Posted on March 27, 2012 by Megan
Available at RPGNow.com
No fantasy world is complete without monsters to pit your wits – and sword-arms – against, and despite the rich heritage already in place for the Arcanis campaign world, a completely new ruleset requires new monsters to be written to accommodate it.
The nice thing is, this book is as much a ‘how-to’ build your own monsters (or adapt existing ones from other games) as it is a selection of beasties with which to threaten your players. Whilst this is in part necessity: it’s plain not possible to provide the wealth of monsters that most gamers have become accustomed to, it also provides for the creativity of the average gamer to be supported… and enables individual gamers to ‘convert’ their favourite beasties which cannot be presented under this ruleset for copyright reasons!
The Introduction explains how the authors are indeed going against the ‘bucket of monsters’ trend, preferring to recommend that Chroniclers concentrate on plot rather than stat blocks (especially for beasties that will only end up dead fairly soon). Even the monster entries focus on flavour and narrative detail, and the more general notes on creating monsters, or Threats as they are termed, revolve around those characteristics that will make them into interesting adversaries rather than pure game mechanics.
Next comes an explanation of the Threat Box – the stat block that defines a monster in mechanical terms – which has been subtly refined even since the publication of the core rulebook. It sums up a monster in an easy-to-read format (even if you are in the middle of combat), but unlike many ‘stat blocks’ manages to contain more information that merely the monster’s capacity for giving and receiving damage. This is followed by a run-down of threat types – the different characteristics, like for example being undead – that can be applied to any monster. This enables you to tailor threats to suit your needs precisely, rather than trying to shoe-horn an existing pre-written monster into the required niche.
A selection of monsters follows, as exemplars or indeed for use if they happen to fit in which what you want. As well as the Threat Box details, each entry is repleate with information from ecology and history through evocative descriptions and notes on likely motivations and combat tactics that commonly are employed by the monster in question. The monsters listed range from ordinary animals like war horses and hawks, through ‘wild’ animals such as lions and bears, to exotic true monsters: zombies, skeletons and even a necromantic sludge ooze! Oh, and a few golems… Plenty to play with!
Back to the theory of monster-crafting, with monsterous traits and flaws and notes on a specific swarm called a murder. This is an aggregation of hundreds or even thousands of tiny creatures which are handled mechanically as if they were but a single organism, being considered to act in concert. Their Threat Box reflects this, showing for example a single damage value, it being assumed that this is the total damage done by all the creatures that make up the murder acting in unison. It’s a neat mechanic to achieve the dramatic effect of a massive horde without too much messing around.
Finally, a couple of appendices. The first puts some numbers into the black art of building encounters, so that those who demand precise balance are able to modify the components of their encounter until it is just right. Even if you are not so worried, it provides a useful measure to ensure encounters are not overwhelming or ridiculously easy… unless, of course, that is what you intend. The second appendix contains notes on creating and modifying threats, in particular converting existing monsters from other rulesets and tweaking ones created for this game to meet your precise needs. Infinitely tailorable, away with making do with the ‘best fit’ you can manage from your monster book!
Overall, this sets you up not just with ready-made monsters but with the tools you need to make your own, and to keep on churning out an endless variety as your game progresses. A good clean elegant system, clearly presented!
Review by Megan Robertson
Tags | dark-fantasy