As we wrote a couple of weeks ago, the Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition Monster Manual may be the best one Wizards of the Coast has ever produced. Today, we thought we’d take a look at some of the best monster entries in the tome. Whittling it down to 11 was tricky, but here they are.
These tree-monsters could have easily been little more than leafy goblins in earlier versions of the Monster Manual. Instead, the book’s writers gave them a hierarchy and a central gathering point: the Gulthias tree. When DMs use this monster in their campaign, they’re not just getting some low-level beasties for their players to slay, they’re getting a serious adventure hook. Who planted the Gulthias tree in the area? And why?
As part of Wizards’ renewed focus on Dragons, these classic monsters got a deep examination in the new Monster Manual. In total, the dragon section stretches 32 pages, giving deep explanations of each dragon’s personality, lair and the effects that their lair has on the region. It also gives four stat blocks for each color of dragon: ancient, adult, young and wyrmling.
While Dragons are clearly the most important foe in D&D, Drow may run a close second — and their entry reflects that. In addition to a solid primer on Drow life, the entry includes stat blocks for regular Drow, Drow elite warriors, Drow mages and priestesses of Lolth. While DMs would clearly want to customize the key NPCs in a Drow adventure or campaign, the Monster Manual entry has the supporting cast covered.
Let’s face it. Over D&D’s 40-year history, orcs had become devoid of personality. They were simply generic baddies for players to slaughter until they got past third level. Their entry in the 5E Monster Manual not only fleshes out their culture and history, but also gives DMs a few ways to make Orc encounters something to fear. “Rejecting notions of racial purity, they [orcs] proudly welcome ogres, trolls, half-orcs and orogs into their ranks.” Yipe!
With one year to exact revenge, its single-minded focus and perfect knowledge of its target’s location, these guys scream “adventure engine.” Send one after a party that has strayed into nefarious activities and watch them scramble to deal with it. Or have one ask the party to help hunt down his enemies. Either way, game sessions will hum along with that kind of motivation.
Despite the fantastic color in this monster’s description, they boil down to ugly, angry giants. Or, at least, they would if it weren’t for their “Curse of the Evil Eye.” On a failed save, the attack magically deforms the target — which is both meaningful in battle and funny afterward.
Like the orcs, hobgoblins, and bugbears, the kuo-toa entry defines several different roles for kuo-toa. These baddies, though, offer a different flavor. Their twisted view of the world (developed after years of mindflayer enslavement) make them a great base set of villains for a campaign that wants a bit of Lovecraftean flavor.
Liches have a special place in the world of D&D arch-villains, and their 5E entry gives them the attention they deserve. In addition to stats for the lich, the entry defines three different actions that a lich can take within its layer.
If revenant scream “adventure engine,” Rakshasa scream “campaign engine.” These tiger-headed devil-kin take whatever appearance they wish and enjoy the “pursuit of dominion over others.” This makes them the kind of foe a DM can use as the arch-villain behind all the nefarious plans a party starts spoiling with their first adventure.
Fifth Ed mummies come in two flavors: standard mummies and mummy lords. The latter is something of a lich-light — it comes with a lair and legendary actions, but only has a challenger rating of 15 — but both can be versatile additions to a game.
Nothics are one of the weirder creatures in the Monster Manual. These failed arch-wizards creep around magical sites and could serve as either untrustworthy allies or tricky enemies, depending on the DM’s whims.