Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Review of Black Bestiary

A week or two ago, I put out a call for reviewers to take a look at Black Tokyo's Black Bestiary.

Here's the review that reader Barbara H posted on RPGnow.

Thanks, Barbara, for taking the time to read through the book. Hope you enjoy it in your home game. 

Hello everyone and welcome to the Black Bestiary review! For the purposes of full disclosure, I received a complimentary copy of this book for review.

Clocking in at 225 pages, this book has a massive 218 pages of creatures, with the rest of the page count being the cover, table of contents, monster-by-CR, and OGL.

As a caveat to readers, the book definitely has some mature material, seeing as how it was made for the amazing but extremely mature Black Tokyo setting. That said, many of the creatures can be reflavored to suit a less racy campaign, so if the problem lies solely with player sensibilities, you should be able to get a lot of use out of this book.

Many of the creatures are drawn from Japanese mythology, pop culture, and, of course, anime, so there is quite a wide range of creatures in this book. The monsters are well-researched and it shows throughout the book. I will, for the purposes of illustrating how great this book is and for brevity's sake as well, list some of the more iconic creatures within the book.

The CR 10 Amakaze are the souls of ancient businessmen corrupted by the Oni into fiendish undead with golden talons. These guys get SEVERAL abilities, including the ability to fire bolts of cold and dark Chi energy, put a 'spiritual bounty' on foes to induce a sort of frenzy on allied Outsiders, bribe dark spirits into coming to their aid by offering up some of their wealth, an aura that makes them and their allies look completely human, enhanced social and combat capabilities against poorer characters, and even the ability to steal wealth, sustenance, knowledge, or even a target's youth with their claw attacks. All and all, a VERY cool creature! To top it all off, there is even a more powerful version of the evil creatures, termed 'Executive Board Members', who are CR16 monstrosities that not only have the powers of their lessers, but can also become a dark shade that dims light and sheds murderous cold by shifting partially into the coterminous Black Else, they revive in their estates almost like a lich revives with it's phylactery unless their source of wealth is taken from them or destroyed (Which should prove quite a difficult task!), and it's claw attacks can now steal spells, INT, and even memories, in the form of levels, from those hit by their claw attacks! The executives are also bound to whatever country they reside in and suffer when leaving it, making it a pretty cool, if hard-to-exploit, weakness.

The CR 2 Aosaginohi are heron-like spirit birds whose silent presence foretells death and woe. They can turn into an ethereal mist-like state that allows them to enter any non-airtight building that is not hallowed or from which tantric sex has occured. They also have a permanent Deathwatch effect and can cast Death Knell, plus they have an aura that bolsters undead. While I would have liked to see this creature's statblock get more signature abilities, the flavor is just awesome and anyone who plans on using undead or evil outsiders owes it to themselves to use this bird as an ominous precursor to the attack, because it just adds SO much flavor to the encounter!

The CR 18 Bake-Kujira are the vengeful undead remnants of whales. These things are DEADLY with a capital D. They, quite obviously gain Swallow Whole as an ability, but this is the least of the massive beast's powers. It can sweep it's tail to deal slam damage to all creatures in a cone (Presumably in the back 180 degrees of the Bake-Kujira's profile, but it is not specified,). While above the waterline, they burn noxiously, creating concealing smoke that sickens and nauseates nearby creatures. Their most deadly ability, however, is Sonardirge. This ability, even while above water, is deadly, because it paralyzes those who hear it and fail their saves. When the Bake-Kujira and a target are below water, it is even harder to resist and deadlier as well, because being paralyzed while sinking in the ocean's depths is a very quick way for a character to drown.

The CR 14 Corpse Gallows is quite interesting. It is the remains of a gallows infused with the suffering, fear, and anger of those who died within its embrace, granting it a gruesome unlife. The base creature has 'noose arms' that allow it to quickly strangle those it catches, but it REALLY becomes deadly once it has a corpse within one or more nooses, using the corpses to deflect attacks from its main 'body', using the dead to bludgeon the living, and even consuming the corpse to heal and free up more Strangling Noose attacks. It can also freeze and look like a normal, if macabre, gallows. For all the power of the Corpse Gallows, a Resurrection or similar spell can instantly kill it by driving out the animating spirits, which is a neat weakness.

The CR 13 Dollmaker Ooze is something that bears mentioning. These acidic oozes were created by the Oni to turn the beautiful into sex dolls, gaining paralyzing slime, a suffocating engulf, and the ability to turn the dead into sex dolls. While I am deliberately trying to shy away from the more 'sex-themed material', this thing is EASILY reflavored as the tool of mad artists or demons, who use it to produce extremely life-like 'statues'. This should be roleplaying gold for even GMs who run campaigns in settings other than Black Tokyo.

Familiars are also covered, with several new familiars and reskinned or reimagined familiars also being present.

The CR 3 Hell's Maids are perfect tools for depraved nobles and evil arcanists everywhere! While hardly a physical threat, they can cast cantrips at will and heal nearby devils if they choose to not perform a full round worth of actions. The idea of a fiendish maid or butler is just awesome!

The Hyakki Yokai, a new player race, are HILARIOUS! They are, essentially, numerous very small demons who inhabit a 'woman suit' that they build out of leather and clockwork components, which they don to go about and have fun in. The little demons bicker amongst themselves, drink themselves silly, are extremely frisky, and have little grasp about human nature, which means roleplaying the little buggers is a study in silliness as they, unsuccessfully, try to ape humanity and come off as being some of the oddest people ever.

The CR 3 Ironbrother Yakuza are basically fiendish toughs who emulate the Yakuza. With abilities like Murder Zen and Too Honest, how could one not enjoy using these creatures?

The CR 15 Tottori Horrors are massive, Lovecraftian-esque monstrosities who operate on different terms in regards to space and time, able to 'store' rounds of inactivity and then unleash them in bursts of frenetic activity. Their alien intellect can incapacitate those who touch their minds, causing severe neural hemorrhaging that, if lethal, can transform the victim into another Tottori Horror. Not only that, but these beasts have 1,000 ft 'death rays' and powerful claw attacks and Regeneration 10 (Good or Lawful), making them extremely capable combatants. Make no mistake, these things are TPK machines!

All of the above creatures are but a small fraction of the well-made creatures in The Black Bestiary.

So, let's break down the book. The material is well researched and quite flavorful, giving the 'Fluff' score 5. The monsters are all relatively balanced according to CR, with a few small squicks here and there, but nothing that should diminish the 'Crunch' score of 5 that I feel it deserves. The art is a mix of stock art and commissioned art, both drawn and computer-generated, and is appropriate for the book, with several excellent pieces of art that remind me of the long nights watching anime back in high school.

All in all, I rate the book as being 5 star and highly recommend it to anyone that is looking for a book of solid, interesting monsters. I especially recommend it to anyone who has the Black Tokyo setting, because the material is spot-on for the setting.

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