DMs Guild Review – The Book of Monstrous Kennings

Forty monsters inspired by Norse Mythology.

A review copy of “The Book of Monstrous Kennings: A Norse Bestiary” was provided by the publisher. Find more DMs Guild Reviews on my website and YouTube channel.

Support my work by using my affiliate links and pledging via Patreon.

Designed by: Thieves’ Cant Games, (Evan Jackson)

God of War. Skyrim. The Banner Saga. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. What do they have in common? They’re all great games! But more obviously, they all draw from the rich tapestry of Norse Mythology, as does the The Book of Monstrous Kennings, a Norse-inspired bestiary that includes 40 new creatures, including some truly titanic threats.

Although I’m a connoisseur of fantasy RPGs, my knowledge of Norse Mythology is limited to Thor comics, world-destroyers like Jormungandr and Fenrir, Valkyrie warriors spiriting away fallen warriors into Valhalla, and the epic war to end all wars of Ragnarök.

Okay, maybe I know a thing or two, but I was still very impressed with the amount of research and wonderfully written prose that went into this Norse monster manual, such as this wonderfully succinct description of the Einherjar warriors:

“By day, the Einherjar hone their martial prowess in fierce combat against each other on the shining plains of Asgard. When night falls, they return to the Hall of the Slain where, wounds healed, they are feasted through the night. This cycle continues endlessly until Ragnarök, when the sounding of Gjallarhorn will summon the Einherjar to stand in battle against the jötnar and numberless dead.”

Most of the Norse creatures found here are either humanoid, fey, or dragon-like serpents. There’s not as much variety as other relatively large bestiaries, but the theme is spot-on, with Valkyries riding pegasus and ushering Einherjar warriors to Valhalla, to giant sea serpents that terrorize the ocean.

Nearly every entry is adorned with original artwork by artist Matt Forstyth, including the epically awesome rendition of Jörmungandr that’s displayed on the cover. A few stock art pieces are used to fill out some of the more pedestrian entries, like the Nordic versions of merfolk (Marfolk) and Winter Wolves (Vargr, though perhaps it’s more appropriate to call the Winter Wolves the adaptation), but for the most part I loved the art and layout.

One thing I found very lacking, however, is a pronunciation key! Norse names are not exactly the most phonetically intuitive names, and the supplement doesn’t shy away from name-dropping the likes of Aptrgangar, Ljósálfr, and Lyngbakr.

einherjar

More than most bestiaries I’ve reviewed, The Book of Monstrous Kennings is skewed towards higher level threats. Norse myth loves its world-ending foes, like the aforementioned world-serpent, as well as Fenrir the gargantuan wolf and Níðhöggr the dead-devouring dragon.

These titanic CR 26 creatures not only posses legendary actions and epic attacks, but also mythic traits and actions, as first introduced in Mythic Odysseys of Theros. Mythic traits can optionally be applied to these creatures, adding a second phase that heals them after they reach 0 hit points, and adding additional attacks and traits.

For example, when entering Mythic mode, Jörmungandr sheds part of its skin, revealing four large venom sacs, each of which has its own hit points, AC, and damage immunities. Weak points on a boss fight! Destroying each sac weakens its 22d6, DC 22 poison breath attack, and feels like a suitably epic climax to a ridiculously powerful end boss.

On the flip side, you won’t find as much content for lower levels. Only about 25% of the monsters are below CR 5, with nearly that many as solidly Tier 4 end-campaign boss monsters. It’s not a complaint, but something to be aware of, as I presume many D&D campaigns never graduate past level 10 or so.

Even if you’re only tangentially aware of Norse Mythology, The Book of Monstrous Kennings is an excellent addition to your monster supplements — and could serve as an excellent reason to unleash an epic world-devouring monster or two on your high level players.

 Pros:

  • Forty well-researched and interesting creatures drawn from Norse mythology.
  • Awesome new artwork for most monsters.
  • Optional Mythic traits (as per Mythic Odysseys of Theros) for uber-legendary monsters.
  • Appendices organize monsters by type, challenge rating, and environment.
  • Player options for creating variant elves based on the Ljósálfr and dökkálfr.

Cons:

  • Pronunciation keys please!

The Verdict: The Book of Monstrous Kennings features dozens of well-researched norse creatures for 5e, including several titanic world-ending threats worthy of Ragnarök.

A review copy of “The Book of Monstrous Kennings: A Norse Bestiary” was provided by the publisher. Find more DMs Guild Reviews on my website and YouTube channel.

Support my work by using my affiliate links and pledging via Patreon.

Author: roguewatson

Freelance Writer

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