Everything old is new again! Kobold Press is set to release Tome of Beasts Pocket Edition on Oct. 29 according to Amazon (where you can preorder here) and I recently received an advance copy. I’ve long considered Tome of Beasts to be an integral part of my fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons experience. It’s been a minute since flipping through the pages, and getting the pocket edition was a great opportunity to remind myself why I dig the book so much. If I’m honest I’d never read the introduction so starting there was in order.
Monsters with meaning in Tome of Beasts
On top of the incredible art from an exceptionally talented group of artists for the more than 400 new monsters for 5E and the slick layout by Marc Radle, the sentiment in the introduction does the best job of presenting the meaning of the monsters we face in our fantasy roleplaying games.
“Monsters are the best part of any fantasy RPG because they reach into our minds and present us with our own demons, with the very worst that could happen. They have power because each of them represents a very human fear, a nightmare given thought and flesh and form — and then defeated.” — Kobold-in-Chief Wolfgang Baur
And let me tell you, the players in my games have faced these monsters with meaning countless times! With the Tome of Beasts Pocket Edition, Kobold Press isn’t reinventing the wheel. But there are a few bookshelves out there lacking a copy, and players new to Fifth Edition may not even have heard of it! *Gasp*
Rather than do a deep dive or comprehensive review, I’m going to flip through the book and share some of the memorable monsters from my campaigns. If you’ve got favorite monsters from Tome of Beasts, let me know about them in the comments. I’m always interested in swapping RPG stories, and maybe picking up some new ideas to bring back to my own games.
- Lunar Devil. One of these Large fiends is a powerful information broker in my Spelljammer campaign, with a lair orbiting a moon constructed to give it control over the moonlight and darkness inside. It is a very powerful figure in the setting, and the adventurers never found out much about the entity. Spoiler alert for players in this campaign: you’ve been watched for a long time. The creature is only semi-corporeal in moonlight, can teleport between moonbeams, and the art is really cool.
- Doppelrat. Early in their adventures a beholder nightclub owner hired the party to clear out a vermin-infested dock. Doppelrats were the culprits and their weird Arcane Doubling ability freaked the party out. Even more freaky was their hireling contracting Doppeling Disease and sloughing off dead clones of himself. These are a great creature to make low level adventures like clearing out rats something much more exciting. Be careful though — they’re much more challenging than your average giant rat.
- Flame Dragon. There’s quite a few dragons in Tome of Beasts including my all-time favorite one. But the flame dragon was the first dragon I used in a 5E game. The party failed to stop a firenewt ritual to empower a flame dragon wyrmling in a great adventure inside Book of Lairs. I thought, cool, there’s a dragon out there with whom the party has run afoul. But nope. They summoned their spelljamming ship, chased the dragon down and fought an epic battle in the skies.
- Void Dragon. The ultimate dragon! Formed of the night sky and witness to the nothingness of existence, void dragons make all other dragons seem lame. When I first saw them I knew immediately this was the big bad of big bads. They were considered myth and even then barely known, and the adventurers had a tough time finding anyone who would believe them. The warlock character’s Otherworldly Patron was a void dragon, and the first time the party fought one, the aftermath left several characters stranded in the Nine Hells.
- Alehouse Drake. Boozy stowed away on the party’s vipership when they were away on a quest and it was a while before they noticed it hanging around. Everyone liked Boozy.
- Shadow Fey. These dark elves are nasty! The first time I ran a game for the Nerdarchy crew, shadow fey were troubling a giant the party was contracted to visit. Their mission was to convince the giant to become a stage actor and return with them to the theatre. But first they had to appease the giant’s elemental spirit friends, which the shadow fey were attempting to enslave. The various shadow fey in Tome of Beasts work really well together. Like, really well. I thought I might experience my first TPK.
- Emerald Eye. This one I tweaked a little bit so it completely dominated the creature it was bound to. Sort of like an intellect devourer except without the destroying your brain part. The party held a recruitment drive for new crew, and a crossbow marksman showed up with the tiny green crystal floating around their head. The players never questioned anything about it until the marksman died and the emerald eye found a new host.
- Empty Cloak. The hatred players in my group hold for cultists probably came about partially because of empty cloaks. The Devourer cultists serving Explictica Defilus employed empty cloaks, and one of the early conflicts featured a confusing mix of empty cloaks and actual cultists in the same garb.
- Eonic Drifter. One day while traveling the phlogiston, a random table roll resulted in one of these time travelers appearing on the deck of the ship. The eonic drifter came from the previous cycle before the void dragons emerged from the void and annihilated sentient life. We’ve had many discussions over the years about their Drift abilities and how they might create weird immortal versions of the eonic drifter.
- Fear Smith. Like the lunar devil, a fear smith lurked out there in the campaign setting but the adventurers never ran across it. One of these creatures makes the perfect “house of horrors” style villain to pit characters against a giant death trap then use it’s Distortion Gaze and Heartstopping Stare to escape.
- Liosalfar. Heart-breaker! An adversary of the party captured one of these elementals and used it to power a dangerous device. The party didn’t know anything about this when they discovered the trapped creature. No one could speak with this particular one because it only spoke Primordial. But they shared rudimentary communication and their intention to help. The liosalfar was grateful, and not long after sacrificed itself to try and save the party during an encounter with a void dragon. Sad face.
- Mi-go. The first time the party encountered one of these masterminds of evil, they were freaked out. Nevermind the monsters they’d fought up until this point — including a flame dragon! — they immediately knew they were in over their heads. The killer alien scientists are vastly intelligent and powerful, looking down at adventurers like they are the insects. Super weird, super scary with access to technology and with incomprehensible plans, mi-go are all around awesome antagonists.
- Mindrot Thrall. I love me some plant creatures (the mi-go are plants too!) and these zombie-like abominations instilled dread in the players. They were once people, but exposure to mindrot spores transformed them into these dimensional horrors. In my setting mi-go create mindrot thralls as muscle and mobile biological weapons.
- Oculo Swarm. Amazing! I’ve used these a couple of times and they haven’t failed to deliver on the yucky factor and the OMG what just happened axis. Because if you’re in the same space as one — not hard since it’s a swarm and can cast confusion and hold person — it sucks one of your eyeballs right out of your head!
- Spark. A sentient floating ball of elemental energy, this symbiotic creature wants to inhabit physically strong bodies. A spark grants a tremendous bonus to its host at the risk of destroying their nervous system. But if you live with the risks there’s a great reward. I like how there’s an oppositely charged spark for each spark out there. What happens when it comes looking for it’s counterpart?
There’s so many more great monsters in Tome of Beasts, and looking through it again there’s several more standouts ready to make appearances in my games. The monsters a GM chooses to confront adventurers with, and their reactions to these creatures, can help set the tone for entire campaigns. The Nerdarchy team explored ideas about using monsters in a newsletter you can find here for more ideas. More often than not the adventures I create begin with monsters, so I’m always excited when there’s a new collection of creatures to discover. If you’ve already got Tome of Beasts and maybe haven’t looked through it in a while, pull it off the shelf and give it a flip through. If you don’t have a copy, the pocket edition from Kobold Press is a great opportunity to add it to your collection and inspire new adventures. Order a copy and let me know your favorite Tome of Beasts monsters below.