Surprise, Entertain and Terrify 5E D&D Heroes with Tome of Beasts 2 from Kobold Press
Kobold Press knocks it out of the park once again with a collection of over 400 new monsters for fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons. Tome of Beasts 2 follows a tradition of stunning monster books from the publisher filled with creatures to surprise, entertain and terrify 5E D&D characters and their players. I couldn’t wait to tear through my copy of the book along with Tome of Beasts 2: Lairs for a big boost of imagination and ideas for incorporating new creatures into my own adventures. So let’s get into it.
Transform your 5E D&D world with Tome of Beasts 2
Where’s the void stuff at? That’s how I start any fresh look through new Kobold Press content and in the case of Tome of Beasts 2 the cover itself brings the juice. A battle scene illustrated by Hugh Pindur shows heroes facing a servant of the Unsated God as it summons the demon lord Hriggala. I’m not sure if this great crawling wyrm technically fills the void in Kobold Press lore but the ethereal hint of dark cosmic power emerging to consume the heroes works. Turns out Hriggala is a CR 23 fiend with a really nasty Legendary Action more than living up to the book’s goal of keeping players terrified.
Speaking of the void I love the sidebar at the front of the book explaining Umbral and Void Speech, two languages tied to concepts running throughout Kobold Press material. When I got going with my first 5E D&D campaign the void dragon from the original Tome of Beasts became a focal point for me and the Void figures prominently in my cosmology. Incidentally one of the first professional creators I ever met was the void dragon’s designer himself Dan Dillon. I hold tremendous admiration for Kobold Press and Dan so it’s been incredibly exciting seeing his career flourish and developing a working relationship with the head kobold himself Wolfgang Baur.
But you want to know about these monsters. The aptly named Tome of Beasts 2 is both a thick tome and beastly so going over every one would be madness (and not the good kind of madness that comes from proximity to the Void!). Instead I’ll highlight my favorites to whet your appetite for destruction. In the back of the book you’ll find all the monsters organized three different ways for convenience, a super helpful piece of layout found in all of Kobold Press monster books. Creatures are organized by type and challenge as well as by terrain, which also shows each monster’s challenge rating too. I’ve found these appendices incredibly helpful over the years.
Animal Lord — Toad King
I can’t help it, Nerdarchist Ted’s love of frogs and frog themed things is infectious so whenever I see frog or toad related content for 5E D&D I take a closer look. This fey noble includes terrific flavor text to evoke their place in the world and personality and like the best bits of monster lore provides hints at story hooks to inspire new ideas for your games. I know it has for mine. In fact the Toad King entry even includes a sidebar with nine example quests. Awesome!
After all these years of gaming I’ve come to notice how body horror holds a certain appeal for me. Generally I’m hugely squeamish but monsters with some semblance of humankind distorted and twisted always seem really cool, which is why gibbering mouthers are one of my favorite creatures of all time. Now they’ve got a companion creature made of eyeballs! This horrific creature is gargantuan in size and it’s strange morality (and surprisingly high Intelligence) elevate it to more than simply a writhing mass of flesh and eyes that slaughters and devours anything in its path.
Dragons rock and I’m more than happy to include them in my 5E D&D games regularly. This big entry leads into a number of new dragons and drakes with an interesting take on an arctic dragon with a geothermal quality. This alone creates a great dynamic twist for adventure ideas. Boreal dragons come across more belligerent and bestial than standard dragons, who they particularly hate.
I see starry monster, I stop to look closer. To my great delight this shadowy star creature materializes when an ancient void dragon dies and comes packed with awesome abilities like Nauseating Luminance, Stellar Breath and Warp Space. It doesn’t hurt that Kobold Press artist mainstay Bryan Syme illustrates this one’s planar body, which can turn itself inside out to pass through one of its own links to multiple planes and worlds.
If I’m honest I don’t know how much other Kobold Press material there is about these creatures beyond the eonic drifter in the original Tome of Beasts but I developed quite a bit for my own setting so it’s awesome to see a new facet from the creators. These time travelers present not just nifty features to represent their mastery of time but also a very valuable narrative resource for your 5E D&D games to explore time travel adventures and stories.
I dig this new giant for its singularity. Whereas giants often elicit concepts of a larger culture and hierarchy these creepy ones feel more like a one-off creature. Despite their Huge size a thin giant can contort itself through spaces large enough for only a Small creature and typically lurk in abandoned places like dark wells and mine shafts. I’ve definitely got some frightening ideas for these giants.
I’m calling these the tribbles of 5E D&D. Monstrosities in the form of Tiny shards of smoky crystal these critters feel more like a natural hazard than a monster and I’m so on board. A single grimmlet is a challenge 1 creature with innate magical abilities (kudos to Kobold Press for including alternative spells of their own design). Their signature feature can quickly get out of hand though when they Reproduce. It would not take long for a grimmlet swarm to emerge and then you’re looking at a challenge 14 situation. As a bonus these crystalline critters also come from the Void. Excellent…
Eww. Cast off skin left over by necromancers creating skeletons these disturbing undead aren’t notably powerful but they are certainly gross and creepy as hell. Say what you will about skeletons and zombies, animating the skin of a corpse into an amorphous humanoid that smothers victims elevates a necromancer’s game to new heights of horror.
What I like about this creature is something I noticed Kobold Press does really well. Many of the creatures in their products represent more than a simple monster stat block. Instead they feel like dynamic encounter elements in the form of a stat block. In this case a gargantuan undead creature in the form of a black cloud gives adventurers an opportunity to attack the darkness. Huge points to Kobold Press for working in a relationship with the calm emotions spell too!
Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden may have been inspired by John Carpenter’s The Thing but without one of these loathsome aberrations in the campaign it’s missing out. A malleable is basically the creature from the film — an unfathomable mass of flesh that absorbs creatures and takes on whatever bizarre form it wants. This has campaign world threat written all over it, literally. “Their goals are simple: drain every creature they can of psychic energy and rule the world as a massive, roiling meat puddle.”
There’s lots of new oozes, a personal favorite creature type. Of the pack this one stands out for the awful ability to solidify around a creature and encase them. I envision absolutely terrifying scenarios involving this ooze if one manages to Encase an adventurer and begin slowly oozing away with their prey trapped inside.
A special Halloween shout out goes to this fey perfect for a spooky 5E D&D adventure. The minor fey lord has a lot going for them as a challenge 10 creature with Legendary Actions. There is a very high probability of a Pumpkin King appearance in this month’s Nerdarchy one shot, in which I plan to adapt a Halloween adventure I’ve run before. Usually it’s a low level adventure but with this Lord of Harvest in my grasp I’ll be punching it up.
Servant of the Unsated God
This undead creature makes the cut for two distinct reasons. First, I thought the cover image description was simply flavor text describing some minion of Hriggala. Imagine my surprise to find an actual creature entry. Second, as a game designer myself I love how the servant’s Mace of the Devourer gives them a powerful magic weapon but includes the caveat that the mace is only infused with the Unsated God’s power while in the servant’s hands. Part of me already imagines there’s grisly adventurers out there who’ll ask their Dungeon Master if they can cut the creatures hands off and retain the mace’s power. (If it’s my game, no. And that’s gross too.)
Did you think this one wouldn’t grab my attention? Ironically although I’m not a huge fan of psionics in D&D I do like psychic stuff. In this twist on the classic vampire these undead develop a thirst for memories instead of blood. For starters they’ve got terrific regional effects including inducing headaches in intelligent creatures that don’t learn or experience something new every 24 hours. Where they truly shine is the stat block though, with amazing actions like Imprison Mind, Psychic Assault causing memory loss and the ability to summon inklings and paper golem swarms.
Like incarnate gloom this undead feels more like an environmental hazard than a creature and I’m on board for this. Created when a group of humanoids is entombed alive, their profound terror lives beyond their deaths and they lash out with spectral arms at anything close by. I absolutely love the flavor text describing how when a walled horror is destroyed it collapses into rubble and reveals the remains of those entombed. There’s your adventure right there!
Tome of Beasts 2: Lairs
The Book of Lairs from Kobold Press was the first third party 5E D&D book I ever got and I’ve used the heck out of that thing so many times. The Lairs series presents a collection of adventures inspired by creatures from their monster books and for this go around the material is better than ever.
Tome of Beasts 2: Lairs starts with a wonderful introduction explaining how the material is presented within along with a great summary of all 14 standalone adventures. The summaries indicate the monsters they highlight as well as a hook, making them invaluable for quickly scanning through to find out that fits your needs.
Each adventure includes a map and I can say from experience how useful these are during play. I typically use them simply as reference for my descriptions to players and this always works well for me. There’s enough details and objects shown in rooms and chambers to really help you paint a picture for players.
After all the times I’ve run Kobold Press adventures like these I’m confident in a pinch I could grab this book and run something smoothly with very little to no preparation. If I’m honest this is my favorite kind of adventure material because big sprawling connected campaigns rarely go the distance but stringing together standalone quests on the other hand pans out pretty nicely in my experience.
One last component of Tome of Beasts 2 are the pawns. These monster stand-ins are as sturdy as they come and the pack features over 300 of them for your 5E D&D games. Pawns have proven so useful to me over the years. I’m not a miniatures person to begin with so having fantastic tabletop accessories like these, which are also super easy to transport, makes a huge difference.
Like all the best 5E D&D content Tome of Beasts 2 does so much more than give you new monster stat blocks. The wealth of storytelling ideas and adventure hooks combined with fantastic art and innovative game design continues to remain a big source of inspiration for me as a player, Game Master and designer myself.
If you’re as excited to discover all these new monsters to surprise, entertain and terrify players as I am you can help support Nerdarchy by checking out this great Kobold Press content and adding it to your own games. Stay nerdy!