What is the Tome of Beasts? The short answer: it’s over four hundred new monsters from some of the best D&D designers around, it just came out, it’s the hot new thing!
The long answer: It’s a book of monsters by Kobold Press that’s bigger than the Monster Manual. If you don’t know the name of Kobold Press, you probably know something they’ve published. The creative minds behind Kobold Press have done a lot for D&D. Steve Winter and “Kobold-in-Chief” Wolfgang Baur recently co-designed the first major D&D 5e adventures, Hoard of the Dragon Queen and Rise of Tiamat, but they have been hard at work making D&D supplement for decades.
And that’s why we’re excited that we get to preview not one, but two of the monsters from the Tome of Beasts. The Alehouse Drake and the Living Wick aren’t the most fearsome creatures—they’re both easy foes for 1st-level characters in a straight-up fight, but they’re more than just sacks of hit points with high attack bonuses. Let’s take a look at the Alehouse Drake’s creative monster design.
The Alehouse Drake has a measly challenge rating of 1/2—in other words, four 1st-level player characters should have no problem at all defeating this creature. But let’s look closer; what makes this guy fun? What makes it different from just another handful of goblins?
It has a story. While a goblin, a skeleton, or a fire elemental can be used to great narrative effect, it’s more often than not just a goon to be beaten. It has no story inherent to it. And that’s great! Every game needs generic monsters that can fill a multitude of roles, and that’s the purpose of the Monster Manual. The Tome of Beasts is different. It has the freedom to offer us specific, quirky monsters with a built-in narrative. Look at how the Alehouse Drake has a high amount of hit points and social spells (like friends and invisibility) but not a lot of powerful damaging abilities. The monster’s description tells you its purpose in the second sentence. It’s not there to fight you itself, but it’s fully capable of “driving crowds to…bloody bar fights.”
More than just a monster, this beast is a character. Imagine Vox Machina, tired from battle and looking for a hard drink, wandering into a tavern in Whitestone to find this little critter causing a ruckus. Even though it’s only a CR 1/2 monster, it can still provide a major challenge to high-level characters by manipulating innocent people, evading capture through invisibility, and generally being a nuisance.
Next up is the Living Wick.
The Living Wick fills a few roles. From a game design standpoint, it fills the niche of “weak golem,” since even the weakling Flesh Golem in the Monster Manual clocks in at a formidable CR 5. But even with that in mind, it’s weaker than the Alehouse Drake. It’s clearly only a threat in large numbers, which fits its narrative. The story of these creatures suggests that they are expendable and very cheap to construct, sort of like Star Wars stormtroopers for an evil wizard.
Beyond that, the creature has a simple, evocative image. It looks like a walking candle, and if described that way, players instantly have some idea of how to defeat it beyond just hitting it a bunch—snuff out its flame. It also means that if a Living Wick uses its special power “Consume Self,” to create a massive fireball, the players will be surprised, but they won’t feel cheated; the attack didn’t come out of left field.
The Tome of Beasts is a masterclass in good monster design, and it’s now available as a PDF download or hardcover at Kobold Press. Over 400 creatures are ready-to-use to challenge your players, but you can also use them as inspiration when creating unique and exciting monsters for your own players at home!
What are some of your favorite D&D monsters? Let us know in the comments, or tweet to @GeekandSundry.
Image Credit and Featured Image Credit: Kobold Press