|Liz Courts Community Manager|
|Liz Courts Community Manager|
Part II of my review:
Editing is top-notch on both a formal and rules-language level - in the instances where I took apart a statblock, I noticed no serious hiccups. Formatting-wise, some very minor aesthetic hiccups can be found - there are instances where the first paragraph of the flavor text is formatted like a statblock ability....hey, come on, I'm trying to find something to complain about, all right? Layout adheres to an absolutely gorgeous two-column full-color standard with borders that employ graphic elements coded as Norse. The artwork by Mates Laurentiu is absolutely stunning and makes this one of the most beautiful bestiaries I have seen any 3pp put out. Each of these critters could, quality-wise, be found in a Paizo/WotC-book - the artwork alone is worth getting this...and yes, I'd advise in favor of the softcover: The fact that you can show the one-page monster-illustrations sans spoiling the statblocks to players means that you'll spare time and effort printing the art as handouts. The fact that they all have one style adds a great unified visual identity to this book. Oh, and yes, the book comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.
Justin Andrew Mason and developer Stephen Rowe are both names that I associate with quality; in this instance, however, they delivered something that exceeded my expectations. You see, I get to see a metric ton of monsters. I'm spoiled beyond belief by Legendary Games' mythic monsters and bestiaries and my expectations at this point are VERY hard to meet. This book surpassed them by the sheer value of consistency. There is something I consider great (not "good", not "very good", "great!") in every single critter within this book.
Let me elaborate: When we boil it down, monster-design is both an art and a craft: You can string together numbers and components like feats; no problem. The artistry is when it comes together, when you add those unique abilities and give the mathematical construct its own sense of identity, its own story. In the best of cases, though, it does not end there. Take Kobold Press - the Midgard-setting they made is pretty much defined by the mythological resonance it evokes. I do not use the excellent setting lightly as a frame of reference.
We, as human beings, have a rich tapestry of myths that are, if you believe anthropology, to a significant part extensions of our conditio humana, our shared experiences. It is thus that you can find parallels between different cultures and their animism, religion and myths - they serve to illustrate facts, concepts and experiences - often in an anthropomorphized form. These tales continue to evolve with our lives; much like the changed experience of the industrial revolution gave rise to fresh incarnations of horror, much like Web 2.0.'s slender man and similar creepypastas, we are defined by our mythweaving, by the incarnations of truths and symbols we inherited, by the complex constructs that generate a shared frame of reference to communicate.
One way to excel at monster design lies in mastering mechanics and artfully making the unique; another, less often seen, lies in tapping into this shared frame of reference, into the mythological sphere, and employing the powerful resonance it evokes within us all. There is a reason for that: It's hard. You see, the very first thing we usually do when running games is to take that frame of reference and apply it. Thus, straight adaptions feel old, stale, been there, done that to us. The genius of this humble bestiary lies in tapping into the shared frame of reference, the cultural resonance shared, and employing it in a creative and new manner that makes it a cohesive, unique entity.
A cynic may accuse me of over-intellectualizing in this review; my response would be that me actually pausing and analyzing to this extent is not something I do lightly or by accident; one creature that manages this feat is a happy accident; two are a tendency - a whole book full of them, however, is intentional, deliberate craftsmanship and artistry. This book represents one of the best bestiaries I have read in quite a while and its creatures will make plenty of appearances in my games. This is a steal, an exercise in excellent, unpretentious (in spite of my analysis - this is very much a bestiary, not a lecture in academia!) design - and oh boy do I love it to bits. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval and this is furthermore a candidate for my Top Ten of 2016. Get this!
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here, on OBS, AAW Games' shop, etc.
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