volume 2 Monsters &
This review is an attempt to catch and write down the ideas that Monsters& + WutC set in motion.
Disclosure: I worked with Luke in the past (he wrote Random Access for SPRAWLS), I really love his work, and keep WutC in the highest regard. So of course this review is biased. I started writing a review of WutC but I scrapped the idea when it turns out longer than the rules.
The second instalment of the “Monsters &” series by Luke Gearing, volume 2 is a throwback to a time when things were simpler. Kind of.
“The greatest creation tool is the knife” warns the author in the introduction to Wolves upon the Coast Grand Campaign. Monsters& exemplifies this knife approach.
It’s a rewriting, streamlining and adapting of the OD&D monsters, tying them to a specific setting.
&M is a highly curated Od&d bestiary, retaining classic monsters like Invisible Stalkers and Purple Worms.
51 monsters are listed, a fairly restrained selection to begin with. Nothing openly weird, between low-fantasy and mythology. A deceptively vanilla selection.
Goblin, Ogres, Vampires, Ennts, assorted jellies, wights, dryads. They all sounds familiar, we all know them and chances are, encountered in the past. It’s back to basics. The writing in &M is highly elliptic. It plays with common knowledge. It gives it from granted, it builds on top. That’s why &M is so concise. It only adds what is relevant. What you still don’t know.
&M give for granted that you know what a goblin is. Does not DESCRIBE anything, rather suggest a radical twist on the common idea we have of a goblin.
Here, in the M& words: Goblins: “When a city die, the children survive. They do not survive unchanged.”
quite a twist, isn’t it. It forces to go back to your notion of Goblin, and rethink it. There is no such thing as a free kill in WutC.
For comparison, here’s the 0e entry for Goblins:
“GOBLINS: These small monsters are as described in CHAINMAIL. They see well in darkness or dim light, but when they are subjected to full daylight they subtract –1 from their attack and morale dice. They attack dwarves on sight. Their hit dice must always equal at least one pip.” … nothing to see here.
let’s see Chainmail: “GOBLINS (and Kobolds) see well in dimness or dark, but they do not like bright light. Who fighting in full daylight or bright light they must subtract 1 from their Morale rating, as well as 1 from the any die rolled. Because of their reciprocal hatred, Hoblins (Kobolds) will automatically attack any Dwarves (gnomes) within charging distance.”. Ok, I know it is from a boardgame from the 70s. Nobody used to love goblins back then.
Most of the monsters listed in M& have some kind of twist on their vanilla counterparts, all of them offer something new.
Gnolls CHOOSE to embrace the canid mask, thus becoming one, Juggernauts are architectural monsters, defending ruins. Monsters are not “HP bags”, most of the times they are not even enemies.
Consider the Bandits: “1d6 relatives to grieve, close enough to know who did it.”
maybe their farm was attacked, the point is that they’re bandits for a reason. They are bandits with a meaning. In this case revenge. Bandits become partizans, resistance against invasion. Also werewolves are tied to the resistance to an invader: “In thick coils of vegetation, an appeal can be made to an ancient enemy. Amongst the occupied communities, an insurgent stalks, and spreads terror. Those left alive by the attacks will inevitably replay them”.This bestiary is shaped by war, and famine, and greed. I am no history expert but this goes well with the Dark Ages Viking setting. It’s OE, but grim and perilous.
Medusae are Imperium’s enforcers, their entries ends with this banger: “Make a wasteland, call it what you will”.
After reading WutC, I think it means that Medusae once were part of Roman invasion forces, used to create scorched earth before moving to capture the wasteland in their wake.
There’s a recurring sentence throughout the book: “This is but a path a man may walk to leave mortality behind”.
Most of the monsters once were human. Some of them were actively trying to go beyond humanity.
Some were cursed into their new post-human form. like Trolls: cruelly fed glass shards until they regenerates. Or ghouls, emptied and moved by hunger.
There’s a proliferation of geologic consciousness and cthonic forces. The Black Pudding, The Purple Worms , the Orcs shaped from iron, the Kobolds dripping out from gapes in the earth. WutC is not very antropocentric, which I like..
&M distinctly has a BEFORE and AFTER. I’ve read it before WutC and yes I found it interesting, but I did not quite get it, was like nice poetry or something, After reading WutC, I went back to &monsters and re-read it under a different light. New information about ecologies and ways of living are sparkled through the hexes of WutC. The new info about monsters in WutC would require a compendium. WutC and &M are indissolubly tied. There’s a reason why according to the author, WutC is to be played “exclusively with &Monster.
&M sets the generic form of monsters. while WutC presents the singular instances. No two monsters the same, each one has a different personality. The Ogre who collects eyes. The druids from Ruislip which are not like the ones in Albann. Different vampires want different things. Only the Manticore never changes. Hands down my favourite, but to understand it, you need to read WutC. They steal faces to people who kick dogs.
Nothing serious. Right?Right? Turns out the implications of a stolen face can be far-reaching, but this surprise I won’t spoil.
This book is a formidable worldbuilding tool for WutC: in the WutC information ecosystem, there is no formal book of lore. It’s all implicit, parcelled between monsters, items, and hex entries.
Every entry in &M describes a monster, but also describes the environment of the monster. Which is information about the world. Object-oriented game design?
Luke wrote a good article about the choice to restrain the monster biodiversity in WutC and stick to the &M entries,
For one thing I am at debt with &Monsters: I will never confuse again gnolls and hobgoblins, merfolk and lizardfolk. Even the 0e manual did not quite get it.
GNOLLS: A cross between Gnomes and Trolls (. . . perhaps, Lord Sunsany did not really make it all that clear) with +2 morale. Otherwise they are similar to Hobgoblins, although the Gnoll king and his bodyguard of from 1–4 will fight as Trolls but lack regenerative power.
from OD&D Book 2 Monsters & Treasure