The latest collection of D&D books is without a doubt a beautiful set of tomes— but with one problem: you probably own two out of the three.
I did. Still. I couldn’t pass up the chance to buy the latest book (especially if I could avoid waiting until May for the official release AND support my local comic/games shop).
The book only has two chapters: playable races (“Fantastical Races”) and monsters for the DM (“Bestiary”).
The idea of this expansion to the rules is that it collects playable races and monsters for the DM in a single source, instead of the several separate sources.
In case you missed the change in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, race and stat increases have been essentially separated entirely; this is the baseline assumption to this book.
The list is hefty, collecting races from across several books, especially from different settings. For the sake of story, we can assume that while these races may be rare, they will be found everywhere easily. What we might ALSO assume is that other races are not. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Having some races primarily stuck to a particular plane of existence gives places and the peoples who occupy them a sense of culture and a focus. While the Warforged are still going to be on Eberron, it ought to be unlikely that a place without Eberron’s history would create such beings. Loxodon are also notably missing (though I’m not sure of a particular story reason, they’re as absent as the Leonin).
These entries also update several aspects of creatures to be more balanced for the game:
Where the old versions used to have Constitution as the spellcasting ability for innate spells, a player may now choose to use intelligence, wisdom, or charisma for their spell casting. This can help those who choose to play casters especially (and make things easier to remember).
I would say it should also be an option to keep using constitution as the spellcasting ability, but that may change by DM.
There are a few cases, such as the new Aasimar, where we can see that subrace may be a thing of the past. Instead of choosing a “kind” of aasimar, kobold, or hobgoblin, a player now chooses a specific expression for their racial trait. Aasimar can still have the necrotic shroud, the radiant consumption, or the radiant soul— but now it’s not distinctly called a subrace. It’s just the “revelation” of your aasimar-ness.
Some other aspects of traits seem to be getting a facelift, such as the Elven trance. Now, instead of only getting four hours for a long rest, you also can get some proficiencies. I’m a little worried about how powerful this might be, but it also might be a very useful aspect of being an elf.
So. Collecting all the playable races in one spot is nice. The biggest downfall of the book is the bestiary. Near as I can tell, barring some tweaks, the bestiary is a combination of Volo’s Guide to Monsters and Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes with few or no additions (none I can tell as I skim). As someone who has collected most books as they’ve come out, it’s a little frustrating to buy a book that I already own a lot of the content for.
Where the player section of the book shines by making some races “more official” for use in D&D games and updating them along the way, the creatures I cross checked were unchanged.
So, should I just get rid of the old books? Maybe. There’s lore in those other books that I would lose, which makes me less likely to.
I’d consider this more akin to what Tasha’s did for classes and subclasses, but for playable races. Things that might have been only for a particular setting are now intended for a wider game. I really wish I could have seen NEW races though– I’m still waiting on a playable dryad and gnoll, off the top of my head.
If you don’t already own Volo’s or Mord’s other books, this is an easy purchase and is totally worth it. If you do, this might end up being a pass.
If you don’t already own Xanithar’s Guide or Tasha’s either, the collection is a solid choice.
If you do own the other “Everything” books, you might make a judgement call on if you want a prettier version. That’s on you.
If you DO own Volo and Mord? It’s a tough call; I think this book might not be worth it. If you don’t mind losing some lore on giants and halflings and such, you might sell those to Half Price Books (or wherever), but it would be hard to justify buying this without, especially from a DM’s perspective. As a DM, even as one who owns a lot of the setting books (I don’t own Ravnica), it would have been nice to see the creatures from those settings appear with ideas and lore for how they might appear in other settings; I would have preferred this instead of recollecting Volo and Mord.
The big selling point isn’t from the DM perspective though. It’s for players. Having the list of playable races without having to buy all the setting books and monster manual expansions makes this a particularly attractive book. (And not just the front cover!) There’s a good chance you’ve thought those other books were for DMs primarily— and you’re not wrong. This book, while having some DM info collected, is for you, though.
Ultimately, whether or not this book is worth picking up depends entirely on what you already own. It definitely shows the way that the construction of characters are starting to change; I imagine this will be more akin to what we’ll be seeing in the next edition of D&D overall. Hopefully, next time there will be more new material or material collected from sources that most probably wouldn’t have picked up before.