Reviews, RPGs, Tabletop Games

Review: Warcraft 5E Manual of Monsters

Last year I posted a review of a fan-made PDF offering a 5E conversion for World of Warcraft.  You can go and read the review if you like but, in summary, I loved it.  Now, as I eye up the option of getting a game going with a group online, I’ve turned to the other book that has emerged from the project, the Manual of Monsters.

As I’ve said before, I love Bestiary books!  They’re always chock-full of cool monsters and villains, and they should have a ton of great art as well.  This why I loved the D&D Monster Manual and Volo’s Guide to Monsters, as well as Kobold Press’ Tome of Beasts and Creature Codex.  They are my most-used books for 5E, aside from the Player’s Handbook itself.

So, with these cracking books as my shining examples, how does this book stack up?

wow 5e bestiary cover

Well, I’ll say right off the bat that the cover for this book is so much nicer than that of the Heroes Handbook.  I didn’t like the artwork used in the main book, but this is cool.  Look at that Dreadlord, striding towards you, so threateningly.  Let’s tear into this book and find the statblock for this bad boy.  He must be epic!  Let’s see…  Huh, there’s no Demon section?  Maybe he’ll be in the Scourge section then…  No…  Okay, ctrl-F…  Only one mention of the Dreadlords and no actual entry for them?  But they’re such an iconic enemy!

This is disappointing.  The cover is great and it really makes you want to dive in, only to find that the very creature put up front on the cover is not even himself included.  Not only that, but it draws attention to the fact that there’s not a Demon section at all.  This means there are no Eredar, no Pit Lords, nor Infernals.  The Satyrs are there, at least.  That’s something.  Imps, Voidwalkers, Felhunters and Succubi were also given statblocks in the Heroes Handbook in their roles as Warlock pets.  This is a disappointing start, as already I’m pretty much unable to bring the Burning Legion into my games.

That said, I know that the whole project is still very much work in progress, with significant changes being made all the time.  I largely know this because, as I was trying to find out where the Demons might be, I went back to the start of the book and found this little snippet of text:

unfinished wow5e

Ah, that makes sense.  I’ve calmed down.  I suppose I’m glad that they’ve released what they do have, and aren’t just keeping it all until the whole lot is done.  In this case, a partial release is better than no release.  I think it’s also important at this point to adjust one’s expectations slightly.  This is, to use the parlance of Steam, an Early Access product and it would be very unfair to treat it as a finished product.

Anyway, enough about what’s not in the book, and on to what is in there.  There’s a fair amount of stuff crammed in thus far:

wow5e bestiary contents

So, there are a lot of iconic Warcraft creatures in here, and in some cases, there are several variations of the beasties.  For example, that first section on Ancients includes the Ancient Protector, Ancient of Lore and Ancient of War.  The Kobold section, likewise, has three variants, the Harpies have two, the Silithids have five, the Quilboars have four, and the Ghosts have nine.  Don’t be fooled by the fact that there are only 47 sections listed, there’s a lot of stuff hidden away inside.

From a visual standpoint, I really like the art-heavy pages of the book.  To take a wee handful of examples, here are the ‘category’ pages for the Scourge, Bog Beasts, and Trolls.  Note how the half-page art spreads help to set a tone for each of the different sections:

The three pieces all set very different tones.  The sheer number and variety of creatures in the Scourge art emphasises not only the huge number of different creatures that comprise that faction, but also conveys the feeling of being hopelessly outnumbered.  This is how you should feel in the face of the Scourge!  These pages also give us the beginnings of the background for each type of creature.  In this case, the page outlines the undead nature of the Scourge and introduces their master, The Lich King.  This background information continues over the next two pages before another three pages of stat blocks for various creatures.  This large amount of background material and nice selection of beasties does seem fitting for a faction as important to the setting as The Scourge.

The Bog Beasts art, meanwhile, is much more focused.  It has the above-the-surface portion of the artwork, portraying an unsuspecting Gnome enjoying her fishing.  Below the surface, we see the real threat lurking, disturbed by the interruption of the Gnome.  We even see that the gnome is unknowingly standing on the beast itself!  The text of this section is also really good, giving an outline of what Bog Beasts actually are, before giving four examples of different types of Bog Beast.  Each of these four types are then outlined in profiles over the next two pages.

Finally, the Troll section, like the other two, is gorgeous.  The artwork, in this case, focuses on the great empires that the trolls built.  I like this aspect of the trolls, as it’s one that is easily overlooked given their oft-apparent savagery.  It also gives a really good potted history of the Trolls, covering their empire-building, their evolution into Elves, the differences between tribes and some of their beliefs and abilities.

Some sections of the book are particularly fun.  I really like the section on Gnolls, for example:

So, first of all, this is a really pretty section.  There is some lovely full-colour art, some sketchy-style art and a nice wanted poster for further flavour.  Visually, this is an impressive part of the book.  I like the range of creatures in here as well.  There’s the basic Gnoll, a tougher variety, a leader, a mystic/spellcaster and a special character in the form of the legendary King Hogger.  I also like that there’s a real difference between the Warcraft Gnoll and the D&D Gnoll.  Let’s take a look.  The first of these profiles is from D&D’s Monster Manual and the second is from the Warcraft 5E one.  If you hover over them, labels will appear:

Yeah, quite different.  The Warcraft Gnoll is physically weaker than the D&D equivalent.  The weapon loadouts are visually different but functionally similar.  They put out the same ranged damage and very similar damage with their melee weapon.  The D*D Gnoll does hit harder with its bite attack, however.  The biggest difference is in the Rampage and Last Stand abilities.  They’re almost opposite abilities.  Whereas the D&D Gnoll gets to launch another attack after it kills another creature, the Warcraft Gnoll gets a free attack when it is itself taken down.  In both cases, the free attack is a bite, underlining the ferocity of these creatures.  I think overall the D&D Gnoll is more of a threat, but as we explore the bigger, deadlier variants of the Warcraft Gnolls, we see them getting progressively more threatening.  I really like Hogger’s statblock.  His Kill Command ability of fantastic and makes him a real force multiplier in a fight.

Now, one of the reasons that the Gnoll section of the book is so great is that it’s full of beautiful artwork.  One of the challenges faced by the designers of this book is that they are not in control of what artwork is out there.  There is a lot of Warcraft art, but they’re still limited by what Blizzard has produced, or what fan artists have put out.  Some sections of the book rely on models from the game, and these pieces just don’t look as good.  Of course they don’t – how could they?  Let’s take a look at the elementals section as an example:

wc5e elementals

That Air Elemental looks great.  It’s a lovely piece of art with crackling lightning, particles coming off the main elemental and a hazy base, showing where the little tornado is throwing up dirt around itself.  By comparison, the Arcane Elemental is… fine?  I mean, it’s not terrible, but it’s also quite ugly standing next to the Air Elemental.  Seeing the two styles side by side is quite jarring.  Now, I completely understand that the team behind the book does not have control over the availability of art and they’ve really done the best they can with the models they have used throughout the book.  It’s not a huge issue, but it’s a wee bit disappointing.

You see this again in several sections, including the Mechanicals section:

The first thing to note here is there isn’t a big piece of artwork for flavour at the start of this section.  That’s disappointing, as I love the madcap engineering of the Warcraft setting.  I did have a quick Google for a suitable image, but the focus of the few images I found seem to be on the Gnomish or Goblin engineers, rather than the mechs themselves, so I see that the issue of availability of art is the main factor here.

The Mechanostrider art is nice.  It’s a simple piece that captures the look of the mech, but also gives it a bit of personality.  is it just me or is it just a little derpy?  The next page, however, is not as pretty.  The biggest issue with these models is that they are old.  The newest models in WoW are things of abject beauty.  The older ones, particularly those from before Cataclysm, are dated and often block, as is the case with the Alarm-O-Bot and Blombling.  For an example of how in-game models have evolved over time, have a look at one of my favourite characters, Sylvanas Windrunner, and how she has been represented in-game over the years:

sylvanas

Notice the huge jump between the second and third models and the vastly increased level of intricate detail in the fourth.  Sylvanas is a major character in the ongoing plot, so she obviously gets a lot of attention, but there have been similar levels of improvement in many of the newer models.  Where the creators of this Monster Manual are able to use the newest models, they will have much better artwork.  The pieces will be less blocky and less jarring on the page.  Of course, we know that this is not always possible and they’re making the best of what they have.

In terms of the rules for the mechanicals, I’m happy with them.  I really like the DANGER! ability on the Alarm-O-Bot, as it creates a real threat to the adventuring party that isn’t just a matter of a creature directly attacking them.  That both the Alarm-O-Bot and the Bombling are threatening in a way that goes well beyond their (purposefully) unimpressive Ability Scores is great.  Subtlety is welcome in my games – if you can use that term to describe a walking bomb that blows up in your face.

That last keyword, subtlety, is actually a word that I would apply throughout this book.  The creators of the Monster Manual do manage to give the various creatures therein a real Warcraft feel, and a lot of that is down to the abilities that they have written, whether this is DANGER! ability of the Alarm-O-Bot, the Banshee’s Possession, the Wisp’s ability to work with other Wisps for Will of the Forest, Hogger’s Kill Command or countless other examples.  I understand that the book is not finished, and the Demons and Dragons are definitely the biggest absences at the moment, but I’d call what’s here so far a triumph.  As a Monster Manual, this book works because it has a large number of interesting creatures and a wealth of cool artwork to go along with them.  Is the art all perfect?  No, and that should be acknowledged even as we understand that it is not the fault of the creators, but rather of the availability of extant material.

All in all, this is a great book in itself, let alone a good start to what will be a much bigger, longer-term project.  I really recommend this book to anyone intending to play in the Warcraft universe, but also to anyone who just likes RPG bestiaries, so that you can have another big set of monsters to bring into your games.

From a technical standpoint, the book is amazing.  It’s so well produced.  On this topic, I notice this little snippet from the back cover:

gmbinder

I definitely need to check out GM Binder.  If these are the results that you can get from it, I’m so tempted to try putting my own stuff through it and see how it comes out.  You can click here to visit the site for yourself.

Going back to the Monster Manual, you can find the book by visiting the Subreddit for the Warcraft 5E project.  There are links down the right-hand side of that page to access the project files, where the PDF of the Monster Manual can be downloaded.

Again, I’m delighted with this book, especially as it’s a free resource.  I’m hoping to put it to use in the near to medium future and really think that I can use so much of the content in any of my games, not just those set in Azeroth.  That this is only the start and that there is more coming is really exciting to me.

3 thoughts on “Review: Warcraft 5E Manual of Monsters”

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