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Saturday, 8 May 2010

Equine Dreams Are Bad Dreams

You can never have too many monsters for your game. If you never use all of the monsters you have at your disposal – go on, go look at how many books of monsters you have on your shelf, just the ones for Dungeons & Dragons mind, because if you start looking at monster books for other RPGs, you will never come back to read this review – then they are there at least to use as background, as the spurs for ideas, and so on. After all, the best thing about those monster books is the ideas that they contain, that and the serendipitous nature of finding a monster you want to use when you were looking for another monster that you were planning to use. Part of the reason that you need new monsters is the fact many can only be used so many times before your players know about them and so know how their characters should deal with them. In which case you either need new monsters or you need a new take on an old monster. Which is where the Monster Chronicles series comes in handy.

From the publisher behind Kobold Quarterly, the well received quarterly magazine that has taken up where Dragon left off, Monster Chronicles is a new PDF series of mini supplements that sets out to provide ecologies and variants for some of the lesser-known, and the well regarded, monsters to be found in Dungeons & Dragons and its many variants. In presenting it as a series, a DM is free to pick choose the monsters that he wants to look at rather than having to flick through the pages of a big fat tome. All right, so no serendipity, but direct and to the point and the DM’s choice. There are already two titles available, the first of which is Monster Chronicles: Nightmare, co-authored by Dungeons & Dragons luminary, Ed Greenwood with Rob McCreary from Paizo. This is good because Monster Chronicles: Nightmare is compatible with the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game.

We all know of the Nightmare as being a giant black horse, its flanks and hooves aflame, its eyes red and flaming, and its all too sharp teeth a sign of its preference for the flesh of the living. We also know that if alone it is often found along roads, otherwise this demonic creature of the outer planes is to be found as the chosen steed of many a great villain – remember “Venger, Force of Evil” from the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon? Pretty sure that he rode a Nightmare. Monster Chronicles: Nightmare builds on the entry to be found in the Pathfinder Bestiary and adds a fair amount of detail to the basic information that we know, covering its basic habitat, an extraplanar “world” where the creatures roam as packs; its physiology and the nature of its flames; its reproductive cycle – this information not entirely suitable for a younger audience; how it fights in battle; the relationship between Nightmare and rider, both willing and unwilling; and its possible progression from mere Nightmare into Elder Nightmare, or worse, a Vampire Nightmare!

The description is full of little bits of information that a DM might let find their way into his campaign. For example, it is possible for an alchemist to collect and store the sweat from a Nightmare, since this is what ignites upon contact with the air; that victims who have felt a Nightmare’s flame will suffer from actual nightmares, or bad dreams; and that it is actually possible for someone to take a Nightmare as a very exotic mount. And by someone, we mean a player character, because you just know that someone is going to want one, whatever his alignment.

Rounding out Monster Chronicles: Nightmare is a variant upon the Nightmare. This is a Karabasan, a Critical Rating eleven crimson equine inhabitant of the Elemental Plane of Fire that on the mortal plane is found in desert regions.  Also known as a fire mare, the creature reeks of brimstone and can freely create a cloud of blinding, nauseating sulphur around itself. The favoured mount of Efreet and with its desert theme, the Karabasan is a suitable addition for any campaign that takes place in a desert, perhaps with an Arabian or Egyptian theme.

As the first release in the Monster Chronicles series, this PDF does not quite get it off the excellent start that you might expect from a publisher such as Open Design. At just eight pages in length, you feel that it should be providing more information and that feeling is compounded by the fact that there are no adventure seeds as promised. There are ideas within its contents that will no doubt inspire a DM, but as to actual seeds, the PDF is bare. Then of course, there is the issue of price, which does feel a little too expensive for you are given. That said, as one off purchase that price is nothing to really gripe about, but get into the habit of collecting the series and it could get a little more expensive than you imagined.

If you happen to want to add the details of Nightmare to you game, then Monster Chronicles: Nightmare is exactly what you want. It nicely develops a classic creature from Dungeons & Dragons as promised adding quite a few juicy little details and so fleshing it out. In doing it gets the series off to a promising start. All that needs done is to add in the promised adventure seeds and the series will make a useful resource for many a DM.