.
Xorn – Fun to say, fun to play! This entry could have been a pretty dull gimmick monster – they glide through earth and stone and are tough brawlers – but the color added a wonderful touch. Xorn can sense treasure, and that’s historically drawn them to adventurers, which in the past has meant “Jump out of a wall and try to eat some gold”. But as written, they;’re described as “beggars and thieves” and I am utterly delighted at the prospect of playing his huge, multi-armed, gigantically mawed terror as kind of furtively approaching the party petulantly whining to be fed and then attacking later in a sulk if it doesn’t get what it wants. This is a really small thing, but it enriches the monster in a way a surprise roll never will.
Yeti – Ok, I was not expecting this one. It’s basically an environmental hazard of the mountains. Regular Yeti are CR 3, Abominable yeti are CR 9, so there’s a bit of pre-structured minions and boss to it, but in and of themselves they’re only so interesting. The strong environmental tie can probably be used to make them interesting (a snowstorm, low visibility, survival scenario could work well for example) but the entry doesn’t offer a lot of help for this.
Yuan-Ti – We’ve gotten the occasional mention of these guys (though fewer than the illithids) but they are clearly poised to occupy a specific villainous role of the ancient corrupt race which allows all the horribly racists stuff form a Howard or Lovecraft story only with actual monsters, not “swarthy” people. I guess that’s a good thing, but I’m not exactly the best judge.
That said, there’s plenty of less squicky stuff to tap into in using the Yuan Ti – in part of their forsaking of humanity, they embraced a philosophy of detachment of emotion and (by extension) the self-delusion of purely rational thought. Which is to say, the Yuan-Ti are basically the magic world stand in for internet jerks, and used that way, they may be kind of awesome. In my head, the kind of broken common is now translating into forum post language, and it fits so well that it may be hard to keep Yuan Ti out of my game. LOL.
(Also, the fact that Yuan Ti are only worshiping their gods – who get a cool sidebar – until they can figure out how to eat them? Kind of awesome).
We get 3 stat blocks. The Abomination – full on snake men – are the main bad guys, at CR 7, they’ve got spells, shape changing and magic resistance align with a fair amount of physical whupass. Beneat them are the Malison, humanoids with snake parts. There are three different kinds (same general stats, different actions) and I infer from the stat blocks that they are snake heads, snake arms and snake torso. I suspect I could clarify this by checking a previous MM, but I don’t actually care a lot. The last, the pureblood, are the most human looking and least powerful (cr 1) but are powerful enough that I’m not sure I’d use them as mooks.
Once again, we have a clear hierarchy of monsters that makes encounter construction easy enough, and they’re richly developed enough to answer the “why these humanoids?” question so they’re definitely useful. One oddity – I seem to recall that at least some past versions had more of a tie with aberrations (these don’t) but that may just be my faulty memory.
Yugoloths – because once upon a time, someone went “Demons are chaotic evil, devils are lawful evil, wen need some neutral evil fiends!” and then gave them a terrible name (albeit one that was less terrible when talking about Tanar’ri and Baatezu). Their color is great (created by Asmodeus and a circle of hags, there are books out there with all their names, but there’re lost) and they serve a nice niche as evil mercenaries, but it’s not like there was a shortage of fiends that needed addressing, so these guys end up feeling a little generically evil. The ultraloths in particular are, while scary on paper, really dull. It hurts me a bit to say this, but in the absence of a Blood War, I’m not sure these guys bring a lot to the table. I mean, they’re useful monsters, as they’re all quite nasty, but they don’t add much.
Zombies – I was not expecting much front he lore for this one nor did I get it. Instead, I got exactly the utility undead that I expected, including scaled up version for undead ogres. The unexpected surprise at th bottom of the box is the zombie beholder. It’s CR 5, about a third of its eyestalks still work, and I can’t wait to use it.
That’s it for the actual monster entries, but the books ’s not done yet. Appendix A: Miscellaneous Creatures is full of stat blocks with either no or very little explanatory text. It most is composed of beasts, both regular and giant, and as such it is basically the reference included to make playing a druid a reasonable option, especially since the CR’s range from 0 to 7, making sure the druid always has options. It also includes oddities like awakened plants and animals with a single gimmick (like phase spreaders, giant fire beetles, death dogs, Worgs and blink dogs). There’s not a lot of art in this appendix, but those particular creatures are among those who get art (as do quippers, which I guess are sort of piraña). It also includes things like swarm and barding rules as sidebars. All in all, a high utility chapter.
Appendix B: Nonplayer Characters gives us stats for human (or humanoid) opposition ranging from Cultists (CR 1/8) to Gladiators (CR 5) to Archmages (cr 18). it includes notes that you can swap in different races, range spells and basically tweak these guys, but they provide a baseline to work with.
I am, I admit, not 100% sure how I feel about this section. It’s useful no question – there’s a lot of utility in being able to just pull people out of a hat and put them to use. But it’s very 4e in its handling of NPCs, and its one of those areas where the lack of scaling guidelines really shines through. I am hopeful that the DMG provides some guidance in this regard, and we end up with a hybrid system that has quick and dirty npcs (like these) as well as a way to flesh them out without making full PC character sheets for them. But time will tell.
That said, I cannot close without a mention of the index. Content-wise, it’s solid and functional, but the two pages contain my absolute favorite art of the entire book. Some of it, especially the last image of the book, is outright hilarious.