“Professor Pendrake, I Presume?” A Review of Privateer Press’ Monsternomicon

Monsternomicon CoverI love a good monster source-book.  As fun as it is to pour over character classes or races in a player driven rule-book nothing sucks me into the lore of a world quite as well as it’s monstrous critters and villains.  When I was younger, before discovering Tabletop RPG’s, I would read a lot of nonfiction dedicated to our world’s various species, and revel in some of the more dangerous variety.  It’s easy to see how I, and many others who hold the same love of cataloging beasts, could come to adore an RPG’s alphabetical listing of what “atrocities of nature” the fantasy world holds to pit against us.  Not to mention, as someone who typically runs games, I certainly enjoy a myriad of extra ways to lay wast… I mean, “challenge”, my players.  Privateer Press’ Monsternomicon doesn’t fail to impress.  We are introduced to over forty monsters of nature, machine, and supernatural, all unique and well fleshed.  A must have for any Game Master working their story in the Iron Kingdoms.

ARTWORK AND PRESENTATION

Monsternomicon - Hollowed

A Hallowed wants to eat your organs. Don’t feel too special, it wants to eat EVERYONE’S organs.

Every source-book in the relaunched Iron Kingdoms has been made of sturdy stuff and has featured a style of art found across the board in all of Privateer Press’ materials set in the world.  This book is no exception.  While I always prefer hardcover books to paperback the size of this source-book, coming in at exactly 100 pages, means it would have been an unnecessary cost.  Paperback does not mean it is a weak product though, the binding appears hearty and the two covers as well.

We begin with a section that explains how to understand the layout of the monster pages and some of the rules surrounding their anatomy and size categories.  Then we drift into the meat of the book, the monsters themselves. The final bit at the end is an Appendix of Creature Templates that can be affixed to most any monster in the book, this can add on some truly terrifying aspects to challenge players with.

Monsternomicon- Scylla Stat Block and Description

Every monster layout includes at least a quarter page image of the creature, fully colored and boldly presented.  Each monster is handled with, at least, a full two page detailing.  On those pages will be an introduction, a stat block, a deeper description, combat details, a bit of lore, and finally some of the creature’s abilities.  Sometimes, if the monster is decidedly interesting or dangerous, it may bleed into a third or even forth page where further customization options are given.  It is plain to see that with two page spreads, some extra pages, and the Creature Templates, there was a dedicated effort to really flesh these baddies out.

Monsternomicon - Crypt Spider page

The layout of the book is solid and the artwork as clean and bold as ever.  The only thing I would have liked to see tacked onto the end would be one or more indexes.  These could arrange the monsters in different ways than the alphabetical Table of Contents.  Perhaps one to list them by Encounter Points so we could assess their potential danger to a party, or even one that listed by environment.  Otherwise I have few complaints.

THE FEARED BEASTIES

This Croak is not impressed with your Warjack son.

This Croak is not impressed with your Warjack son.

For those unfamiliar with the Iron Kingdoms it is a land of civilized, magically steam-powered armies at war with one another and at the same time encroaching upon some of the darker recesses of the world’s, very dangerous, natural landscapes.  So it is fitting that the creatures in this book cover a wide berth of monsters that are, as mentioned in my introduction, naturally occurring, machine based, and supernatural.  Each monster’s stat block will be instantly recognizable to anyone familiar with the system.  They are well presented, eye catching, and all inclusive.  The abilities portion of a creature’s stats is then found on the second page.  This may make the layout flow better but also forces you to draw from two separate areas for a monster’s pertinent combat stats, and could pose minor nuisance to those who would find it cleaner to have them back to back.

Monsternomicon- Argus Lore

A bit of Lore about the Argus, here’s hoping you roll a 10 and realizes you’ll soon be paralyzed.

More so than stats I’m a fan of descriptions and lore surrounding the monsters I use.  The Monsternomicon handles this very well.  I personally love the introduction of Professor Viktor Pendrake, a fictional Dr. Livingstone for the Iron Kingdoms.  Each entry in the book is hailed by a few words of advice, colloquialisms, or stories surrounding the creature by the good Professor himself.  It adds a nice, often humorous, touch to the reader’s introduction to the beast.  The physical descriptions are in depth for assistance in visualizing what lay before someone and the combat section gives solid details on how the monster may approach it’s hapless victims.  There is a Lore section dedicated to a “by the numbers” list of what a Lore roll may uncover for a player first encountering the monster.  I really like that there isn’t just one number to meet but rather a detailed scaling list of information so that better rolls really do uncover a variety of useful bits of information.

Monsternomicon- Dragonspawn Stat Blocks

Some individual creatures have some very involved customization rules even without the creature templates. Dragonspawn have a ton of options!

The best way to determine the level of challenge these creatures pose to a party of players is to use the creature’s “Encounter Points” number as a reference.  In the first part of the book you are directed to the section in the Core Rule-book, Page 333 of Full Metal Fantasy, to get a handle on encounter building.  I would have loved to see perhaps one or two pages dedicated to encounter building within the Monsternomicon, but at least they give you the exact page to reference in the Core Book.  The Encounter Point spread in this supplement ranges from 1 point per creature to a whopping 47 points!  Although that last number represents one singularly horrifying creature, the Dracodile, everything else falls between the numbers 1-20.  There is a lot of variety between those numbers and a few outliers actually have Encounter Point ratings that depend on choices you make for the creature.  You’ll find you have a lot of options at any Encounter Point level.  Failing that, you can choose some add-ons from the Creature Templates at the back of the book to not only adjust their capabilities, but also how many points they are worth.  Sample templates include Blighted, where a creature has spent too much time in the vicinity of a dragon or Trained, meaning some creature has been worked with by someone so that it can follow simple commands.  Each of these Creature Templtes is really fleshed out.  I see them adding a lot to any foe (or even ally! Whose to say a character couldn’t train something?).

Objects in picture far far larger than they appear. The Dracodile gets to make use of the new Huge-Based Creature rules. Isn't that fun!?

Objects in picture far far larger than they appear. The Dracodile gets to make use of the new Huge-Based Creature rules. Isn’t that fun!?

I’ve more than hinted all along this review that I’m impressed with the book.  I feel there were a few things they could have added to enhance the experience but my largest complaints could be resolved with some additional, light, effort on my part.  I could create my own list of creatures sorted by Encounter Points (and I intend to do so, it will be available in my tools section) and it’s not that hard to flip open the Core Book when i need a refresher on Encounter Building.  The book is gorgeous and will certainly enhance anyone’s experience playing this RPG.  I consider it one of the three Core books for the Iron Kingdoms RPG.  Those being Iron Kingdoms Core Rules, Monsternomicon, and the yet to be released Unleashed (Monsternomicon will be fully compatible with unleashed as well).  Look for my review of Unleashed just prior to release next year.  For now, pick up the Monsternomicon as soon as you can when it releases on September 24th, you won’t be disappointed.

-Melvs

(RoS FTW!)

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