Tag Archives: monster


Image from Dorohedoro

Looking back through one of my notebooks, I came across this monster. Along with some of the details, I like the format, so it seems worth a post.

  • Devilspawn are a pale echo of Satan’s majesty
  • They cannot speak the truth
  • They sometimes believe they are truly Satan
  • Attended by animals that speak or speechless, beast-like humans
  • They have forked tongues
  • They can grant spells if bound or through mystical covenant
  • Will claim the fallen as additional attendants, mutating them slowly

And roll 1d6 each for detail, attendants, power, weakness, and motive:


  1. Wields a weapon of crimson devil metal, magical and always hot as a furnace
  2. Solid black eyes
  3. Crippled legs, but floats always several inches above the ground
  4. Wrapped in silken cords
  5. Mouth extends to ears
  6. Glorious multicolored enameled plate armor


  1. 1d6 horses with lizard heads that speak and drool or vomit lava
  2. 2d6 moths the size of hawks that gibber constantly and have long, corrosive, hollow tongues
  3. 1d6 floating silver cages containing vicious birds of paradise that mock the weak
  4. 2d6 naked, filthy humans with filed teeth that can climb like spiders, mad and grinning, fitted with collars and leashed
  5. 2d6 naked, beautiful humans clothed only in faceless, eyeless helms and metal gauntlets fused to the skin
  6. 2d6 naked humans, half starving and half obese, carrying rusted weapons


  1. Turn into a cloud of moths at will
  2. Conjure fire at will and invulnerable to fire
  3. Paralyze mortals from the waist down (save to avoid, and each dungeon turn to recover)
  4. Take form of nearby person, gains their abilities (50% chance of success to use)
  5. Steal prepared spells from the minds of magicians (save to avoid)
  6. Immune to cutting or stabbing


  1. Slowed by mirrors
  2. Courage (will not face the bold directly)
  3. Unable to harm same or opposite gender (determine randomly)
  4. The color blue
  5. The scent of flowers
  6. Hounds


  1. Eat the flesh of cats
  2. Walk under the sun
  3. Sex
  4. Gaze upon Satan
  5. Wine
  6. Eat the flesh of devils

Tangle armor


Image source (processed)

I was looking through my blog drafts folder, and came across several unfinished posts related to my Pahvelorn OD&D campaign (which has been on hold for several years now). This is one of those posts. If it feels somewhat out of left field, that is why. This is a fun item though, so I thought it still worth sharing.

In that game, one faction is a group of borg-like demonic invaders. They look like a mixture between Lord Zedd, Giger’s alien, and matte black humanoid crabs. They are highly organized, militaristic, and woven into a psychic mesh which allows telepathic communication. They cannot speak human language but at some point during the game one of the adventurers managed to communicate telepathically with a drone that had been separated from the central consciousness. I described the experience as a series of tangled visual signs and from then on the players referred to the creatures as Tangles. A tangle drone’s exoskeleton can be worn as armor if properly extracted.

There are two varieties of tangle armor, soft-shell and hard-shell.

  • Soft-shell: AC as medium armor, 5 [14].
  • Hard-shell: AC as heavy armor, 3 [16].

(Note that in this game, no AC, even for monsters, is ever mechanically better than plate.)

Anti-Disintegration. Wearers of tangle armor are immune to disintegration.

Rejuvenation. Following combat, tangle armor will heal 1d6 points of damage. This only applies to damage just suffered. This causes a head rush in a human wearer.

Pincer-Claws. Tangle armor appendages count as armaments (standard 1d6 damage). They also have 18 strength in terms of grip (think alligator jaws: easy to hold closed, hard to pry open). These pincers surround hands but do not interfere with standard hand uses.

Creepy. Wearing tangle armor results in a functional charisma score of 3 when interacting with civilized others.

Receptive. Wearers suffer disadvantage (such as -4 penalty) when resisting psychic attacks.

Wearing. To put on a suit of tangle armor safely, cast the bind exoskeleton spell. Otherwise, get naked, slip inside, and save versus stone. If the saving throw fails, roll 1d6:

  1. Armor wearer is psychically attached to the tangle hive consciousness.
  2. Armor wearer becomes unable to perform aggressive acts toward creatures with 4 or 6 legs/arms.
  3. Armor wearer’s mouth and larynx are replaced with a mandible-like mechanism that prevents speech. Spells may still be used though interpretive dance. This result is permanent even if the armor is successfully removed later.
  4. Armor wearer secretes colony spores whenever resting. There is a 1 in 6 chance that the resting place will become a new hive shortly thereafter. This hive is autonomous from the mother hive on tangle world.
  5. Armor wearer becomes a beacon. There is a 1 in 6 chance that a gate will open to tangle world every time the armor wearer rests. The gate will be located in a secluded area within one mile of the rest point and will remain open for one week.
  6. The armor fully infiltrates the wearer’s body, rearranging parts, integrating with organs, and improving resilience. Armor wearer gains one HD permanently and no longer requires oxygen but will collapse into a pile of disaggregated flesh if the armor is ever removed, even with a “safe” spell method.

(It may be enjoyable for the referee to keep this result secret assuming the effect would not be obvious to the wearer. But make a note somewhere to remember the per-rest checks!)

If the saving throw succeeds, putting the armor on has no side effect other than being permanently integrated with an alien exoskeleton.

Removal. Tangle armor may be removed from a human safely only with dispel evil (this destroys the armor) or remove curse (after which the armor may be worn by another). The armor may be removed forcefully or in a nonconsensual manner (if the wearer is restrained). This causes the wearer 3d6 damage (save versus stone for half). Spell-based removal does not protect the wearer from bodily disaggregation based on result 6 above.

Extraction. Defeating a tangle drone in combat damages or destroys the armor. Functional tangle armor can only be extracted from captured, living drones. Extraction kills the drone unless the extractor takes extraordinary measures.

Tangles have stats as hobgoblins with supplementary abilities consistent with the armor description above. In any raiding party, at least one drone will be armed with disintegration weaponry. Mounts and vehicles are hover platforms that can be psychically controlled. Tangles may be remote-controlled using telepathy (drones get a save to avoid, connecting to the hive mind risks alien psychic mental control and insanity).



Inverse swarm monsters


I think this dude was an inverse swarm
Image source: Final Fantasy 7

In a swarm monster, multiple enemies are represented as a single monster mechanically. This is practical because it is easier to manage for the referee and also interesting on the player interface side because a swarm of flying demonic bells might be immune to most weapons but vulnerable to area effects and perhaps sweet singing. (I believe 3E should get credit for this innovation, though I am not sure about that.)

In a recent post, Gus catalogued a number of ways to make solo beasts more interesting and challenging. To this toolbox, I would add the inverse swarm, which is a single enemy represented mechanically by multiple monsters.

So an elder dragon might have head, body, two claws, wings, and a tail, each with a separate attack, different ACs, and its own HP total. This avoids the biggest weakness of beasts versus adventuring parties, which is the limited number of actions the monster can take (1, or maybe 3 for a claw claw bite routine) compared to the 6+ chances an adventuring party gets to take on the attack roulette wheel each round. It also allows interesting strategies, like disabling particular abilities.

The only real downside is that the referee needs to spend some thought on the monster, preferably beforehand (though it is possible to improvise a less complicated inverse swarm).


Unsolicited aesthetic opinions on the 5E Monster Manual

1. In general, the art is even better than the PHB. There is an almost biologic sensibility, like what might be recorded in the notebook of a 19th century naturalist. The influence from real animals on the illustrations is more pronounced than in past versions. Not in terms of direct realism, but just in that you can recognize features, poses, and behaviors that make the creatures seem more anatomically resonant.

2014-12-10 16.22.32 copy

2. Other than the green dragon, which I like, the dragon shoulders are pronounced in a way that looks somewhat ridiculous (this is worst in the red and silver dragon illustrations). I don’t care how much muscle a “real” dragon would need, it does not look good.

2014-12-11 08.55.16 silver dragon

3. The small landscapes scattered throughout might be one of my favorite features, especially the one right prior to the demon entries. They evoke exploration and weird expanses.

2014-12-10 16.17.36 landscape

4. The best and most creative art seems to be for the monstrosities. See the aboleth below, for example. The worst is for the humanoids. I like the gnoll and ogre. The bullywug is okay but then it’s also really hard to mess up a frog person. Which leads me to…

5. Most unimpressive new visual identity: goblin. Successful goblins I have seen are cute (Gremlins and Pathfinder), Tolkienesque (Alan Lee and Angus McBride), or faerie tale (Arthur Rackham and Ian Miller). This one is just boring.

2014-12-10 16.21.36 goblin

6. Most impressive new visual identity: aboleth, probably. It no longer looks like a big fish with funny eyes and tentacles, but something truly alien and new. I don’t think I’ve seen anything that looks like it before. (And if you have the book, check out the smaller picture on the following page of an aboleth seemingly pulling itself over land with its tentacles.) There were a lot of other good candidates here though. See also the mind flayer (the Darth Vader style makes it really feel like an extradimensional invader) and the manticore (that mouth!).

2014-12-11 09.06.43 aboleth

7. Most unsuccessful illustration: tarrasque. Makes it seem about the size of a goat. Seriously, look at that thing and tell me it’s bigger than a large dog.

2014-12-10 16.27.35 tarrasque

8. Most successful illustration: I don’t know that I can pick just one. Green dragon, pit fiend, succubus & incubus, lich, medusa, wraith, pseudodragon, mind flayer, shadow, drow, darkmantle.

9. I like this succubus and incubus picture and appreciate that the incubus was made attractive too. Likewise with the angels (particularly the deva) and the yuan-ti (which also remind me of the snake men Masters of the Universe toys).

2014-12-10 16.27.08 incubus succubus

10. The demons and undead are effective except the marilith, which just looks awkward. Zombie is kind of weak, but lich, mummy, and wraith are awesome. Mummy approaches legit scary (something about the unnatural but yet still natural head shape) and that’s pretty rare in RPG illustrations.

2014-12-10 16.24.26 mummy

Monster design

Gus just posted about trick monsters, focusing on special attack modes (attacks that rust PC equipment, poison, and so forth). While I think attack modes can be a useful device to distinguish monsters, and can add to the puzzle nature of enemies, it is weaknesses and attack patterns that truly add distinctiveness to an enemy. Special attack modes can increase the danger of an opponent, and reward players for learning to avoid the attack (such as fighting poisonous giant spiders only from range), but can also make monsters more of a hazard to be avoided rather than a puzzle to be solved. This is not necessarily a bad thing–I certainly think pure hazard monsters have a place–but there are other opportunities available in monster design as well.

First, let’s review some weaknesses present in classic monsters. The basilisk can be petrified by its own gaze, though few guidelines other than requiring light at least equivalent to a torch are given. The bulette is AC -2 in most places, but only AC 6 under its raised crest and AC 4 at its eyes. Presumably those areas can be targeted using called shots. Chimeras have variable AC based on front, side, and rear. Dragons are vain, covetous, greedy, and vulnerable to flattery. Surprisingly, there seem to be few elemental vulnerabilities. Salamanders, which are fire based monsters, take an extra point of damage per die from cold attacks, and there are a few other cases like that, but, for example, while frost giants are immune to cold, they do not seem to take any extra damage from fire attacks. Many (all?) undead take damage from holy water. Rakshasas are killed instantly by blessed crossbow bolts. Puddings and oozes have a nice collection of reactions to various attack types that are too complicated to list here but have some interesting effects on gameplay. Giant slugs are not actually vulnerable to salt.

Many “vulnerabilities” are actually just the only way to damage a monster that is otherwise immune to attack. Lasting damage can only be dealt to a troll using fire or acid, for example, and wights can only be damaged by silver or enchanted weapons. This penchant for increasing monster danger by making them impervious to everything other than a few carefully chosen attack modes is appropriate for some creatures when easily intuited (ghosts being immune to physical blows, fire elementals being immune to fire, and so forth), but may not be the best approach in all cases.

Attack patterns are rarely seen in traditional D&D monsters, and this is a shame, because they potentially allow players to learn about monsters experientially in addition to via clues and rumors. 4E has a few nods in this direction, though they are more often phrased as capabilities and concerned more with balancing numbers than they are with encoding combat dynamics (the 4E approach to monster weaknesses was more about the four different defenses, which unfortunately are more about monster level than anything else). Giving some attacks a “recharge” limiting its ability to be used sequentially is a nice, usable mechanic, however.

I have been playing a lot of Dark Souls recently (more on that later in the form of a massive upcoming post), which has exceptionally good monster design. So as an exercise, I will stat up the Asylum Demon. Minor spoiler warning here I suppose, though this is only the first boss in the game. It is really part of the tutorial level, so I feel justified in potentially exposing some secrets. Now, this should be a massively punishing encounter if faced head-on, but should be possible to defeat, even for a basically equipped first level party, if approached intelligently. I added some touches of my own to help migrate from the video game to the tabletop context. I chose this monster in particular because it is essentially a physical beast that does not rely in its design on vulnerability to specific energy types or similar things and effectiveness fighting it should depend primarily on tactical decisions. Numerical scale assumes OD&D but would probably work okay in B/X or AD&D as well, with slightly lessened difficulty.

Here is a good video of the fight against the Asylum Demon.

Asylum Demon

Asylum demon gonna step on you (source)

Asylum demon gonna step on you (source)

HD 10, AC as chain (5/14), movement as encumbered human (lumbering walk and awkward flying). Any human not lugging a chest or similar oversized object will be able to outrun the asylum demon.

Asylum demons are horrific, bulbous, brutal demons. They are often guardians unable to range extensively from their post.

Several enemies near: horizontal weapon sweep attack, +10 vs. AC, 1d6 damage, compare one attack roll to all nearby enemies.

A good target at reach: hammer slam 2d6 damage, save (vs. stone?) for half.

No enemies near: fly awkwardly up towards biggest cluster of opponents and attempt to position for good attack next round. Any opponents that do not scatter additionally subject to stomp next round for 1d6 damage, save (vs. stone?) for half.

Weak in the mouth, back of neck, and rear shank. Called shot to the mouth is possible with reach (if adjacent or climbing/grappling) or missile weapons at -4. Accessing the back of the neck requires either jumping from above or climbing first. Successful attack against the mouth or rear shank deals +1d6 damage and to the back of the neck deals +2d6 damage (other additional backstab damage may also apply).

Immune to ranged attacks from human scale missiles such as arrows, bolts, or hurled spears. They “stick it its leathery hide ineffectually.”

Clues: it roars periodically, “exposing pink, fleshy mouth skin.” Anyone behind the demon should notice the “mottled, unprotected rear shank” (though note the demon will never expose this area unless proactively flanked). Consider including balconies or other high vantage points nearby to allow for jump attacks and make sure to mention them when describing the area initially. Asylum demons are huge, lumber brutes and their heavy treads can generally be heard though several walls.

Salvage: asylum demon hide is useful for making leather armor that is particularly protective versus piercing attacks (as plate versus piercing, 1d6 suits worth per demon skin). The weapons they carry are quite fearsome, but may require superhuman strength to wield effectively (yeah, this depends on some other subsystem or ruling that I am not going to get into here).

Is this too much text for a single monster? Perhaps. It is always hard to gauge for yourself how useful a writeup will be to others since, as the author, you already have a good idea in your head of what it is you are going for, but I think this compares favorably with many published monsters, and I think the trigger/action format, with important points emphasized, would be easier to use at the table.

The 2E monstrous manual presented foes as a collection of common game stats (AC, movement, HD, THAC0, etc) along with sections on combat, habitat/society, and ecology. While there are nuggets of useful game info buried within these page-long entries, and some creative world building, for purposes of running encounters it seems like some other categories might be more useful. Triggers for different kinds of attacks, clues to weaknesses, and guidelines for placement, as shown in the asylum demon entry above, are all candidates. Also, fears, hates, and desires. Some such things can often be derived from common knowledge (such as wild animals or carnivores being able to be distracted with rations or livestock), but other details may merit a mention (for example, the wraiths in the Vaults of Pahvelorn will often not molest intruders if they are brought sacrifices to drain). I clued that with remains of previous sacrifices.

All D&D examples in this post were drawn from the 2E Monstrous Manual because it was nearby.

OD&D dungeon monsters

Pages 10 and 11 of The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures (OD&D book three) contain tables for the determination of wandering monsters in the dungeon, one for each dungeon level, down to level six. These tables have eight to twelve entries each. In addition to containing information about implied setting, this collection of monsters functions in a certain way with other rules elsewhere in the game. While OD&D is robust enough to work just fine if other monsters are used, these linkages, and the roles that these monsters serve, are still interesting to consider.

Special monster attacks and defenses interact with equipment and character abilities. Monster defenses require special weapons to overcome. Silver weapons are required to damage lycanthropes, magic weapons are needed to combat gargoyles and many kinds of undead, acid or fire is needed to fully destroy trolls. Monster attacks can be resisted by certain defenses or cured by particular resources. The antidote to poison is the fourth-level cleric spell neutralize poison, petrification can be fixed by the sixth-level magic-user spell stone to flesh, elves are useful for resisting ghoul paralysis, mummy disease (which impairs recovery) can be handled with cure disease, basilisk gaze attacks can be reflected with mirrors, scrolls of protection are useful against entire monster groupings. And so forth.

Another pattern to note is that most levels draw monsters from the same set of categories, though not all levels have examples of monsters from every category. For example, magic-users only show up on levels two and deeper, and giant animals only appear on the first four levels. All the monsters in a particular category may not just be palette-swapped, but they do tend to broadly share qualities such as types of attack and vulnerabilities. The most common wandering monster categories seem to be: fighters, magic-users, undead, humanoids, giant animals, dragon types (though only on the deepest two levels). This is important because these categories communicate threat information to players that can be used profitably against more powerful variants of the same monster type.

The content triumvirate of monsters, equipment, and spells work together as a set of interconnected, opposing relationships. Monsters have strengths and weaknesses, which can be defended against, or exploited by, the tools available to players, which include those aforementioned categories. Replacing these elements with new, custom content is a common method of constructing a unique and surprising campaign setting. By no means do I wish to suggest that this is inadvisable. It may even be necessary to engage or challenge experienced players. However, it is probably worth considering these game mechanical relationships and making sure that similar dynamics exist within new collections of monsters as well, rather than making every creature entirely unique and unpredictable.

See also, regarding interactions between game constructs:


You're going to die in there (source)

Cropped image from here

I just recently watched the first season of American Horror Story, which was way better than I expected (Jessica Lange in particular is wonderful, but the entire cast does a good job). Rather than discuss the series in detail though, here is a review in monster form.

After death, sometimes spirits remain trapped partially in the material world, unable to cross over completely to the next phase of existence (be that some unknown Elysium or only pure nothingness). This can happen either due to black magic or spontaneously out of a particularly horrific death. Ghosts are trapped in incompleteness, forever yearning for that which they sought in life, be it companionship, insight, victory, or something else.

Ghosts have free will but are stuck, to some degree, in the mindset they were in at the time of death. The longer they remain bound to the material world in ghost form, the more extreme this becomes, until they become, to a mortal perspective, insane and completely fixated upon past concerns. All ghost actions should be performed with an eye to the ghost’s longing. Most ghosts are not immediately violent (though some are), but instead are manipulative, seeking to extract from the living what is needed to fill their hollow, unending existence.

Within their domain, ghosts may use minor telekinesis and telepathy at will. They may also physically manifest. This material form should be listed in standard stat block form, and will generally match statistics in life, with several minor adjustments, as noted below. The material form of a ghost will often reflect the method of death (visible wounds, and so forth), though such marks may be suppressed by the ghost with effort or occasionally forgotten. When material, ghosts may be hurt, and even slain, exactly as if they were mortal, though such a death will not permanently destroy the ghost. If slain by mundane means, a ghost will reconstitute within one exploration turn (10 minutes). Despite being dead, ghosts can still feel pain (though it is muted somewhat by their alienation from the warmth of life), and thus being killed often puts them in a foul mood. If slain by magic or mystical means (including holy water and turning), a ghost will take a full day to reconstitute. Every decade of bondage adds another hit die (usually to a maximum of 10), and the difficulty of turning a particular ghost should be proportional to its hit die total.

Ghosts may only leave the location to which they are bound once per year, on All Hallows’ Eve. Otherwise, their influence is limited to the place of haunting or actions taken by mortals in proxy. If this location is a structure, destroying the structure itself may temporarily prevent the spirits from affecting the world directly, but any new structure built on the remains of the old will slowly come to be haunted by the previous location’s spirits. And anyone living long near the ruins will feel a strange compulsion to build on the site.

Anyone slain in a haunted place becomes a ghost themselves, bound to the same location eternally. Such places can become quite crowded. Some ghosts may be laid to rest by righting some past wrong, or satisfying their hunger finally, but others are insatiable, especially if things have been stolen from them that are irreplaceable.

GM Lessons from Aliens

This is a guest post from Stuart of Robertson Games.

Originally, a year or more ago, Stuart shared this essay privately on Google Plus. I thought it was insightful enough that I saved a text copy for my own personal use, and recently while looking through some of my files I came upon it again. It was a shame, I thought, that it was not available to the general web, and so I asked Stuart if he was amenable to me publishing it as a guest post here, and he generously agreed. All words below the horizontal rule are Stuart’s, very lightly edited for flow in the blog post context.

Everything I Need to Know About GMing I Learned from Aliens

Aliens (source)

Aliens (source)

Aliens was very influential in the way I approach GMing. Over the years I’ve noticed that there are so many great tips for running the style of game I enjoy that can be taken from this movie. That doesn’t mean the genre or plot of the movie (although I think it could work) but rather little bits and pieces that are applicable to running a game about exploration and adventure with a lot of suspense and danger.

Very important is that the Aliens don’t show up until well into the movie, but you see lots of clues about them earlier in the film. Fighting a monster isn’t as scary as knowing there’s a monster somewhere in the environment and learning about how much you don’t want to be fighting that monster.

The monsters move around the environment and your actions (or inactions) have a lot of bearing on what will happen when you run into them. Aliens is not a “kick in the door, kill the monsters, take their stuff” kind of movie. When the Marines try that kind of thing in the Reactor Room… it goes very badly for them. Scouting, sentries, patrols — and fighting withdrawals are an important element.

When the Marines set off at the beginning of the film there’s a lot of bravado and they have lots of big guns, armour, and they feel very confident. They’re soldiers. But “It won’t make any difference” if they start making bad choices and their strategy is poor. The situation isn’t one they can make their way through on force of arms alone.

There’s a big group of Marines initially. Some, like Hicks, Hudson and Vasquez are more well defined characters (like PCs) while others like Crowe, Spunkmeyer and Frost aren’t around long enough for us to learn much about their personalities (like Retainers). Seeing the group suffer casualties lets you realize how dangerous the situation is and the main characters can shift their tactics before they’re removed from the game/story (“Drake! We are LEAVING!”).

Even the humour in the movie is what I think the right balance for a scary and tension filled adventure game. Monty Python jokes and “silly” jokes can spoil the mood, removing the tension and making everyone take the game less seriously. While darker humorous moments won’t do that. Characters losing their cool in humours ways (“Game over man! GAME OVER!”) or suggesting clearly ridiculous things that demonstrate they’re not handling the situation well (“Maybe we should build a fire. Sing some songs.”) adds levity but doesn’t take the players out of the game world.

Monstrous armor

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

Wyvern-scale armor. Heavy armor, AC 3 [16]. When properly worked by a knowledgable armorer, wyvern-scale armor is amazingly light. So light, in fact, that it both floats and does not add to encumbrance. Maintaining the armor in fighting condition requires careful and continuous oiling and care, though no special or expensive oils are required. If wyvern-scale armor is not oiled for more than a week, it becomes brittle and begins to fall apart (this process cannot be halted or reversed; the armor is ruined). It is assumed that knowledgeable PCs will maintain their wyvern-scale armor adequately, and this downside will only manifest if the armor is lost or the PC is trapped away from maintenance materials for an extended period of time. When freshly made, wyvern-scale also has a very distinct aroma, undetectable by most humans, but clear to many animals and beasts, making achieving surprise more difficult in some circumstances (the scent may be perceived as either terrifying or aggressive, depending on the creature in question). After proper aging, the scent is said to dissipate, but experts estimate that such an aging processes requires the better part of 1000 years. Crafting cost & time: 1000 GP and 1d6 weeks, assuming access to a knowledgable craftsperson. One wyvern yields the materials for 1-2 suits.

Purple worm leather. Light armor, AC 7 [12]. One part of the dermis of the giant violet worm can be made into effective, flexible, and durable light armor. The armor, if properly made, remains partially alive (though its method of sustenance is unknown), and it slowly leeches alchemical compounds into the wearers body, granting a +2 bonus to saving throws versus poison after the armor has been worn regularly for at least one week. The wearer’s eyes and tongue also slowly take on a purple hue at this time. The armor feels slightly warm to the touch. The worm skin is too bulky to combine effectively with other forms of armor (such as plate + worm skin) but can be worked into heavy rain-capes or coats for those that seek only the poison resistance and cosmetic effects. The poison resistance does not persist when the armor is removed (sages suggest that the skin must release some further compound in response to poison). Most skins result in a vaguely tigerlike pattern of alternating brown and vibrant purple, and the color does not dull with age. Purple worm leather can be killed. Assume the armor needs to make a save versus death if the wearer is reduced to 0 HP by trauma (use the wearer’s save number). It will also mend itself naturally. Crafting cost & time: 100 GP and 1 week. One worm provides materials for a number of garments equal to its hit dice.




As part of the recent Swords & Wizardry Complete reissue Kickstarter, the S&W Monster Book was also replaced by the new Monstrosities. The basic format is one page per monster, each with a picture, somewhat reminiscent of the second edition Monstrous Manual. It is a relatively large book (slightly over 550 pages), though not so large that it is unpleasant to use. The interior is all black and white.

First, the positives. The cover image is evocative and unique. The rich color is gorgeous, and it avoids the looking like a cliche fantasy picture. It actually looks like a painting. I could see how the cover might not be to all tastes, but I like it. The binding is sturdy (and signature sewn). Overall, the physical artifact feels like a well-made book, and is up to the (high) bookbinding standards of Frog God Games. Each monster also includes an encounter sketch, which is a great idea.

Monstrosities further shines as an OGL reference work for module writers that want to reference classic monsters. The entire text (not the images) is OGL, and each monster has stats in single line form (convenient for copying & pasting) in addition to the AD&D multi-line key/value standard. This is actually a useful form of redundancy. The Tome of Horrors Complete included a short tutorial about how to reuse OGL monsters legally too, which would have been a nice sort of thing to include in Monstrosities.

There are plenty of good monsters contained within. Malizsewski’s HP-draining “redcap” version of the goblin has creepy fairytale atmosphere and uncommon, interesting mechanics. Sean Wills contributed an adventurer-trapping worm that lures explorers into its stomach creatively. Or Random’s parasitic spectre (it does more or less what you would expect, but it’s still a good idea, and well implemented). Just for three examples.

Can you tell what this smear is supposed to be?

Can you tell what this smear is supposed to be?

That said, there are also quite a few negatives. First, the interior art is mostly uninspired. It ranges from okay to downright bad (with obvious computer shading). There are a few good pieces by Jason Sholtis, though even those are often reused from other products. In the age of plentiful, inspired talent on sites like DeviantArt, this seems to be a huge shortcoming, especially in a bestiary. More samples are provided at the bottom of this post.

Page space use

Page space use

Second, and most glaring, is that many of the pages are between 25 and 50 percent blank. Some are more than half blank. While the encounter sketches are welcome, the total absence any maps was also a lost opportunity. Consider how good a book like this could have been if filled with Dyson-style lair maps? That is an as yet unfilled market niche.

Third, many pages are spent on classic monsters such as goblins. Pretty much all trad rule sets (including all three versions of Swords & Wizardry) include a good portion of these monsters. To be fair, some of these retreads are somewhat redeemed by the included encounter sketches, but I still wonder about the intended audience. There already exist good, free references of classic monsters for the original game (see every retro-clone with a free version), and of course the original Monster Manual is not hard to find. This also means that the creative, community-created monsters mentioned above are mixed in with old standbys like rocs, sahuagin, and shadows. While this is not a huge problem, it does dilute what could otherwise have been a unique bestiary with a very strong personality, like the Fiend Folio (which is now back in print!). Basically, same-old creatures feel a bit like padding (and probably inflate the price).

Some pages are almost a total wash. For example, the entirety of the useful information content on the zombie raven page are the words “zombie” and “raven.” Now, I like zombie ravens just as much as the next necromancer, but I don’t need a page of text to tell me that they can fly, that they have 1 HD, that they have undead immunities, and that an encounter with them might entail a flock. Does anybody? I can’t imagine that being useful to even a total newcomer.

Overall, there are some good ideas in the text part of the book, but the illustrations are hugely disappointing and the layout is a bad use of space. I don’t want to sound too negative–as Wayne R. writes, the encounters in Monstrosities could, strung together, make an reasonable hex crawl, and it would be interesting to see such an implied setting come into focus.


This is a “pyre” zombie, so I think that is supposed to be flame

Hey, this one is good!

Hey, this one is good! …

... but it is also an example of terrible layout.

…but it also is an example of terrible layout.



Sholtis' shroom is good, but also in Demonspore

Sholtis’ shroom has a goofy majesty, but it’s also in Demonspore

Hello, smudge tool

Too much smudge tool