Last Updated on February 1, 2023
Whether you are a Dungeon Master in search of evocative and interesting lore, just want to stock your dungeon with terrifying monsters, or are a player who’s tired of fighting goblins and wants to try being one for a change, Volo’s Guide to Monsters is the book for you.
- Volo’s Guide to Monsters fleshes out lore and stat blocks for some of D&D’s most iconic monsters including Giants, Mind Flayers, Goblins, Gnolls, Hags, and Orcs (to name a few).
- The book also provides rules for seven new playable races (Aasimar, Firbold, Goliath, Kenku, Lizardfolk, Tabaxi, and Triton) in addition to six “monstrous” races (Bugbear, Goblin, Hobgoblin, Kobold, Orc, and Yuan-Ti).
- The rest of Volo’s Guide comprises stat blocks for over 150 monsters and NPCs including the Mind Flayer Elder Brain, the Froghemoth, and the Redcap.
- The material contained within Volo’s Guide to Monsters is now considered “Legacy Content” and has largely been replaced by Mordenkainen Presents: Monsters of the Multiverse. But that doesn’t mean you can’t use this excellent book in your own campaigns.
What Is Volo’s Guide to Monsters?
Released in 2016, Volo’s Guide to Monsters was one of the earliest expansion books released for D&D 5e. The book builds on the Monster Manual with expanded lore for some of the game’s more iconic monsters (including Goblins, Giants, and Mind Flayers), several new playable races, and a whole host of monster stat blocks.
In many ways, Volo’s Guide to Monsters could be considered 5e’s second Monster Manual, alongside Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes (which deals more with extraplanar creatures rather than traditional monsters), and contains more than enough material for a dungeon master to create years worth of encounters and adventures.
WARNING: LEGACY CONTENT
Ever since the launch of Mordenkainen Presents: Monsters of the Multiverse in 2022, both Volo’s Guide to Monsters and Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes have been rendered “Legacy Content.” This means that the content they contain is no longer the official version of the rules supported by Wizards of the Coast.
You can still use content from Volo’s Guide (or any other book you want; it’s your table, and there’s nothing WotC can do about it) in your home campaign if you wish, but characters built using these rules are no longer “legal” in Adventurer’s league games, and the content of this book isn’t reflected in the adventures and sourcebooks being released for D&D going forward.
What’s in Volo’s Guide to Monsters?
Volo’s Guide to Monsters is broken up into three main sections.
The first section expands on the lore of nine classic types of monsters (Beholders, Giants, Gnolls, Goblinoids, Hags, Kobolds, Mind Flayers, Orcs, Yuan-Ti) detailing their cultures, gods, histories, tactics, languages, treasures, physiology, and more. If you’re looking for inspiration for a new campaign or adventure and want some good villains, this is the place to look.
Second, Volo’s Guide to Monsters details seven new official characters races, including the half-celestial Aasimar, the mysterious Firbolgs, the powerful Goliaths, alien-minded Lizardfolk, curious Tabaxi, and ocean-dwelling Tritons. The guide does a very good job of making each playable race feel unique — especially the Kenku (cursed crow people who had their creativity stolen by the gods and can only speak through perfect mimicry) and Lizardfolk (utterly cold, reptilian minds who do not see the world the way we “warm bloods” do).
This section also contains a smaller section on turning traditionally “monstrous” races into playable characters including Bugbears, Goblins, Hobgoblins, Kobolds, Orcs, and the Yuan-Ti Pureblood snake people.
The third (and by far the largest) section of the guide is dedicated to stat blocks and entries for over a hundred monsters that a DM can use to populate their campaign. It’s a great bestiary filled with more obscure monsters from folklore that are sure to surprise your players (like the stinking, magic resistance tapir with a death ray called a Catoblepas) and variants on traditional monsters (including several very upsetting varieties of gnoll.
Appendixes A, B, and C comprise various beasts; a list of NPC stat blocks for different types of wizards, swashbuckling pirates, kraken cultists, and necromancers; and a list of the monsters and NPCs grouped by creature type.
Should I Get Volo’s Guide to Monsters?
In my humble opinion, Volo’s Guide to Monsters is one of the three best books published for 5e to date (with the other two being Curse of Strahd and a coin toss between The Wild Beyond the Witchlight and Xanathar’s Guide to Everything), and it’s leagues better as a product than Monsters of the Multiverse.
If you have a choice, buy Volo’s and Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes; they provide infinitely more lore, usable details, and interesting monsters than the bland, rather vague content in MotM.
Be sure to check out our full guide to 5e books here.
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I played my first tabletop RPG (Pathfinder 1e, specifically) in college. I rocked up late to the first session with an unread rulebook and a human bard called Nick Jugger. It was a rocky start but I had a blast and now, the better part of a decade later, I play, write, and write about tabletop RPGs (mostly 5e, but also PBtA, Forged in the Dark and OSR) games for a living, which is wild.