Last Updated on February 1, 2023
There are three core books that defined the rules and, more importantly, the tone of Fifth Edition D&D. One of those is the Monster Manual, a compendium of creatures and a guide on how to use them effectively in a game of Dungeons and Dragons.
This book has now been around for almost 10 years, and it’s still a valuable source of information. But how valuable is it really? Do you really need it to play D&D 5e? What’s even in this book anyway?
In this article, we’ll be answering all those questions and more, so let’s get straight into it.
- The Monster Manual is primarily a collection of stat blocks and lore.
- Some creatures come with tactical suggestions.
- Two-thirds of the creatures in the Monster Manual can be accessed for free in the Basic Rules.
What Is the Monster Manual in D&D 5e?
The Monster Manual describes itself as “a menagerie of deadly monsters for the world’s greatest roleplaying game.” That description is mostly true. It is a menagerie of monsters, some of which are deadly.
If I were to give it a more accurate title, I would call it “The Monster Handbook” or “A Collection of Monsters.” Sure, they don’t necessarily have the same ring as Monster Manual does, but they feel more accurate to me.
Since this book is part of the three core rulebooks of D&D 5e, you’d probably expect it to really nail down the guidance on what monsters are, how monsters are used, and how to use monsters in an effective manner.
Unfortunately, beyond a brief introduction explaining how to read a stat block (which is completely represented within the Basic Rules), there isn’t much guidance being given. Instead, the Monster Manual is almost entirely a collection of monsters, their stat blocks, and brief to detailed descriptions of the creatures’ lore.
This isn’t a blanket statement. There are certainly some great suggestions here and there, but those are few and far enough between to not be a main selling point.
What’s in the 5e Monster Manual?
The Monster Manual has stat blocks and descriptions for close to 500 different creatures and NPCs. It is generally organized alphabetically, although some sections do show up, such as Dragons, Demons, Golems, and Orcs.
Essentially, the book defaults to an alphabetical organization but departs if there are several creatures that are similar enough to be grouped into some sort of “sub-category.”
As for the actual contents of this book, well, there are about 500 creatures, and it’s kind of hard to make a list you’d even come close to wanting to read. There are all sorts of basic monsters you’d expect: dragons, undead, demons, golems, angels, dryads, ghouls, etc.
To its credit, the Monster Manual is built to win a game of Family Feud. If you were to poll 100 nerds and ask them to name 10 monsters, then you’d probably be able to find most of them in this collection.
With every stat block is a description, and again, to its credit, the Monster Manual never claims to provide anything more. These descriptions can range from purely physical to deep lore dives and to actual tactical advice.
That last bit is probably the most infuriating. There’s a lack of consistency in the content. I feel like every question I could’ve asked about dragons is answered in this book (wild, considering they eventually released Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons), but some creatures, like the Flumph, seem almost entirely disregarded.
At the end of the day though, this is a book that’s used as a quick reference for all your monster needs, and it’s probably going to serve that goal well. If you thought it might be an actual guide… that’s another story altogether.
Should You Get the Monster Manual?
Honestly, you should probably save your money for something else. While this book can be an incredible resource for those who really care about the lore of D&D, it’s much less a manual and much more a compendium.
This book is mainly used as a quick resource for DMs to be able to pull up a monster’s stat block at a moment’s notice. That job can be better handled by a copy of the Basic Rules, and typically, whatever module you’re running will include stat blocks for the monsters within it.
As for those who might want to pick up the Monster Manual for its tactical advice on how to run monsters and NPCs, don’t bother. Nowadays, a quick Google search is going to give you all the information you’d get from the MM coupled with actual experience (shameless plug for our own creature features) that can help you run these monsters in an effective and exciting way.
The Monster Manual is by no means a “scam.” It just happens to be a book that fails to include a lot of the key ingredients of Monster Manuals from previous editions.
Where one might expect expert advice and suggestions on how to effectively use creatures, especially since this is a core rulebook, you’re basically only receiving stat blocks with a spattering of tactical discussions and lore.
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As a kid, I was often told to get my head out of the clouds and to stop living in a fantasy world. That never really jived with me, so I decided to make a living out of games, stories, and all sorts of fantastical works. Now, as an adult, I aspire to remind people that sometimes a little bit of fantasy is all you need when life gets to be too much.