Friday, August 21, 2009

REVIEW: Monstrous Menaces #1, #2, and #3

Lots of referees of fantasy roleplaying games hold to the axiom that you can never have too many monsters. James Mishler clearly agrees, as he has offered up three new PDFs of monsters designed for use with Castles & Crusades but easily adapted to most D&D-derived games.

These PDFs vary in length from 8 to 12 pages and each present three new monsters in the expanded format Mishler first used in Monsters & Treasures of the Wilderlands I, which should appeal to those of a Gygaxian naturalist bent. There are, unfortunately, no illustrations included with any of these PDFs; they're pure text. And while the text is well written, several of the monsters described are outré enough that an illustration would have been helpful. I also noticed that this series of PDFs, unlike the aforementioned Monsters & Treasures, is not explicitly associated with the Wilderlands of High Adventure setting, making the products more generic and a little less flavorful in my opinion. Mishler is one of those guys who clearly gets the Wilderlands and its surrealist qualities and the lack of such details makes these PDFs a little less appealing overall, at least for me.

Monstrous Menaces #1 is the shortest of the three at 8 pages. The monsters it describes are:
  • Gharlidh: Subterranean humanoids with an incapacitating keen. I can't say they made a huge impression upon me.
  • Grulnosc: Acidic giant snails. I found them less interesting for themselves than for the uses to which their carcasses can be put.
  • Rocktopus: Who doesn't love evil, intelligent, land-dwelling octopi?
Monstrous Menaces #2 is the longest of the three PDFs, at 12 pages. The monsters it describes are:
  • Blade Dancer: No, not the ridiculously over-powered kit from The Complete Book of Elves, but humanoid constructs made from bladed weapons.
  • Goblin: The bulk of this PDF is taken up with an extensive description of goblin society and culture. If one likes fantasy sociology, it's quite well done.
  • Tharghûl: A form of undead that rules over ghouls and ghasts. I'll admit that I've been a sucker for this concept ever since I read references to the King of Ghouls in the Monster Manual.
Monstrous Menaces #3 weighs in at 9 pages and describes:
  • Akhlat: Chimerical sphinx-like creatures. I could have really used an illustration to get a better sense of what they looked like.
  • Oogloog: Intelligent oozes from outer space. I was reminded -- happily -- of the old Judges Guild adventure "Night of the Walking Wet" by these guys.
  • Woodwose: A "wild man" that borrows from legends of sasquatch, the yeti, and similar creatures.
All of these PDFs sell for $1 and there's no question that, at that price, they're a steal. Certainly there were a few monsters that didn't do much for me, but each product included one truly inspired stand-out that I plan to swipe for my own campaign, which is usually an indication of a good product. I tend to be very picky about monsters -- I use only a small sub-set of those available -- so any products that make me want to add a few more to the repertoire are worthy of mention.

That said, I would have preferred fewer monsters like the gharlidh or woodwose, neither of which filled a clear gap in the existing fantasy menagerie, and more like the rocktopus and oogloog. I know all too well that monster creation is a very hit or miss affair, with more misses being produced than hits, so I can't fault Mishler here. I suppose it's more that, having seen his best work, I wish all of it were of the same quality. As they are now, the Monstrous Menace series is somewhat uneven, a flaw offset to some degree by its bright spots and its price. They're well worth the price if you're looking for ideas to pillage and it's probably in that context that they deserve the most praise.

Presentation: 5 out of 10
Creativity: 6 out of 10
Utility: 6 out of 10

Buy This If: You want to swipe a few ideas for new monsters.
Don't Buy This If: You're expecting new monsters unlike any you've ever seen before.

8 comments:

  1. I purchased #1 for the Rocktopus alone. :D

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  2. Yeah, if you don't like land-dwelling, intelligent octopi you're probably a bad person.

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  3. Honestly, It could use a different name, though.

    I keep expecting it to spit stones and join forces with an evil pig demon who lusts after mystic triangles. ;)

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  4. If one likes fantasy sociology, it's quite well done.

    I'll admit to being a sucker for such things: early examples of the "Ecology of..." articles were nicely done, though the series rapidly descended into tedium after the first few. Mishler's take on goblins looks sufficiently different from the standard "little orcs" that I might want to get this.

    Never been much of a fan of oozes, however.

    BTW, the link to Adventure Games Publishing in the Monsters & Treasures of the Wilderlands I review no longer works. The nearest I can find is a company blog: http://adventuregamespublishing.blogspot.com .

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  5. All the names, but especially the portmanteau Rocktopus and the onomatopoeic Oogloog sound like Pokemon to me - a problem Gary and Dave obviously didn't face back in the 70s. I prefer this to the Walktapus, though.

    conf word: foori. A placeholder term you can use when you want to express rage (at edition wars/warriors, despised character classes, alignment etc) but can't be bothered to explain exactly what it is that enrages you. Eg: Goddamn Gygax worshippers. Foori!

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  6. I bought all three but look most forward to utilizing some of the ideas from the "goblin ecology" for my current game and will run my players against the Tharghul soon (I love me some ghouls). Thanks for the spot-on review James.

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  7. Yeah, I believe that the website is no longer running and he is doing all his communique from the blog.

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  8. I have to agree with Nate. Rocktopus gives me flashbacks to Octorocks from the older Zelda games. And personally, I'm okay with that, I've sorta wanted to run a campaign in Hyrule for a long time.

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