Welcome to a very special Rappy’s RPG Reviews! This week, I’ll be putting down my d20 Modern collection to review some titles from another d20 game: Dungeons and Dragons. Now, I don’t play much Dungeons and Dragons…I don’t actually play it at all anymore, really. That doesn’t mean I’m unfamiliar with it (I’ve done some statting work for it as well). Anyway, this time we’ll be looking at a book put out by Wizards of the Coast called Savage Species. This may not be Open Game Content (which is a big turn off for me), but I will review it objectively; I’ve reviewed other non-OGL books such as d20 Apocalypse and d20 Past before, after all.
Chapters 1-3: Making a Hero out of a Monster
Chapter 1 is essentially rehashing what any player knows about creating a character and is brief, so we will move directly into chapter 2. Entitled “Monster Characters”, this chapter starts out by describing just what a “monster character” is, as well as discussing how various features reflect themselves in Level Adjustment. Some things I don’t agree with, like scent giving an automatic LA +1, but it’s fairly solid otherwise. There are also notes on difficult non-humanoids to play. These can range from creatures such as the undead (due to their inability to heal themselves and their vulnerability to turning) to having no arms. A lot of these obstacles do have work-arounds, as we’ll see later. Finally, the end portion of the chapter teaches by example, showing a step-by-step building of a bugbear 1st-level Barbarian.
Chapter 3 introduces us to monster classes. My, my, my…monster classes. Call me dense or stuck in my ways or whatever, but I just don’t see the point of monster classes. For those of you that don’t know of the monster class system, it essentially breaks down monsters into a progression; they start out as an LA 0 creature with only a few bonuses and ability scores comparable to something on par with orcs and elves and such. You then take levels in the “class” to work up to the main abilities of the monster. I just don’t get it! Why would you want to play less of a minotaur? Hell, how can you even be less of a minotaur? But I digress… This chapter gives the basic for the system, if you want to use it, and gives the minotaur as an example. Oh, you’ll see far more later, though.
As suggested by the fact that the chapter is called “Feats”, it gives a load of feats that are specifically designed to be beneficial to monsters, be they characters or normal monsters with advanced hit die (or even some feat swaps for a sudden surprise for your players). These include abilities special to Huge or larger creatures (such as Blowhard, which allows a Huge or larger monster to esssentially make windstorms with its breath), the Cumbrous line of feats (which let you increase a power during combat but as cost; for instance, Cumbrous Dodge increases your dodge bonus to Armor Class, but you’re fatigued after the encounter), environment-related feats, and various other goodies. My personal favorite is mighty roar, an animal and magical beast-specific feat that gives a creature an intimidating bellow that can shake up opponents. It’s great to use on things like tyrannosaurus if you want a little more fear in your encounter.
The first part of this chapter deals with weaponry. These weapons come in two types; they are either weapons made from monsters (such as howler javelins, made from howler spines…duh) or made FOR monsters (like blades and clubs meant to be attached to the tail of a creature such as a lizardfolk). These are mostly interesting, although a few like the chuul lasher (a paralytic venom-laden whip strapped to the chuul’s lobster-like claws) are kind of silly. The equipment listed under Special and Superior Items are nearly all made from monsters, such as bottled aboleth mucus and vrock spores in a jar, but there are a few items made specifically for the desmodu (more on them later) to utilize. All three of the armors are made as a “from monsters” item; kyton armor is a chainmail shirt that can replicate the chain devil’s chain animating qualities, the serpent armor is made from naga skin, and the wight armor replicates some wightish features and makes the wearer invisible to the undead. The magical items are…hit and miss. Some are neat (like the dwarf crusher hammer, a giant-made weapon that ignores the hardness of items, even armor, that is strikes), some are strange (like a club that has a rusting ability…for some reason), and some are just plain dumb (the whip of webs is a sticky web-whip; it’s just as lame as it sounds). There are other forms of equipment in here, such as ones that grant either thumbs or entire arms to creatures that don’t have them and various trinkets and doodads, but you have the general idea by now.
Chapter 6 is dedicated to new spells, even one that the Assassin gains (I think this is the first time I’ve actually seen a supplement to that Assassin spell list)! The spells here are varied in both power and function. There are two awaken spells (awaken construct and awaken undead, essentially doing what awaken animal does for animals), nature spells ranging from ones that increase burrow or swim speed to vermin-summons, “copy beast” spells (like one that grants low light vision), and even two directly opposed arm spells (Girallon’s blessing, which gives the spellcaster another pair of arms, and fuse arms, which lets a caster gain physical strength by fusing their four or more arms into just a single pair of uber-arms). The spells are overall useful and worth having on hand for a character.
Chapter 7-Prestige Classes
Classes! And no, not monster classes, actual prestige classes. The first thing you find is a question of “Why would I want a new prestige class?” and a solid look at making them. I like that, it’s nice to have handy. Now then, on to the actual prestige classes!
Emancipated Spawn: An emancipated spawn is a creature like a vampire spawn, but one who has broken free of her master’s will and has started to remember her former life. This class lets a spawned undead regain their class levels, feats, and other things they had in the life before the enslaved unlife. An emancipated spawn also gets a turn resistance and a d12 hit die, which is nothing to sneeze at by any measure.
Illithid Savant: By eating the brains of its victims, the Illithid Savant can gain their abilities, skills, and class features. Yeah…this is a creepy villain prestige class, for sure. It would be good for a horror game or one that uses illithids as a main antagonist.
Master of Flies: The Master of Flies is a prestige class that is essentially a Druid that can turn into swarms of bugs. Later on, her abilities extend to summoning swarms, being able to give vermin the gift of intelligence, and teleportation.
Scaled Horror: This is the most badass prestige class ever! Only takable by reptiles or aquatic creatures, a Scaled Horror is a juggernaut of the swamps that gains improved grab, keen scent, enhanced damage reduction, and gets spellcasting as per a Ranger and a d10 hit die to boot. Awesome.
Siren: Harpies are essentially the only creature that would normally take this prestige class, but any being that has a mind-affecting sonic ability can take it. The Siren gains various songs (ranging in power from one that causes the listener to despair to ones that can turn a listener to stone or even kill them) and Charisma increases.
Slaad Brooder: It’s a prestige class based around caring for and altering slaad eggs…need I say more?
Survivor: It’s the Eeeeye…of the Tiger! Wait, no, sorry. The Survivor is a 5-level prestige class based around avoiding damage. The abilities granted are the uncanny dodge abilities, the evasion abilities, and damage reduction.
Sybil: The Sybil prestige class has the gift of prophecy, but only dispenses it in nonsense. The prestige class’s abilities are all based on riddles, including one called “Koan”. There’s a joke there, but I’ll just let those that know why it would be funny get it on their own.
Waverider: An area-specific prestige class, the Waverider is like an oceanic Paladin, gaining abilities that focus on either her mount’s combat abilities (including breaching, diving and chargers), her own ability to fight while mounted (including an ability that essentially turns the trident into a javelin when it comes to bonuses while charging with a mount), and water elemental summoning as a final class ability. The class also comes with creature stats for the hippocampus of Greek legend.
Yuan-Ti Cultist: This prestige class can only be taken by Yuan-Ti Halfbloods or Yuan-Ti Abominations, and gives the character both spells and psionics…yikes. They also gain abilities that allow them to turn wood into snakes, create venomous darts without need for any actual venom present, unhallowing ground, and finally rising to become an outsider directly used by the Yuan-Ti god Merrshaulk as an emissary. They also gain access to a new cleric domain, the Suffering domain, which is presented with the stats.
Chapter 9-Advancing a Monster
Where’s chapter 8? Well, it’s a brief look at monsters in campaigns that is easily overlooked, so we’re barelling right into chapter 9. This chapter is, you guessed it, dedicated to advancing monsters. The first thing we get is a look at how monsters with a big enough Intelligence score work with classes, and what base class best fits what type of monster. For instance, Rogues are pushed as the best choice for a low-Charisma but high-Dexterity monster. There’s another “acid test” chart for determining Challenge Rating of a monster you are advancing as a monster rather than a character with class levels, and a look at every Player’s Handbook feat and what type of monster would benefit by taking it.
Templates are something good to have on the fly if you want some stronger monsters or a specific concept without having to advanced hit die or give it class levels (especially if it has no class-capable Intelligence score). So let’s dig into the templates this book offers, shall we?
Feral Creature: Applied to humanoids or monstrous humanoids, a feral creature gains claws and abilities based on said claws, a pounce attack, and large physical bonuses at the cost of a detriment to the Intelligence score. It’s a good template if you want to have a “wild brute” race running around.
Gelatinous Creature: You’d think a gelatinous creature would be an ooze, right? WRONG!! For some reason, Wizards made it an aberration type instead. It also gets a penalty to Dexterity, strange for a fluid creature. My verdict: make a homebrew template or alter this one; don’t use as-is unless you think it makes sense somehow.
Ghost Brute: It’s essentially a template to make a ghost out of a creature without a high enough Charisma score to use the ghost template. Moving on.
Incarnate Construct: It’s a construct turned into a humanoid via magic. It’s an interesting concept, and the cool art of the incarnate stone golem as a hulking inhuman man inspires me to make an antagonist out of one of these some time.
Insectile Creature: Insectoid versions of giants or humanoids, insectile creatures gain two more arms, armor, and wide field of vision due to their bug eyes.
Monstrous Beast: If a zoologist has nightmares, it’s probably about this template. Monstrous beast is applied to an animal or vermin and gives them a single new attack (which can range from something as simple as poison to as nasty as a breath weapon) and a new special quality (again ranging from as simple as blindsight to stuff like damage reduction and the cold or fire subtype). This is essentially a normal creature on magical steroids.
Multi-headed Creature: Self-explanatory.
Mummified Creature: Again, self-explanatory.
Reptilian Creature: A reptilian creature has armored skin, claws, the ability to hold its breath for a fair amount of time, and (duh) the reptilian subtype.
Spectral Creature: A spectral creature is an undead that is like a ghost, but much nastier. It gains turn resistance, is incorporeal, can fly with a perfect manueverability, gains a ton of ability bonuses, an energy drain attack, can create more spectral creatures from those it kills….but is also powerless during daylight. It does have a weakness, yes.
Symbiotic and Tauric Creatures: Both of these are “fusion templates”. The symbiotic creature is still two different creatures, but the two creatures give each other bonuses when together. The tauric creature, however, is a single new creature. This method is okay for making ‘taurs, but I don’t agree with it as the end-all be-all for tauric creature stats.
Umbral Creatures: These are essentially dumb brute ghosts, incorporeal undead with an Intelligence penalty and the ability to drain Strength from living creatures.
Wight: The wight monster’s abilities placed upon non-human creatures.
Winged Creature: Creatures with wings!
Wraith: See wight, apply to wraiths.
Yuan-Ti: There are two Yuan-Ti here. The first is the tainted one, who still look human but have serpentine powers. The other, the Yuan-Ti broodguard, is a misshappen, near-mindlessss mutant that resembles some images of the Chupacabras.
Chapter 11-Becoming a Monster
Yes, we made it to a new chapter! This chapter is dedicated to various ways for a normal humanoid to become a monster, or vice versa. The start of the chapter notes class abilities and spells that can transform a character (such as the reincarnate spell), monsters that turn those they kill into monsters, monsters that are the result of other transformations (such as Lolth turning some drow into driders), and then delves headfirst into rituals. There are several ritauls presented, all meant to transform the character (either in a minor way, such as a ritual that just gives a character an elemental subtype, to ones that fully transform), how the wish spell works with transformation, and finally a look at what happens after you have become something else.
The first appendix are monster classes for every monster in the Monster Manual that can get them…yeah, moving on. Appendix II has a list of all the previous tables ( >.< ), and then Appendix III provides some new creatures. The first are anthropomorphic animals for all the Monster Manual animals. I will admit…this is pretty damn broken. For instance, despite having similar stats, the brown bear anthro has an LA of +3 while the cachalot whale anthro has none. You’ll have to do the dirty work of calculating LA on your own, because the stuff here wasn’t given much though. There’s also a half-ogre as a playable race; it looks pretty solid. Finally, there are “new” monsters (saying that because all of them are reprints). These are the desmodu (a race of large beings that look like a cross between a bat and a gorilla and has a wounding quality in its bite), loxo (two-trunked elephant-men that can go into a rage like a Barbarian), and Thri-Kreen (psionics-using anthropomorphic praying mantises).
The art here is very evocative and epic. The black and white openings to the chapters show a neat Da Vinci-style of imagery, from the skeletal structure of a troll to a class of minotaurs and their teacher. The inner color images are cool as well. One of my favorite is an annoyed incubus giving a “screw you” look to the arguing vrock and rakshasas that disturbed his reading time.
This book has a lot of interesting ideas, but the selectiveness might turn off some readers. The implementation of some of these ideas are, again, less than well-executed, such as the Level Adjustment on the anthropomorphs. The only things that really stick with me are some of the spells, the templates, and the classes. It’s okay, but it could have been much better. 7/10.