Tuesday, March 29, 2022

My Monster Book Dilemma

Of Xorn and Gorgons...

I have a monster problem. Namely, I really love monsters. It is a weakness of mine for role-playing games. I know I can make my own in a pinch, but sometimes the flavor text or concept of a monster gives me something cool to work with.

I will ignore almost any other source book of role-playing game puts out, but I simply cannot resist a good selection of monsters. Even when I gave way most of my D&D 3E and Pathfinder 1e material, I held on to the bestiaries.

Unfortunately, Pathfinder bestiaries and the 5th edition Monster Manual and Volo's Guide to Monsters don't help me much now that I've moved back to OSR games, I don't really have a good monster book in hardcopy.

Basic Fantasy RPG has a great monster selection. So does Swords & Wizardry. And Low-Fantasy Gaming, with a little conversion. But they are all sections of a larger book. And sometimes flipping through to find what I'm looking for can be a little time consuming. They also both have some issues. Swords & Wizardry does not present a morale rating for monsters, for example. Basic Fantasy RPG has almost (but not quite-, nor consistently+) doubled the XP value of the monsters that are in the book, as Basic Fantasy relies more on combat and less on treasure.

And while I hate to say it, well the rules cyclopedia is the most comprehensive versions of Dungeons & Dragons around, it's selection of monsters is lackluster.. I have always felt that that was one of the greatest weaknesses of the Cyclopedia.

But, I do need something. I keep planning for monsters that I don't have the books for. Last night I planned encounters with Gorgons and Xorn, and discovered to my dismay I had statistics for neither in a format compatible with the game I was playing. I covered by opening up a website where I knew someone had copied the entire AD&D2e Monster Compendium, and thankfully my players didn't wander off that way anyway.

I have been considering dropping the $32 plus shipping it would take to buy the AD&D2e Monstrous Manual,  More than anything, I was considering getting that one for Tony diTerlizzi's art.  I loved my Monstrous Manual. Tragically, a friend of mine borrowed it while I was away at University, and then passed away. I didn't have the heart to ask people to go through his effects looking for the stack of my gaming manuals he had pilfered over the years.

With shipping costs, however, getting my hands on a hard copy of the Monstrous Manual just isn't in the cards. I promised myself I would make this hobby and my blog self-sustaining. I only buy manuals when I have made a little money off of my content, or I have a little mad money for my birthday or Christmas. Which makes it awfully hard to justify the cost of nostalgia.

Especially when I know that there are excellent alternatives that only requires a little work.

Basic Fantasy RPG is printed at cost, all of its manuals run from $3 to $8 Canadian. And with a free subscription of prime coming my way, The Field Guide to Creatures Malevolent and Benign is a mighty tempting purchase.

BFRPG Field Guide: Mini Review

So what am I getting?

Ironically, not Xorn.

The Field Guide, does include around 170 monsters that should be familiar from AD&D's core rule books, how long with a sizable assortment of Monster Manual 2 and Fiend Folio creatures. It's where the demons and devils, the para elementals, the monsters they cut out of the core book for space such as the Grick, Hippocampus and Sea+Lion. You certainly have nearly every monster in the D&D3.5e Monster Manual. And it includes some additional monsters from Celtic and Germanic folklore that I have never seen in D&D before for good measure.

This includes their own reinterpretation of classics that cannot be directly translated as they are D&D product identity. Mind Flyers are imitated with "Thuleans" and beholders with the Great Orb of Eyes, etc.

Combined with the Basic Fantasy RPG core book,, you will have most of the classic monsters that you will think of when doing Adventure planning in the same way that I do adventure planning.

That is to say, asking yourself things like "I want something to be stealing that gems out of this town's mind and sabotaging mining equipment, but not killing people and putting the city in a panic. What would be a good gem stealing monster that is particularly sneaky?"

At which point, if you've spent as much time as I have playing D&D, Xorn would probably be one of the first things to come to mind.

The Basic fantasy RPG stat block is pretty convenient. It uses the old save as system, which is easy enough to use, it uses ascending Armor class, and, as I'm playing a very retro Swords & Wizardry game I might have to convert that, but that is simply a matter of subtracting the Ascending Armor class from 19. It uses the 2d6 morale system that I like. The hit point and hit die scale is strictly in tune with AD&D. It uses the basic fantasy treasure types, but I generally just use a mix of Swords & Wizardry and Low Fantasy Gaming for treasure planning.  My biggest gripe is the inflated XP numbers.

At the end of the day, this is pretty easily solved. I can go through the book and calculate out the XP value using Swords & Wizardry or my Rules Cyclopedia.  Penciling in those two conversions shouldn't be too hard. And I won't feel bad about doing it in a $5 book.

Of course, the PDF version is free for download do you can get a copy for your own to peruse.

There is also a Field Guide 2 currently downloadable, and which should be ready for printing some time in the next year, once art & layout are complete. This includes a lot of reskins of product identity creatures like Advi for Morons), and gathers together a lot of weird, cool, and unusual monsters from the BFRPG community. I have already used Dead Ringers and Crystalline Egrets to good effect in my Xen campaign. I recognized creatures from Narnia, American folklore, Appendix-N literature, and Medieval Christian theological texts in the mix.

A few of the classics that they missed in the Field Guide make it into Field Guide 2. Including the Xorn. I definitely will be grabbing a hardcopy once it is available.

A Project Pitch

One of these days, however, I would love to simply sit down with scribus and put all of my favorite OSR monsters along with the Staples in a densely laid out format with relatively little art, but good indexing and just print it for myself. Maybe something closer to the monster format laid out in Cha'alt, where everything is arranged for ease of reading.

Banana-Men stat block from
Cha'alt: Chartreuse Shadows

Perhaps including a few of my own favorites. And, maybe, where I can, using some clipart to keep it from being agonizingly dull to look at. I could even include some monsters from unusual sources.

I want to put it to my readers, though, would that be something worth my time to not only do, but bring to market?

Would a print on demand book of a very large selection of monsters formatted for ease of use, and sold as close to cost as possible using Swords & Wizardry or the Rules Cyclopedia be worth my time as my next big off-blog project?


  1. I was going to say this sounds like a great DIY project. I wonder how much printing and ring binding cost? Is that the cheapest binding?

    If you are doing it just for yourself, you can use whatever images you might like as well. For density, probably you wouldn't use much in the interior, but you could mock something up for a cover that reminds you of your fav manuals of old.

  2. Oh for the love of Arneson, THANK YOU! I have been saying this forever. There just isn't a comprehensive, old school Monster Manual. Something with everything from the MM1 & FF & the 2e MM. I already have those books, but no morale scores! Iron Falcon now has a really good one, but it's 0e compatible so no Morale. I'd love a hardcover that combined all the BFRPG monsters. Heck, I'd even pay for a hardback book that just compiled the BX monster stats. With a lot of art. It doesn't have to be good art, just stuff to look at.

    A guy can daydream, right?

    1. It still drives me crazy that every time I am writing an adventure with off-the-shelf monsters I have to figure out which books (if any) I have them in, and where I can find the gaps in the stats caused by a given manual.