Tome of Beasts, by Kobold Press, is a bestiary containing a wide array of monsters, from Cactids, Salt Golems, and Algoriths to clockwork monsters, dinosaurs, and, of course, plenty of new dragons. The book was produced through a Kickstarter in October of 2015 with contributions totaling to nearly ten times its funding goal. I received the PDF of the book in July of 2016, and the physical book in August, which, aside from an adventure written by Goodman Games, was the first of the third-party 5e books I’ve purchased or backed.
Tome of Beasts is big. It’s a longer Fifth Edition book than any that Wizards of the Coast has produced thus far, and is printed on thicker paper, making its physical version dwarf other 5e books. Additionally, when I backed the Kickstarter, I pledged at a level to receive the leatherette hardcover version of the book, which honestly looks like a massive tome on my shelf. The only regrettable tradeoff from pledging at this level is that I don’t have the full cover art on my copy of the book, an illustration by Marcel Mercado of two adventures squaring off against an Ancient Void Dragon.
Format-wise, the book emulates its official Wizards counterpart, using a clean stat block which is easy to read. Typically, descriptive content will precede mechanical details, providing insight into how the monsters might act in combat. If available, the stat blocks of monsters precede their variants, typically the ability to cast spells or summon additional monsters.
Journey to Midgard
Tome of Beasts functions not only as a Bestiary for your regular Fifth Edition games but as a Bestiary for Kobold Press’s Midgard Campaign Setting. For those of you unfamiliar with Midgard, it’s a setting published by Kobold Press inspired heavily by European mythology. Sidebars throughout the Tome of Beasts pepper the book with interesting tidbits of lore and details such as information about the Rainbow Serpent, Baba Yaga’s horsemen, or Ghouls in Midgard. Even if you’re not thinking about running games in Midgard, these sidebars are a great source of inspiration to think about these creatures’ places in your campaign world. Once Midgard Campaign Setting becomes available, I’ll be excited to see how the two books’ details compliment each other.
Challenging the Mightiest of Heroes
Fifth Edition is an impressive iteration of Dungeons & Dragons in that it functions as a nexus for content influenced by several previous editions. Tome of Beasts pulls from this rich history of game styles with a little bit of influence from everywhere – storytellers looking for harsher, almost save-or-die, monsters need to look no further than monsters such as the Mask Wight, which can not only remove cherished items from existence, but can remove a creature it slays from the memories of everyone but the few who witnesses that creature’s death. Storytellers looking to subvert expectations when exploring can look to the hoard golem as a dastardly trap in what players may think is merely a room filled with loot. Fans of more tactical combat will find creatures such as the Elemental Locus to be an exciting challenge for their players. Finally, monsters like the Salt Golem require unexpected shifts in tactics which will force players to fight in ways that may be outside of their character’s comfort zones by punishing traditional tactics in interesting ways.
This diversity in mind, the main negative aspect to the Tome of Beasts would be the Challenge Ratings assigned to its monsters – often what mathematically should be an average encounter(at least according to CR’s) can be incredibly deadly, especially when dealing with the monsters which can inflict levels of Exhaustion on unsuspecting players. If you don’t intend for your players to experience shortened adventuring days, consider decreasing saves which prevent levels of Exhaustion or even outright removing the effect in dire situations.
At the time of writing and probably for the foreseeable future, Tome of Beasts is my go-to Bestiary to design challenging combat encounters. It’s certainly got its quirks, but as long as you’re aware of them, you’ll get a lot of mileage from Tome of Beasts.