RAWR! A Series of Monstrous Malevolence, Volume 1: Fear and Dread....man that title is a long one, lol. So, for the purposes of saving space, time, and my sanity...we shall refer to this product as RAWR!
So, 18 pages, with a linked TOC and bookmarks. Laid out in a dual column format, with two full page images, and two other embedded pieces of art. Of the art, two are from Joseph Calkins' stock offerings, while the others are originals to this product, and are both exceptional pieces. Scattered throughout the book are random “doodles” that work well to keep the pages from being just boring block text to look at visually. The TOC is laid out in what I found to be an excellent idea, in that the sections are credited with the contributing/main authors for each section.
OK....what is this book...and why do you need it? Well...follow me here. It's game night, you're setting up the encounter for your players, you've just started to give the description of the creatures they are facing and two of your players are already scanning their character sheets and are ignoring you now, a third is reaching for his critter killing 20....wait...wha?? This ever happen to you? Got a group of players that know the creatures just as well as you do? Annoying, isn't it? There's a great deal of the mystery gone when the play group knows what to expect, and how to fight it before you're even done explaining the freaking visual of what they see. So...how do you tackle this problem as a GM? Design completely new creatures? Well, sure, there is always that....but leaving behind some classic creatures would be such a shame...especially when there are so many easy fixes to this situation. And that my friends, is where this PDF comes in.
Right of the bat RAWR! Comes off as more than just a standard collection of new feats and traits, there is real world advice here, offered alongside concepts to try at your table. The concepts and ideas are presented sans system and mechanics, and are more editorial in their mannerism. Now, I will admit, this bugged me at first, until I realized this essentially turned the topic into a conversation, one between the reader and the authors. They are not so much laying out multiple options on page/screen as they are advising what they do at their own tables, with stories culled from previous games. The personal touch there really helps to connect with these pieces of advice, and make one see why they work better.
Now, interesting story ideas to make your creatures different from the standard speed-bump to treasure most players are used to facing aside, this is a collection of new material. And there are some interesting new ideas here to make sure mechanically your creatures have a few new tricks up their sleeves. 6 new Feats, with offerings such as Devious Web (Combat) – adding monster abilities that can be done in conjunction with a web casting...think Spiderman's tricks, but done right. Bone Shield (Combat) – allows for those with animate/control undead to use them as a “living” shield of sorts. Can actually say, after reading this feat that I was amazed this wasn't already available somewhere, as it seems like such an obvious combat tactic of something that can fill a battlefield with undead.
6 new Traits follow the Feats, with a simple rule of thumb when it comes to deciding what types of monsters deserve traits. Most of these traits could easily be applied to PCs of a monstrous background as well, half-orcs and such. Some of the trait names alone just make you want to spend a night hanging out at a game table with these guys....lol....Taste for Eyeballs, Rotten Limb, Bone Collector....OK, so the first one wins, hands down...lol.
From there we go to a couple of new critters...what? You thought there weren't going to be some new creatures to play with? First up, the Gravesbane Colossus...a CR 21 nightmare straight out a madman's twisted dream. Imagine, for a second, a graveyard standing up and walking off to go attack and kill whatever it came across...yeah, just standing up, as a massive hulking creature. Now, the artwork gives us a bipedal, the description says it has six limbs...I'll leave that to you to decide...either way, this is one seriously cool construct, with an even cooler creation ritual. Heck, the ritual to create one could easily become a storyline in and of itself with the players trying to stop it from happening.
And that brings us to the Sundered One. This thing is twisted...truly. And I applaud the boldness in going for it that caused this particular creature to earn TPK Games the slap on the fingers in regards to the compatibility license. It doesn't take much to see the original design in this creature, and I doubt in all reality anything mechanically had to be changed, it was probably all in the flavor text...what we are left with is a truly truly disturbing undead...thing. Oozing necromantic slime that makes even getting close enough to fight this creature dangerous long before the creature even attacks you. This twisted nightmarish creation does a very good job of channeling all of those late night Oriental Ghost stories into a weird, visually disturbing, mentally unbalancing oddity...oh, and then pumping it full of steroids, dumping a six pack on redbull down its throat and sending it screaming after you...Yeah...that kind of wicked creature design.
2 new magical items finish us off, the Belt of Bestial Woe – which grants an unstackable AC bonus along with the curse of lycanthropsy to its wearer...and no ridding oneself of the sudden furry lifestyle is not as easy as simply taking off the belt, lol. The Fiend's Pitchfork operates as a + weapon, with a smite good ability enhanced with a selection of handy perks.
Wrapping up, the sheer fact that the title tells us this is merely Volume 1 means there is more to come, new rules and ideas, spells and creatures, as well as improvements to the overall line. Editing wise I found only one mistake, and that was the repetition of a sentence within a paragraph...not bad, but not great either. The odd white area left from an attempt to lay one of the images as a transparent on the page background really makes the entire page look...well, less.
And, yeah...that's all I've got. Really...a sentence got repeated, and one picture probably needed more time in a picture editor being separated from its background before used....in all, I have got nothing negative in regards to the material itself. Now, as much as I enjoyed the conversational advice, I am wondering if that will continue or be toned back in further installments within this series...I imagine time will tell in that regard. Until then, I am going with a 4.5 for this product, rounding up to a 5 for the purposes of this forum's rating system. A good first offering for a new series, and an interesting concept for said series. I look forward to seeing where Vol.2 takes us.