This pdf is 16 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 3 1/3 pages of SRD and 1 page featuring tokens of the critters, leaving 9 2/3 pages of content for the new beasties, so how are these beasties going to plague our PCs?
One classic aberration makes its triumphant and disturbing return in the CR 13 Corpse Orgy, a dread creature that can emit painful shrieks and absorb bodies. Hell yeah! The beast also comes with its own lore section, as all the other critters herein.
Next up are the Clay Warriors, Archers and Cavalrymen (CR 3, 3 and 5, respectively), construct guardians based on the fabled terracotta army of Xi'an. Surprisingly, each type comes with at least one, sometimes more abilities that sets them apart from brethren and other beasts - neat! Even better, they come with construction notes.
Tired of PCs being no longer afraid of wolves? Has the shield-time begun in your campaign? Excellent, then unleash the CR 22 Fenris Wolf upon your unwitting players and make them tremble (and perish) while you cackle with glee. Oh yeah, you don't have to blast your mythology asunder or usher in Ragnarok for your campaign to feature the Fenris Wolf (though it helps) - a nice sample idea is given that involves a chained clone.
Unfortunately, the entangling, str- leeching burial-mound guarding CR 8 knollmen don't live up to the standard set until now, providing no unique signature ability and feeling like just another burial mound undead. Next. Or at least, that's what I thought. Thankfully, the guys from Purple Duck seem to have thought the same and provided 3 alternate signature abilities as well as a truly cool take: Why not take the myth of the fisher king and twist it to an undead ruler seeking to reclaim his kingdom? The result is an additional CR 14 statblock, a fiendish gorilla companion, a antipaladin feat, a new spell to force allies to kill each other (quite powerful, but great for specific NPCs) and a satisfied Endzeitgeist.
I consider plant monsters to be creepy. I don't know why, I just always did. The camouflaged Quick Grass, a slick CR 4 predator makes a nice addition to said roster.
Editing and formatting are ok - I did notice some letters that were bold when they shouldn't have been, but other errors seem to be absent from the pdf. Layout adheres to the 2-column standard and the b/w-artworks by Michael Scotta are neat and not something I'd expected to see for this low price. The pdf is extensively bookmarked. This installment of Monsters Unleashed is vastly superior to its predecessor, providing cooler critters, signature abilities for all of them, and even variants. Combine that with the very low and fair price and you get a hearty recommendation and a final verdict of 4.5 Rudii due to the editing glitches.
Headless Hydra Games also have a neat monster manual for you:
This pdf is 35 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1.5 pages of SRD, leaving 31.5 pages of content, so let's check it this monster manual, shall we?
Monster manuals have come a long way since the 3.X-days of old - today not only the stat-blocks are easier to read, but most new monsters also come with signature abilities that make them unique and stand out. Subsequently, the standard and expectations we have for more monsters are perhaps higher than they once were. Seeing that Headless Hydra Games' offerings have been hit and miss for me, I was quite curious to see which kind of creatures we get. Their Mor Aldenn campaign world, though it comes with interesting premises, has not yet been detailed to an extent that makes it easy for me to determine what to expect from it apart from a certain old world flair. Each of the creatures in this particular bestiary comes with a short paragraph of read-aloud text to introduce them to your players - nice to have. That being said, what kind of creatures are we introduced to in this bestiary?
The very first creature already offers a glimpse of the weirdness to be expected from this bestiary - the CR 11 Arachnus is a dread amalgam of spider and giant, multi-armed and legged and both poisonous and expert giant slayers. The brutish mutants make for interesting foes thanks to e.g. their climb speed, which offers them a mobility seldom seen for creatures of their size. I only have the minor gripe that a many-legged, a large arachnid creature should probably get stability as an extraordinary quality.
The second creature we're introduced to is a variation of the wight, the CR 6 Black Glass Wight - undead suffused by veins of fragile, reappearing black ice, these creatures are only created via the most vile of efforts and come with breathweapons, additional melee damage and an aura of terror. They come with a CR+3 template to create your own black glass undead, which is greatly appreciated by yours truly - there is something iconic and cool about these scions of depravity and death. However, the writing of this particular entry does not wholly go hand in hand with the excellent premise - some of the wordings could have been a bit more clear. Don't get me wrong, it's still good, though not stellar.
Shock troops for the Night Hag's forces, the Blacktalon Lizardfolk (CR 4) is a subrace of Lizardfolk that is not only evil and stronger, but also heals faster. Nevertheless, I consider them to be LAME. It's like in Diablo - color the enemy different, make them tougher - viola. While they do have pounce and rend, making for new tactics, I think they would have benefited from a full-blown write-up in the style of Raging Swan's TRIBE-series or their own pdf: An origin myth, tribal tactics etc. go a long way to endearing humanoids and making them unique. That is especially true for variants of existing creatures.
The next creature, though, more than makes up for the Lizardfolk: The Marsh Dragon comes with several age categories (as is the tradition with dragons) and 3 sample statblocks for the young (CR 8), adult (CR 12) and ancient (CR 17) age category, respectively. But wait, you say. Do we need another dragon? No, not really, but this one is no mere dragon: Grab a seat, the marsh dragon is a strange hybrid of dragon and plant, breathing cones of razor sharp growing spores that rapidly grown into entombing vines which attract deadly insects in droves. And they have facial tentacles and a mastery over shamblers (into which wyrms can transform you with a mere gaze!) - this dragon is simply creepy as hell, disturbing, has some lovecraftian undertones and a plethora of cool signature abilities - what's not to like?
Next up is an entry of the Gaiants (with a sample CR 2 druid statblock), large humanoids somewhere between a treant and a fey, which are also a playable race in the Mor Aldenn setting. Seeing that they have their own pdf, I'll get on to the next creature, the CR 5 Bog Giants: Reclusive marsh dwellers, they are a rather timid and gentle subrace of giants but failed to catch my interest due to a lack of unique fighting techniques and signature abilities.
The Gold Cap Myconids (CR 4) can't complain about a lack of signature abilities - even stranger than their regular cousins, these intelligent mushroom-creatures. Their spores can access the memories of those near them, draining intelligence and making them alien sages of the underdark - now that's cool!
The CR 11 Hag Spider (which you can see on the cover), predators created by the Night Hag from hags and phase spiders can ambush from the ether, spin webs from there and ensnare their victims in dread nightmares. Iconic-looking, cool plot-foes, these creatures are deadly and smart foes which make for some cool adventure ideas.
Next up is another definite winner, the Leypinner-fey (CR 10) - seeing that ley-lines seem to feature prominently in the Mor Aldenn-setting, these creatures are more than interesting - being able to entwine both multiple spells in their unique casting and weaving the fates of foes and friends, these powerful entities are also dependant on ley-lines, coming with several in-built ideas that will enable any DM to use them as allies, foes, or both - mechanically smart, full of fluff, these creatures are a prime example of excellent writing and design.
The Mahr (CR 5)-fey are on the rather dark side of fey - bugbear-like, fear-feeding kidnappers, they make for a nice take on the boogeyman-trope. their weakness to honest laughter also makes for a nice signature weakness to reward smart adventurers.
I've already commented on the CR 10 Manifest Child of the Ether in my review of the "Eldritch Spell Compendium", so I'll just mention that the creature is cool and reprinted here.
The swamps have more dangers in store for your PCs, though: The CR 1 Marshlings, an intelligent, rot-inducing plants and the Mirejack (CR 6), a small, corruption and decay-spreading fey composed of rock, mud and tangled branches just wait around the next bog.
If your players ever get truly swamped (*pays 2 bucks into the bad pun box*), the intelligent, huge Mythravens (CR 7) make for cool allies/rescuers - wise birds with 4 precious, magical gemstones in their beaks, they make for interesting allies as well as dangerous game for less scrupulous parties hired by wizards to harvest the gems.
The CR 10 Plaguecrawlers are more deadly, huge, disease-spraying variations of carrion crawlers - the vermin is so twisted, even its blood is a carrier of diseases.
Portunes (CR 2), a take on the wee-folk of Germanic and Scandinavian mythology, these little fey are sought-after servants for mages (especially relevant in places like Mor Aldenn, where mage-schools are so prevalent) and come with a new magic item-template, the wondrous trinket, which might make for a mischievous gift if the PCs don't honor their Portrune or break the traditional taboos. It's fluff like that which makes an otherwise unremarkable statblock come to life - nice!
The CR 1/3 Puppet Imps (amalgams of sticks and pebbles) already known from the stories included in the expanded player's guide, these itching wounds inflicting foes are neat low-level enemies.
The Spell Pikes, CR 4 pikes with variants for each school, make for an interesting concept - the excess magical energy mutated these fish and gave them some interesting abilities, which might make the creatures not only a bane for fishers, but also for some interesting plot ideas. This is the only critter in the book that lacks its own artwork.
The CR 8 Stiltskin is reprinted from the Moon Folly-pdf and in the end, we get 2 interesting animal-like creatures: The Tuskbeast (CR 3) is a blind boar with bone-spikes on the back and the CR 6 Veraxar is a tiger-like, intelligent being with some supernatural spell-like abilities and Elven affinities.
The b/w-artwork throughout this book is GORGEOUS and can hold its place with the best of 3pp-publications out there. Formatting is clear and the statblocks and abilities are easy to read. Layout adheres to a two-column standard and is quite printer-friendly. I would have loved to see bookmarks, though - at this length, they really help navigating the file. It should also be noted, that at ~50 MBs, this pdf is rather large, something to keep in mind when working with e-readers. Monster manuals are always welcome at my table, but right now, I'm a jaded guy - I've read so many of them that it has become hard to impress me with just about any creature out there.
That's why I'm happy to report that the Mor Aldenn Creature Compendium is BRIMMING with cool ideas, iconic creatures and smart signature abilities. To the point, in fact, where I consider only 3 of the creatures herein rather bland - that makes for a LOT of cool foes. In an ideal world, I'd happily give this pdf 5 stars and the Endzeitgeist seal of approval. However, there are unfortunately some blemishes marring what would otherwise be a stellar product: While the reprints of some of the monsters are nice to have, they take up space that could have been used for original critters. The argument of having all collected in one book does not apply, as the death raven from the Eldritch Spell Compendium is missing. More importantly, though, this pdf could really have used another pass at editing - there are a lot of glitches, from punctuation errors, wordings that could have been clearer and forced me to reread a sentence to other minor glitches, that, while not impeding the overall usability of the book, make some of the entries harder to read than others. Seeing the amount of authors who contributed, this inconsistent quality is not surprising, but it unfortunately does tarnish what otherwise would by a stellar example of design and writing. No bookmarks, a lot of errors and some reprinted material would usually result in a final verdict of 3 Rudii. I LOVE these creatures, though - they are mostly smart designed , iconic and cool and the price for this pdf is very low. Thus, I'll settle for a final verdict of 3.5 Rudii, and I'd even round that up to 4. If you don't care about the editing glitches and missing bookmarks, GO GET THIS. For you, this pdf is a five Rudii purchase.
All right, that's it for now. As always, thank you for reading my ramblings,