Several weeks into this year’s coronavirus lockdown, my family came to me with two simple questions: will you DM a weekly family Dungeons & Dragons campaign, and, if so, what do we need to buy to participate?
My answer to the first was of course! The second, however, took a little thoughtful deliberation.
After some soul-searching—and some strict cataloging of 30+ years of accrued tabletop gaming resources—I settled on just a couple of essential items for minimal investment. I mean, I’ve got dice sets and spell cards a-plenty. I’ve got guidebooks and map tiles galore! (Apologies to the memory of the great Howard Ashman.)
Rather than suggest everyone shell out for their own Player’s Handbook—or even the significantly cheaper Starter Set or Essentials Kit—all I asked of my players is that they find a miniature that they feel reflects the kind of character they’d like to play and, to help them discover just some of the most basic martial character options available in the Forgotten Realms, that they each read the Warriors & Weapons entry in the Dungeons & Dragons Young Adventurer’s Guide series.
While created for the grade-school reading levels (8-12 years of age), Warriors & Weapons provided my players (aged 13-35) with a concise but comprehensive overview of character and class in D&D. From there, as we continued our adventure, I also suggested another volume, Wizards & Spells, to our ranger, who was discovering the joys spell-casting between firing volleys of arrows from afar.
While the heavy lifting of character creation can be ably handled by a smartphone app—Fifth Edition Character Sheet is my go-to—and things like initiative, skill checks, and combat are best explained in-game, I reasoned that a group like mine, with limited prior tabletop experience, would better benefit from the kind of 30,000-foot view afforded by the Young Adventurer’s Guides.
Based on their continued progress, it seems I was right.
Earlier this month, the first four volumes of the YAG were released as a collected boxed set, bringing together Warriors & Weapons and Wizards & Spells with Monsters & Creatures and Dungeons & Tombs in The Young Adventurer’s Collection. Together, they offer an excellent introduction to ins and outs of D&D, complete with amazing art and easy-to-digest prose but lacking a lot of the meatier aspects, like complicated stat blocks, that only Dungeon Masters (and, perhaps, hardcore fantasy math nerds) truly find compelling.
It should go without saying that this set is an amazing value and a must-buy for anyone with children (or other adults) around that have even the vaguest interest in the world of Dungeons & Dragons. However, if you already own these four tidy tomes, take heart—there’s a brand new addition that surely has a place in your fantasy library.
Beasts & Behemoths adds some more supplementary fare to the existing beastiary that is Monsters & Creatures. Arranged by size—tiny and small to gargantuan—it begins with a brief introduction and an explanation of the creatures’ danger levels, which, while certainly not as exhaustive as the more traditional challenge rating system, does give players an idea of enemies that pose a modest risk to the new adventurer (such as a single gnoll or hobgoblin) as well as those that stand out as an existential threat to even the most hardened war party (like the fearsome demilich).
In addition to each beast’s name, special abilities, size, and danger rating, entries also include lair and habitat information and a helpful list of dos and don’ts.
Now, these could potentially prove a little spoiler-y if you, as DM, plan to introduce some of the more exotic enemies to your game. But, by the same token, they could also be viewed as representing “real world” knowledge for aspiring adventurers.
Would, for example, your party’s cleric know that a demilich is immune to the divine power of Turn Undead? Maybe, and that’s where the role-playing takes center stage.
Beasts & Behemoths also pauses at irregular intervals to spotlight legendary examples that hold special significance in the lore of D&D, like Bahamut the platinum dragon or the death knight Lord Soth. Other, more pedestrian creatures, instead receive “encounters,” brief depictions of situations that might likely happen in a standard campaign—like running across a pseudodragon or facing off against a wererat.
As a meta-resource, Beasts & Behemoths takes a bit of a scattershot approach, and because of this, not every entry will prove relevant within every setting. But, again, each does represent the kernel of knowledge that certain characters may retain from past experience or a larger cultural awareness.
Would a dockworker in Neverwinter know the tales of the shark-like sahuagin even if she herself has never adventured on the high seas? Did other wandering adventurers regale your party with stories of the Underdark, complete with the grisly details of Mind Flayer-modified cranium rats?
As always, that’s for you and your party to decide!
From Acererak to the serpentine Yuan-ti, from miniscule quicklings to the towering tarrasque, Beasts & Behemoths is a monstrously good read that’s arrived just in time for Halloween.
Review materials provided by Random House. This post contains affiliate links. Am I the only one who’s never heard of Luluah the sphinx queen?!