By Christopher W. Richeson
The Creature Catalog offers monsters, important NPCs, templates, hazards, and other options to help bring a Dark Sun campaign to life. This imaginative resource provides excellent support for any Dark Sun game, and further fleshes out the setting through its discussion of the many hazards of daily life. With attention paid to each of the Sorcerer Kings along with examples of each of the major races in the setting, this book furthers the reader’s understanding of the setting in addition to providing new antagonists.
The Good: The monsters do a good job of emphasizing the deadliness of the Dark Sun setting, at least in theme. The brief discussion of customizing monsters for the setting is a worthwhile addition. The beautiful artwork really brings the setting to life.
The Bad: More undead and elementals would have been welcome. The Sorcerer Kings have limited application as direct antagonists since their defeat should really be the culmination of a campaign.
The Physical Thing
At $19.95 (£14.99) this 144 page full color hardcover showcases the very highest production values of the RPG market today. Monsters are sorted alphabetically and indexed by challenge level, making navigation a snap. The editing is excellent, the background information on the creatures enjoyable, and every aspect of the entries communicates setting information and the role the entity plays in the world.
Under the Cover
As a DM who prefers Heroic-tier campaigns, I’m quite pleased to see that about half of the product is dedicated to Heroic adversaries. A broad variety of humanoids and monsters are included, with a general emphasis on raiders and aberrations throughout the book. While there is a worthwhile variety of monsters, the goal of the product seems to be to produce a lot of harsh, blood spilling battles with monstrous creatures and desperate people rather than to introduce strange antagonists. This book works well for all Dark Sun games, but I think it works particularly well for an arena based game where the adversary list will particularly shine.
Instead of simply listing the different entries, let me tell you about some of my favourites. The one I enjoy most is the Silt Horror. In this edition the Horror reminds me of the Watcher in the Water from The Lord of the Rings, since it is a single solo entity that is also supported by its tentacles which are treated like independent monsters. The Horror is a Solo Lurker, but the tentacles take the roles of Soldier, Skirmisher, and Brute as the DM desires. In this way the encounter is much more interesting for the DM, and the text offers suggestions for how to make the encounter even more challenging for particularly competent groups. This is a very tough adversary, especially when played smart (willing to submerge, willing to drown others, etc.) and exactly what I want to see in a Dark Sun campaign.
The Zombie Cactus perfectly reinvigorated my love for the incredibly deadly plants detailed in the old Dark Sun monster books. If the players don’t pass a Nature check to notice the cactus for what it is they risk coming into range of its spores. Close Burst 3, +14 vs. Will, domination, -5 to save vs. the domination for the next turn, and permanent control of those killed by the spores results in a potentially nasty encounter especially for groups already injured. This 11 Elite Lurker also has 11 Minion Brutes in the form of reanimated zombies, each of which can also spore burst, resulting in a potentially deadly encounter for a group weak on Will saves. I particularly like the idea of seeding this adversary in cursed areas that villagers never return from, an innocuous foe that steals the lives of the curious before they know what’s happening.
Athasian Giants offer several unique approaches to this race. Beast Giants are the most likely to be encountered. These creatures have all the size and power of their cousins on other worlds, but with dangerous animal bites and psionic powers to aid their fighting. Shadow Giants are extremely dangerous, using their insubstantiality to sneak up on prey and then draining the prey of life energy. Beast Titans, the oldest Beast Giants, are even more dangerous thanks to years of successful slaughter and the knowledge gained through countless battles. It’s good to see this unique take on giants in the setting, especially since giants have always been one of the more common unusual races found in Dark Sun.
There’s plenty of other material to enjoy here. The Dragon of Tyr offers a truly epic level 33 Solo encounter, which is appropriate when fighting the biggest, scariest thing in the setting. The Sorcerer Kings vary in power, but each could easily serve as an antagonist to end a campaign with. A few pages on Hazards and templates for antagonists aid in spicing up the battles with appropriate terrain and considerations. Finally, a couple of pages are dedicated to showing how many other monsters can be made more appropriate for the setting with just a few tweaks.
This is a solid product that could have been improved. I’d rather have seen stats for notorious undead and more undead in general instead of having all the Sorcerer Kings detailed. Additional cacti and elementals would also have been nice. Still, this is a must have for anyone intending to run a Dark Sun campaign and the book does a good job of both providing additional appropriate antagonists as well as further evoking the setting.
This review was first published by Christopher W. Richeson at RPG.net and is reproduced here with the author’s permission.