As someone who has served as a Dungeon Master (DM) for awhile now, running both published adventures and homebrewed worlds, as well as a healthy mix of the two in some campaigns, can I confess that I get bored with the creatures and monsters in the D&D 5e Monster Manual(s) produced by Wizards of the Coast?
Editor's Note: We use GM and DM interchangeably here. DM stands for Dungeonmaster, which is the Dungeons & Dragons equivalent of a Gamemaster (GM)
As far as they go, the 5e Monster Manuals are fine. They do the job and give you some critters to plague your party with, but it seems like they only go so far. Plus, after a certain number of encounters, I start to get a little bored with them.
To make things worse, particularly if you are playing DNDBeyond, it is way too easy for players to look up the stat block of a creature, think they know everything, and then want to rules lawyer you to death with how you are running the creatures. (NOTE: Don’t be this kind of player. Please.)
Thankfully, there are all kinds of great resources out there to give us new creatures, critters, monsters, demons, aliens, etc. But if you get overwhelmed at the sheer number of books out there, as well as struggle to discern the actual good resources that spark your imagination and help you run fun, challenging encounters for your players, let me offer you a piece of advice: Start with Kobold Press.
Kobold Press is the Best Supplementary Creature Publisher for D&D 5E
If you are unaware of Kobold Press, it is a company that was started by Wolfgang Baur in 2006, when he started Kobold Quarterly, a magazine to serve the niche that was left open when Paizo stopped creating the magazines Dragon and Dungeons. The company eventually shifted as things changed, became Kobold Press, and eventually was a company put on contract with Wizards of the Coast to create two of the first big 5e adventures: Hoard of the Dragon Queen and The Rise of Tiamat.
Since then, Kobold Press has been hard at work creating materials for its own Midgard campaign setting as well as other materials for Dungeons and Dragons 5E.
So, they know what they are doing. When you watch them use Kickstarter to launch products, you see how much they work to playtest and make sure that what they put out are great products that have withstood the challenge of meeting real, actual players/adventurers. And when it comes to creatures, there is no one better at adding beasts to your 5e pantheon than Kobold Press.
As if you needed more convincing, they have been doing it awhile. Which means you have some significant options on where to do to choose.
The Tome of Beasts Series
If you want to delve into some fantasy creatures to use and challenge your adventuring party, look no further than the Tome of Beasts series. Kobold has released 3 books (4 really) in this series at this point, with Tome of Beasts III being the most recent release and, honestly, they are all fantastic. (You can read our review of Tome of Beasts I here.)
Each tome contains well-designed, interesting, thoughtful creatures. My experience is that they are nearly always appropriately leveled in terms of challenge ratings, so you need not worry about thumping your party with a creature they aren’t rated to handle or with them wiping out a party that you thought would give them a good challenge.
But beyond the stat blocks, they have good lore, giving each creature some interesting, thoughtful backstory that helps you weave the creatures into the story that you and your adventurers are telling.
Now, it should be noted that for some reason, Kobold Press did another book in between Tome of Beasts II and Tome of Beasts III that is called The Creature Codex, which you can read our review of here. Why they chose to shift the name of the book is unclear, but the reality is, that the Codex is another creature book along the same lines of the other Tome of Beasts books, with the same kind of stat blocks, lore and information that all the other books have.
Using the Kobold Press Creature Books in Your Game
With Kobold Press’ status as one of the better supplemental publishers of 5E material, industrious DMs thave a variety of options once they get their hands on the books and supplemental support materials. All of them are available in physical format. They are well crafted, bound and can take the punishment of being looked through over and over again.
Additionally, all of them are available as PDFs so you can have them at your digital fingertips as well and Kobold Press also has a deal on each where you can get the physical book and the PDF at a cheaper rate than getting them both individually.
There’s more: the older books are also available in a pocket size softcover version. And currently, Kobold Press has a deal that collects the three older books (Tome I, Tome II and Creature Codex) in a bundle for an even more discounted rate.
And if you are one of the folks that plays mainly virtually, Kobold Press has really made an effort to make their material on a variety of those platforms. Currently, they seem to be supporting the platforms Shard, Fantasy Grounds, and Foundry. Finally, if you are one of the lucky folks that plays in person over battlemats, the books all have Pawns available as well.
Kobold Press has smartly put all of these creatures together into one searchable source. You can visit their Kobold Press Monsters page, where you can search by a large variety of fields to find what you need quickly to put together an adventure.
For instance, a couple weeks ago, one of my groups needed a 1 shot adventure. So just having received Tome of Beasts III, I decided I wanted an icy environment, searched up some creature for the correct level and ran a fun offering where the party battle an Imperator penguin, a penguin swarm, an Ice Golem and a Floe Hag. A little bit of backstory and we were off and running.
So, if you want to throw some new, strange challenges at your adventurers that include creatures (and stat blocks!) that they haven’t seen before, use these beast books. If you need some inspiration, both for quick encounters or even longer campaigns and adventures, these creatures and the lore that goes with them will prove to be a great asset to you as a Gamemaster and, thanks to Kobold Press’s formats and options, in whatever way works best for you.