I remember how, back in the day, Dragon magazine used to have monster ecology articles that were written as short stories involving a group of monster hunters in search of a particular creature. The ecological section came from footnotes and some expository text after the story ended. And then, for some reason, the format changed; there weren’t anymore short stories, but rather the ecologies were written in a style reminiscent of scholarly papers, directly outlining the monster’s physiology, psychology, society, etc. It was an abrupt shift, and I wondered for quite a while why it was done.
Reading Tricky Owlbear Publishing’s Behind the Monsters: Roper, I think I’m starting to understand why.
A ten-page PDF, Behind the Monsters: Roper is part of Tricky Owlbear’s Behind the Monsters series of products, explaining the history of various monstrosities in the game world. With only a single illustration as part of the product title (and the company logo at the end), the book looks fairly spartan. However, I was quite pleased that it included full bookmarks, despite its brevity.
Told from an in-character standpoint, the book presents a character’s recollection of how he stumbled on some ropers opening a gateway, and accidentally fell through himself. There on another world, he came upon a group of humans enslaved to ropers and helped lead an uprising. This led to him falling through another portal – where he had a psychedelic experience of seeing the roper home-world (home dimension?) and had a vision of an alien god who pressed them into service, making them spread to other worlds like a plague – before finally returning to his native land.
The book then reprints stats for a roper (though interestingly, rebuilt as an aberration rather than a magical beast) along with notes for variant types of ropers, and even a few items made from/by ropers.
Looking back over the work, I’m not quite sure that I’m taking the book in the manner intended. While I can appreciate the desire for an origin story, treating ropers as Lovecraftian aliens from beyond space and time, possibly in service to an unfathomable god (which didn’t get deity information here, unfortunately), seems rather ho-hum now. Most of D&D’s classic aberrations came about this way, and it’s become, if not cliché, then at least understood that all aberrations have some variation on this particular tale.
Unfortunately, while the above isn’t an ecology article for this monster, I can’t help but look at it that way; I say “unfortunately” because it doesn’t do a good job in that regard. Compared to, say, the ecology Paizo wrote for the roper in one of their Revisited books (which gave the chilling summary of their philosophy towards other creatures as, “You do not truly know someone until you have eaten them – slowly”), this just doesn’t hold up. We’re given a story about where ropers come from, but not what they really are – there’s no information here on what makes ropers different from other powerful monsters of their ilk; you could have substituted any given aberration in (such as cloakers, for example) and this story would have worked just as well.
As it is, I’m giving this book a four-star rating because it presents workable new crunch, and because I suspect my disappointment is more in regards to this not being what I expected rather than it failing in its goals.