Tales of the Valiant: Monster Vault

Since I wrote my article on the Tales of the Valiant Player’s Guide, I have now received the physical copies of these books from the Kickstarter campaign. I was waiting to receive the actual books before I sat down to review the Monster Vault. The reason I was waiting is because I wanted to be able to sit down at the table with both the Monster Vault and the D&D Monster Manual and compare them side-by-side. I’ve now had time to do just that and I’m ready to discuss what I think about this new product.

As I mentioned in my review for the Player’s Guide, Tales of the Valiant is to 5E what Pathfinder was to 3.5. It’s an attempt to preserve the classic 5E experience while making some quality of life updates. The reason behind this isn’t so much due to the upcoming One D&D release, but rather it is a response to the changes in the OGL for this new “edition”. However, if you’re expecting ToV to be a carbon copy clone of D&D, you’re going to be sadly mistaken. The Monster Vault is a prime example of this. For starters, certain monsters and characters are owned by Wizards of the Coast. This prevents them from being included in third-party publications. With that in mind, don’t expect to see things like Beholders, Mind Flayers, and Displacer Beasts in the Monster Vault. But aside from licensing issues, most publishers can’t help themselves when it comes to revising content. (This is also evident in the Monster Vault). The end result is that over time, the new clone ends up being considerably different than the source material. I’ll get into the specifics of that later. But for now, let’s take a look at the book itself.

Currently, the Monster Vault comes packaged in a fancy cardboard sleeve with the Player’s Guide. Both books are quality products. The covers and binding are tight and firm, the paper quality is thick and smooth, and the colors are vibrant. In terms of print quality, these books beat out some of the recent releases from WotC in my opinion. Highly quality stuff here. After spending a few days with the book, I have yet to come across any typos or production errors. On top of that the layout and presentation of the content is also very well done. Again, I actually feel like the material here is presented much better than WotC’s own Monster Manual. Of course, with new core D&D books on the way, I’d like to revisit this comparison in the future.

Now that I have the physical stuff out of the way, let’s get down to the details; the content.

I have to say, Kobold Press did a pretty nice job updating these classic monsters. At times, many basic monsters in D&D feel more like stat blocks than interesting creatures. Kobold Press seemed to go out of their way to try to make every single monster in this book feel unique in one way or another. In a way it should breathe new life into every player encounter with a beast included in this tome. On the downside, licensing issues have forced Kobold Press to take some pretty big liberties with a number of these monsters. For example, the Duergar. Also known as Gray Dwarves, Duergar are often known for being subterranean slaves to Mind Flayers. Well, Mind Flayers are owned by WotC so the background lore for Duergar had to be rewritten. Now, they are simply a militaristic culture of Dwarves that dwell deep underground. It’s not a terrible background, but it’s also not consistent with the established lore. On its own, this is not necessarily a problem. But if you’re a DM with an established campaign and you’re trying to switch from D&D to ToV – you now have some homework to do.

Other changes to various monsters in the book are not lore driven, but simple stat changes. A number of popular monsters now have slightly more HP than their D&D counterparts. I feel this was done because the power level of characters created with ToV rules is considerably greater than that of vanilla 5E characters. With this in mind, bumping up monster stats just a hair makes sense.

If you plan on running a straight Tales of the Valiant campaign without using any D&D material, then rest easy. This book is all you will need to get started when populating your adventures with encounters. If you add in the three Tome of Beasts releases and the Creature Codex from Kobold Press, you’ll never run out of options. But, if your plan is use the ToV ruleset to replace your existing Forgotten Realms campaign, you’d better not throw out your old Monster Manual.

Personally, I’ll be using both books for the foreseeable future. I really like the presentation of this book and some of the new lore options presented here would make for some interesting variations of existing monsters in my campaign. But I have no illusions, as ToV continues to mature the time will come where I’ll be forced to pick a side and stick with it. Until then, the Monster Vault is a quality book packed with new versions of your favorite monsters and few new creatures to add to your bestiary.

Monster Vault (left) - Monster Manual (right)
Monster Vault (left) – Monster Manual (right)

 

Tabletop

Old Game Hermit

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