Posted on November 26, 2008 by Flames
One of the challenges of any fantasy role-playing game is coming up with new, unpredictable and fearsome foes to tangle with your heroes.
“The Random Esoteric Creature Generator” by Goodman Games is sub-titled “For Classic Fantasy Games and their Modern Simulacra.” Simply put, it’s a monster-maker for d20 and similar fantasy role-playing games.
The 31-page .PDF document is filled with random roll charts to help you design bizarre and unique creatures, giving you everything from size and body shape to special attacks and defenses.
The idea is to create a unique creature, something the players can’t find in other literary or role-playing sources. In fact, the author recommends not even giving the creature a name, but rather leaving it a mystery for the players to survive rather than solve.
You potentially can create a creature from the ground up purely by using the random roll tables. The author does recommend if you have an idea or like a particular ability or trait to just grab and go: Don’t feel obligated to make everything based on the luck of the dice.
The tables include body shape and size, mobility (how the creature moves), characteristics (flying, water breathing, etc.) and attack method. Where the book really begins to shine is with Distinctive Features, such as blood-drenched or boiling/steamy, and Special Abilities, which includes a range of spell-like talents and attacks. These tables take up the lion’s share of the book and are sure to generate ideas just by reading through them.
The artwork throughout does a nice job of presenting some truly horrific and strange creatures, and is good quality throughout. Several panels are reminiscent of the art in the hardback AD&D books, which gives you a good sense of into what sort of game these critters would fit.
The whole book is based on the d20 system, the basic system for Dungeons & Dragons ver. 1 through 3.5 and spinoff games. The rules and stats will work for most fantasy games based on D&D with little to no tweaking. For other games you will have a little bit of work in converting some of the stats to make them fit a different system, and the book is not completely compatible for D&D 4E, as there are no abilities that make use of the combat grid.
My biggest issues with the book have little to do with the purpose of the Creature Generator, but rather the tone and commentary of the author. The Introduction is a brief discussion of different kinds of role-playing games, dividing them into “trad” or traditional role-playing games (lots of dice, lots of numbers, heavy emphasis on combat) and story-games (driven by players, unusual resolution
mechanics, an emphasis on story rather than simulation). The author also talks about his preference for the former over the latter and how monsters in classic games have lost their charm and mystery over the years.
For a document on creating monsters, it is an unnecessary soapbox for the author and serves to alienate readers rather than draw them in. I play both styles of games, and to be honest I don’t feel the need to call one better than the other. I don’t really care about the author’s philosophy, but rather am looking for tools to make my game better, and it seems like a strange way to introduce a toolbox to readers by beginning with the disagreements between traditionalists and story-gamers.
Likewise the name of the book is more than a bit pretentious and likely will cause some gamers to pass it over. Why not call it “Creature Generator” or “Monster Maker” or anything that actually describes the book without trying to make it sound like a scholarly text? I can’t help but feel it was intended to make the book sound like more than it actually is.
While the tone of the book may have struck me wrong, the advice on how to use the monsters actually is pretty good. There are several pages of tips on what to do with the creatures and how to use them effectively. I like the idea of having unnamed horrors rather than strictly defined monsters. I like the idea of using a nasty monster only once or swapping abilities between creatures to keep players on their toes. If you can get past some of the moments when the author wanders, there are some good tips on playing these creatures.
Overall I liked the Creature Generator as a toolbox for making monsters, but found the tone to be out of touch with the purpose of the book. If you are looking for a quick (or in-depth) way of creating new and unusual monsters for a fantasy game, give this one a look. If not, it probably isn’t going to be worth your time.
Review by Michael Erb
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