Game: The Elements of Monsters
Review Dated: 20th, December 2003
Reviewer’s Rating: 7/10 [ Good ]
Total Score: 7
Average Score: 7.00
Ah, the science of dungeon crawling. The Elements of Monsters is going to save everyone through professional developers to ambitious new DMs a whole lot of time, more importantly, it’s going to save the time without sacrificing any quality. Despite this tremendous success and despite The Elements of Monsters painstaking efforts to be as clear as possible the supplement is will leave a few DMs scratching their head. The risk is that a too formidable supplement will persuade DMs that they can’t be bothered with it.
For 3eDnD.com members this PDF is less than US$6. It’s 135 pages long. That’s great value. There are 135 pages because every possible component you might expect to have in a monster has been worked out and detailed. A component could be a physical trait, power, ability or a beefed up set of mechanics. You’ll pay more points for the monster ability if you want to give it to a larger hit dice monster or if you want it to be able to used more often. Where do you get the points to build your monster? It’s all connected to the Challenge Rating of the monster. Tougher monsters have more points to spend and weaker monsters have fewer.
It’s not a challenge to see who can design the most lethal monster for any given point total (although people will try). The supplement is all about (and far more useful for) working out fairly balanced and interesting new encounters for players. In fact there’s general advice on how to work out Encounter Levels and Effective Party Levels. If you’ve not quite figured out the different between a Challenge Rating and an Encounter Level then its well worth casting your eyes over the explanation here.
I’m not a fan of the crunch but for some reason I’ve a weakness for bestiaries. I just like working out the ecology and it’s great fun to have an area become infamous in a campaign because of the local monstrous inhabitants. As I started to wade my way through The Elements of Monsters I came to the conclusion that this sort of thing had been pushed aside in favour of the mechanics. I’m not sure that’s right though. The Elements of Monsters does pay heed to the non-crunchy side to monster management. We’re advised, for example, to make sure the monster fits in with the environment. That’s a step away from the “And how did the giant dragon get down this dungeon any way?” that derails many an early game. There’s also advice where to place the monster – your group of heroes will be weaker near the end of the adventure. That’s back to the science of dungeon crawling but it’s true. More importantly, the whole point of The Elements of Monsters is to give the DM the ability to craft the perfect, most setting suitable, story plot vital, untraditional monster and do it fairly. It’s certainly possible to have a distaste for the crunch and to appreciate a supplement that does the hard work for you.
I also jumped to a too quick conclusion about the Builder’s Journal. Throughout the PDF there are grey box comments (not small ones either) that serve as running commentary from the designer. I couldn’t care less to begin with but as the system began to stack on top of itself, each set of rules building on the ones before, it was actually useful to be able to read the running commentary. It’s a break from the maths and shows directly what the author wanted to do.
Another huge bonus point for the PDF is so much of it is OGL. The artwork isn’t – and I’d keep my claim on the fantastic cover illustration if I’d drawn it too. I don’t really see how authors can use bits and pieces from The Elements of Monsters (although its easy to see them using to help design creatures) but hopefully the liberal OGL allowance will encounter other writers to offer add-ons of their own.
I’ve made a couple of monsters of my own with the system. Normally I like to dive in straight away and see what I can produce. This time round I felt I had to step up to the plate and create a test or two before I wrote the review because I was writing the review. The whole process seemed rather too daunting to be inviting. The first time through I ended up keeping notes, scribbles of scribbles and even a checklist of things to do. I’d really rather avoid that. Creating monsters two and three took much less time but still longer than I’d hoped. Practise might reduce the time investment further – but I sulk terribly if I find myself having to practise RPG numbers.
If I’ve had fun spending Bio-E points for the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles RPG from Palladium Books and so I should be able to have fun with this. I’ll let you know when that happens. In the meantime, though, I’m happy to accept the fact that The Elements of Monsters is a thorough and methodical supplement and take from that a monster creation system that I’ve absolute faith in. Now, the next time a publisher or fan site runs a create a monster competition…