Book of Beasts: Monsters of the Shadow Plane
By Thilo Graf
The first of the supplements from Jon Brazer Enterprises for the upcoming Shadowsfall-products centred on the shadow plane, the latest Book of Beasts (the predecessor made it on my top-10-2011-list) is 52 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page blank inside the front cover, 1 page editorial/SRD, 1 page ToC, 1 page containing suitable monsters from the core-books (nice support for the DM!), 1 page advertisement, 1 page blank inside back cover, 1 page back cover, leaving 44 pages of content, so let’s check this out!
After the lists in the beginning, we are introduced to the first new beast, and glorious it is: The Black Worm (CR 18) is essentially the shadow plane-version of a purple worm, just…well…worse – add negative energy breath weapons, insane SR etc and you’re in for a good example of what to expect from this book: While the beasts herein are thematically linked and shadow-plane-themed, they do feature massively different abilities from their prime material counterparts, if such exist. Also, each entry features a descriptive fluff of the beast and some text by one of the survivors or other players of the setting. The CR 7 Centaur Raav is an undead centaur with scyth-blades at the arms and bone-spikes protruding from their skeletal frames. While cool, the semi-incorporeal Clawed Kaidan (CR 9) features an aura of lethargy and feature not only a disturbing artwork, but also abilities to match and a neat weakness.
Truly disturbing and one of my favourites in this book is the (blandly named) CR 6 Darkling – Troll-like fey with an aura of silence, the ability to spray deadly snow and wicked stone axes – awesome creatures supplemented by a stellar b/w-artwork. The CR 17 Deathhands, hunters of Charon seeking to kill people who cheated death also make for a neat take on the Grim Reaper-trope. The Quake Dragons (3 sample stats) are also a neat new creature and actually a kind of dragon that does add something to the draconic family. Dread Gargoyles, essentially CR 10 more badasss gargoyles, are the first creature that somewhat fell short for me personally, in spite of its disturbing ability to form the stone of their own body. Then, there are the Dull Mites (CR 2), shadow plane versions of the mites that can steal your colours! Of course, we also get shadow elementals, rather tricky customers (6 statblocks) and while there’s nothing bad about them, they fall terribly short of the…
GREAT DODO (CR 7)! Yep, you read right, there are still giant dods on the plane of shadows and they subconsciously know that your ancestors have hunted them to extinction on the prime material, thus making them even more ferocious and fuelling their rage of extinction. Fast, deadly, cool and a little bit silly, the Great Dodo is a prime example of stellar monster design. For those discerning liches who are truly equal-opportunity, we get 2 stats for hunchbacked skeletons and then there are the Helblar (3 statblocks) – these undead guardians of the graveyards adhere to special ethics and woe to any who disturb their chosen fields….
On the iconic and truly disturbing side of things, we get two new kinds of Kytons -the CR 11 Dermestide (who skins foes alive and wears the straps like a mummy) and the CR 1 Noxil Kyton, who wears a spiked head mask and a heavy pendulum blade attached to it, forever suffering under its weight – very cool idea and features a unique fighting style – especially awesome for a CR 1 creature – they feel wholly distinct from any regular creatures of the same CR. Kudos!
The shadowplane is not Oz, yet there are Monkeybats (CR 1/4) as well and the filth is both a carrier for diseases and a great component for wizards. Not so great for wizards (or any other living being) is the new Nightstalker (CR 12), a lion-like Nightshade of black flames that heals via inducing fear while it leads its undead armies. The Onyx ooze (CR 8)on the other hand is a rudimentary intelligent predator that will make your PCs double-check any source of water.
The Phantasm Swarm, a conglomerate of dissolved souls forever barred from the afterlife (CR 12) seeks to wreck its vengeance on any priests and pious characters (and comes as an undead swarm with an awesome artwork). The new Memitim Psychopomp (CR 14, I still can’t get over the creature class-name – not the fault of this book, though) is a kind of reaper-angel that tries to escort powerful beings into the afterlife. When compared with this array of awesome beings, the CR 3 Shade Aurans, amphibious frog-like humanoids fall somewhat short, but this is offset a bit by two new statblocks on spectres and information on legendary spectres of the Shadowsfall.
Grognards like yours truly get a nice blast from the past/homage in the form of the Spiderbear, a CR 9 magical beast that had me remember Mishka and his dread demons. The CR 19 Starak is not even a bit cute – a class of legendary beasts, their control of the earth itself makes them for dragon-strength foes below the surface – very cool. The Unquiet Giant (CR 13) has a nice twist on the trope of the undead giant: They rhyme while squishing foes! While the idea is cool, I have some problems with this creature: a) I think it should have been a template. b) Been there, done that – x times. c) with exactly that (admittedly gorgeous) artwork – I’ve seen it 5 (!!!) times in different publications – we need a new undead giant artwork out there! The final creature of the pdf is the vampiric tree, an iconic CR 10 blood draining, voracious part of the flora that ensures that going to the deep dark forest is nothing to laugh about – they stun you via bark darts and then pummel you into submission to ram their blood-draining, fang-like roots into your body – ouch!
The appendices provide ample additional undead for your campaign, i.e. 5 different shadows (including a titan centipede shadow!), 6 sample skeletons, 6 sample zombies, the darkened template (CR +1), 4 sample creatures and for your convenience’s sake, reprint some universal monster rules and monster feats as well as the rules for the shadow subtypes and a list of creatures by CR.
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn’t notice any glitches, which is quite a feat over so many pages. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly 2-column b/w-standard that features awesome artworks – kudos to the participating artists. The pdf is extensively bookmarked, adding to the usability of the book and the overall organization of the content is awesome. The bits and pieces of information on the settings, specific individuals/advanced creatures etc. made me anticipate more books from the line and the overall standard of the critters, their signature abilities and sheer iconic qualities has baffled me – while there were 3 creatures that felt like falling a bit short of the standard of the book, said standard is so high that this was to be anticipated. In fact, I was rather baffled that this book turned out not to be another selection of easily exchangeable undead/dark creatures, but rather contains a wealth of cool creatures and ideas. If I had to voice one gripe I have with this book, then it would be that it does not include hazards and sample NPCs like its predecessor, but I gather that’s because of the other books in the line. Thus, I look forward to seeing more supplements for the plane of shadows and, taking the more than fair price into account, remain with a final verdict of 5 stars and a definite recommendation for this excellent bestiary.
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