For anyone that hasn’t already seen the blurb for the latest in a line of very well received supplements for Dungeons and Dragons, Monsters of the Wilderness is a book chock full of monstrous goodies.
Successfully funded via Kickstarter and currently shipping around the globe, the tome clocks in at over 150 pages bursting with delightful full colour art from Travis Hanson, writing from Andrew Cawood, and layouts and graphic design from Gordon McAlpin. There’s plenty of new beasts and beasties of challenge ratings great and small to tempt and confound your adventurers. If that sounds a bit gushy, well I don’t mind. The ‘Monsters of…’ series has consistently provided high production values at very reasonable prices.
So, what is it and what does it do?
For anyone out there that hasn’t dipped their toe into the wide and incredibly varied world of supplementary products, Cawood’s ‘Monsters of…’ series provides collections of stat blocks and descriptions for new creatures and characters to populate your fantasy game worlds. Whilst it’s true to say that many of the gribblies are monsters in the classical sense, easy to drop into dungeons or caves and ready to clash with player characters, there’s also plenty of potential allies or encounter ideas that don’t have to resort to violent combat.
Each book in the series has been themed around a specific idea. I stumbled onto the publications via their Monsters of Feyland – which I’ve spoken about previously HERE. Where that deals, somewhat obviously, with the woods and Feywilds, later publications dealt with the Underdark or subterranean biomes and fantastical cities. This newest addition ups the ante with an ambitious look at seven distinct wilderness areas ranging from deep oceans to mountain peaks, barren arctic snowfields to dense jungle. In each case, the flavour of Myrr, Cawood Publishing’s established world setting, is woven through.
That’s a statement that can often set alarm bells ringing for would be purchasers. No one wants to fork out hard earned cash on a book with limited applicability, right? Well, any fears should be allayed by reassurance that whilst there is obvious tie-ins to Myrr, everything here is fairly light and little to nothing stands out that can’t be easily altered to fit your own realms.
Each terrain region is laid out in a similar manner. There’s a bit of text to evoke some imagery and a few headings giving ideas for themes, locations, and events. No good monster book would be complete without some random encounter tables and in each case, we have both these as well as weather tables; perfect for either rolling on the fly or giving some ideas for those who prefer a bit more planning to their adventures.
Given the amount of monsters in here I can’t go over every one in any detail but in each case you’ll be given the key combat info of stats, armour class, HP etc., as well as some static abilities and thematic actions. Whilst some of these might have tongue-in-cheek names or might seem played for laughs, they’re always in keeping with the creature in question and never seem like simply an afterthought or space filler.
Looking at some specifics though, sometimes as a DM or GM you aren’t looking for a big bad or hulking monster. Sometimes you just need something to add a little spice to an encounter during some otherwise mundane trek. Let me introduce you to the Murder Hornet.
“An odd sound fills the air and a party of adventurers stops in its tracks…”
These small beasts, despite the meagre CR of ½ (100 xp) might seem relatively straightforward until they begin to swarm. With an assassinate ability which gives them advantages over creatures that haven’t already attacked and a fairly potent poison, these hornets have the ability to quickly overwhelm a group that doesn’t think quickly on their feet and take adequate precautions. I suspect an encounter with these will quickly convert any naïve traveller and no doubt any buzzing noises in the distance will be taken more seriously.
It seems on every other page ideas pop into my head about how these entries could not only feature in encounters but actually shape them. A prime example of this is also found in the swamp terrain with the Demonic Turtle. How exactly did a huge demonic turtle get there? Why is its shell marked with occult runes? Perhaps there’s a cult that worships it or thinks to ‘tame’ or befriend it by offering sacrifices? A whole segment of a campaign could be woven around the dreaded demonic turtle and in that area of the swampy mangroves…
For someone like me, this book is a cornucopia of idea nuggets. Nothing fully formed and prescriptive but enough to give you the basis with which to add and convert for your own purposes. Perhaps here criticism could be levied by those expecting something more akin to the Ecology style series that Dungeons and Dragons has had in the past. Each entry here is only a few paragraphs; more than enough to get going but a far cry from those looking to have everything from a breakdown of feeding to breeding habits. Don’t get me wrong, I love that sort of immersive world building stuff to read, but how often would any of it ever be needed in game, and how much could you not realistically just spit-ball when needed?
As I’ve said, asides from the monster entries in the book, we also get a bit more background on the world of Myrr including the council of wizards known as the Great Eight and the effects they have on the terrain as listed. There’s also an entry for the Myrr Family themselves, powerful beings that could easily serve as the linchpin for a campaign. For the players though, we also get two new sub-classes in the form of the Circle of the Griffon Druid, and the Wild One Conclave Ranger.
I know that a lot of individuals sometimes feel uneasy with the use of third-party character classes or sub-classes on the perception that they are often unbalanced. This is another case of horses for courses and I’m usually in the ‘if its good for the story’ boat I’m happy to let people play things they find enjoyable. When it comes to adventuring and using the Dungeons and Dragons system, you want players to feel heroic right?
Anyhoo, balance put aside as I haven’t ran any numbers on these classes, the Circle of the Griffon looks fun but perhaps a little odd in its powers. Starting with a fighting style it seems to want to develop into an unarmed shifter. Gaining a potent Wild Shape in the form of a Griffon at later levels is definitely alluring. The Ranger on the other hand manages to capture far more of how I envisioned these wilderness warriors to operate. Forgoing magical abilities, these individuals gain a variety of useful combat tactics to ensure they are always on the move, darting to and fro in combat, as well as being adept survivalists. I think those players who use miniatures or grid combat will love the options and involvement that the Wild Ones provide.
Monsters of the Wilderness Oswald’s Curse is another cracking product from the Cawood Publishing range. The combination of whimsical, explosively colourful artwork with light descriptions means that this product has a wide appeal. It would be easy to up the darkness and threat that these creatures could provide but the softer nature in the way this book, and the rest of the range, is presented means its simple to capture younger or newer players’ attentions. Those focussed on the ‘crunch’ shouldn’t be disappointed by the thought put into the stat-blocks either.
If you’re looking for more information on the world of Myrr and the products in the line, you can find them at their main site (www.worldofmyrr.com) You’ll find the Monsters of the Wilderness there as well as over at DrivethruRPG.com.
The writer of this piece was: Adam Brown
Adam Tweets from @brother_rooster