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Saturday 10 September 2022

A Cryptid Collection

The DARK PLACES & DEMOGORGONS Cryptid Manual is a cryptozoological bestiary for the Dark Places & Demogorgons, the roleplaying game of being students at high school in the nineteen eighties in a small town by mysterious attacks and disappearances. With the adults at a loss as to what to do and the local police department possessing no idea, let alone the local preacher whipping up another moral panic, it is invariably down to the teenagers to find out what is going on, where the victims have disappeared to, and who or what is responsible. With the DARK PLACES & DEMOGORGONS Cryptid Manual, the who or what responsible is drawn from the pseudoscience of cryptozoology. Creatures like Bigfoot, The Mothman, The Jersey Devil, The Pope Lick Monster, Chupacabra, Gremlins, and Lake Monsters, and more. Initially, this gives the DARK PLACES & DEMOGORGONS Cryptid Manual a distinctly North American focus with Cryptids native to Canada, Mexico, and the USA, but there are numerous creatures included too from around the world. On the plus side, this means that the players and their students are going to be challenged by something they will probably never have heard of and not know how to deal with, but on the downside, the Game Master will need to be creative in how she brings such creatures into the campaign.

The DARK PLACES & DEMOGORGONS Cryptid Manual is published by Bloat Games, and is supposedly a secret printing of a file taken from an evidence locker at Quantico. These are the Hope Excerpts, the collected notes and reports of an explorer, Joel Harrison Hope, who long searched for an ancient artefact known as the Staff of Bel, which had been used Sumerian priests to defeat monsters. Over time, heroes and priests from across the ancient world used the staff before it ended up in Rome and was broken and its pieces scattered during by a barbarian invasion. Fortunately, Hope was able to locate the staff and find notes and details of other ‘monsters’ and other artefacts. However, the Staff of Bel is not detailed in the supplement and Hope’s notes play little further role either, and for as potentially as an interesting set-up as that is, it is disappointing not to see this followed through.

The DARK PLACES & DEMOGORGONS Cryptid Manual contains some fifty or so different monsters that come from North America, Mexico, Africa, Europe, Asia, and Australia. They include seven types of the Bigfoot, with the Almasti being the Russian equivalent to the North American beast and the Yeren the Chinese, whilst the Grassman Bigfoot is the Ohio version, the Skunk Ape, the swamp dwelling from the South, the Yowie the Australian version, and the Sasquatch, the most well-known version from the Pacific Northwest, and the Yeti, the Asian version. The often-connected Wendigo is alongside as a spirit monster, whilst the Sheepsquatch is a newcomer to the fold, essentially a seven-foot tall ruminant known for its aggressive love of meth and other drugs, and rumoured to have been seen fighting the Mothman, which deserves a all of its very own. Similarly, there are five versions of the Extra-terrestrial, including ranging from the little-known Flatwoods Monster to the Greys and Little Green Men via the Nordic and Reptilian types. A campaign could easily mix these up for the students to get involved in the secret war between the Nordic and the Grey and the Reptilian Extra-terrestrials.

From Mexico and the America Southwest, there is the Chupacabra, and from the legends of the North Americans natives come the Mishipeshu and the Thunderbird. The African creatures include the Grootslang, a giant snake with the head of an elephant known to be wise and crafty, which resides in deep caverns, whilst the Mokele-Mbembe is a giant dinosaur occasionally spotted in the deepest jungles. The Bunyip is the only Australian entry. From Europe, the DARK PLACES & DEMOGORGONS Cryptid Manual includes the Dobhar-Chu—the Irish Otter King—which protect rivers and streams from pollution and overuse, and are considered lucky to see, and the Kelpie from Scottish myth, as well as a more generic fairy. The Shuck comes from English folklore and is a good stand in for any black dog, whilst Greek myth is the source of both Cerberus and Medusa. There are silly creatures too, such as the Crocoduck, which has the body of a duck and the head of a crocodile, and a penchant for bananas. Thankfully they are duck-sized, but do hunt in packs.

Each entry in the DARK PLACES & DEMOGORGONS Cryptid Manual is a given a one or two-page spread, with clear and easy to read stats and explanations of its powers. It is also accompanied by a heavy, black and white illustration, some of which are quite creepy, such as the Black-eyed Children and the Reptilian Extra-terrestrial, the latter a nice nod to the V television series. Notably, quite a lot of effort has gone into making the various types of Extra-terrestrial different from each other, though this is not necessarily the case with the Sasquatch. In places the descriptions of the creatures do feel underwritten, consisting of descriptions of their habits and physiologies, but the accompanying eyewitness statements, like that of the county dog catcher who thought a Psi-Rat might have been a dog or the drug addict and meth manufacturer who threatened the Sheepsquatch with the double-barreled shotgun add some decent flavour and detail.

Rounding out the DARK PLACES & DEMOGORGONS Cryptid Manual is set of templates which can be applied to any of the entries in the book. These include Dire, rabid, radioactive, vampiric, and zombie, plus options to enhance or weaken them. Along with the rules for morale, and explanations of both game terms and updated game terms, there is a lot of flexibility built into the supplement, allowing the Game Master to modify and adjust the various cryptids with little difficulty.

If there is a downside to the DARK PLACES & DEMOGORGONS Cryptid Manual, it is that its various monsters and creatures could have benefited from more background and detailing of their origins, as otherwise, it leaves the Game Master with a fair bit of research and investigation to do of her own. Nevertheless, there are nice little details of each to be found, especially in each entry’s flavour text. The DARK PLACES & DEMOGORGONS Cryptid Manual pleasingly brings the strange and the weird and the modern into the small-town life of DARK PLACES & DEMOGORGONS, as well as the Old School Renaissance itself, with a varied and interesting collection of cryptozoological critters.

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