So, after not a whole lot of careful consideration, we have a 10 point review metric set up for RPG manuals! Huzzah! So we might as well throw some numbers at things! You know that big analysis I did for Vog’s Guide to Monsters? That’s not what’s going on here! We have 4 books to cover in one article, so we need to hop straight in!
I think we’ll do this by publication date, because why not. And I’m not going to cover any of the published adventures in this, as my metric hasn’t been calibrated for adventures yet. And I don’t have all of them yet.
Here are the 10 metrics. I won’t be copying the questions to the various books, so refer back to here as needed.
- Did I like it?
- Is it useful for players?
- Is it useful for DMs?
- Does it provide good prompts for stories and campaigns?
- Is it system agnostic?
- Is it setting agnostic?
- Is there enough lore?
- Is the visual design worthy?
- Will you refer to this often?
- Is it well indexed and easy to consult? <- I modified this one from Volo’s
The Player’s Handbook (5e) 6/10
- Yes, I liked the book. It was a welcome change from 4e, each class looked like it would be fun to play, and, even now, 2 years later, behind all my whining, I still get inspired to play flipping through it. +1
- This book is crucial for players. Each serious player should have one, although as long as you have access, it’s not necessarily a requirement. As it states in the title, this book is for the Player’s, albeit not exclusively. +1
- This book is essential for DMs. All the character creation stuff in the beginning is nice to know, as a DM, as we ought to be aware of player options and what they can do (so we can shut down or support, as we choose) but the core reason behind owning this book is it has all of the rules. Everything from combat, to skills, to magics, all of the equipment lists, all are in here. Super Crucial. +1
- While I’m sure an enterprising DM could draw some inspiration from the book, there isn’t much to go off. If you needed a prompt, I’d refer you to almost any other book, even some non-fiction, to get you going. It just isn’t a launching place for stories. This is the manual, not the sales brochure. +0
- This book is very much NOT system agnostic. This is where the system comes from. +0
- This book is, however, fairly setting agnostic. While it does keep you in the fantasy medieval genre, it does a good job of saying “These are your options for different worlds.” Especially when dealing with divine choices. +1
- The lore of this book, the little bit there is, is something I find annoying. But that’s part of my D&D griping. There is very little lore in this book. The races have a bit in the beginning, but they have to deal with the setting agnostic stuff. (Getting points in #6 and #7 looks like a herculean effort.) +0
- I’m neutral about the design. There are a lot of cool art assets, but I’m not excited about them. I als0 don’t dislike them, so I’m going to give a shrug and a thumbs up. +1
- I am in and out of this book so much. Even though I have print outs of some useful tables, I have spell cards and an app to make it easier, I still refer to this book a lot, as a player and as a DM. I am still learning the game, apparently, as each time I pick up the book and read through, I find something I’ve been doing wrong. +1
- +0. Let’s get the rating out of the way first. It is really hard to find out things from this book. The races are not alphabetical. There isn’t a summary table for them. The classes are organized with a table, but because each class is structured differently, there is a lot of flipping through the book to find where you want to be for them. The rules section is a mess. Rules for mounted creatures are in at least 3 different areas. The spell section has a lot to be desired. Yes, it is alphabetical, but I would love a table listing spell levels, descriptions, and page numbers. I have also gone looking for “Summon Elemental” and the like and been unable to find it, because it’s “Conjure” instead. The spells themselves don’t mention the classes that can get them. All in all, this book needs some summary tables.
Monster Manual (5e) 8/10
1. Yeah! this is one of the best MM I’ve seen! I love how each monster has a chunk of lore with their statblock. +1
2. This book is not useful for players, unless you need wild shapes or to conjure things or something. +0
3.This book is essential for newer DMs, who still use stat blocks. I’ve moved past that, personally. I don’t know if that’s a good thing. But +1
4. This book is AMAZING for story prompts. Out of the 4 books here, it is probably the best for story. (If you include Volo’s, it’s close. It’s more versitile, but Volo’s has more depth. Personal preference, I guess.) I have run a few encounters off of flipping through the MM, reading a bit of lore, and finding a key thought to make a story of. I love it for that. +1
5. System agnostic is a tough one for this. I love buying old MM, as you can do a lot with pictures, names, and included lore. But, I suppose, the actual numbers betray me. This is a system book (as rubbish as CR is for gauging difficulty) +1
6. Setting agnostic, on the other hand, is a go. While some of the lore might not apply to your world, (The giant’s Ordening, for example) a lot of monster lore doens’t really matter to the scheme of your setting, so you can drop in displacer beasts and unicorns with little adjustment to world or creature. +1
7. This book has SO much lore. Each creature has at least 3 paragraphs of different aspects of the creature to make them useful in your games. (I feel that a good chunk of lore may unfairly benefit points 4-7, but since that makes the book useful, I’m okay with this.) +1
8. Each creature in the book has a picture. (well, except for the appendices with mundane creatures. But we’re expected to know what a bear looks like.) Often, creature variants have a picture too. I pull out the book when playing to flash an image more than I look up stat blocks. +1
9. Hmm. this is a tough point. I use to refer to this book often, but after a lot of D&D, I’ve started to ignore statblocks and play for story. And, often, monsters get steamrolled if you pay attention to CR and statblocks. So I don’t dip in here as much as I use to. I also have some numbers memorized. Kobolds have 4 hp, goblins 7, bugbears 27 or so. But for new players, people who will be looking at this to judge utility and worth, +1
10. This book is not well organized. There is a section of non-magical beasts tacked on to the end, as well as the human-type encounters, so that’s 2 pool of creatures that have to be parsed seperatly from the main alphabeticals. There is also a subdivision for demons, dragons, devils, and giants. So if you find yourself on those pages, you’re not quite sure where you need to flip. Oh, and some of the useful lists, monster CR by location is one, are placed in the DMG and not this book. Often, if trying to use these monsters, I have to have both books with me. +0
Dungeon Master’s Guide(5e) 6/10
- When this book came out, I described it as the best of the 3, I said I’d be in it when prepping for every adventure, that it was amazing. I no longer feel all of that for this book, but I think it does deserve a +1
- This book is not intended for players. I think there are certain groups, where magic items are super common, for example, where having one of these available may be handy, but I think it is a DM book. +0
- Is it useful for DMs? Man, I want to say no, but then I remember all the times I’ve dipped into it for content. There is such a large selection of little tiny rules and tidbits that I have to give it a point. Heck, even if its just for the random dungeon generator in the back, it’ll earn this point. +1
- There isn’t a lot for story prompt, I feel. There is a section on generating a story, with rolling for plot and stuff, but I’ve not found it very useful. +0
- This book is, however, fairly system agnostic. I’d think twice about throwing magic items as written to players, and there are some sections with rules that might need tweaked or glossed over, but the majority of the work should be applicable to different games. DMing is the same no matter what you’re doing. +1
- Along side the previous, it is setting agnostic. Most of the magic items can be dropped into any world, how to run hazards is useful wherever, there is nothing that limits the volume to just one world. +1
- This book isn’t filled with lore, but there is some. Each of the planes have a small write up, each of the legendary items has some fluff, but this isn’t a lore oriented book. +0
- This would be another meh for visual design, except for the many picture of the magic items that are inserted into that section. I don’t believe it’s all items, but it is a healthy number of them, each looking distinct. +1
- I hardly ever refer to the DMG and that comes from one specific thing: I make my own magic items. They may not be balanced, they may not have rarities and such, but they are more fun, tailored to players and characters, and I’ve not looked back. +0
- This is the big problem with 5e. Indexing. As I said before, there are some appendices that belong in the MM. And I would love if the Magic Items section wasn’t smack dab in the middle of the book (preferably, in it’s own book I could leave at home) But this book isn’t like the others. Other than the inital parsing, you hardly dip into this book, unless you know exactly what you need. And, at that point, the index in the back works fine. +1
Sword Coast Adventuring Guide (5e) 6/10
- Okay, let me make one thing clear. I HATE the Forgotten Realms. It’s a cool universe and all, but I’m sick of it. Oh, hey, look. Our first true splat book is 100% set in FR. Your mileage may vary, but this point is the metric so my personal feeling have less of a chance to infect the other points. +0
- There are some player options in this book. A paladin I’m playing is actually using some of them. And if you are in FR, then the book may contain lore your character may be expected or allowed to know, making it fairly useful. +1
- This falls back on if you’re running in the FR. There’s stuff in here to let you run the world the same as other DMs, so it could be useful, but I think it is the least useful for DMs out of the options available at this time. +0
- There is a lot of lore, (which we will give a point to later) along with good descriptions of locations and factions. These are important for running games in FR and you can use them to great advantage. +1
- I think there is a high enough percentage of lore for this to be system agnostic. +1
- No. +0
- There is plenty of lore. Not only is their world building lore, but there is also lore for each of the classes, on how they are incorporated into the world. (And I think the races too? probably. I don’t have my copy at hand) +1
- I’m going to give a point here, although I’m not sure it warrant’s it? I don’t have my copy on my ATM (stupid moving to CO) and so I can’t easily check. I do remember some maps and illustrations for the races and classes. +1
- I am never referring to this book. I won’t say never. The published adventures for 5e are set in FR (bleh!), so if I seriously gamed in one of those, I’d have to do a bit more research, but I find it unlikely. +0
- There isn’t as much to consult in here, but when I’ve had to take a gander, it went fine. +1
So that was all of the manuals. If you head over to my List of Owned Books, I’ve added an embedded spreadsheet with the numbers and the breakdowns. I’ll update as I do reviews for other books, some with fancy analysis, some with just the 10 points.
I will assert, however, that the 10 point RPG manual scale is not a rating of enjoy-ability, of quality, or of how much I liked it. It is a number denoting how useful it appears to be, without taking into consideration what it is intended to do. I can’t promise if the number will be useful. But it’s how I review things.
At the moment, Volo’s is highest with 9, and the average is 7. 2 books are above average