Game: Creatures of Rokugan
Series: Rokugan: d20
Review Dated: 29th, January 2002
Reviewer’s Rating: 7/10 [ Good ]
Total Score: 23
Average Score: 5.75
A list of monsters should never be essential for any roleplaying game. A roleplaying supplement that is sold as a list of monsters, a bestiary, a creature collection or anything along those lines should stick to those lines. The Creatures of Rokugan from AEG strays off the path and although this makes the book a little easier to review, it also makes it harder to rate. Previously I’ve been able to rate bestiaries for what they were, a manual of monsters, which is why the likes of Minions, from Bastion Press, a whopping nine out of ten. I’ll do Creatures of Rokugan a favour and rate it as a decent collection of monsters for a Rokugan setting and not as a few pages of rules that cost nearly $25 because the book’s padded out with a lot of creatures.
As you might have gathered, as I may have made clear, there are some extra rules smuggled into CoR. Many of the extra rules and observations don’t seem to be trivial either. I’m new to Rokugan, tempted in by Oriental Adventures and yet to buy the campaign book. Despite some of the concerns I have with CoR it has succeeded in keeping my interest in the line alive and the chances of another purchase are pretty good. Since I don’t actually have the Rokugan book I can only speculate but I would imagine the effects of Shadowland taint on characters would be a fairly important thing. I can see that not all the rules on it have been deferred but if you want the information on deformities, minor and major Shadowland powers then you’ll have to pick up a copy of Creatures of Rokugan, not exactly the place you might expect to find them. The same applies to the prestige classes thrown into the back of the book. Yet more prestige classes. More. Even more. I’m tempted to re-read the Open License Agreement to see whether publishers are obliged to introduce a new prestige class with every book they produce. Alright, so I don’t hate prestige classes but I really wish they would be introduced properly. Green Ronin’s Societies of Magic build up detailed information on, yes, societies of magic and only then introduce appropriate prestige classes, classes which relate to the previous text. Mongoose Publishing’s Quintessential Fighter has a host of, yes, you guessed it again, fighter prestige classes and each one is introduced and fleshed out. Those are two examples of how and when to introduce prestige classes. Creatures of Rokugan seems to throw in a few at the end of the book as a sort “Oh yes! There are these people too! Bye!” Whereas their addition doesn’t actually detract from the book they don’t really add to it either. The information at the start of the book is far more appropriate and more successful in keeping me interested in Rokugan. Crystal and jade are special materials, naturally perfect and able to exists in this realm and in the spirit realms. The net game effect is that they can injure certain shadowy Outsiders when normal weapons would fail, just like a werewolf versus a silver bullet. This connection and resulting effect is also one of the best explanations to weird vulnerabilities I’ve read to date, I’m sure it’s all based in Asian culture but to my GM eyes it provides a very easy and tempting hook to get the players and characters involved in the spiritual cosmology of the world. Why would the werewolf be vulnerable to silver? Err? I’m sure someone will email but I’ve heard many theories and house rules but the best still comes from the Bluffer’s Guide to the Occult where the author suggests that werewolves and other nasties can only be hurt by silver was in fact a very successful piece of medieval marketing by the Silversmith’s Guild :)
There are, of course, round about 100 creatures in the book too. A quick comparison to Minions is interesting; both books have round about 100 monsters, both cost about the same but Minions is full glossy cover whereas Creatures of Rokugan is black and white. CoR is twice as thick though.
Strange as it sounds, I thought one of the selling points for Oriental Adventures for people newish to the setting was the colourful and broad collection of creatures. It was the ideal tonic to people suffering from Yet-Another-Gnoll syndrome (similar to Yet-Another-Prestige-Class syndrome but easier to catch and harder to cure). The range of monsters in Creatures of Rokugan is not quite as wide. Many of the entries are humanoid, some with animal influence and others with undead or spirit influence. This is, perhaps, understandable given that the inspiration for these new monsters really has to relate to Asian (historically based or just believable) folklore. Also, some of the new creatures are presented as part of a clear family – the Oni, the Elemental Terrors and the Oracles for example. In terms of challenge ratings the scope of monsters supersedes the Monster Manual in that you’ll find everything from CR1 up to CR20 and then CR25.
What has Challenge Rating 25? I know you’re thinking it. Okay. It’s the First Oni. It’s dead though, which is a bit of a shame, even though it’s blood is responsible for a whole list of nasty things. It’s dead but could come back at any time.
The Kusatte Iru has Challenge Rating 20. That’s not dead. It’s, ah, just kept in a magical slumber by the Crab Clan. It’s a sleep but you never know; it might be woken up. That’s a possible campaign hook, I suppose. The special qualities of this powerful giant state that it has the fear inducing Damage Reduction 75/+7 (jade) … unless you read it’s combat notes where the damage reduction there is quoted at a mere 50. Fortunately that sort of mistake is not common through the book.
Impressive challenge ratings, huh? There’s a nice index of them, listed in order, near the back of the book. A glance at that list seems to suggest that there are plenty of challenge 1, 2 or even 3 creatures. The odd thing is that if you flick through the book and stop at random the chances are you’ll be reading notes on a CR 5+ (or harder) creature. I suppose it’s a reflection that the powerful creatures need more text to describe them. The flavour of many Oriental Adventures too, I imagine, is one of much katana swiping and high kicking action and the need for low powered encounters from a supplemental book therefore much reduced.
It really seems as if I’ve nagged and bitched about this book way more than finding positive things to say about it but that’s hardly far. Over all “Creatures of Rokugan” is a pleasant book, even if it costs a bit. It looks pretty and its nicely formatted and printed. You just need to watch the pages flick lazy by to summon up all sorts of Oriental themes and ideas. It’s a nice book to hold too, it’s just thick enough to feel like a real purchase and the cover art pretty good too. There’s a streak of bravery too. Trolls and goblins are included in the sampling of creatures. The Rokugan troll and the mountain goblin are the Oriental Adventures equivalents of the traditional favourites. I think it’s brave to offer them up cleanly and honestly rather than trying to repackage them under some made up name and the desperate pretence that they’re not just a goblin and a troll.