Monster ecologies are undeniably a classic staple of the world’s favorite fantasy role-playing game. Almost from the beginning of its official magazine, various issues would have an ecology article dedicated to fleshing out monsters that often seemed to make little sense when only viewed through their oftentimes all too brief stat block. While they took many forms, these articles never got old, because there were always more monsters left to write about; a lesson that Kobold Quarterly didn’t fail to take to heart from its very first issue, as each issue has contained an ecology thus far. These ecologies, plus a few extras, are now collected for the first time as Kobold Ecologies vol. 1.
Don’t let the name of this book fool you, though, as kobolds themselves are nowhere to be found here. Rather this book covers a dozen classic monsters – the derro, barghest, lich, cloaker, homunculus, phantom fungus, centaur, golem, maenad, half-giant, retriever, and revenant all get coverage here. While the first nine creatures are from the pages of the first nine issues of Kobold Quarterly, the last three are all-new. It bears noting that most of these ecologies are meant for 3.5 gaming. The centaur ecology is 4E-specific, and the maenad ecology has some 4E sidebars, but that’s the sum total of 4E support.
There’s little commonality between the articles in terms of style, because each is written by a different author, though all take the form of out-of-game dissertations on the monster in question (though often with snippets of in-game writings about the creatures), rather than telling a story with footnotes (a la the old “Monster Hunters” ecology articles). Given that, it’s hard to rate the book overall, as the quality of the articles varies depending on which one you read. The ecology of the lich, for example, doesn’t really expound on the creature very much beyond what we already know, basically going over that liches perform unspeakable acts to become liches, that they occupy their endless time with myriad long-reaching plots, and that they eventually become demiliches. On the other hand, the phantom fungus article blew me away with its bold reimagining of the creature, painting it as just one part of a Lovecraftian “fungal collective” which include the mi-go at the top; a brilliant idea that makes this otherwise-silly monster into something else altogether. Luckily, the majority of the articles are of a higher quality like this one, so the book carries itself very well.
It’s also worthwhile to point out that all of the ecology articles have some level of crunch in them. From stat blocks for new monsters to new feats and more, each article has a disparate amount of new materials to add to your game, though it’s always specific to each monster. If you want your retrievers to be customized with different powers from the standard fare, for instance, you’ll find a wide selection of alternate abilities here.
Finally, the book does a good job on the technical side of things as well. Bookmarks to each ecology are present, and the text layout is crisp and easy to read. Each article opens with a piece of artwork, usually color, and often has a few more pieces spread out through its length. Bookmarks are present at the top and bottom of each page, but they’re relatively minor. There is no printer-friendly version of the book, however, so if printing is an issue, you might run into a few problems here – it’s unlikely though, as the book never feels cluttered with art.
Altogether, Kobold Ecologies volume 1 does a good job living up to the standard set by its predecessor. The articles are, for the most part, very insightful and do a good job breathing new life into classic monsters, both with evocative flavor text and great new rules mechanics. If any of the monsters covered by this product are ones that appear in your games with some frequency, you should definitely pick up Kobold Ecologies.