Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2012/01/24/tabletop-review-monsters-of-legend/
If you read my previous review of Legend, the FRPG from Mongoose Publishing, you may recall that one of my primary concerns with the game as released was the lack of any sort of information on non-humans. The base rules not only left out monstrous bad-guys, but there also weren’t any non-human player character races. It didn’t even have any normal animals that might be encountered, either in the wild or in gladiatorial combats. Monsters of Legend steps into that void and provides very nearly everything I would have hoped for in a monster supplement.
The introductory chapter provides a good deal of information that fits in with a broad range of the included creatures. Every entry includes not just statistics for an average example of the species, but also a set of die rolls to be used to generate a random one – even to be used as player characters. As at least one chapter is full of humanoid creatures, which will come in handy for any GM who intends to play a more conventional D&D style world, with players taking on the roles of dwarves, elves and the like.
A small section is devoted to the very important distinction between creatures with a die roll for INT and those that have a fixed value – fixed value creatures are not sapient, and should both not be played as PCs, nor should they be played like a player character.
Other information is provided to explain the various advanced powers and abilities associated with the creatures in the rest of the book, as well as a long table of random “chaotic” features that can be assigned to creatures – though there is no direct reference in the text to when that might be appropriate, other than the entry for the Cockatrice. I think it would make a great randomization table for summoned demons, however, even if you’re not planning a world where Chaos = the bad guys (another hold over from RuneQuest). A secondary table provides a random roll for the appearance of the chaotic creatures, again adding some interest and intrigue around what manner of creatures might be encountered.
Finally, a short section on spirit combat is added – a nice complement to the free Spirit Magic add-on PDF that Mongoose released after Legend was first available. Between the two, it addresses most of my prior concerns about spirit magic and interacting with same.
Now, on to the monsters!
The critters are broken down into Humanoids, Invertebrates, Dinosaurs and Reptiles, Creatures of Legend, and Natural Life.
Humanoids provides a GM with a handful of the standard two-legged adversaries you’d expect from a fantasy game. Purists will like having official stats for elves, dwarves and halflings. Enemies can include orcs, ogres, trolls, giants and goblins. It’s not an extensive list, but it is representative, and gives a GM plenty of options to tweak to create other creature templates. This section is also great, in my opinion, as it’s where we start seeing some of the better art from this game series. They are nicely done, and evocative of different types of settings, from the ironclad dwarf to the very tribal, tattooed and pierced giant.
There’s something satisfying, and again iconic, about slaying giant bugs, and that’s what Invertebrates gives you in spades. All manner of crawly, nasty things, scaled up to Clash of the Titans scale, are made available to you, and in a tribute to how much we all freakin’ hate spiders, you get multiple sizes and associated nastiness to choose from.
The Dinosaurs and Reptiles section is, while important, a bit odd – several perfectly normal creatures like snakes and alligators appear here, rather than the section on Natural Life. Without them, the section would be entirely dinos, and while that might be useful to some GMs, it’s definitely a small niche. I’m not a paleontologist, but I think they’ve stuck with many of the standard interpretations and myths about many of these beasties, so if that might break the fourth wall for you, you might consider giving these guys a miss.
Creatures of Legend is where this book really turns into a Monster Manual equivalent. The lead-in picture is of the all-important dragon, so you know what you’re in for. They’re in there, in more than one form, cheek against jowl with the undead, and a good many of the standard creatures from Greek mythology, including centaurs, satyrs and medusae.
The book closes with the section that I insisted was the most important piece missing from the core Legend rules – normal animals. Even if you’re playing an entirely realistic game that eschews magic and wouldn’t ever be home to a dragon, this section will provide you with the sort of creatures that your adventurers might encounter in the wilds. It’s a shame that they didn’t put it in the core rules, where I think it belonged, but at least it’s there for you now when you need it.
This book covered fully eighty percent of what I’d hoped we’d see. It is still occasionally marred by references to things that are very RuneQuest specific – notably the Chaos features. That said, those features provide one of the only sops to my other concern – the creation of custom creatures. The core rules don’t mention this at all, and Monsters doesn’t really either, but between the random table for those odd features, and the list of creatures it contains, you have plenty of places to start from, and to modify, to suit your own game and temperament.
Once more, this is not a book for anyone who already owns the Monster Coliseum volume from back when Mongoose held the rights to RuneQuest. Many of the same creatures are presented here, and many others that were RuneQuest specific (and some, oddly, that weren’t) have been excised from this book.
If you’re just getting started with the system, however, this book is very nearly as essential as the Monster Manual was to the PHB and DMG when playing D&D. You can play an all-human game if you so choose, but this provides you the tools you need to play a game that resembles the games you’ve come to expect out of fantasy role playing.