Nothing fires young imaginations quite like ghoulish creatures. The childhood fascination with monsters is embedded in pop culture—from Godzilla’s extended menagerie and the creepy goings on in Goosebumps to Stranger Things. It’s no wonder kids are so skilled at dreaming up fantastical fiends while sitting at (and under) the kitchen table.
It’s fitting then that the fifth installment of the Dungeons & Dragons Young Adventurer’s Guides series of books devotes every page to the monsters of D&D and mythical legend. Prepare for those imaginations to be fired up as Beasts & Behemoths brilliantly taps into younger readers’ natural ability to conjure up extraordinary creatures.
INSPIRING YOUNG ADVENTURERS
As with its predecessors in the Young Adventurer’s Guides series, Beasts & Behemoths aims to inspire roleplaying and promote storytelling rather than explain the nuts and bolts of the Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying system. It achieves that by respecting its younger audience, and the series’ ability to appeal across the generations is a direct result of Zub’s own experience at a younger age as an avid reader of comic books.
“Stan Lee used to say he wouldn’t write down to the readers of Marvel Comics. He would use language and words he felt were appropriate and exciting. If you saw a word you didn’t know, you’d go look it up and you’d expand your vocabulary to meet the challenge. That’s the way it was for me, growing up,” Zub explains.
“We don’t make our books overly complex but equally we don’t need to over-simplify the language either. We’ve written at a level we feel is clear and communicates ideas well but we don’t hold back on using cool terminology either.”
That attitude has helped the Young Adventurers Guides become an entertaining and enjoyable read for fans of all ages. “The books are ostensibly for younger readers aged eight to twelve but the feedback we’ve gotten is that they work well for anybody. You can give these books to readers of any age, most of whom have never played D&D before, and they’ll understand the options available to them.”
Beasts & Behemoths isn’t the first time lead author Jim Zub and his writers Stacy King and Andrew Wheeler have explored monsters. The series’ second book, Monsters & Creatures, provided an insight into encounters that might cause trouble for adventurers—from creatures that live underground or dwell in the wilderness to those that stalk boneyards or soar in the sky. Its glorious full-page illustrations and descriptions of giants, dragons, and vampires ran alongside a handful of named legendary creatures from D&D canon, such as Ravenloft’s Strahd von Zarovich. But there are no end of iconic creatures to explore in D&D and Beasts & Behemoths includes entries as varied as wereboar and metallic dragons, following on from the chromatic dragons of Monsters & Creatures.
“We have dragons in there again, but this time readers get to see a whole other side of them,” says Zub. “And we reinforce that creature encounters don’t just have to be about combat. They can be about discovery, interactions, trying to stop combat from happening, or trying to work your way through social situations. Those encounters are just as valid as rolling initiative and attacking.”
Beasts & Behemoths also embraces the mythic world beyond D&D, covering legendary creatures that new players of all ages may recognize from fantasy and folklore.
“We’ve got medusa, the minotaur, and sphinxes, so we’re touching on some of those creatures everyone knows from mythology,” says Zub. “Mixed in with those are monsters that feel very specific to D&D, for example, umber hulks, the demilich, and the really kooky, creepy cranium rats.”
Having introduced D&D critters by location in Monsters & Creatures, the writing team opted to organize Beasts & Behemoths’ inhabitants by size. That decision smartly echoes the order in which new players are more likely to encounter creatures when playing D&D.
“We start at the tiny and small size category, move through medium, then large, huge and all the way up to gargantuan. As a reader you get to build up to the biggest creatures in the D&D canon, and understand them in the context of their size, threat, and scope,” says Zub, admitting that some readers are more likely to skip ahead as the monsters get bigger. “I know some kids love flipping through the book, seeing a really cool piece of artwork and jumping to that to get details of a particular creature. But there’s a nice thematic build-up in terms of epic adventure for those that want it.”
DON’T I KNOW YOU?
The illustrations in The Young Adventurer’s Guide series have often featured a legendary group of characters and Zub and his team have kindly created first level versions of some of those for Dragon+ (download the PDFs using the links on this page). But don’t be surprised to see a few other familiar faces show up in Beasts & Behemoths’ elaborate illustrations. Zub says one of the things he’s most proud of is the way the series brings in characters from other sources.
“I love being able to introduce characters from the D&D comic books to new readers. Minsc and Boo are iconic so it’s no surprise seeing them, but Krydle, Shandie, and a couple of other characters from the comic series show up in multiple D&D publications and they’ve also made their way into a few illustrations in Beasts & Behemoths.”
“We’ve also included the first characters created for the card game Dungeon Mayhem in a couple of illustrations. Not in a cartoony way, more in the painterly, realistic style we use in the Young Adventurers books. We might not know very much about them but we have their visuals and they’re named characters so we thought it would be fun to inject them into as many cool places as we can as part of the bigger D&D world.”
CHARACTER STAT BLOCKS
The forest gnome warlock, human bard, and kenku monk will be a familiar sight to anyone who has poured over the illustrations in The Young Adventurer’s Guides series. Jim Zub and the team have created Zanizyre Clockguard, Florizan Blank, and Whey-shu as first level characters for Dragon+ readers to download and play in their games or for DMs to use as NPCs.
The D&D Young Adventurer’s Guide: Beasts & Behemoths is released by Penguin Random House on October 20, 2020 and is available for pre-order now with an MSRP of $12.99. The previous D&D Young Adventurer’s Guides Warriors & Weapons, Monsters & Creatures, Dungeons & Tombs, and Wizards & Spells are currently on sale and will be released as a four-book boxed set in October.