Hey there, dear viewers. I figured I’d do something a little different than usual and review a title that is not RPG related. Gasp-shock-horror, I know! This probably won’t be a very regular feature, but this won’t be the last you’ll hear of non-RPG book reviews here at RRB, either. Anyway, our first book will be The Field Guide to North American Monsters: Everything you Need to Know About Encountering Over 100 Terrifying Creatures in the Wild by W. Haden Blackman.
I’ll make no excuse about it: I collect monster reference books. Cryptids, creeps, aliens, giants, faeries, dragons…whatever it is, I probably already have at least one book on it or have one on my wishlist. This is mostly for Arkadenverse research, but I will admit that they are also fun reads when you’re bored…but I digress. The Field Guide to North American Monsters is a 249 page title, not including the notes section given for you to jot stuff down in at the back of the book, and is a paperback. The first thing you’ve probably noticed from the image above is that it certainly isn’t quite your pocket book-type field guide; it feels nice in the hand, but it’s certainly not easily portable. Of course, unless you are actually into the paranormal on a level beyond amusement and/or fiction/gaming/whatever writing, this won’t be too much of a problem.
The book cuts no corners on material (okay, technically there is a margin, but you know what I mean); instead of laying down lots of imagery (which may or may not be a good thing; we’ll discuss that later), there are only a scant few images here and there in the form of eyewitness drawings, a few black and white sketches, and photographs of supposed encounters and sighting areas, with most of the space being dedicated to multiple pages of fluffalicious information on each major creature. Yes, multiple pages for most of the 100 creatures in this title, as well as some mini-entries that briefly describe related creatures that didn’t make the “Big 100″ cut. The chapters are divided up into the following, based on the type of creature each chapter discusses:
- Hairy Humanoids: As they say on TV Tropes, this does exactly what it says on the tin, covering the various furry human-shaped creatures such as Bigfoot, the Skunk Ape, and more obscure examples such as the Lake Worth Monster and Penelope the cannibal mutant.
- Lake Monsters and Sea Serpents: Again, does what it says on the tin. You get lake monsters, sea serpents, and other watery whatsits from rivers and ponds across the United States and Canada.
- Flying Monsters: Monsters. That can fly. Surprised, aren’t you?
- Dwarves and Giants: Little people and big monsters. These are primarily from Native American mythology, with the exception of a few of the dwarves that are pulled from UFOlogy.
- Cryptid Animals: Mostly either Native American, lumberjack, or Old West lore such as jackalopes and snipes or modern monsters of the animalian persuasion such as sewer gators and surviving woolly mammoths.
- Beastmen and Beastwomen: Any beastfolk that don’t fall into “hairy humanoids”; a healthy portion of these are Native American legends.
- Supernatural Monsters: Nearly completely dedicated to the undead, with a few exceptions.
- Enigmatic Entities: Anything that falls into topics that aren’t covered by the above, more or less.
- So You Want to be a Monsterologist?: A collection of notes on hunting monsters, precautions and preparations, etc., as well as a large and rather well-thought eyewitness questioning list. In other words, the ultimate roleplayer’s reference dream. Oh, and for you GMs out there, there’s also a Monsters by State/Province appendix, so wee to that.
All in all, this is a well thought-out layout, which makes things easy to find if you want, say, a specifically humanoid monster or an undead menace.
Well, chapter layout’s all well and good, but what is it without substance within said chapters? Well…a worse book, obviously. Thankfully, our book here delivers no shortage of substance within the layout. As noted on the cover, there are over 100 monsters…85 multi-page entries and 79 paragraph-long “mini-monster entries”, if I count correctly…which is plenty of ground covered. Admittedly, some chapters get less love than others (Flying Monsters, I’m looking at you), but overall each chapter gets treated with a similar dose of subject material. And what does that subject matter entail? Well, each main entry (as noted before, the mini-entries are merely paragraph-long summaries rather than true entries, so I won’t tell you a longer version of “they’re just paragraphs”) have a gray box with details on distinguishing characteristics, height, weight, range and habitat, population size, diet, behavior, source (Native American lore, urban legend, lumberjack tales, cryptozoology, etc.), and likelyhood of encountering the monster (rated 1 to 4, strangely enough. Why not just go whole hog and have it on a 5-grade scale?). The text itself is a page and a half or longer of details on the creature’s history, more information on the gray box rundown, and various situational circumstances and dangers a monsterologist may face with that particular creature.
And what sort of entries are there? Well, there’s the expected stuff like Bigfoot, vampires, zombies, werewolves, popular lake monsters of North America, sewer alligators, and Mothman, sure. It probably wouldn’t be a “proper” monster guide to North America without them. There are also a lot of Native American legends such as the beaver women, serpent women, cannibal babies, and Two-Faces (which is about as close to an ettin as you’ll get in real-life mythology, only creepier). You have your “creative taxidermy” critters as well. You know the types; jackalopes, furred trout, Dolly Parton…those types of things. Yet even these oddball creatures are given the same in-dialog reverence as the big-name monsters, earning another gold star for this book from me already. Similarly, some rather obscure monsters get some impressively loving treatment from the field guide. In addition to the aforementioned Penelope (a woman who ate raw meat after a car crash and then slept in a radioactive barrel, which…somehow combined to turn her into a furry, clawed, feral beast. Hey, it’s at least as plausible as Spider-Man, so don’t knock it), you have creatures such as the ferocious Chicken Man (no, it’s not what it sounds like), the whi-lu-go-yuk (think the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog, but reincarnated as a swarm of bloodthirsty shrews), and the lesser known cousin of the MIB known as the Grinning Man.
Well-written, often humorous, and always informative, The Field Guide to North American Monsters is one of the most valuable of the resource titles I’ve purchased in the past few years. All in all, I will say that I have not regretted one second of the 7 months I have had this book. Whether you are a monster enthusiast, a crypto-reader, or just an urban fantasy (or hell, even bog standard) RPG buff who wants to spice up your game, I’d recommend this book. My only regret is that there are no such titles for other continents as far as I know of. 10/10.