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Sorry, but DnD’s new Monster Manual cover is painfully bland

The alt cover for the deluxe One DnD Monster Manual turns the mind flayer, a sanity-shattering cosmic horror, into a cosy Cthulhu knock off.

Closeup on a DnD mind flayer monster a blue tentacle-mouthed creature with glowing pink eyes

Wizards of the Coast has revealed the cover art for an upcoming limited edition DnD book, the alternative cover on the special edition version of the next Monster Manual. The art is totally dominated by a close up of a tentacle-faced mind flayer, a truly horrendous monster that the art somehow manages to make tame and bland. That lurid monster above? We pumped up the magenta so you’d actually notice the picture.

There’s nothing else on the new DnD Monster Manual cover except that mind flayer, no surroundings to indicate anything about what it is, how it lives, what it does or wants. It’s close to the viewer, mildly offering an open hand on which sits a squirmy illithid tadpole – but the viewer has to already know what an illithid tadpole is to realise it’s not one of the mind flayer’s own tentacles.

The alt cover for the OneDnD monster manual, a mind flayer monster a blue tentacle-mouthed creature with glowing pink eyes holding an illithid tadpole in its palm

I’m not criticising the artist Olena Richards. The artwork has solid composition, good linework and rendering, with strong color balance. The gold frame by Simen Meyer is a perfectly nice bit of graphic design, if not as interesting a design as the simulated grimoire effects that characterised the classic 3rd edition DnD books. Both creatives have done a good job responding to a very dull art brief.

Quoted in an article on Dexerto, DnD’s head of art Josh Herman reportedly says it was hard to choose just a single monster to stand in for all of monsterkind. The mind flayer is a great choice, one of the most iconic parts of DnD, with a classic villain profile, cool psychic powers, a grisly means of reproduction, and deep lore connections to other famous DnD races and species. So why does this one look so tame?

I’m not suggesting that they should have made a fully feral piece of art. At the two extreme ends of mind flayer fanart you’ll find them depicted as the ultimate body horror monster, and as the sexiest nonhuman to ever raise a tentacle – we can thank the Baldurs Gate 3 romance scene with the illithid emperor for a rise in the latter. A mind flayer midway through a cranial snack or carnal act isn’t suited to a modern DnD cover.

DnD Baldur's Gate 3 screenshot - a bearded wizard in red jacket caresses the mouth tentacles of a muscular mind flayer

But why pick a paragon of horror design and then make it cosy? If you’re going for a closeup on a horror movie monster, why render the colors comic-book flat? Why isn’t it doing anything?

The other covers that Wizards of the Coast has revealed for the next DnD edition all tell stories. The Player’s Handbook cover is all about companionship, with an alt version that doubles down on cosiness. The alt Dungeon Master’s Guide cover shows the Drow goddess Lolth spinning a web, just like a DM weaving their schemes. The story of this Monster Monster alt art seems to be “Mr. Squiddly wants to dance”. But if that was the intent, I’d at least like to have seen the ball room.

The special edition of the new Monster Manual will be available on February 4 2025, two weeks ahead of the regular version’s launch on February 18 2025. If you want to find out when the rest of One DnD releases will be available, check our guide to the DnD release schedule.