I have to confess something right off the bat: after reading through the Fung Shui 2 rulebook, reading other rulebooks for other RPGs has felt remarkably more tedious.
If you’re a connoisseur of tabletop roleplaying games, or even if you’ve only read a few books from the same system, you’re probably aware of the general trend toward having large sections of mechanics and explanations, broken up intermittently with splashes of flavor coming from little “in character”/”in universe” blurbs, and splashes of color from cool pictures. Some books, like The Strange, are really quite beautiful to look at. Others, like most of the Legend of the Five Rings supplements, have enough blurbs to tell many parts of a complex story strewn throughout them. However, at a certain point, all of these books have to contend with the fact that they are intended to divulge mechanical data and systems, and the dryness that comes with that can make or break a potential new player’s interest in the system.
Fung Shui 2’s rulebook is a rulebook that is fun to read. It is a rulebook with voice, that actively engages with the reader and the reader’s expectations regarding the tropes that the game is designed to play off of, encouraging you to really sink in and enjoy all the things that your gaming experience could be. By the time you get to mechanical stuff, you want to read it to find out how it works, and even then the descriptions never relinquish that self-aware, slightly cajoling tone of somebody who is introducing you to something they think you mutually find cool on some level.
After that, Mouseguard, The Strange, BASH… none of them quite have the same shine to them.
Why am I talking so much about Feng Shui 2 in an article titled for Dungeons and Dragons?
Enter: Volo’s Guide to Monsters.
Wizards of the Coast has been putting out D&D books for decades, and has been putting out rehashed versions of the SAME books for nearly as long. Most of the time these books may contain different flavor text, different art, and different mechanics from the last version, but only very rarely do they deviate in title and feel. You know what to expect from a D&D book, for the most part- it’ll lay down the posibilities and the systems, maybe postulate a few interesting plot seeds for you to play with, and introduce enough new options for play that you hopefully feel you got your money’s worth, mechanically. As a result, the effect of reading a Dungeons and Dragons book is often similar to attempting to read a psychology textbook, in that the information can be so dense that you just… kinda… pass out in the middle of a section. Is that just me? Maybe it’s just me. Anyway, point being, unless you are specifically interested, at some point you’re probably going to get bored, especially if this is your second or third time buying and reading through a different version of (essentially) the same book.
Wizards is aware of that, and has decided to do something a little different with their next Monster Manual supplement.
They’re going HOG WILD.
There will be fourteen pages alone dedicated to detailing every aspect of beholders- how they work, what they think about, how they live, how they interact with the world, everything. There will be information about how the goblin caste system works, how giants talk, the life-cycles and societies of mindflayers and their outcasts, the relationship between kobolds and their pantheon, and on and on and on, in the voices of Volothamp Geddarm, high-flying explorer, and Elminster, the Sage of Shadowdale, as they struggle (against each other, occasionally) to inform the reader about the many wonders of their fantasy world.
There are bound to be mechanics somewhere in this book (reportedly further towards the back), but lead designer Mike Mearls has made it clear that their focus with the book is on story content, or on content that will generate stories. Biological, societal, economic, linguistic, religious, and cultural information on many many many different species and sub-types of monsters, to bring the skies and planes and deep places to life in your games, give players a new understanding of the creatures in the worlds they romp in (or help them play those creatures themselves), and give DMs new and interesting story concepts to work with- all in one place.
As a roleplayer, I want this book.
As somebody who would love to make a tabletop RPG one day, I want this book.
As an aspiring writer who loves worldbuilding, I want this book.
At the very least, this tells me that the marketing has worked. I hope to high heaven that Volo’s Guide to Monsters turns out to be half as fun to read as it is to eat.
… I mean, uh, play with. That’s definitely what I meant.
Only time will tell.
(I’ll let you know when I know)