The present review starts a bit “in medias res” and this is partly due to the fact that we recorded the video review before writing the post. We suggest, therefore, to read the first few lines, look to the video and then read the rest of the post. In the video, there will be a proper intro, promise, let’s only say here that we speak of the Tome of Beasts of Kobold Press and other outcomes of their successful Kickstarter. We took all the pictures from the Kobold Press Kickstarter page. Enjoy!
After I recovered from a week of ecstasy due to the arrival, at last, of the long-awaited Tome of Beasts (ToB), I can give you a more dispassionate and unbiased review. My mind is cooler and I had the time to study it more carefully, but the right way to start is definitely to look to my video review, registered right after I received the ToB!
Now I want to focus more on the technical aspects of the contents of the manual. In addition, in the video I spoke almost exclusively of ToB, while here I will elaborate more and dedicate some space to the second book that I received, part of rewards due to the stretch goals completed by the Kobold Press in their Kickstarter, that is the Book of Lairs (BoL).
The ToB is a bestiary of 430 pages that presents over 300 new monsters and unique creatures for D&D fifth edition. Large space is, in fact, reserved to, unique, new monsters, for example the Demon and Devil Lords, the Lords and Ladies of the Feys, the Emperor of the Ghouls, to name my favorites.
Twenty pages are dedicated to the inescapable dragons, of six different subtypes (cave, flame, mithral, sea, void and wind) and various size and dangerousness.
A kind of monster that I like a lot, probably for my long past as Ravenloft DM, is the undead kind. The undeads that I appreciated the most, as I said in the video too, are the ghouls that, now, after such an authoritative and complete work, possess an unprecedented complexity and depth. ToB presents a veritable society for these creatures, organised in castes and at the top of this underground reign, there is the Emperor of the Ghouls. It is a villain of considerable difficulty (the Challenge Rating, CR, is high even for a group of the most experienced adventures), that you can easily use as enemy number one of your heroes on duty.
Much emphasis is given to fey and swarm monsters that usually instead find little space in bestiaries. Very curious monsters have, also, space in ToB: maybe they are not very easy to insert in your campaigns, but it all adds a touch of originality to the Tome. I think to the Algorith, a kind of construct, birthed from logical thinking and mathematics, a guardian that regulates the physical forces that keep together the Multiverse, or even the Abominable Beauty, the Mirager, the Lorelei, the Eleinomae or the Drowned Maiden, a whole series of aberrations, undead and various feys, with seduction as their main weapon, to undermine your characters.
And then mechanical monstrosities, automata, insectoids, more or less noxious humanoids but also celestials and good creatures, ready to be used as a hook, patron, ally in all the adventures and stories which are only limited by your own imagination.
Apart from this, there are various appendices devoted to new villains’ archetypes (VILLAIN CODEX) with alternatives to the “usual” bandits, veterans and thugs: bandit lords, black night commanders, city watch captains, a dozen of other profiles. A valuable table summarizes the racial modifiers to be added to the various archetypes.
I can say without a doubt that this bestiary lacks nothing and that it is worth all the money, probably more but do not tell Kobold Press people!
The BoL is the perfect embodiment of what it was intended to be. A book of 108 pages with 25 mini adventures of 4 pages each, three pages of text and a page with a checkered color map, for DM eyes only. The maps of four of these adventures are attached at the end of the tome,you can detach and use them. However, there is also the possibility to use the pdf containing both versions of maps, I imagine this is very useful for those who would experiment with tabletop platforms like roll20 or similar.
In the descriptive part of the adventure we find some lines that introduce and give an overall sense of it, BACKGROUND and ADVENTURE HOOK help us to put it in the context of an existing campaign.
The adventures are generally for groups of 4-5 PCs. They range from THE RIVERFRONT RAT GANG, introductory adventure for level 1 PCs to A TRIANGLE IN SHADOWS for 15th-level PCs. Moving on to adventures evocative names: DEN OF THE ROTTEN KINGS, THE PIRATES’ COVE (because someone said that “everything’s better with pirates!”), THE HIVE, TEMPLE OF THE DEEP ONES, TOMB OF THE SCORPION PRINCE, THE WARLOCK’S CRYPT, CITADEL OF THE VOID DRAGONS and so on.
The strong points of the product include the immediacy of the game, few minutes of preparation and the evening is saved for those Master too lazy or busy to prepare in advance the session. Also, the adventures really covers almost the entire spectrum of levels of the PCs and that makes it even more durable in time. Then the quality is very high, in line with other KOBOLD PRESS products.
If I really have to find a defect, maybe the too big variety and lack of ties between the encounters (except for two, three cases in which the adventures are connected) make it difficult to contextualize them all (or many of them) within a story with a common narrative thread. It’s true that this could be a good challenge for the Master who wants to try this product. It is also important and to take into consideration that largely uses monsters present in ToB. It makes no sense to have a copy of the second, without the first. Or it would take a big job for the Master, diminishing its benefits.
I also add that the levels set for the adventures, do not always correspond to the reality. Some are blatantly unbalanced, at least according to calculations using the DMG [p. 81-83]. It means that in any case the individual adventures should be weighted according to their group, regardless of what is written and no one, better than the master, knows the potential of its players.
In conclusion, then, my opinion is that the ToB and BoL products are worth owning, as they greatly enrich the available possibilities for the DM. If you have to make a choice, for economic reasons, I suggest you to privilege ToB over BoL. There are several versions of ToB (hardcover, softcover and PDF) with affordable prices for all needs.
Stay tuned with us, there will be surprises, related to other products, that we are going to test and review for you, and our own future projects. For instance, do you remember our first original module for D&D 5th, La Tomba? We rewrote it, restyle it and, obviously, translated it! It took a lot but now The Tomb is open for all of you … We are doing the last proofreading job and the first part of the module will be out in a short time. A bit later, but only a bit, the complete and totally free module!