These are the monsters that prowl the dark forests, hills, mountains, marshes and caves of the Mor Aldenn campaign setting. Some are the creations of the dreaded Night Hag and some are the result of the experimentation of the mages! Yet most are the children of the land—Ossindrillon—a mythical realm of ancient forests and tall mountains.
Within these pages you'll find the mystical gaiants, gold caps and mythraven, the dreaded arachnus and hag spiders, the mischevious marsh dragon and portunes...just to name a few!
These 21 monsters were created for the Mor Aldenn, City of Mages setting, but could be used for any campaign setting, especially yours!
35 pages written by Thomas Baumbach, K. Axel Carlsson, Christian Gunter, Sam Hing, Sean Holland, Ron Lundeen, Andrew Mongeau, Jonathan Palmer, David Nicholas Ross and Stefen Styrsky.
New monster books are always fun, as they add more critters that you can throw at your PCs without worrying that they’ll have its abilities memorized. Weighed against that, however, is the question of whether these monsters – even when CR appropriate – will fall into that careful middle ground between “cakewalk” and “TPK-maker.”
The Mor Aldenn Creature Compendium seems to manage that balancing act, though it wobbles slightly along the way.
Thirty-five pages long and presenting twenty new monsters, the Mor Aldenn Creature Compendium presents itself fairly well. It allows for copy-and-paste, but has no bookmarks, something which was frown-worthy. The book comes as a single PDF, having no files for Mac-compatibility or e-readers.
The book’s artistic presentation eschews ostentation, having no page borders or fancy backgrounds, instead focusing solely on the artwork. In this, it does quite well, having a single black-and-white image for each creature it presents. This was very wisely done, as monster books virtually require each new creature to receive a visual depiction. It helps that the illustrators uniformly did a good job, presenting each monster with a grim seriousness that undergirds their presentation.
Like monster monster books, the majority of the monsters fall into the single-digit Challenge Ratings. While there are a fairly diverse range of creature types presented, from plants to fey to humanoids, there is an underlying theme to most of these monsters – a large number of them are based around a swamp/marsh environment. This isn’t coincidental; as the title suggests, the book’s writing is specific to the Mor Aldenn campaign setting, and the flavor text for the monsters often discusses them in the context of where they are found in the game world. As the Night Hag who dwells in a certain swamp appears to be a major antagonist, a large number of the monsters are based around that environment.
In regards to the monsters themselves, most seemed to be at least somewhat creative in their powers and abilities. The marsh dragon, for example, has several powers based around creating and controlling shambling mounds. The portune is a “classical” fairy that can be rebuked if you say its name (and can be an improved familiar). The most interesting monster in this regard is the manifest child of the ether, which has a number of powers based around its strange connections to magic and being from beyond known reality.
There were a few issues that came up with some monsters, however. A few had an armor class that was far too low for a creature of its CR. The arachnus, for example is a CR 11 creature with an AC of…16. No damage reduction, either. It’s the sort of monster that, due to that quite literally fatal flaw, won’t last long in melee combat. The hag spider has the same CR, and has AC 18. It’s little things like this that can undermine otherwise-great monsters. I’d recommend looking these creatures over with a critical eye before using them.
Having said that, these are creatures that should be used in your game. The level of innovation here is a cut above the norm, and this is reflected in the monsters descriptions and abilities. Even if you don’t play in Mor Aldenn, there are a lot of interesting creatures here that can help to liven up your game.
Creature Compendium for the Mor Aldenn campaign setting from Headless Hydra Games is a 35 page PDF, introducing us to 21 creatures of varying CR's. PDF follows the dual column format and standardized statblock layout for the Pathfinder compatible products. Interior artwork is B&W, and we do get a piece of art for almost every creature entry.
Opening with the Arachnus (a Tauric creature formed of a Giant upper torso and head and the body of a Spider) this creature tome comes out the doors swinging. Following this nightmare up with the Black Glass Undead (variant Wight) and Blacktalon Lizardfolk (variant Lizardfolk) however, kind of a letdown after the initial creature. We are given a template for the Black Glass Undead as well as the creature write up though. The Marsh Dragon, who gets a standard statblock as well as 3 for various age progressions, is an excellent addition to the draconic family. Being more akin to the plants of the marshes and swamps it lives among, it can raise and control Shamblers, and attacks with spores for a breath weapon (nasty side effect from this one, brilliant). The Gaiant (a fey giant race resembling humanoid trees, and presented here with stats for a druid) and the Bog Giants give us two new entries into the family of Giants.
The odd looking Gold Caps ( a mushroom cap and stalk with four leglike appendages) deal in the market of information as humanoids deal in precious stones and metals. The Hag Spider (our cover monster) is an amalgamation of phase spider and hag that preys upon the sleeping by trapping its foes in ethereal webs and plaguing them with nightmares. Leyspinners are another addition to the fey, these being closely bound to the ley lines that crisscross their homes. Leyspinners have the ability to manipulate these ley lines to affect the world around them in a few varied ways. Mahr could quite easily stand in for those dark and scary things we all used to tell our younger siblings were under the bed. A bestial sharp clawed fey with the capacity to teleport through shadows with a grappled foe, the mahr feed off of fear,and spread panic and paranoia throughout communities.
The Manifest Children of the Ether I'm going to have to say are amongst the oddest entry for the book. A race of outsiders who's very presence offends reality causing damage to all within a radius of their presence, these creatures are presented as having no desire to communicate with any beings other than themselves, and any attempts to sway them from their desired goal is to invite combat with a rather hefty foe. Up next we have the Marshlings, a twisted nightmare version of vegetation gone bad. These things are wicked, in every sense of the word and a design win in my opinion, their rot ability makes them insanely dangerous to attack, their method of mobility (they retract a leg into their body, and expel a new one out of the front) is just visually cool, they're just a really cool creature. The Mirejack (a fey appearing as a small humanoid built of sludge and vegetation) offers up yet another fey addition, this one of a CE nature and being bound to the foul marshes of the world.
The Mythraven appears to be a huge raven at first glance, until you catch site of the embedded magical gemstones in its beak, oh, and it opens it mouth and says hi, that's usually a dead give away that's there's more going on than just really big bird. Sought after for their crystal eggs by mages these large avians can either be a valued friend, or fierce enemy. Plaguecrawlers are a giant centipede creature that attacks from ambush spraying whatever it can bite into with a disease ridden liquid, than retreats to tail its target, waiting for it to weaken. Appearing as a tiny winged humanoid with a portly build, the Portune is another addition to the fey numbers, although this handy little fey is a tad more friendly than most towards others, and can in fact be taken as a familiar by those with the improved familiar feat. Puppet Imps are literally bipedal constructs of debris given animation by the projections of will from malign forces. The cool thing about Puppet Imps, if given the chance in combat, they will scrounge the ground for material to rebuild damage, effectively healing themselves (for a penalty).
The Spell Pike is an altered fish, given spell like abilities depending upon which of the eight schools the fish is associated with. The scales of the Spell Pike bear runes that react much as a scroll, in that one can copy down the runes to learn the spell like ability. Unfortunately, this entry is the one that I have the most problems with out of the entire book. There's no artwork for this creature (the rune work would have been cool to see), and either the CR or the XP is way off. The Spell Pike is listed as having a CR of 4, with 400XP. Now, according to Table 12-2: Experience Point Awards (pg 398 CRB) a CR of 4 should have an XP of 1,200. To get an XP of 400, we would need a CR of 1. I know it's a small thing, but between the lack of art, and the botch job on the CR, this creature doesn't live up to the others.
The Stiltskin appears as a wizened of man, but in fact is very much fey. They collect and cherish secrets, and will trade and barter for them with secrets they know, or the gold they spin. The Tuskbeast looks very much like a large boar with a ridge of bony spines running down its back. A blind animal, they are still a widely feared hunter. The book closes with the Veraxer, a great brown tiger with stripes of green, and an intelligence far beyond animal. 10 feet in length and weighing in at 750 lbs., these large cats act as mounts and allies within the elite cavalry for the elven nations.
OK, a few things about this book that drove me nuts, first and foremost, the previously touched upon issues with the Spell Pike. Sorry, can't let that go, making sure things like the XP to CR ratios are accurate are important. Secondly, how many times one entry ran into another. There are numerous entries “sharing” a page, and that makes the book look very busy and cluttered in my opinion. Third, design wise, quite a few of these creature's feel like they are all bite, having massive attack, but not much in the way of defense. There is also no ToC or bookmarks, which is a huge negative for me, If a PDF is going to be more than a few pages long, I feel at the very least a ToC is required, bookmarks always preferred.
Final tally, pros far outweigh the cons on this collection of creatures, but it does have a handful of flaws. Giving it a 3.5, rounded to a 4 star rating.
After a time spent on hiatus from the reviewing game, I'm jumping back into action with a look at Mor Aldenn: Creature Compendium. In the interests of fair disclosure, I'm writing this using a review copy given to me by Headless Hydra Games. So, on with the show!
The Good: First thing I noticed with this product were the production values, which are the cream of the crop. The layouts are easily read and the black and white art is some of the nicest I've seen in a 3rd party book.
The range of monsters hit a fair number of types and CRs, from 1/3 to 17. Despite being a product focused on a campaign setting, the monsters are definitely usable in a variety of games, so don't get scared off by the "Mor Aldenn" name. The basic theme of the creatures herein is "spooky critters of the woods and marshes", and the balance leans heavily towards fey and plants. And, really, there's always room for more fey and plants in the game.
In fact, the fey are generally my favorite of the creatures here, brimming with flavor and nasty game-potential. The leyspinners, for example, are fey spellcasters that can combine spells and weave the fates of their enemies, the mahr are shadowy boogeyman types that can teleport away with their hostages, and the stiltskin is an interpretation of Rumplestiltskin that works very well, casting that fey as a grumpy information broker who uses greed to divine valuable secrets. Very cool!
The Bad: The Challenge Ratings of a sizable percentage of the monsters are off, either being too high or too low. A number of the monsters are glass cannons; they can dish out a fair amount of damage but are very fragile for their CR. The arachnus, hagspider and the black glass undead (a CR +3 template that doesn't add HD!) come to mind.
The too low CRs are rather more problematic. The mahr is a solid CR 5, except for the fact that they have three different fear effects, all of which stack (as fear effects do), and all of which have a DC of 19. DC 19 is recommended for a CR 10 creature; I suspect that the monster creation guidelines can be a bit coddling, but it's still way past par for a CR 5. Any level-appropriate fight with a mahr is likely to end with the entire party scattered running in terror unless there's a paladin in the party. The marsh dragon (awesome idea, by the way; it's a plant-like dragon with control over shambling mounds) has a breath weapon that immobilizes everyone who takes any damage and is very difficult to escape from (hardness 6!) and summons an insect swarm (as per the spell) to those who can't escape fast enough. All marsh dragons, even the youngest, have this ability. Have fun rolling up new 4th level characters after fighting that wyrmling!
I have been led to believe that the gaiant comes from a different product, but the entry still feels rather incomplete. We get stats for one with character levels, but we aren't told what their base statistics are, making it difficult to make gaiants that aren't 2nd level druids.
The Nit-picky: There are a few proper mechanical errors, but they're pretty small stuff. The arachnus ought to have Quick Draw for thrown iterative attacks, for example, and the Manifest Child of the Ether definitely doesn't qualify for Quicken SLA for a 6th level spell.
There's no Table of Contents or Index! In order to find a critter, I have to scroll. Although bookmarks or hyperlinks would be nice, even just a ToC would be appreciated.
Also, do we really need both the arachnus and the hagspider? They're both CR 11 Large creatures that combine the features of humanoids and giant spiders, and both of them rely in combat on maneuverability and poison. They're both alright creatures, but they feel redundant.
Final Thoughts: Mor Aldenn: Creature Compendium is a solid monster book, but not a perfect one. Some of the creatures could use some rebalancing, but the flavor, statistics and production values are all quite good. As such, I shall bestow upon this book a rating of 4 stars. It's good! Don't be scared off by the campaign setting! If you like weird monsters, there's sure to be something appealing in here for you.
Excellent, affordable bestiary somewhat marred by editing glitches
This pdf is 35 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1.5 pages of SRD, leaving 31.5 pages of content, so let's check it this monster manual, shall we?
Monster manuals have come a long way since the 3.X-days of old - today not only the stat-blocks are easier to read, but most new monsters also come with signature abilities that make them unique and stand out. Subsequently, the standard and expectations we have for more monsters are perhaps higher than they once were. Seeing that Headless Hydra Games' offerings have been hit and miss for me, I was quite curious to see which kind of creatures we get. Their Mor Aldenn campaign world, though it comes with interesting premises, has not yet been detailed to an extent that makes it easy for me to determine what to expect from it apart from a certain old world flair. Each of the creatures in this particular bestiary comes with a short paragraph of read-aloud text to introduce them to your players - nice to have. That being said, what kind of creatures are we introduced to in this bestiary?
The very first creature already offers a glimpse of the weirdness to be expected from this bestiary - the CR 11 Arachnus is a dread amalgam of spider and giant, multi-armed and legged and both poisonous and expert giant slayers. The brutish mutants make for interesting foes thanks to e.g. their climb speed, which offers them a mobility seldom seen for creatures of their size. I only have the minor gripe that a many-legged, a large arachnid creature should probably get stability as an extraordinary quality.
The second creature we're introduced to is a variation of the wight, the CR 6 Black Glass Wight - undead suffused by veins of fragile, reappearing black ice, these creatures are only created via the most vile of efforts and come with breathweapons, additional melee damage and an aura of terror. They come with a CR+3 template to create your own black glass undead, which is greatly appreciated by yours truly - there is something iconic and cool about these scions of depravity and death. However, the writing of this particular entry does not wholly go hand in hand with the excellent premise - some of the wordings could have been a bit more clear. Don't get me wrong, it's still good, though not stellar.
Shock troops for the Night Hag's forces, the Blacktalon Lizardfolk (CR 4) is a subrace of Lizardfolk that is not only evil and stronger, but also heals faster. Nevertheless, I consider them to be LAME. It's like in Diablo - color the enemy different, make them tougher - viola. While they do have pounce and rend, making for new tactics, I think they would have benefited from a full-blown write-up in the style of Raging Swan's TRIBE-series or their own pdf: An origin myth, tribal tactics etc. go a long way to endearing humanoids and making them unique. That is especially true for variants of existing creatures.
The next creature, though, more than makes up for the Lizardfolk: The Marsh Dragon comes with several age categories (as is the tradition with dragons) and 3 sample statblocks for the young (CR 8), adult (CR 12) and ancient (CR 17) age category, respectively. But wait, you say. Do we need another dragon? No, not really, but this one is no mere dragon: Grab a seat, the marsh dragon is a strange hybrid of dragon and plant, breathing cones of razor sharp growing spores that rapidly grown into entombing vines which attract deadly insects in droves. And they have facial tentacles and a mastery over shamblers (into which wyrms can transform you with a mere gaze!) - this dragon is simply creepy as hell, disturbing, has some lovecraftian undertones and a plethora of cool signature abilities - what's not to like?
Next up is an entry of the Gaiants (with a sample CR 2 druid statblock), large humanoids somewhere between a treant and a fey, which are also a playable race in the Mor Aldenn setting. Seeing that they have their own pdf, I'll get on to the next creature, the CR 5 Bog Giants: Reclusive marsh dwellers, they are a rather timid and gentle subrace of giants but failed to catch my interest due to a lack of unique fighting techniques and signature abilities.
The Gold Cap Myconids (CR 4) can't complain about a lack of signature abilities - even stranger than their regular cousins, these intelligent mushroom-creatures. Their spores can access the memories of those near them, draining intelligence and making them alien sages of the underdark - now that's cool!
The CR 11 Hag Spider (which you can see on the cover), predators created by the Night Hag from hags and phase spiders can ambush from the ether, spin webs from there and ensnare their victims in dread nightmares. Iconic-looking, cool plot-foes, these creatures are deadly and smart foes which make for some cool adventure ideas.
Next up is another definite winner, the Leypinner-fey (CR 10) - seeing that ley-lines seem to feature prominently in the Mor Aldenn-setting, these creatures are more than interesting - being able to entwine both multiple spells in their unique casting and weaving the fates of foes and friends, these powerful entities are also dependant on ley-lines, coming with several in-built ideas that will enable any DM to use them as allies, foes, or both - mechanically smart, full of fluff, these creatures are a prime example of excellent writing and design.
The Mahr (CR 5)-fey are on the rather dark side of fey - bugbear-like, fear-feeding kidnappers, they make for a nice take on the boogeyman-trope. their weakness to honest laughter also makes for a nice signature weakness to reward smart adventurers.
I've already commented on the CR 10 Manifest Child of the Ether in my review of the "Eldritch Spell Compendium", so I'll just mention that the creature is cool and reprinted here.
The swamps have more dangers in store for your PCs, though: The CR 1 Marshlings, an intelligent, rot-inducing plants and the Mirejack (CR 6), a small, corruption and decay-spreading fey composed of rock, mud and tangled branches just wait around the next bog.
If your players ever get truly swamped (*pays 2 bucks into the bad pun box*), the intelligent, huge Mythravens (CR 7) make for cool allies/rescuers - wise birds with 4 precious, magical gemstones in their beaks, they make for interesting allies as well as dangerous game for less scrupulous parties hired by wizards to harvest the gems.
The CR 10 Plaguecrawlers are more deadly, huge, disease-spraying variations of carrion crawlers - the vermin is so twisted, even its blood is a carrier of diseases.
Portunes (CR 2), a take on the wee-folk of Germanic and Scandinavian mythology, these little fey are sought-after servants for mages (especially relevant in places like Mor Aldenn, where mage-schools are so prevalent) and come with a new magic item-template, the wondrous trinket, which might make for a mischievous gift if the PCs don't honor their Portrune or break the traditional taboos. It's fluff like that which makes an otherwise unremarkable statblock come to life - nice!
The CR 1/3 Puppet Imps (amalgams of sticks and pebbles) already known from the stories included in the expanded player's guide, these itching wounds inflicting foes are neat low-level enemies.
The Spell Pikes, CR 4 pikes with variants for each school, make for an interesting concept - the excess magical energy mutated these fish and gave them some interesting abilities, which might make the creatures not only a bane for fishers, but also for some interesting plot ideas. This is the only critter in the book that lacks its own artwork.
The CR 8 Stiltskin is reprinted from the Moon Folly-pdf and in the end, we get 2 interesting animal-like creatures: The Tuskbeast (CR 3) is a blind boar with bone-spikes on the back and the CR 6 Veraxar is a tiger-like, intelligent being with some supernatural spell-like abilities and Elven affinities.