Writing - 2 Stars
Formatting - 3 Stars
Artwork - 3 Stars
Balance - 2 Stars
Monster Description - 2 Stars
Mythology Accuracy - 3 Stars
Creativity - 4 Stars
Pricing - 2 Stars
OVERALL - 3 Stars
There was an offer available of a free copy of the book for a review and I decided to volunteer. I really like seeing what other publishers are doing and try to be encouraging to those who have dedicated themselves to creating additional materials for tabletop games. I have no official, or well-thought out, system of rating. I’ve broken down 8 different areas that I think are worth discussing.
Writing (2 Stars)
The writing is not the best for it uses repetitious words, redundancies, generalizations and poor sentence flow. This is a simple fix. I looked through the credits and realized that the author did their own editing. This will always lose 3 stars with me. It is imperative that someone – outside of yourself – edits your work. It’s very difficult to be able to edit your own work. In this case, I hope the author finds someone willing to give them a hand with the editing.
There’s too many “The origin and nature of [insert monster’s name] is a mystery.” Telling the reader that “it’s a mystery” does not A) make the monster more mysterious, B) provide useful information – fill us in with information that isn’t a mystery otherwise it’s just filler.
Additionally, while I do not believe it was the author’s intent, there is some gender stereotyping in here. Example, “Tiyanak – They will go to secluded areas and cry to attract the attention of nearby rescuers, especially women.” This implies that women are more likely to save a child in distress than a man.
Formatting (3 Stars)
It’s not the best, but it’s not the worst. Page 14 the sentence continues at the bottom of the page transfers to page 16 instead of page 15. This isn’t the only time something similar like this happened. I’m also not a fan of the art placement. The picture either appeared too early to too late and it seemed to me that a lengthier description of the monsters could have fixed this problem. However, the formatting is consistent throughout the book, and it is very easy to navigate.
Artwork (3 Stars)
The artwork is semi-professional and varied in level of quality. It’s certainly better than what I could do, but it’s not on par with the majority of other publishers. This really opens up the debate on whether RPGs require high-level illustrations or if it’s better to return to the roots of early tabletop games. I’ve decided that 3-Stars is fair. The artwork doesn’t detract from the book and further gives a basic understanding of what the monster would appear like.
Balance (2 Stars)
A bit of a disclaimer here, I find the 5th edition monsters to be unbalanced in practically every publication including official D&D materials so it’s no big surprise that I think the same of his one. The Abere (Lesser) receives 6d8 hit points, and deals extra damage whenever it has an advantage of 2d6, further it can cast spells yet, it has a challenge rating of 1. The Greater Abere is even worse, with an advantage attack of 4d6 plus acid damage and spells, and while that has a higher challenge rating it still doesn’t seem like an accurate amount of XP versus its badassery. This goes for all the creatures. It would be simple to go back and fix the challenge level by comparing it to other monsters that are like it. I could probably give some examples, but I’ll leave the research to the author.
Monster Descriptions (2 Stars)
There is maybe 1 or 2 sentences regarding physical description of most monsters, which leaves the reader to heavily rely on the picture, which is okay when trying to save space, but the publication is only 33 pages so an additional paragraph worth of description would only improve this book. The adventure hooks seemed a bit cheesy, in my opinion, and would do better to have those sections replaced with additional information about the monsters such as their habitat, society, lairs, hunting habits, food preferences, and how they interact with the world. Then again, in the author’s defense, there are some gamers out there who continuously ask the question, “How am I going to put this in my game?” but I feel that stronger descriptions of the monster regarding its society, habits, personality traits, liars, habitats and so on would help spark those ideas. The old monster manual from AD&D were a perfectly good example of having enough information for players to figure out adventure hooks without being spoon fed the hook.
Mythology Accuracy (3 Stars)
I give the author kudos for taking on this endeavor. There are very few game designers who draw from outside western culture to bring to their games. I did a quick search on each monster just to see how accurately they met with the articles I found. There’s good news and there’s bad news. The bad news is my expectations. When someone tackles another culture, I expect there to be more information about the monsters so that not only is this a means to give your players a hard time but it’s also an opportunity to educate them regarding a foreign culture. Some of the articles I found made the monster seem rather vague, which is a problem I suspect that the author ran into as well. When there are holes in a monster’s mythology the best thing for a writer to do is fill them with whatever you can that makes sense. The issue with this is, it pulls away from the original mythology and creates a false idea of what the creatures actually were. Here’s a rundown of what I ran into:
Abere is considered a demoness in Melanesian mythology. She draws people (not just men) by her beauty. The description in the book focuses strictly on her desire for men, when she has female servants seems to very “forced” (for lack of a better word) towards a very hetero demographic.
There is a lot of information on the Aswang that could have been included, one in specifics about how it replaced its victim’s corpses with banana tree trunks. Some tales talk about the Aswang having some proboscises which it uses to suck children out of its mother’s wombs, which would make more sense if the creature was by the bed and not perched on top of the house. However, there are a lot of varying stories with this creature. Aswang’s have vulnerabilities such as displaying bloodshot eyes from having stayed up all night. Not to mention Aswangs who marry turn their spouse into another Aswang. To say the least there is a missed opportunity here to bring the mythology to a western audience.
Aumakua are greatly misrepresented here as the Hawaiian mythology sees them as gods, not as simple spirits that can be summoned at will. Celestials don’t always imply “god” and in this case of the description in the book, they are spirits that can be conjured. From my brief research, I found that Hawaiian’s revere these beings. To make a comparison to western culture, it’s like calling seraphim household spirits that can be summoned with a low level clerical spell, and further, reduce their power to a common cherub. Some of the Aumakua are quite powerful, but I don’t think they fit the “god” bill. It’s great from a summoning standpoint, not so great from a accuracy standpoint.
Buata is pretty spot on.
The Ekek is similar to a Manananggal but can fly and has a bill. It eats flesh and blood and falls within the same story as the Aswang. This is a huge misrepresentation of the myth and it seemed that whoever did the research decided to just split the story of the Aswang by regional descriptions and fill in the rest with creativity. This is okay, it’s just not accurate to the actual creature.
There really isn’t much on the Kaia with a quick google search. I did find they were once creator spirits demoted to monsters, that they were snakes, eels or pigs that inhabit the depths of the earth or volcanoes to bring destruction to humans. It would be interesting to expand the research on this creature just to know more about it.
Manananggal is pretty spot on, but again, shares a common story with the Aswang and Ekek (Wak-Wak).
Tikbalang seems to have originated in India, the horse head isn’t always a corpse, and from my understanding are tricksters which seems counter to how they are depicted in the book.
Tiyanak has a lot of information available. The entries in the book seem to be different variants to the Tiyanak myth, which I like. I do wish there was a bit more information on each being though.
Creativity (4 Stars)
Writing up monster statistics is no easy feat, and finding something that fits with the creature can also be difficult, especially when there isn’t a talent featured on some other creature. A lot of the what the monsters can do was either made up, or custom tailored to fit the mythology as best as possible. I think the author did a fantastic job at putting all this together. I’m sure many game designers will agree with me that the author put in a lot of effort and it really shows.
Pricing (2 Stars)
The book is priced at $4.99 which is too high in my opinion. I produce gaming materials myself and I sell 90,000 words at $15, which includes high quality illustrations which amounts to 263 pages of content. To break it down, that’s 6,000 words or 17 pages per $1, which on my scale should put this publication at about $1.99. It is up to the creator to price their own work and if sales justify the $4.99 price, then by all means keep it at $4.99 – I’m no marketing expert. I just know that if I ever was interested in purchasing this that I would wait until it was on sale or invest in something else.
This isn’t a bad book, it’s not a great book. I’d say it’s pretty decent. If you’re looking for something different, embarking on island adventures or just want to confuse your players with something they’ve never faced before – then look no further. The best way to enjoy this is to chuck your expectations out the window, have faith that the monster statistics are solid but may need some challenge level or XP tweaking, and the adventure hooks give hints away at how the monster may interact with the world around them.
I’d give this book a 4 star rating if it had some more editing and some additional descriptions. I’d give it a 5 if the challenge ratings were re-reviewed and there was more of an educational value to the myth surrounding these creatures. However, for today, I give it a 3. **