Game: Legacy of the Dragons
Publisher: Malhavoc Press
Series: Arcana Unearthed: d20
Review Dated: 21st, July 2004
Reviewer’s Rating: 7/10 [ Good ]
Total Score: 8
Average Score: 4.00
Ooh, a bestiary without annoying alignment faff. A d20 bestiary without alignment nonsense for that matter! Monte Cook’s Arcana Unearthed is notable for many reasons but one of my favourites is the dismissing of the awful D&D alignment system. So, here in Legacy of the Dragons, we have creatures like Rock Apes and don’t have to worry whether they’re smart enough to be actively or just passively “good” or “evil”.
Legacy of the Dragons is a “mere” 162 pages in length. It has that greyscale illustration style which I once associated with Malhavoc but now associate with Arcana Unearthed (a subtle but probably important difference). That’s to say the illustrations are quality, grey, drawings and there are no chunky sidebars or chapter heading graphics. It’s the illustrations which give this collection of monsters a healthy push in the right direction. Legacy of the Dragons’ line up includes Kev Crossley, Jennifer Meyer, Tyler Walpole, Sam Wood and Ed Bourelle. Bourelle’s one of the best cartographers in the business and Legacy of the Dragons enjoys his talents. Certain monster entries are accompanied by maps. Oh yes, it’s written by Monte Cook and Mike Mearls.
Legacy of the Dragons is just a little different from most other bestiaries. I’ve already noted that some of the entries have associated maps. That’s because every monster entry has a sample encounter involving the monster. That’s different. There’s an EL for this encounter which isn’t just the same Challenge Rating for the critter. I went to pick two examples of encounters from the book for the review and kept on finding encounters where a merchant approaches the PCs. Oh well – it is tricky writing so many self-contained, modular, encounters! In general there are several pages per monster – not several monsters per page. There’s plenty of detail and always an atmospheric introductory couple of paragraphs about the monster. The Monte and Mike combination can write. I’m not too happy about calling the monster entries in Legacy of the Dragons “monsters” either. It seems almost too dumbed-down. Malhavoc calls them monsters, though. Part One of the book is called “Monsters of the Diamond Throne”. Part Two of the book is “Characters of the Diamond Throne”.
I like monster books – I use them as inspiration for scenes and atmosphere. I guess I must be a visual type who creates fantasy worlds from mental pictures – and monsters help with that. I’m not so fond of the NPCs though. I want to create the important NPCs myself. It doesn’t matter, in the larger scale of things, if the players kill a couple of Blade Trolls. It might matter if something happens to Daelan Bitterslice or Domagoth the Dominator. What if they’re mentioned in a future supplement? Sword and Sorcery Studios (who stand alongside Malhavoc under the White Wolf umbrella) do this with some of their Scarred Lands NPCs. I can’t risk messing up story continuity or wrecking future supplements. I don’t even like having to think that it might be a possibility! I don’t like NPC books.
Many of the monsters are humanoid and quite a few have possibilities as player characters or NPCs (rather than just encounters). Whenever it’s appropriate we’ve help from Monte and Mike here. Handy. On a similar note we’re often told about the sort of society these intelligent (intelligent-ish) creatures tend to gather and live in. I prefer to have more information than not but there’s a catch here. I had a pretty clear of what life in the lands of the Diamond Throne was like. The Arcana Unearthed books are great for this, and now, all of a sudden, a whole bunch of other societies have sprung up. I’m beginning to get a Forgotten Realms vibe from the game now; new creatures and powers around every corner. I’m not so keen on that.
There are over 50 new monsters in Legacy of the Dragons and just over a dozen NPCs. That’s really rather a lot. Characters tend to have a history (which may or may not fit with game world information you’ve already introduced) and therefore take up a fair chunk of pages too.
There are some hidden surprises of Legacy of the Dragons – most notably a couple of pages on conversation notes. Want to convert your favourite d20 D&D character or NPC to d20 Arcana Unearthed? This section provides useful assistance. Some of the observations are fairly obvious (the Champion is akin to the Paladin? Never!) but most of the chapter is helpful.
And, oh yes, there’s the legacy of the Dragons in the Legacy of the Dragons. Here we find out what was going on – loosely – in the lands of the Diamond Throne before it was known as the Diamond Throne. We have the origin of the dramojh. It’s a little disappointing, rather more in line with the cheese fantasy that Arcana Unearth (normally) so successfully shrugs off.
I feel as if I’ve nit-picked the hell out of this product. It seems a little unfair because I’m really quite pleased with it! Even the inclusion of the NPCs doesn’t really unsettle me too much. I think in this case the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts. Sit back and look at the whole; you’ve monsters for the Diamond Throne, which you need, you’ve conversion rules, which are handy, you’ve some more history, which you can use or loose and I suppose you can say the same for the NPCs. I see the Legacy of the Dragons as essentially a monster book and in that respect the monster entries are jolly good. GameWyrd’s ranking system looks to see if the product does what it says it will and if it does so professionally we begin with a passing grade of 5/10. We then add and subtract from that based on likes and dislikes. The Legacy of the Dragons goes up and down but finally settles quite high on the up scale.