EZG reviews Creepy Creatures & Complete Player's Reference for Kingdom Building

Hi everybody!

I've mentioned I'd have some critters for you this time and creatures I have - you probably know that I'm a big fan of rather gritty and dark adventures, monsters and settings and subsequently I couldn't pass on Alluria Publishing's Creepy Creatures, so let's check out how they hold up!

Creepy Creatures

This massive 115 pages full-color pdf has 1 page front cover, 1 page blank inside of the front cover, 2 pages editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page explaining the glyphs that denote creature-types, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving 107 pages for the content.

The first thing you'll notice is that this book is beautiful - full-color, cool artworks are provided for every monster and both formatting and layout are professional and adhere to the highest standards.

What do I seek in a monster-book? I want iconic beasts that are more than just another set of stats, that feature more than just variations of old tropes. I want the immediate impulse to use them in my games and, ideally, to yell: "Yeah, now that's it!" "Creepy Creatures" is a bestiary of rather horror-themed creature or at least bizarre ones, so let's take a look at some of my most and least favorite among them:

Rather lame ones:

-Adhaesus: Creature that clings to walls while fighting. The choker is much cooler and the artwork doesn't help the creature.

-Bisontaur: Centaur with Bisonlike-top. Boring.

-Hawkape: Owlbear-like creature. Owlbears are canon by now and while they never were my favorite creatures, Hawkapes are in my opinion unnecessary. Their abilities don't really set them apart.

-Centpede Folk: Centipede-like humanoids whose artwork unfortunately lacks arms.

-Frogodile: Another amalgam animal. Just as boring.

-Gibbering Terror: Incorporeal undead which feature the one truly boring/bad artwork of the book.

-Magma Kraken: Fire-elemental kraken creature. Disappointing for a CR 20 creature, this one has almost only elemental abilities.

-Star Jelly Ooze: This creature is a ooze-steed that looks like a long version of a Super Mario star with wings. I'm not kidding.

-Assassin Zombie: Assassins. Zombies. I don't think they go together or that you actually need a separate creature that fits this particular niche.

Cool creatures:

-Assassin Cat: A cat with brilliant abilities with supernatural abilities and a deadly toxin.

-Brain Wasp Swarm: Disturbing swarm of vermin.

-Clutch Hound: Cthulhoid dog with a great artwork.

-Corpse Worm: Shapechanger-worm - great variation of the doppelgänger-trope.

-Plague Dragon: Deadly dragon with cool abilities.

-Eye Parasite: One of the few truly despicable and creepy creatures in the book, this is a combination of a bodysnatcher and beholder-like abilities. Two thumbs up!

-Fleshwarper: Undead that drains charisma by warping flesh.

-Fungus, Ooze: Deadly plant that spawns oozes.

-Hair Golem: Disturbing Golem with a cool artwork.

-Hydra Grub: Multi-headed giant grub, delicacy for dragons.

-Terrorkin: Dream-demon that is half beautiful & half deformed - One of the best artworks i the book.

-Century Tortoise: Giant benevolent turtles that drain away the years of enemies.

-Fang Tree: Spiked, poisonous, carnivorous tree with a beautiful artwork.

-Windigo: Another version of the classic wendigo, this take on it has a mechanically interesting, cool snow and wind aura.

After the monsters, we also get information on the remarkable races (other Alluria products) and have the monsters listed by CR, roles, type, terrain and climate, which is nice.

Layout and artwork are beautiful, editing and formatting are top-notch (I didn't notice any typos or glitches) and the pdf is extensively bookmarked. On the production-value side, there is nothing to complain. On the content-side, though, there are some problems, at least for me: I thought I'd get a bestiary of rather horror-themed critters and while the book delivers on "bizarre", it, at least in my opinion, does not deliver with regards to "creepy." Even more important: In contrast to e.g. Fey Folio, the monsters herein often fall in the rather bland category, be it fluff- or crunch-wise or just didn't capture my attention, which is a pity as some of them do rock. There are no lore-sections for the critters and most don't get too much fluff-text. More importantly, though, several of the background stories of the critters mention characters of races from Alluria's "Remarkable Races"-line. While I usually enjoy some plug-ins, I do think they went a bit over the top with regards to this book - some of the monsters are directly tied to the races and thus are harder to get or insert into your campaign than necessary. There is no b/w printer-friendly version and while the book is beautiful, it is also very taxing on your printer. While it's a long and beautiful book, it's also not too cheap. My final verdict, taking all of the above into consideration, will be 3.5 Rudii.

And now for something completely different - Jon Brazer Enterprises has recently released a godsend for all fans of kingdom building, mass combat and generally PCs creating more items than via craft rules, so let's have a look at it, shall we?

Book of the River Nations: Complete Player's Reference to Kingdom Building

This pdf is 52 pages long, 1 page front cover, 2 blank pages on the insides of the cover, 1 page back cover, 1 page advertisement and 1 page containing both SRD and editorial, so let's check it out!

The first thing you'll notice when checking this pdf out, is the ToC with the accompanying introduction on the first page, the extensive bookmarks and the clear and easy to read two-column layout. This book is a compilation and expansion of the kingdom building rules for PFRPG's Kingmaker AP that makes the system more accessible for players. Due to probably not everyone owning the AP, I'll try to sum up the rules as we go. Thus, let's get to building our very own kingdoms!

The first 2 pages depict what is necessary to build a kingdom in the first place - exploration. After the concisely-written notes, we are introduced to the mechanics you need to run your kingdom - there are 4 phases in a kingdom's turn, upkeep, improvement, income and event. Almost all checks are related to a single mechanic and the player's decision, allowing for luck, skill and planning to determine and influence the success of a given kingdom. "But wait", you might say - "what about all the players in my campaign?" Fret not, each can fill a role in the kingdom and both the kingdom building and regular roleplaying are important. Especially when taking a look at city building, the next section of the book, in which you'll also find stronghold building guidelines and rules for the development of open spaces, the connections between PC- and Kingdom-level become fairly evident. Want an academy with scholars in your city? Well, buy one!
Edicts and events add a spicey touch to the building of nations and finally, there's the mass combat chapter in which the clash of armies, their equipment and special abilities, vassal armies etc. are detailed. Players in battle and the change from units to PCs and back is also mentioned along a selection of several sample armies.

On the rather-PC-centric-side, we get 17 feats mostly dealing with leadership and terrain-movement like swimming. For small armies of casters, we get so-called mass-combat spells, i.e. spells that can only be cast as long, huge rituals and subsequently be disrupted. Which, at least in my opinion, as a concept make for great instances when the PCs try to prevent the casting of a mass combat spell. There are some non-mass-combat spells here, too, just so you know. :)
Next up are two prestige classes, the devout healer, a healing-centered caster, the hidden sniper alternate ranger-archetype and the King's Eye, the kingdom's master-spies. There also are 2 pages of magic items, an exploration map, a kingdom sheet, a city district sheet, a sheet to keep track of notable NPCs and a mass combat army sheet. All the sheets are top-quality, easy to read and concisely presented.

Layout is clear, adheres to the two-column standard and serves its purpose. The b/w-artworks are ok, though nothing to write home about. Editing is ok - I only noticed 2 mistakes on all the pages and both were minor typos. I only noticed one formatting error, a case of two capital letters in the beginning of a sentence. If you're reading this review, though, that's not what sparks your interest, but rather whether you should buy this book. To cut a long rant short: If you've ever entertained the notion of your PCs owning a keep, expanding it, ruling and participating in the complex notions of politics rather than just be henchmen of rulers, this book is for you - the rules from kingmaker are concise, cool and easy to grasp, but hard to master. And this book actually delivers all you need, compiled into an easy-to-hand-out reference that will make it even easier for your players to understand the rules and immerse themselves in the great prospects of rulership That being said, the book unfortunately is not perfect - while it's a great resource for kingdom & city building, the rules fall short when it comes to mass combat, at least in my opinion. Yes, they are good. Yes, they are necessarily abstract, but I'm spoiled by 3.5's "Cry Havoc" and would have LOVED to see an expanded take on the rules and more content in that section - more spells, monster rules, more special abilities for the units etc. I realize that this complaint might be unfair, but it's all that keeps me from all out declaring this the ultimate resource on kingdom & city building and mass combat. As it stands, I still love kingdom & city building and will continue to use my own rules for mass-combat. But that's just my preference. What's my final verdict, then? It's a great book, but it could have been the reference in more than being just a reference guide, but rather THE reference. Combined with the few typos, I'll settle for 4 Rudii and a hearty recommendation. Anyone who plans to run Kingmaker should get this for his/her players and the same holds true for anyone planning on having the PCs acquire a kingdom/city - for you this book is a must-have.

All right, that's it for now! Next time, I'll return to one of my first reviews, to the time when I only wrote one sentence. To when I was truly green. Revisit and finally do the product the justice it deserves. Oh, and I'll have some quality free stuff you might have missed.

Until then, as always, thank you for reading my ramblings,

Endzeitgeist out.

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