Showing posts with label monsters. Show all posts
Showing posts with label monsters. Show all posts

Monday, June 27, 2022

Monstrous Mondays: Mystical Companions (Castles & Crusades)

All month long I have been talking about D&D and mostly near-D&D FRPGs.  While last week was all Pathfinder, the one-time heir-apparent to D&D, this week I want to talk about a game that really does capture that feel of early, 1st Ed AD&D, with a more modern point of view.  

Of course, that game is Castles & Crusades.

I have never hidden my love of Castles & Crusades and I would play a lot more of it if I could. It really does capture the feel of older D&D, maybe something of a Basic-era mixed with Advanced, through the lens of 3rd Edition.  One really could consider it the evolution of AD&D2 into the new millennia. 

This week I want to do more with Castles & Crusades, but I am going to do it from the point of view of some of my regular blog features.  Today is Monday and that means Monstrous Mondays. So I am going to review and discuss the Castles & Crusades Mystical Companions book. 


I can't believe that it has been three years (almost to the day) since I reviewed the 5th Edition version of this book.  I had meant to do much sooner than this.

The Troll Lord's Mystical Companions is the update to their fantastic Book of Familiars.   It comes in two flavors, A Castles & Crusades version, and a D&D 5th Edition version.   I have both in digital and PDF formats, today I am going to focus solely on the Castles & Crusades version.  Yes, they are in fact different enough that two separate reviews are really needed.

I was always going to use this book in my Magic School games, whether that game used an Old-School ruleset (like Castles & Crusades or OSE) or (now) D&D 5th Edition.  I think that highly of it.  Now it is something I am using as part of my War of the Witch Queens campaign where every character has an animal companion, pet, or familiar.  My oldest kid has taken my 5th edition version and made it his own.

Mystical Companions for Castles & Crusades
Mystical Companions for Castles & Crusades

For this review, I am considering both the PDF version from DriveThruRPG and the hardcover version I purchased from Troll Lord Games. 

Hardcover book and PDF. 192 pages, full-color art by Jason Walton and Peter Bradley.  PDF is bookmarked.  This book is divided up into 12 chapters and 5 appendcies. Largely focusing on the various Castles & Crusades classes and their respective animal companions.

Chapter 1: Familiars and Companions

This gives us our basic overview of the book and the concepts of an animal companion in the Castles & Crusades game.  Pro-tip. Even a casual read of the chapter titles should clue you in that if you wanted to use this with AD&D 1st ed you very easily could. There is also the notion that Animal Companions and Familiars, while similar and can perform similar roles and tasks are very different from each other. 

On Animal Companion vs. Familiar.  While rules in the book cover book and treat them somewhat interchangeably an Animal Companion is more like a loyal pet or friend.  A Familiar is a creature summoned to work with the PC.  Animal Companions are free-willed, familiars are not.

For ease, I am going to use"animal companion" for all cases unless a distinction needs to be made. 

There is the concept here of Advantages, this allows the character to summon an animal companion. In truth, I think this works better in 5e than it does here, but I will explore this a bit more.  Additionally, there are various Powers and Tricks animal companions can have or impart to their player characters.

Animal companions are all treated as other creatures from the beginning. They have HD, hp, AC and more scores. 

Advantages are a new mechanic for C&C to allow them to take on various "powers" or "features."  It was introduced in the Castle Keepers Guide as an optional rule, here it is required.  It is, very simply put, a "Feat" system for C&C.  That does not really describe it well enough, but it is close.

Different classes get new Advantages at different levels.  Various abilities and powers of the animal companions are detailed here. Including what sort of special powers you can get by taking another animal companion/familar at higher levels. 

If you are playing AD&D 1st Ed and really want to do familiars correctly then I highly recommend this book. 

The following chapters each deal with the various C&C classes (and their AD&D counterparts in my readings) and their respective animal companions.

Chapter 2: Barbarian Familiars & Special Mounts

I don't recall Conan having a pet, but Cú Chulainn is known to have had some pet dogs. Since Barbarians feel closer to nature they have totem animals; an animal or creatures revered by their culture. This chapter covered these, and all the expected animals are here, but there are also totems for mammoths, displacer beasts, dire creatures of all sorts, and even small dragons. 

Chapter 3: The Bard’s Familiar

Bards typically have familiars that aid in their singing or musical magics. Providing a number of powers to aid their abilities. 

Chapter 4: The Cleric’s Familiar

These are not so much as animals and more attendant spirits. The least of the messengers of the cleric's god(s).  Often they are here to provide the cleric guidance or omens. These creatures can, and often do, take on animal shapes. What that shape is depends largely on the cleric's domain. 

Chapter 5:The Druid’s Familiar

Similar to both the Barbarian's and the Cleric's familiar.  Here the deciding factor is the terrain/environment the druid is native to.  There is a large sidebar/section on Druid Familiars vs Druid Animal Companions.

Chapter 6: The Fighter’s Familiar

This one seems a bit odd, but they do make a case for it. A good historical example might be the Mongolian fighters and their horses, or the hunting dogs of Celtic cultures. 

Chapter 7: Monk Familiars

Again not one you normally think about. These seem to follow the same logic of the barbarian, but in stead of totem spirits they are manifestations of ancestor spirits. Think Mu-Shu from the animated Mulan.

Chapter 8: Paladin Special Mounts & Familiars

Paladins already get mounts. This extends that logic a bit more. 

Chapter 9: The Ranger’s Familiar

Honestly, all Rangers should have an animal companion of some sort. This codifies it. 

Ranger Familiars

Every ranger needs a red panda familiar.

Chapter 10: The Rogue’s Familiar

Like the fighter, one does not normally associate Rogues/Thieves with animals, but honestly, it would be good. Think of Laurence Fishburne's character "The Bowery King" and his pigeons or D&D's own history of associating thieves with cats (the Grey Mouser from Lankhmar or Gord the Rogue).

Chapter 11: The Illusionist’s Familiar and Chapter 12: The Wizard’s Familiar

Putting these two together since they follow similar ideas.  This is as close as we can get to the classic idea of a familiar.  The natures of their familiars are different, which is great, it provides more distance between these two classes. 

Appendix A: Animals

"Monster stats" for various (51) mundane animals.

Appendix B: New Monsters

Likewise, these are new monsters (36). Many are either familiars or creatures that feed on familiars. 

Appendix C: New Spells

A bunch of new familiar summoning and related spells for all spell casting classes.

Appendix D: New Magic Items and Artifacts

Magic items to summon, control, or aid familiars and animal companions. 

Appendix E: Dragon Riders

This last section covers a new class/path, the Dragon Riders, and how these rules are used for that class. While many of the same rules are used here as for familiars this takes them to a new place and should be considered optional. 

This is the Appendix/Chapter that my son grabbed this book from me for, BUT he opted not use their Dragon Riders but kept the book anyway for everything else.

Dragon Rider

A Dragon Rider is a Path that can be added to any class, but some have more use for it than others.  If the idea of PC Dragon Riders concerns you, then keep in mind it is being sold as "optional".  And also Dragon Riders of some form or another have been around since the dawn of the game.  If it is something you want, then there is plenty here for you to use.

If I ever ran a Magic School game with this then Dragon Riders would be included.

Index 

We end with a robust index and the OGL section.

Final Thoughts

A note about art. There is not as much in this book as other Troll Lord books, but what is here is from the fabulous Peter Bradley and Jason Walton, who also gives us the cover art.

Your results may vary, but this book has quickly gone from a neat oddity to one of our must-have books for my Old-school games. My son uses it in the 5e games he has run so much that I have not seen my 5e version of this book in months since it is now in with all of his books.

Do you need this book?  I say yes, but only if you are adding animals of any sort to your game, be they pets, familiars, mounts, companions, or all the way up to Dragon Riders.

Use in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons

I am going to limit my thoughts here to AD&D 1st Ed. The only reason I am not considering 2nd Ed is that 2nd Edition has a skill system that should be incorporated with these rules a little more explicitly.  For 1st Ed, I can see a craft DM using this book more or less as-is. 

I know Troll Lords does not sell this book as an AD&D book. But anyone who is a fan of C&C is likely a fan of AD&D.  (Although I should point out I talked to a couple of real hardcore C&C fans at Gary Con who had never played AD&D First Edition.) But in any case, this is a fantastic reference for the 1st edition all the same. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Review: Pathfinder 2nd ed Bestiary

Pathfinder 2nd ed Bestiary
Spend any time here and you know there is one thing that is always true. I LOVE monster books. I can fairly say that monster books, bestiaries, and the like are not just my first love of RPGs but are largely why I am into RPGs, to begin with.

So I knew that even if I never bought anything else for the Pathfinder Second Edition game I was going to buy the Bestiary.  And much like it's Great-Grandfather AD&D, I picked up the Bestiary first. I grabbed the Core Rules (that I discussed yesterday) based entirely off of what I read in this book.

I guess I really should have done this one on Monday instead of a monster, but I wanted to do the core rules first.

So what does this book have and why did I like it so much?  Well, it has a lot going for it.

Pathfinder 2nd ed Bestiary

For this review, I am considering the Hardcover version I purchased at my FLGS.  For Pathfinder 2e I have been going with the Special Edition covers. My oldest gets the Special Ed covers of the D&D 5 books and I get the regular ones since D&D 5 is "His" game.  I normally like to get the Special Ed covers since I am a sucker for a book with a ribbon in it.  Plus he has no plans to play PF2e and we even combined our PF1e books into one collection and sold off the rest (which is how I can buy these!)

The book is 360 pages with full-color art. You know when you walk into the floor of the Gen Con trader hall and the smell of new books hits you?  That's how this book smells. Like Gen Con, but in a good way.

This book contains about 415 different monster stat blocks.  Before I get into those blocks I want to speak about the layout.  The PF1e Bestiary worked hard to get monsters down to one page per monster. Sometimes there were variations, but it was obvious the Paizo crew (and many others of the d20 boom) liked the presentation of one monster per page as in the AD&D 2nd days.  PF2e takes this design strategy and extends it to the next level.  Sometimes we get one monster per page. Many times we get a monster type (for example the Alghollthu) that extends across 2-, 4- or more pages (always an even number) that are facing each other. So in this case the Skum and Faceless Stalker.

Alghollthu

This continues throughout the book. The practical implications here are 1.) finding something is easy IF you know the group it might be under. 2.) you can lay your book flat and have access to everything you need for the monster.  There is of course one other.  While I love my special editions, if I went to the Paizo website and got all of these as PDFs I could do the exact same thing I have done with the AD&D 2nd Edition Monstrous Compendiums and the various S&W Monster books, I can print them all out and organize them all into one large folder.  Note you can do the same things with the D&D 4e Monster books too.  Maybe this is something I should consider when doing my Basic Bestiary. 

Continuing on.  The stat blocks are easy to read and honestly understand if you have played any form of D&D form the last 20 years.  There is the Name, it's level (which replaces HD and CR).  Under that there are the descriptor tags, this includes Alignment, Size, and Traits.  So our faceless stalker is a Chaotic Evil medium-sized aberration and it is level 4.  There are some basic "monster stats" such as skills, perception and abilities mods, and what items if any it has. It's Defence block is next with AC, saves, HP and resistances, immunities, or vulnerabilities.  It's attack block follows.  The feel is very much like that of D&D 5e.

The block is smaller than that of PF1e (thank goodness!) and all the important bits are readily visible,

Like the Core Book this features sidebars with more details. This often includes rumors, mentions of other types, and more.

About the Monsters

Most monster books take a LOT of cues from the 1st Edition AD&D Monster Manual. Many feature the same set of monsters. Enough that I often refer to the Demons Type I to VI and the Succubus as "The Usual Suspects."   Does this Bestiary follow suit? Almost, the Hezrou (Type II) and Nalfeshnee (Type IV) are missing but the others are here.  

Either due to space or to make the the stat blocks come out right there are a lot of creatures here that you do not normally see in a "core" monster book and some that I expected are missing. Nothing game-breaking mind you.  In fact it gives a great flavor to the book. There are many you expect, all the dragons for example, and some I didn't, like the gug and lillend. 

One of the neatest things about this book is reading over what are classical monsters too many of us and seeing how they are different not just through the lens of PF2e, but from different creators and a different world.  I have already talked about how much I enjoy Pathfinder's goblins, but they really do feel different here. This change is then reflected in other creatures like the barghest. Some are quite different, like the kobolds, and others are largely still the same, like orcs.

Speaking of orcs. A while back I did a post discussing what should be part of a universal stat-block and I used orcs as my example. The reasoning was that orcs are one creature that has appeared in all versions of D&D (yes there are others, but they are ubiquitous) and they are a good typical foe for 1st level adventurers.  How do the Pathfinder (PF1e and PF2e) orcs stack up?

More Orcs!

Orcs in D&D 3.x were (are) CR ½.  This meant they were a good, but not necessarily deadly, challenge to a party of 1st-level characters. In Pathfinder 1e they are now CR ⅓, so even easier really.   Pathfinder has the Orc Brute at Creature 0 and Orc Warrior at Creature 1 with 15 and 23 hp respectively.  Still something a group of first levels could take on, but maybe slightly harder. 

How does this book stack up to my Monster Manual test?

My Monster Manual Test is how I feel when I first open a game book. While this book can't reasonably live up to the hype of when I first picked up the AD&D Monster Manual it does do the exact same thing; It made me want to buy the system so I could know more about it.  Like PF2e Core this book is gorgeous and just wonderful to read through. The designers have made me invested in their world and I want to know more.

 Enough that I have more books to cover!

Monday, May 2, 2022

Monstrous Mondays: Greys (Zeta Reticulians)

Nice meeting of topics here today.  It is May which this year will be the start of my Sci-Fi month.  We have the normal May the Fourth celebrations, and Mayday for Traveller was yesterday.  Plus we get Star Trek Strange New World premiering this week.  AND there is a new D&D Spelljamer on the horizon. So there are a lot of great reasons to celebrate SciFi. 

I also just got finished with my A to Z Challenge for April where I did Conspiracy Theories.  I leaned heavily on a lot of UFO-based ones.  So my appetite has been whetted for more.  And today is Monstrous Monday!  So I thought I would bring all of these ideas together today into a special Monstrous Monday!

Greys (Zeta Reticulians)

Grey Aliens

Of all the alien species that have purportedly visited the Earth few are as popular as the Greys.  These creatures are also known as Zeta Reticulians since they supposedly come from the Zeta Reticuli star system, approximately 40 ly from Earth.  This is based on a drawing from one of the most famous alien abductees ever, Betty Hill.  

Greys are called such due to their skin color. The skin seems to be a uniform grey.  While some are depicted as not wearing clothes, others have suggested that they are wearing skin-tight suits of the same color as their skin to protect them from Earth's atmosphere.  They typically stand 4 to 5ft in height (1.2 to 1.5 meters), are hairless, with large black eyes.  They have no ears nor a nose, save for small slits or holes where such external sense organs would be.  Their bodies are small, thin, and somewhat elongated. Their heads however are large with large foreheads giving the impression of large brains inside. Their hands are long with long delicate fingers. They typically only have four fingers (three fingers and a thumb) per hand, though there are reports of "hybrids" that appear to be greys with human eyes and five fingers per hand.

They do not speak but instead communicate via a form of telepathy. 

Their purpose with humanity is still unknown.  They may not even know themselves just yet since all evidence seems to point to them observing and experimenting on humans. Their experiments in removing eggs and sperm as reported by abductees, and the existence of hybrid forms at least point to an interest in our reproductive abilities.  It is postulated that they are using humans to help deplete their own lessening numbers.

Grey (Dungeons & Dragons 5e)

Grey for 5e

Grey (NIGHT SHIFT)

No. Appearing: 3-12 (3d4)
AC: 6
Move: 30 ft.
Hit Dice: 2-4
Special: Cause fear, psychic abilities (chosen at random), telekinesis, telepathy, Can't use magic
XP Value: Varies

Greys are aliens from the Zeta Reticuli star system. They have enhanced psychic abilities, but are vulnerable to all forms of magic.  They never speak but communicate via telepathy.  A group of Greys are typically a scouting party with various scientists onboard their spaceship. They will abduct humans or cattle, do experiments on them, erase their memories and return them to where they found them.

Grey (OSR)

Frequency: Very Rare
Number Appearing: 1d4+3 (1d10+2)
Alignment: Neutral [True Neutral]
Movement: 90' (30') [9"]
Armor Class: 7-5 [12-14]
Hit Dice: 
   Scientist: 2d8+2* (11 hp)
   Monitor: 3d8+3** (17 hp)
   Leader: 4d8+8** (26 hp)
To Hit AC 0: 18, 16, 15  (+1, +3, +4)
Attacks: 0 or 1
Damage: None, stun 
Special: Cause fear, paralysis, mind blank, telepathy, vulnerable to magic
Save: Monster 3
Morale: 10 (10)
Treasure Hoard Class: Special
XP:
   Scientist: 35 (OSE) 47 (LL)
   Monitor: 100 (OSE) 135 (LL)
   Leader: 275 (OSE) 290 (LL)

Str: 7,9, 11 (-1, 0, 0) Dex: 16 (+2) Con: 14, 14, 16 (+1, +1, +2) Int: 22, 18, 18 (+5, +3, +3) Wis: 16 (+2) Cha: 14 (+1)

Greys come in three castes; Scientists, Monitors, and Leaders.  Scientists perform the experiments, leaders lead the missions, and are the fighters of the group.  Monitors are a blend of the two, acting as leaders amongst the scientists.  The castes are not hierarchical, they are designed so that each role is filled by the most capable individual.  A group of greys encountered outside of the ships will all be scientists with at least one member a monitor or leader. 

Greys have psionic abilities to cause fear, paralysis by touch (save vs. Paralysis or be frozen for one minute), and to erase the memories of their victims.   Scientists do not attack. They leave this to the Leaders and if needed the monitors. 

Additionally, greys have no concept of magic, they save at -2 against all spells and take an additional +1 point damage from magical attacks. 

--

I might tweak these a bit more, but so far they look great to me.

Monday, April 4, 2022

#AtoZChallenge2022: C is for Cryptoterrestrial Hypothesis

The A to Z of Conspiracy Theories C
The A to Z of Conspiracy Theories: C is for Cryptoterrestrial Hypothesis

(and a Special Monstrous Monday!)

The Cryptoterrestrial Hypothesis is the "hypothesis" (really just an idea, it's not a good hypothesis in the scientific sense) put forward by Mac Tonnies and based on, among other things, the writings of Richard Shaver.  

The idea is that all the so-called "extraterrestrials" on Earth are all really natives.  Not cryptids per se, but whole other species. They have existed, in theory since the dawn of time.

Exploring the Shaver aspect, we have the "Deros" or his "detrimental robots" as a possible Cryptoterrestrial species. If we use the D&D versions, the Derro, then we have more to work with.   I think I would also like to take another page from Shaver's book magazine and have the language the Derro use be Mantong

Another species that fits this idea for me is the Ophidians.  This is a species that I have used in the past and really enjoy them.   

What separates cryptoterrestrials from extraterrestrials are their origins. While both can seem "alien" to humans, cryptoterrestrials are Earthlings.  They evolved from the same processes that gave us trees, lobsters, and humans.  Generally speaking, the same things that affect us, will affect them. They need to eat, breathe, and even sleep. They can be affected by poisons, just different ones, and bullets still hurt them. 

For NIGHT SHIFT

Since today is also a Monstrous Monday I think I should have some monster stats here.

Derro
No. Appearing: 8-80 (8d10)
AC: 4
Move: 20 ft.
Hit Dice: 3
Special: Pack tactics, Can fight in complete darkness, vulnerable to sunlight, madness.
XP Value: 60

Derros are a race of subterranean human-like creatures.  Their skin is a dull gray, their hair is typically a few shades lighter, and their eyes are a uniform white.  They speak an unknown, guttural language, but a few (1 in 10) can speak any surface language that is common nearby.  

Common Derro Abilities

  • Pack tactics. Derro are ambush attackers and will set traps and snares to incapacitate interlopers into their realms.  The derro will kill any they suspect is a threat, usually the largest, and keep the rest as slaves. 
  • Fight in Complete Darkness/Vulnerable to Sunlight.  Derro fight in complete darkness as if it were dim light. They take no penalty in attacks.  In any light greater than torchlight/flashlight they take a penalty of -1 (-5%).  In anything brighter, the penalty is -3 (-15%).  In full sunlight they cannot attack at all.
  • Madness. A full 25% of all derro suffer from a form of racial madness.  This usually manifests as a form of delusional behavior where they feel they are the superior species of the planet.  Their layers are fill with giant machines they refer to as "The Death Ray", "The Sun Destroyer", or "The Gravity Enhancer" that are designed to end the world, but never work.  Derro spend decades building these, or more to the point forcing slaves to do it, only to have them end in their own destruction.

Derro are cruel and delight in torture for torture's sake. 


Ophidian
No. Appearing:
 4-24 (4d6)
AC: 6
Move: 30 ft.
Hit Dice: 1 to 4
Special: Cold-blooded, enhanced senses (sight, smell), poison, magicly impaired.
XP Value: Varies

Ophidians are snake-like humanoids that have existed on Earth since the time of the dinosaurs.  They remember the great age of reptiles.  They hate humans, and really all mammals, and seek to destroy them so they can reclaim the Earth as their own.  If they hate anything more than humans it is the Extraterrestrial Reptoids. They feel the reptoids caused the great blast 65 million years ago that destroyed the dinosaurs (they didn't but the ophidians are not convinced) and they fight them for control of the Earth.

Common Ophidian Abilities

  • Cold-blooded. Ophidians live in deep rain forests, inhospitable deserts, and even underground near magma pockets or anywhere that is warm.  They prefer temperatures that are 75 °F / 24 °C or warmer with places of variable temperatures.
  • Enhanced Senses. Ophidians have superior senses of sight and smell.  Their sight extends into the infrared spectrum.  They are only surprised on a roll of 1-2 on a d10. 
  • Poison. The bite of some ophidians (1 in 6) can paralyze or (2 in 6) painful death (take 4d8 points of damage).  A Constitution-based saving throw can reduce this to 2d8 hp of damage. 
  • Magicly Impaired. Whether due to their reptilian brains or the fact they evolved from different progenitors than humans ophidians are incapable of magic.  They can, and many do, have psychic powers, but never magic.

Ophidians and Derro hate each other, often encountering each other and fighting great underground battles below the feet of unknowing humans.   It is possible that the only keeping these species from taking over is their hatred for everything and everyone that is not themselves.

Union of the Snake

--

Both Derros and Ophidians have a nice long history in my games.

I have to admit they did grow out of a lot of fringe theories and weird fiction from the 80s.  But I will admit that the Snake People were really sold to me from the Duran Duran video "Union of the Snake."

It was the 80s, I took my ideas from where they came.


The NIGHT SHIFT RPG is available from the Elf Lair Games website (hardcover) and from DriveThruRPG (PDF).

Monday, March 28, 2022

Monstrous Mondays: The AD&D 2nd Ed Monstrous Compendiums, Part 7

Monstrous Compendium Annual - Volume 1
The Monstrous Compendiums would eventually move over to an annual format of perfect-bound soft-cover books.  These followed on the footsteps of the combined, hardcover Monstrous Manual, which people liked much better.  The idea was to publish a collection of all the published monsters from other products in a Monstrous Compendium style format.  But the days of perforated and loose-leaf pages was over and the Annuals and the other books that followed were all bound collections.

To my knowledge, there were four of these in total.  I never owned the print copies, at this time I was getting married and moving into a new house, though I have been able to get the PDFs from DriveThruRPG.  Curiously, Annual Vol. 2 has not made it to PDF yet.

Monstrous Compendium Annual - Volume 1

PDF 128 pages, Color cover art, color interior art, $9.99.  129 monsters, Aballin to Xaver.

This first book took on the trade-dress and style of the early AD&D 2nd Ed line and was a companion piece to the hardcover Monstrous Manual. 

There are a lot of monsters here I have seen in later editions of the game and some are completely new to me.  There are a surprising amount of dragons for example. There are few I recognize from 1st Ed that I guess had not made it over to 2nd ed yet (Gibbering Mouther as one example). There are a also a few I recognize from Ravenloft, given a more "generic" or general approach.

It is a good collection of monsters, to be honest.  While the page are formatted to fit a book and not really a Monsterous Compendium (the left or right justification of the text on titles) you can still take this PDF and print your own page to fit into your Monstrous Compendiums.  I am going to do this with the dragons for example.

Monstrous Compendium Annual - Volume III
Monstrous Compendium Annual - Volume III

PDF 130 pages, Color cover art, color interior art, $4.95.  131 monsters, Alaghi to Zhentarim Spirit.

This third annual takes on the trade dress of the later printing AD&D 2nd material when the "2nd Edition" subtitle was removed.  The formatting looks transitional. That is I see here the original Monstrous Compendiums eventually morphed into the style I associate with the last years of 2nd ed (and TSR for that matter).

The volume includes a lot of monsters I had seen in various Ravenloft and Forgotten Realms publications at the time and a few that I assume got their origins in the Dark Sun and Planescape product lines.  There are some that also first appeared in the Creature Catalog from Dragon Magazine (Lillend for example).

There are few more dragons here too and, in a surprise, two demons / Tanar'ri.  So something here for everyone.

This book also includes the Ondonti, the Lawful Good Orcs. So don't try to tell me that "Good" orcs are a new thing.

good orcs from 1996


Monstrous Compendium Annual - Volume 4

PDF 98 pages, Color cover art, color interior art, $4.95.  104 monsters,  Ammonite to Zombie, Mud.

This fourth and last Monstrous Compendium Annual was published in 1998 by Wizards of the Coast, though the TSR brand is still on the books.  Additionally, this book also indicated where each monster came from whether Forgotten Realms or the pages of Dragon Magazine. There are some that I think are original to this volume. There is even a monster from Alternity here, which is a big surprise!

I would also like to point out that this is the first of these Annuals that acknowledges that it is based on the original D&D rules created by E. Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson.

There are quite a few new-to-me monsters here and few I have seen in other places before.  It is nice to get them all into one place.  

These annuals certainly represent the widest variety in monsters I have sen in any of the other compendiums.  If I were to play AD&D 2nd Ed again, I think I would start with these as my sources for new and different sorts of creatures.  I am sure that people that were still playing at this time (I had gone on an AD&D sabbatical from 1996/7 to 2000) might be more familiar with these books and these monsters, but it is a joy to open a book, even one 20-25 years old, and see something new.

I am now at the point if I print these out I am going to need a third 3-Ring binder.

Monday, March 21, 2022

Monstrous Mondays: The AD&D 2nd Ed Monstrous Compendiums, Part 6

MC7 Monstrous Compendium Spelljammer Appendix
Back to the business at hand.  Today will cover the "others" in my Monstrous Compendium collections, but not ones I used regularly.  Again the time these came out money was tight for a college kid needing to buy school supplies, food, and pay rent so choices were made.  Ravenloft won, Dark Sun and Spelljammer lost.  

Thankfully these days I can buy PDFs much cheaper and with little to no concern for storage space.  Plus I have recently begun to explore Spelljammer and I have found it to be rather fun.

For these reviews, I am considering the PDFs only.  I have the published ones, but not all of them, and the one I do have (Spelljammer 1) is incomplete.  No idea why.

MC7 Monstrous Compendium Spelljammer Appendix

PDF 64 pages (70 with dividers and covers), Color cover art, black & white interior art, $4.99.  64 monsters.

There was/is something very cool about the Spelljammer monsters.  First, they were not afraid to try something new here.  Which I like. Secondly, there are also some odd-balls here like the Giant Space Hamster.  Oh well, you have to have some fun.  There are some Star Frontiers aliens analogs here, so that made cross-overs a fun idea, but I have no idea if anyone ever did any.

MC9 Monstrous Compendium Spelljammer Appendix II

PDF 64 pages (70 with dividers and covers), Color cover art, black & white interior art, $4.99.  61 monsters.

Like the first Spelljamer MC this one gives us some fairly unique and interesting monsters.  The one I recall the best is the Scro or the "Space Orcs."  We also get a trio of celestial dragons which is fun. 

There is also a collection of MC-formated monsters in the Spelljammer: Adventures in Space set.

Spelljammer: Adventures in Space

MC12 Monstrous Compendium Dark Sun Appendix: Terrors of the Desert

PDF 96 pages, Color cover art, black & white interior art, $9.99.  92 monsters.

Moreso than any other campaign world, Dark Sun is the most foreign to me.  I *like* the idea of it. I have even since adopted some of the notions of it into my regular game world.  Plus there is a solid message here; exploit the environment and eventually, you will screw it up for everyone.  But many of the monsters are very new. 

This MC does adopt a different accent color for the pages.  A nice touch that again I would have liked to have seen for all the others.  Pretty much all of these creatures are new for me.  I would like to use them in a desert game, but I think a few might be a bit of work to remove them from their background.

Dark Sun Monstrous Compendium Appendix II: Terrors beyond Tyr

PDF 128 pages, Color cover art, color interior art, $9.99.  105 monsters.

This one was published as a softover volume.  It follows closer to the Dark Sun trade dress as opposed to the Monstrous Compendium one.  This does mean that monster pages are full color. 

Interestingly enough for me, this one has monsters I am more familiar with.  Also, given the nature of the campaign world, many of these creatures can be used as player characters. So details are given for that.

MC9 Monstrous Compendium Spelljammer Appendix II (2e)MC12 Monstrous Compendium Dark Sun Appendix: Terrors of the DesertDark Sun Monstrous Compendium Appendix II: Terrors beyond Tyr (2e)

Monday, March 14, 2022

Monstrous Mondays: The AD&D 2nd Ed Monstrous Compendiums, Part 5

MC14 Monstrous Compendium Fiend Folio Appendix
Fiends, Fiends, Fiends!

Today I delve into a dark subterranean world filled with long-forgotten creatures that have not seen the light of our sun for ages. Of course, by that, I mean the Usenet, and that age was the early 90s.  

What I think was one of the first big battles of the Edition Wars was the one concerning demons and devils.  Namely, where the hell were they for AD&D 2nd Edition?  They have not appeared in any of the Monstrous Compendiums so far and the official word was they were no longer needed.  Which everyone knew was a smokescreen for TSR caving into concerned, busy-body mothers and the religious right.  The discussions on Usenet had a LOT of opinions on why they were gone and then what to make of them when they finally came back.

Thankfully this did not last and by the start of 1991, we got demons and devils back, albeit in the names Tanar'ri and Baatezu. Ok, the names were changed but they were back.  In truth, I never minded the name change and it opened up the lower planes to have more than one type of demon or fiend. Something we are still benefiting from today.

MC14 Monstrous Compendium Fiend Folio Appendix

PDF 64 pages (70 with dividers and covers), Color cover art, black & white interior art, $4.99. 

While not full of fiend per se, the Fiend Folio has always had a place in the games of many 1st Ed AD&D players.  It was the second "Monster Manual" and it collected a number of creatures from various modules and the White Dwarf Fiend Factor column.  It was also either really loved or really hated, depending on who you asked.  Maybe that is the reason it did not get published until much later (1992) and was the 14th MC to be published.

This MC contains 65 monsters, Aballin to Zygraat, and is a fairly good representation of the monsters listed in the original Fiend Folio.  Some new (the aforementioned Aballin) but a few notable ones had appeared in other volumes already.  Drow appeared in the main Monstrous Compendium. Death Knights were moved to Dragonlance (a loosing their demonic heritage in the process) and Styx Devils had been published in the MC8 (see below).  The "oriental" Dragons are not here, but Gem Dragons are. There is no flumph here though. We don't see those again until Monstrous Compendium Annual Volume Two. 

Also there are no explanatory notes here that many of the others also had.  I guess at this point you are expected to know how to read the stat blocks. Not a complaint at all, merely an observation.

It is a mostly generic compilation of monsters and I mean that is a positive way.  These monsters can be used anywhere.  For example, I pulled out the Penanggalan and put it in my Ravenloft collection.

MC14 Monstrous Compendium Fiend Folio Appendix

MC8 Outer Planes Compendium
MC8 Monstrous Compendium Outer Planes Appendix

PDF 96 pages (102 with dividers and covers), Color cover art, black & white interior art, $4.99.  

This collection has 90+ monsters (Aasimon to Zoveri) from the various outer planes.  There are good and evil ones here so plenty for DMs taking the characters out of the dungeon and into new worlds.  There are a lot of old familiar faces and some new ones.  The "named" Demon Princes or Dukes of Hell are not here. Many, like Orcus, will never even get AD&D 2nd Ed stats. Most of the 1st Ed converts feel buffed up in stats. Even the succubus, a demon with little desire for combat, feels tougher with all her powers defined.

Demons and creatures from the Outer Planes in general really feel like they benefit from these expanded monster entries. While the Planescape Setting is still a bit away, we get tidbits of information about the Blood War and more.  Reminding us that when it comes to settings, 2nd Ed really was quite superior. 

MC8 Monstrous Compendium Outer Planes Appendix

Monstrous Compendium Planescape Appendix III

Monstrous Compendium Planescape Appendix III

PDF, 128 pages. Color art. $9.99

This book was one of the bound softcover Monstrous Compendium Appendices and it took on the trad dress and style of the Planescape line rather than the Monstrous Compendium line. The monsters inside conformed to the standard of the Monstrous Compendium stat blocks, but there was no doubt what line this belonged to.

This volume has 128 pages and 71 monsters from Animental to Xill.  Many of these monsters appear on both sides of the page, usually due to the larger art elements, and expanded details including a bit of fluff for each one.  This makes this book actually better for use in the three-ring binders.  Even though this one was never designed to be added!  Again another point for the PDFs.  That is if you don't mind printing out all the full-color pages this one has.

Interestingly enough the Xill appears here and the Fiend Folio MC 14.  In fact, many monsters from the AD&D 1st Fiend Folio also make it here. Cases in point the Quasi-elementals, the khargra (with much improved art), thoqqua, and trilloch.  The Khargra and the Xill appear in all three (1st ed and both 2nd Ed books).

Xill

This one does have explanatory notes and it also covers the ecology of the outer planes.  By this time the Planescape setting had been in pretty wide use so the "Planescape" view of the Outer Planes has superseded, for good or ill, the AD&D 1st Edition Manual of the Planes version.

AD&D 2nd Ed may not have started out with fiends (of any sort) but they ended with not just a few, but a whole new outlook on them that changed how D&D would use them for the next 30 years.

Monday, March 7, 2022

Monstrous Mondays: The AD&D 2nd Ed Monstrous Compendiums, Part 4

Monstrous Compendium Ravenloft Appendix
Back at it today with more monsters from AD&D 2nd Edition.  I have to say that going through all of these has put me in the mood for an AD&D 2e game at some point. 

I have mentioned this many times before but for me AD&D 2nd Ed was synonymous with Ravenloft for me. For most of AD&D's heydays, I was at university, either as an undergrad, in grad school, or working on my first Ph.D. So both money and free reading times were limited. I focused my efforts on the campaign world that I enjoyed the most, though I did dabble a bit into Planescape.

While I bought the Monstrous Compendiums as I could, I made an effort to get the Ravenloft ones. 

MC10 Monstrous Compendium Ravenloft Appendix

PDF 64 pages, Color cover art, black & white interior art, $4.99

I don't remember when exactly I bought this product the first time, but I do remember I was living in my first apartment after the dorms.  I thought it was amazing and I could not wait to use some of these monsters.   This product also expands on many of the monsters that had been briefly mentioned in other products, namely the Ravenloft boxed set and some early adventures.

This compendium appendix covers 55 monsters "Bastellus" to "Zombie Lord" and includes the "demi-human" vampires.  Up to this point, I had argued that only humans could become vampires, but I guess the Demiplane of Dread is such that any race can become a vampire. 

vampires of all sorts

In addition to all the monsters, this book includes an "Encounters in Ravenloft" that is helpful for the different rules that monsters can follow here. 

MC15 Monstrous Compendium Ravenloft Appendix II: Children of the Night (2e)

PDF 64 pages, Color cover art, black & white interior art, $4.99. Covers just 20 monsters from "Brain, Living" to "Vampyre."

This second compendium draws from many of the adventures and books published for Ravenloft at this point.  It has similar monster types to the first one, but all of these monsters are unique NPCs. For example, the MC10 had the Ermordenung creature, this one has the specific entry for Nostalla Romaine. Some, like Desmond LaRouche, the Half-golem and Jacquelline Montarri, even get 4 pages of treatment each.  This is part and parcel of the nature of monsters in Ravenloft, each and everyone has the potential to become a unique encounter and a specifically planned one.  This is one of the reasons I really don't do "random monsters" anymore.  In Ravenloft, there never should be a random encounter.  Even "non-Ravenloft" creatures get a unique Ravenloft treatment like Althea (medusa) and Salizarr (a meazel).  

This might make the utility of this book a little less than the others, it is a book of NPCs really, not just monsters.  The advantages though are a way to show how nearly any monster can get the "Ravenlot" treatment and expand to something more than a collection of HP to be traded for XP.

Monstrous Compendium - Ravenloft Appendix III (2e)

PDF 128 pages, Color cover art, black & white interior art, $9.99

This is one of the first "bound" Monstrous Compendiums I ever bought.  By this time TSR had learned that the three-ring binder experiment was over.  So no attempt here is mad to keep up that pretense. 

This book is larger, 128 pages, and takes on the trade dress of later (middle era) Ravenloft products.  This one does feature a guide of what monsters from other Monstrous Compendiums are suitable for Ravenloft.  Additionally, the "Climate/Terrain" section lists which Domain they are found in or even when they are found on other worlds.

This book covers 120 monsters from "Akikage" to "Zombie, Wolf." Some are repeats, but all are updated. We get newer versions of Flesh Golems and Strahd Zombies, and yet another version of the Baobhan Sith.  Some more vampires (Drow and Drider) and a bunch of Liches.

Monstrous Compendium - Ravenloft Appendices I & II (2e)

PDF 128 pages, Color cover art, black & white interior art, $9.99

This product features the final Ravenloft trade dress and is one of the last Ravenloft products to be wholly TSR and not TST/Wizard of the Coast.  Again, like the Ravenloft Appendix III, this is a 128 page book that first appeared as a softcover.  The monsters are the same as Appendices I & II; even dividing them up into two sections of Part I Creatures of Dread and Part II: Children of the Night.

If your goal is to print out pages for your own Monstrous Compendiums, then the original MC10 and MC15 might be the better choice.  If you are collecting the PDFs to have all the monsters then this product is the better bet. 

I am a Ravenloft fan. So I have all four.


Ravenloft Monstrous Compendium IIRavenloft Monstrous Compendium IIIRavenloft Monstrous Compendium I & II


I also find quite a lot in these I can still use in my 5e games and in my OSR/Old-School games.

Monday, February 28, 2022

Monstrous Mondays: The AD&D 2nd Ed Monstrous Compendiums, Part 3

MC 11 Monstrous Compendium Forgotten Realms II
I am continuing my dive into the AD&D 2nd Ed Monstrous Manuals and today I am reviewing three that are nominally under the Forgotten Realms umbrella.  

There is no doubt that the biggest game world for AD&D 2nd Edition was the Forgotten Realms.  I was fairly anti-Realms back then.  I felt it was a cheap imitation of Greyhawk and I was a little irritated that Greyhawk got pushed to the side.   The 3rd Edition Forgotten Realms setting book did a lot to change that for me and now, especially with my investigations around my This Old Dragon posts, I have come to better appreciate the Realms for what they really are, not for what I thought they were.

That all being said I still bought Realms-related products like these because, well, I love monsters.

MC11 Monstrous Compendium Forgotten Realms Appendix II (1991)

My series This Old Dragon has served me well for this one since many of the creatures here have appeared in the pages of Dragon Magazine, most authored or edited by Ed Greenwood himself.

This PDF is listed at 64 pages + the dividers. The interior art is all black & white with blue accents. The list price is $4.99. There are a total of 76 monsters (with sub-types) here Alaghi to Tren (a troglodyte/lizard man crossbreed).  The Peryton, one of my favorites from the original Monster Manual finally makes its 2nd Ed debut here. Likely due to the "Ecology of" article. I went back to look over some old favorites, namely the Saurial.  I always kind of liked the Saurial since there had been some articles in pop-science magazines about what would a humanoid race evolved from dinosaurs look like.  I was a big fan of the Silurians and Sea Devils from Doctor Who and this was the "Paranoid 90s" when X-Files was about to reign.  So reptiloids, dinosauroids, and more were on my mind.  The entry here says that "Saurials are not native to the Realms, but originate from an alternate Prime Material Plane."  This reminds me of what authors would later do with the Dragonborn in the Realms; have them come from Toril's twin planet of Abeir.  I see in more recent Realms lore they are still from an unknown realm but I like this idea. 

While these monsters are "generic" enough to be used anywhere, most (like the Saurials above) are tied a little more to the lore of the Realms, so extracting them can be done, but they will need some edits.

MC13 Monstrous Compendium Al-Qadim
MC13 Monstrous Compendium Al-Qadim Appendix (1992)

The Al-Qadim Monstrous Compendium had been the only product I ever purchased for the Al-Qadim setting back when it was new.  Again the reasoning was I loved monsters. But while reading it over I discovered there was a very interesting setting here.  

Like the Kara-Tur setting, Al-Qadim was pulled into the Realms. It was added to the Realms quickly after its release but the campaign setting box was designed a bit more for a general placement anywhere.

This PDF is listed at 74 pages and has a $4.95 price tag.  The art is typical for the time color covers and color dividers with black & white pages. Interestingly the accent color here is gold and not blue.  Ravenloft used red so I wonder how it would have been if all the settings had a different accent color to help separate them.  A dark-gray for Greyhawk, burnt orange for Dark Sun, and so on. 

There are 58 monsters from Ammut to Zin. This includes a large number of various Genie/Gin types. 

Divorced from their setting the monsters certainly lose some of their best flavor, but I do plan on using these in a desert-based campaign I have coming up and I think they will work fine.

MC6 Monstrous Compendium, Kara-Tur
MC6 Monstrous Compendium, Kara-Tur Appendix

Kara-Tur did not begin as a Forgotten Realms land. Quite the contrary it was designed to be used as part of Oerth in the 1st Edition Oriental Adventures.  This Monstrous Compendium brings the creatures listed in the 1st ed book, and more, into the 2nd Edition game. 

This PDF is listed at 64 pages (more with binder dividers) and a price tag of $4.99.  The cover and dividers are full color (including Easley's Oriental Adventure cover) and the interior art is Black & White. There are 76 monsters from Bajang to the Yuki-on-na.

Interestingly enough the Eastern Dragons from the Original Fiend Folio are not here.  They appeared in the MC3 Forgotten Realms one, but I thought they should appear here instead.  Likely to solidify the claim of Kara-Tur in the Forgotten Realms or maybe to give the 3rd MC some popular dragons.

There are some very unique monsters here. This is one of the few that I keep separate and do not integrate into my larger monster sets.

We are at a point with the Monstrous Compendiums where we get a bit of overlap.  For example, the Ashira (MC13) has a lot in common with the Hamadryad (MC11).  And the Black Cloud of Vengeance (MC13) is very much a larger, more evil version of the Tempest (MC11).  


Which is which? You tell me.

This is not a surprise, there are over 2100 monsters created for AD&D 2nd Edition, there are bound to be places where they overlap.

The scans for all are pretty crisp and clear. I certainly can see printed out a couple of pages and using them in a smaller binder for a specific AD&D 2nd Ed campaign.  Like I have said before, these PDF are fulfilling the promises made by the Monstrous Compendiums in the 1990s.

Monday, February 21, 2022

Monstrous Mondays: The AD&D 2nd Ed Monstrous Compendiums, Part 2

It's a Presidents' Day Monstrous Monday.  I am continuing my dive into the AD&D 2nd Edition Monstrous Compendiums.  Today I want to talk about the next three that were important to me in terms of what I call the "core" of the AD&D 2nd Ed monsters.   

The AD&D 2nd Ed Monstrous Compendiums, Part 2

It is a commonly held belief that during the AD&D 2nd Ed era that settings were at their height.  The remaining Monstrous Compendiums focused on these settings.  For me it was a perfect systems really.  I could keep monsters in with my core rules, like I did with Greyhawk, Dragonlance and Mystara. Or keep them with my boxed sets of campaigns, like I did with all my Ravenloft stuff.  So let's go with the ones I integrated (to the best I could) into my core set.

MC4 Monstrous Compendium Dragonlance Appendix
MC4 Monstrous Compendium Dragonlance Appendix

Ok, this one bugged me at first. I bought it and it said Draonlance Appendix on the front even though it was the second two-ring binder.  I didn't play Dragonlance, I was doing Greyhawk and would soon be eyeballs deep in Ravenloft.   My irritations were put to rest when I opened and the cover, while having the same art, just said Monstrous Compendium Vol. 2.   For a while I used both alphabetically, vol 1 with A through M and vol 2 holding N to Z and the tables and blank forms.  Today I use vol 1 for my core monsters and vol 2 for everything else.

Dragonlance falls into "everything else" for me.  The monsters are good, and many that have made their way back into my core monsters.

The PDF from DriveThruRPG is 96 pages, 82 monsters and at a price of $4.99. The monsters range from "Anemone, Giant" to "Yeti-kin, Saqualaminoi."  It covers all the various races of Krynn including the various types of dwarves, all the different kinds of elves, the kender and Dragonlance's lizard men and minotaurs. It was the first to include the Death Knight and Skeleton Warriors, though I always felt they belonged in Greyhawk. Certainly worth it for the Draconians and tips on Dragonlance's dragons which help redefine dragons in D&D in the first place. 

MC4 Monstrous Compendium Dragonlance Appendix

The cover of the PDF is a little dark, but the pages inside are sharp and clear.

MC5 Monstrous Compendium Greyhawk Adventures Appendix
MC5 Monstrous Compendium Greyhawk Adventures Appendix

Personally I always felt that Greyhawk should have had a Monstrous Compendium long before the others, but I can see why it came out when it did, given all that history.  The Greyhawk Adventures book for 1st Edition had a "preview" of monsters in 2nd Edition format. I remember being quite excited about this and really liking the new stat block even though it was much larger than before.

More so than the other MC Appendices, I tried to integrate these monsters as much as I could into my "core" Monstrous Compendium.  To me Greyhawk was the "home world" of D&D.

The PDF from DriveThruRPG is 64 pages, runs $4.99, and includes 63 monsters; Beastman to Zygom.

Many of these monsters have their origins in the AD&D 1st ed modules and Fiend Folio, but there are few others here from the Monster Manaual II.  The only creatures here that really saw "Greyhawk" to me are the Grell, Greyhawk Dragon, the Sword Wraiths and the Drowned Zombies.  There are some here that are more generic like the hobgoblin (how did that one only make it in in MC5?? Corrected. Hobs are in the core set. Hobgoblin, Norkers are in this set!)

MC5 Monstrous Compendium Greyhawk Adventures Appendix


Monstrous Compendium - Mystara Appendix
Monstrous Compendium - Mystara Appendix

First Edition was all about Greyhawk. Second edition was synomous with Ravenloft for me.  But Mystara, or before that name, the Known World was where my gaming began.  So the Mystara Appendix for the Monstrous Compendium was one of my "core" core sets.  

The Mystara appendix take a few diversions from the other core world sets.  For starters this one is 128 pages and $9.99 on DriveThruRPG now.  It is also full color, a indication of the change of publishing style at TSR.   This book was also published as a standalone softcover, perfect bound, book.  It seems that by 1994 the loose-leaf era was indeed over.

The PDF though does allow you to go back to that era and print the monsters out as you like.

This set has 174 monsters from Actaeon to Zombie, Lightning.  Many of the old favorites from the B/X and BECMI days are here too.  Living Statues, Kopru, Decapus and the Thoul are all here in their 2nd Edition glory as well as many of the Gem Stone Dragons.

If you were/are a fan of the D&D Creature Catalogs then this really is a must buy. I find it interesting that this Compendium came out just a year after the DMR2 Creature Catalog.  I'd have to go through them page by page to see if there are any differences in the monsters presented, but they feel very much alike. 

The DriveThruRPG scanned PDF is very bright and clear. I would love to see this as a print-on-demand some day.