Guest Writer: Jason Kemp
This article made possible due to the gift of a review copy, QWERTY and rolling natural 20s.
“Lethal Lexicon: A Collection of Monsters for the Fifth Edition of the World’s Greatest Roleplaying Game”, published by J. Halk Games in 2018, is exactly what it says it is. For purposes of clarification, this is a separate and unique product from the similarly names “Lethal Lexicon Vol 1” and “Lethal Lexicon Vol 2”, publish by Octavirate Games in 2013, and should not be confused with those two monster collections. In the interests of full disclosure, I have received a free copy of this supplement for review purposes. I’ve been running a 5E campaign for almost four years at the time of writing this review, taking characters from first to twentieth level, and kicked the tires of the system at every tier of play. It is with that eye that I review this product.
This interesting collection of creatures comes in a fifty-two-page PDF. Inside this well-produced document, you’ll find the front cover, a credits page, a complete table of contents, a foreword, an introduction, highly detailed entries for forty-nine different monsters, the prerequisite copy of the Open Gaming License, and the back cover. The first portion of the supplement is exactly what you’d expect. The credits page lists the amazing people that brought this book into existence through their diligent efforts. A significant level of recognition is given to the artists involved, which I think it excellent. Starting with the Table on Contents, the text enters a two-column format, making it harder to read on a handheld device, but the overall look and feel is very nicely done. The Foreword is a well-written insight into the reason this supplement exists, which is to make adventures more adventurous by introducing new and exciting monsters. I liked the Introduction, as it really added a personal touch to the delivery of the material. J. Halk Games is very interested in feedback from customers, and in making their products better through that feedback. I really like that.
The core of this supplement is based on the forty-nine creatures detailed within it. Before we go any further, I should point out that there are two philosophies for monster design in the Fifth Edition DMG. One is making everything work by the numbers, where attack values are based on proficiency bonus plus the appropriate ability modifier, and so on. This is the route that Wizards of the Coast uses in their monster creation, and the one I’m most comfortable with in creating my own monsters for my gaming table. The other philosophy is assigning attack values, saving throw DCs, skills, saving throws, and other numbers to the creature, without consideration for what the calculated values might be. The Lethal Lexicon follows this method. It took me a little bit to get used to that, but the numbers do support a challenging player experience. Given that this is the primary purpose for the creatures in this book, I accepted that the numbers would not “add up” and moved on with my review.
And I’m glad I did. While I can’t say I’d use every single monster in this tome, mostly because some of them don’t fit my homebrew campaign world, there are definitely some awesome concepts in here. The artwork, while it varies in style from monster to monster, ranges from pretty good to exceptional (with maybe one or two exceptions, like the hair golem or quietus, for instance, which look like pencil sketches to me.) Here are a few:
Asyeel: A red-orange floating fiend often confused for a beholder, with necrotic spit.
Crying Seraph: These greatly resemble the weeping angels of Doctor Who fame.
Dread Moth: Moths that feed on fear.
Coin Golem: A walking, killing pile of treasure just can’t be beat.
Jersey Devil: I have a weakness for using cryptids in my games.
Quietus: Another creature from Doctor Who, the quietus resembles the Silence.
Risen Brute: Finally, stats for the Death Guards from the Beastmaster movie (1982).
Soul Keeper: Another of the orb-based fiends, more powerful than the Asyeel.
Valkyrie: I enjoy the concept of beings that gather the spirits of fallen warriors. Making them fey is an interesting take on the mythological origins.
Voidovoid: Imagine an aggressive sphere of annihilation that floats and acts with a mind of its own.
Vorpal Rabbit: Who wouldn’t use this classic creature from Monty Python and the Holy Grail?
There are a few mechanical issues that I’d likely revisit when using these monsters in my game. For example, the Challenge Ratings are way off in my opinion, so Game Masters may wish to evaluate the monster’s numbers before using them, or change the Challenge Rating after you have experience with using them at the table. In addition, the Dracogoblin, the Ebonbeast, the Headless Hessian, and a few others implement Legendary actions incompletely, so I’d want to correct that by rounding things out a bit. Some of the save DCs are rather steep (such as the DC 17 Constitution save for the Challenge Rating 2 Giant Wandering Spider), so I might suggest reviewing those. Some monsters even lack actual attacks, which makes me curious as to what adventure must have been going on that sparked the creation of the concept. Finally, some combat-affecting notes are buried in the descriptions of the monsters, and are not included in the actual stat block, so I’d suggest reading the entire monster carefully before using them in an encounter.
Reading this supplement for review has been very interesting. I love a lot of the things that the authors created, but I think they might have benefitted from having an editor with Fifth Edition experience review the work before publishing. As written, lower level parties would have some serious trouble with creatures that are marked as rated to challenge their level. I could easily see a few TPKs (Total Party Kills) happen if a Game Master isn’t careful. On the bright side, I think the creatures in the book have a distinct flavor to them, and will likely make the World of Durmin, a campaign setting in development by J. Halk Games, a very interesting place to visit. The production values are good, as is the artwork, and the content is excellent for mining for ideas. My only issue with it relates to game mechanics, and those I can fix on my own. I think it’s worth checking out, but go in with your eyes open, knowing that there may be more work for you to do before you can use these monsters at your gaming table.