Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Creature Catalog Review - Dragon #89

 For some reason I'm getting dozens of blog views from shady redirecting advert sites, should I be worried?

Anyway, today I’m going to do something short and sweet (or long and laborious), a review of Dragon #89’s Creature Catalog feature. My next post will probably be about Dungeon Crawl Classics, then I’ll do something for Heroes & Other Worlds. If your eye glaze over at walls of text, skip to the end where I’ll talk about the monsters that I think are worth salvaging from this.

Amitok by Roger Moore

7-foot tall Yeti-esque offshoots of Hobgoblins who live in arctic climes. They dig tunnels in snow. They hate Humans and dislike everything. Except for Quaggoths, who they dislike but work with? And local Humans will call these assholes “demons” so that the DM has an opportunity to screw over the players. I really don’t see the point of these guys. Almost anything they could add to a story could also be done by Quaggoths or Yeti instead, and probably better too. I mean, I guess they would be good minions/speedbumps in campaign building up toward a showdown with Cryonax (explicitly identified as their deity) or Frost Giants. 

Killer Beetle by Ed Greenwood

Why did the 12-foot long psychic beetle with four tentacles around its mouth cross the mountain pass? To eat the party’s Halfling. This is basically the type of monster I expect to see in something like Dungeon Crawl Classics. Their entry doesn’t mention any ability to speak languages but I would give it to them anyway (magic, ain’t gotta explain shit). Imagine the classic “Troll toll bridge” scenario but instead of a Troll it’s a giant psychic beetle, instead of a bridge there’s a mountain pass, and instead of gold he wants fresh meat.

Bichir by Ed Greenwood

This is apparently a real type of real-world fish just enlarged to about four times normal size for bullshit D&D reasons? It can also use Entangle for extra screw-over-the-party moments. I mean, it does have a certain amount of charm and it would add flavor to a “weird swamp” area but it’s nothing to write home about.

Bohun Tree by Ed Greenwood

Deep in the heart of The Bullshit Woods lurks the sinister Bohun Tree. Its luscious red fruit has an 80% chance to paralyse anyone who cuts it open and a 10% chance to just kill them. And if the unfortunate manages to actually eat it then he dies within 2d4 turns unless he makes a save vs. poison with a -4 penalty. 90% of Elves are immune to this. It’s also intelligent and can shoot thorns. This thing is garbage.

Calygraunt by Ed Greenwood

This is another “just fuck your players’ shit up” monster in the vein of the Disenchanter or Rust Monster. This thing can activate any magic item it can identify (which it has 70-90% chance of doing), activating it in such way as to “cause it to harm the bearer or those nearby”. How horrifying.

Cantobele by Ed Greenwood

This is a Leucrotta with worse AC and HD but more (and shittier) attacks. For what purpose?

Corkie by Roger Moore

It’s a two-foot long gopher with horns. The only thing moderate interesting about this creature is that it’s noted that small humanoids like Kobolds, Goblins, and Halflings sometimes use their abandoned tunnels. That’s somewhat interesting, I guess?

Duleep by Ed Greenwood

It’s a swarm of things that look like cobwebs and they can Shocking Grasp people. Yeah. These monsters aren’t improving my views on Mr. Greenwood.

Explodestool by Alan Zumwalt

These are tiny mushrooms that explode for 1d2 damage and can cause chain reactions. It’s short, it’s simple, it goes well in the Underdark, and it generally only deals enough damage to annoy but not to kill. It can also be an interesting alarm or early warning system for cave-/dungeon-dwellers. Fun little idea.

Fachan by Roger Moore

Mutant Ogres with only one eye, hand, and leg. They hop around and eat people. Pretty boring stuff but the magic item you can make from them is pretty flavorful: A Gauntlet of Fachan Power gives one (and only one) arm Str 18/00 and if a character wears two the magic won’t work. Too bad the monster is so damn boring.

Flailtail by Ed Greenwood

It’s a fish thing with a big tail and a mouth. Sometimes it allies with other creatures to get more food. There could be a seed for faction play or something here but it doesn’t spark my creativity.

Ghunna by Tomas Willis

Gnoll Were-hyenadons created by Yeenoghu. They’re elitists among Gnolls. Might be of use in a Gnoll-heavy/oriented campaign.

Glasspane Horror by Rosemary and Don Webb

A moderately interesting treasure guard that would be more interesting if the authors hadn’t inserted a “can’t be bribed” clause.

Giant Horseshoe Crab by Ed Greenwood

It’s a Horseshoe Crab. It’s Giant. It can cast Shocking Grasp and Lightning Bolt for some reason. Bravo, Greenwood.

Ihagnim by Roger Moore

A giant amoeba with the consistency of plastic that makes Bags of Devouring (they’re portals to its “stomach”). Much like the Corkie, this thing apparently only exists to explain where those cursed bags come from.

Millikan by Mark Nuvier

This is one of those examples of the dark side of Gygaxian Naturalism. It’s a fire-breathing tree stump that eats precious metals and its “body is much like a giant organic electric circuit.” The author treats us to boring details that explain (i.e. remove all wonder and mystery from) the monster’s metabolism and fire-breathing apparatus. And there’s a note at the end that Millikan was a guy who did an oil drop experiment in 1909. Who cares? I certainly do not.

Dark Naga by Ed Greenwood

“. . . a naga must experiment with and modify spells involving somatic and material components to an entirely verbal form (player characters cannot do this, however).”

Peltast by Ed Greenwood

Wow, a mimic thing that doesn’t try to kill you! And by Greenwood no less! This thing looks like leather and morphs into a glove. Once put on it drains 1 HP per day from the host (which gets recovered by resting). On the plus side it basically makes the host immune to poison and capable of healing him if he gets too close to dying. A pretty solid concept.

Giant Pitcher Plant by Roger Moore

I’m really not sure what to say about these “like real life but bigger and more dangerous” monsters. At least it could fit into a weird aquatic area with the Bichir.

Seastar by Ed Greenwood

A Small starfish/octopus abomination with a 4d4 bite. Not terribly interesting but a useful filler encounter for a weird aquatic environment. I guess the bit about telepathic training is supposed to be some adventure seed? Psionicist with no sense of right and wrong makes Seastars attack merchant ships? I don’t know.

Scallion by Ed Greenwood

I don’t know why the Scallion is in between the Seastar and the Giant Shrike but it is. They’re really big fish that attack en masse and hate octopi. Adult females bite for a whopping 6d8 damage. Unfortunately this doesn’t make them interesting. 

Giant Shrike by Ed Greenwood

A 4-foot tall bird with a 9-foot wingspan. It’s Neutral Evil and kills for fun. It also can’t speak by RAW.

Sind by Ed Greenwood

Some vaguely frog-like humanoids who live near water and are friends with Lizardmen. They can all breath water and walk on it plus 30% of them can use an Imprisonment spell-like ability on targets just by touching them. Their god lives on the Prime Material and occasionally shows up to help them. They generally avoid drinking alcohol because they get drunk easily. Moderately interesting.

Star Leviathan by Roger Moore

Psychic astral whales. They don’t really do anything except chit-chat with people and play the role of comic relief.

Utukku by Roger Moore

Straight outta Sumeria comes yet another fiend. The description of how its PMP lairs are “. . . hastily made, and the defenses will not be tough” seems like another attempt to justify D&D tropes as seen with the Corkie and Ihagnim. The only good example I have ever seen of such a monster is the Zorkul from In The Wake of The Zorkul.

Giant Venus Fly-Trap by Roger Moore

Between this and the Giant Pitcher Plant I’m convinced that Moore statted these things up after watching a performance of Little Shop of Horrors. The magazine is from 1984 so it would have to be a stage performance since the movie wasn’t out til ‘85.

Vurgen by Ed Greenwood

A really big eel that swallows people whole if it hits.

Killer Whale by Roger Moore

Sapient killer whales with a 5% chance of psionics. I don’t understand the thought process behind giving crabs lightning powers and killer whales sapience.

Wind Steed by Ed Greenwood

It’s a horse. It flies. It hates hippogriffs and griffons for no apparent reason. It doesn’t do anything that a Pegasus couldn’t do.

The tl;dr:
Weird set-piece monster: Killer Beetle.

Fun Underdark gimmick: Explodestool.

A trip to Weird River Marsh: Bichir, Explodestool, Giant Pitcher Plant, Seastar, Sind, Giant Venus Fly-Trap

Basically everything else is garbage. The Dark Naga got slightly better in future publications but the same cannot be said of other creatures.

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