||Originally Published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2011/07/22/tabletop-review-mor-ald-
There are a pretty wide variety of RPG books out there. There are core books and modules, setting guides and splatbooks. My favorite, though, has always been the monster catalog. The Monster Manual, the Fiend Folio, these are the books that I covet. I will even horde monster catalogs for games I have no intention of ever playing.
A well constructed monster catalog has a variety of creature types, descriptions with plenty of adventure hooks, and challenging encounters for a spectrum of player levels. There are only so many mindless animals and filth covered goblinoids a party can face before a party gets bored. The creatures included are: Arachnus, Black Glass Undead, Blacktalon Lizardfolk, Marsh Dragon, Gaiant, Bog Giant, Gold Cap, Hag Spider, Leyspinner, Mahr, Manifest Child of the Ether, Marshling, Mirejack, Mythraven, Plaguecrawler, Portune, Puppet Imp, Spell Pike, Stiltskin, Tuskbeast, and Veraxar.
The Mor Aldenn Creature Compendium is intended for use with the Mor Aldenn: City of Mages Pathfinder setting, but all 21 of the included monsters are suitable for Golarian campaigns. The implied setting is a swamp, so the monsters tend to be more swamp appropriate than anything else. Certain creatures, like the Portune, could have an impact on an entire campaign and not just an encounter.
For example, the Bog Giant could be a central figure in multiple adventures as a party advances in level. The Bog Giant is described as looking like a ‘walking boulder’ but is Neutral Good and prone to assisting lost travellers in the marsh. A low-level party encountering the kindly Bog Giant could be startled and inclined to violence, but ultimately helped by the large stranger. Perhaps they could stumble upon a wounded or trapped Bog Giant and earn a favor by helping him. A higher levelled party could be called upon by a Bog Giant to help fight an even larger monster, even a dragon. A sample scenario could go something like this:
A merchant hires the party to enter the marshes to recover items from a caravan that has been lost. The party hears the sounds of battle, but they arrive to find the caravan smashed to bits, most of the guards dead, and a giant, filthy man charging into the brush. The lone survivor of the caravan ambush is delirious and only recalls the attack coming out of nowhere, being knocked unconscious, and awaking to see a giant standing over him. The party could track the Bog Giant and find him battling any number of foes, even a party of humans. Maybe one of his opponents is using a weapon or equipment from the caravan. There could be a superhero team-up comic misunderstanding, with the party taking the wrong side and chasing off the kind Giant and helping the bandits or the party might be able to deduce that the Giant is a good guy. If you are using the Mor Aldenn setting, the enemy in question could even be a disciple of the Hag Witch. This could lead to an alliance with the lone Bog Giant or even with a small tribe or to an enduring friendship with the few good creatures of the marshes. Since the Mor Aldenn Creature Compendium has such a large number of swamp creatures, the whole campaign could lean towards cleaning the swamp of the evil presence within.
The cover art is a good indicator of what to expect inside – first party quality from a third party publisher. Each creature, except the pretty self-explanatory Spell Pike, gets a black and white piece of artwork. These pieces are universally high quality, with the style varying from 1st Edition D&D to the more modern Paizo style.
One thread that is woven throughout the book, and I suspect the entire Mor Aldenn setting, is the relationship between the supernatural and the common man. There are references to fairy tales and folklore, which help people remember the rules of conduct when it comes to dealing with the fae and supernatural. The use of rumors and hearsay in the descriptions makes it much easier to think of reasons for your players to use their Knowledge skills and get to know their creature biology.
At 35 pages for $4.99, the Mor Aldenn Creature Compendium packs a high usefulness to cost ratio. Even for Pathfinder GMs not intending to use the Mor Aldenn setting, there is much to love in this bestiary. The breadth and depth of certain monsters in this compendium justify the purchase on their own. Even the more esoteric creatures have a purpose. Yes, that does mean I am planning an adventure centered around the Spell Pike. Anyone have a Fishing Rod +2?
[5 of 5 Stars!]