What Do I Know About First Impressions? Scarred lands Creature Collections (5e OGL)

20200929_122113I have many weaknesses when it comes to RPG products, but one thing you will never hear me say is “there are too many monster books.” I love collections of various creatures from which I can draw inspiration. No, I don’t think I’ll ever use every single creature in one of these collections, but having access to them just kind of energizes my imagination.

When I first got back into RPGs after my brief flirtation with being a joyless adult, 3rd edition Dungeons & Dragons was just arriving on the scene, and the original Creature Collection beat the Monster Manual to the shelves. I remember being extremely excited as I was looking through the pages at monsters I had never seen before.

Onyx Path launched a Kickstarter for a new, 5e OGL version of the Creature Collection, and knowing both my weakness for monster books, and my affections for the Creature Collection, I backed the project. 

Monstrous Pages

This first look is based both on the PDF, which I have been looking over for a while, and the physical book, which I just received. The product is 224 pages, including an OGL page, a credits page, a “how to use this book” page, a two page index by challenge rating, and a two page standard index. It also has 16 pages of monster lairs, with a one page description of the encounter, and a full page map to accompany each encounter. 

Each entry has full color monster art, and the individual pages are formatted on a faux-parchment background. One addition to the standard layout of other books is the addition of creature type, challenge rating, and location symbols that run along the side of the page for each creature.

20200929_122147Monster Books Are Hard

I often shy away from full reviews of monster books, because its really hard to evaluate monster statistics outside of play, and it’s also really easy for your brain to shift into neutral when reading stat block after stat block. I wanted to give people an idea of what is in the book, with a little less of a solid recommendation.

New Philosophy

While all of the creatures in the original Creature Collection were creatures found in the Scarred Lands setting published in the 3e OGL era, the book itself was marketed as more of a general monster book. This book is very clearly marketed as a Scarred Lands book. That doesn’t mean there aren’t a ton of monsters in here that can easily be used in other settings, but it does mean that every so often you get monsters whose backstories are more directly tied to setting elements.

There are several creatures that are given the titanspawn subtype, indicating that they were created during the Scarred Lands definitive gods war. The background material provided often explains how that creature serves, or served, a particular titan.

Another example are the Carnival Krewe monsters, five widely varying creatures that seem to have a circus/pirate them to them, and for which I have no real context because I haven’t gotten that far into Scarred Lands lore to have a point of reference.

My Babies

I can’t go through every single one of the monsters in this book, but I did want to point out some of my favorites. I even managed to use a few of these in my last D&D 5e Midgard campaign.

  • Alley Reapers (CR3); the spirits of dead assassins that still like a bit of sneaky murder
  • Berserker Wasp (CR3); I love having more insect swarms with attitude in the game, especially at slightly higher starting CRs
  • Blight Wolves (CR7); Who doesn’t love bat winged evil wolves with spiked tails?
  • Blood Moths (CR1/2); See above, more insect swarms, but not as dangerous as the wasps
  • Blood Mare (CR4); I love the whole carnivorous horse trope
  • Corpse Whisperer (CR4); I like the idea of an undead that can just ask other corpses to get up and start walking
  • Wrack Dragons (CR11-18); Some of these fill similar niches to dragons that I already have access to, but I’m a sucker for more dragons, especially when they are more tied to the environment than a color scheme
  • Dread Raven (CR2); More creepy raven/crow based monsters, I say!
  • Dwarf Hound (CR2); I like the idea of seeing how other cultures would domesticate animals, without those animals being supernatural
  • Emperor Stag (CR9); Look, we need more deer/elk based monsters too, okay?
  • Hive Golem (CR10); Its a golem, made of hives, which can have different insect hive variants–what’s not to love?
  • Hag, Scarn (Varies); Scarred Lands hags are all unique, and this is a template for creating unique hags, which is awesome
  • Huror (CR17); Legendary ice bear fey creature–this hits several of my notes
  • Marrow Knight (CR5); An undead knight that manifests as a skeletal centaur
  • Plague Cat (CR2); I love any creature that is unique and still qualifies as a beast–I want more beasts
  • Reverent Spirit (CR10); I appreciate a noble guardian undead style creature, even if I’m probably going to contrive a misunderstanding to get the PCs to but heads with them
  • Shadow Raven (CR1/4); See above
    Skullworms (CR1/4); Need an excuse for a friendly NPC to suddenly do the unexpected and put them in conflict with the PCs?
  • Steel Beetle (CR7); Death powered beetle robot, I’m in

These are definitely not the only monsters that I enjoyed from the book, but they are the ones that jumped out at me and started to say, “use me, find somewhere for me to roam!”

20200929_122235Room for Improvement

There were still some places where I might have wished different choices were made. I love the symbols categorizing the monsters, but enough of them effectively had all symbols, that I wish there literally was a separate “all” symbol, to make the side of the page less cluttered.

Several of the monsters fall into the D&D trap of making uncomfortably broad statements about sapient beings. Coal goblins were goblins that hid underground, and were blessed by an evil goddess with dark skin, and serve as a race of assassins. The sharkfolk are dumb brutes that love killing, so they don’t mind being used as killing machines. The unitaurs were rhino people that served a good titan, but when she turned on the other titans, the whole species decided to become evil. I just wish we could avoid some ugly tropes and add nuance to one note cultures.

Final Thoughts

I’m not going to do a formal recommendation, but I will say that with what I saw in this book, I would pay attention if a Creature Collection II surfaced. There is a lot of imagination emanating from these pages, and I really like the enhanced formatting. I just hope that if a Creature Collection II does appear, we can avoid some of those long term D&D-isms that keep rearing their ugly heads.

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