Thursday, April 27, 2017

Classic Horrors Revisited [RPG]

The idea behind Classic Horrors Revisited is to take ten classic "horror" monsters from D&D's past and expand and update them for Pathfinder.  This is the sort of book that could be a bit "blah" in lesser hands, but Paizo put their A-list writing talent on the project: James Jacobs, Rob McCreary, and Wes Scheider.  The result is a really good book that adds depth and detail to these monsters while sticking fairly closely to the common understanding of how they operate.  In other words, this book isn't a crazy-cool re-imagining of the monsters, but a well-written, cohesive elaboration.

Classic Horrors Revisited is a 64-page, full colour book.  I would label the interior artwork as "okay".  Better than most other companies', but not as good as Paizo has done in other books.  The interior front cover lists books and films that can serve as inspiration for using each of the monsters, while the interior back cover is a reprint of the front cover art (which is a bit too-obviously Dracula to interest me).

The ten monsters covered are: Derro, Flesh Golems, Gargoyles, Ghosts, Ghouls, Hags, Mummies, Vampires, "Walking Dead" (zombies and skeletons), and Werewolves.  Each monster receives six pages of coverage, and each entry is broken down into a "flavour" page (a half-page illustration and a half-page in-universe bit of prose), a couple of pages of overview and ecology/society, a few paragraphs on their role in a campaign (which I really liked), a paragraph on two or three known monsters of that kind in Golarion, and then a named NPC example with full stat block and picture.  Most monster entries also contain at least a little rules-option "crunch," such as variants, new feats, etc.  Here's a little more info about each of the entries:

1.  Derro:  I really love the Pathfinder approach to Derro--they are creepy, malevolent, and almost alien abductors of people on the surface so that they can perform strange experiments and then return them with no or fragmented memory of what happened.  This book introduces four new Derro weapons (Aklys, Crystal Chakram, Fauchard, and Injection Spear) and a new poison (Cytillesh Extract).  The sample is Evehxa, a derro magister (enclave leader) and 6th-level sorcerer.

2. Flesh Golem:  This will sound stupid, but I never really made the connection between flesh golems and Frankenstein's monster before reading this book!  The section has a good discussion of different types of flesh golems, and the writing and world lore is superb.  Rules are provided for awakened (sentient) flesh golems, as well as for electrified and unholy variants.  The sample is the Beast of Lepidstadt, an awakened flesh golem that haunts Ustalav (written up with 6 levels of barbarian).

3.  Gargoyle:  I've never found anything particularly interesting about gargoyles in the past, but this book has changed my mind.  It's made them scary!  Their love of sadism and perverse games gives them an interesting role as capable of inflicting both physical and mental pain.  Six variant gargoyles are discussed (arctic, forest, gemstone, obsidian, sandstone, and waterspout), making them useful in far more than just urban environments.  The sample is "Ajekrith, the Nightwing Snatcher", a gargoyle with 4 levels of rogue who preys on lone wanderers in Magnimar's Underbridge District.

4. Ghost:  There's an insightful discussion here about the differences between ghosts and other undead: not only are they usually bound to a fixed location, but they exist for a particular purpose.  I've panned the artwork in this book, but the picture on page 22 of a ghost carrying its own head is fantastic.  This entry provides new abilities for ghosts depending on why they're materializing; it's a great way to better tie a ghost's powers to its story, and I highly recommend using it.  The sample ghost is Maven Mosslight, a ghost with 9 levels of sorcerer who seeks her lost love in the Boarwood in Galt.

5.  Ghouls:  I've been running an adventure path that happens to features ghouls quite prominently in one chapter, so I've had a lot of time to think about them.  This entry offers some surprisingly deep insights into them.  And, I managed to incorporate the symptoms of ghoul fever into the game when a PC got infected.  So . . . bonus!  This entry includes rules for making ghouls of larger and smaller races, as well as specific mention of what happens if other creatures (like lycanthropes  or fire giants) get transformed.  Three new feats are added for ghouls, but they have *really* high prerequisites and only exceptional ghouls would be able to qualify.  Still, I like them in the abstract: one gives a ghoul bonuses for eating brains, one allows ghouls to pass as humans (and ghasts to suppress their stench), and one gives a ghoul a burrow speed.  The sample ghoul is Ehrimun, a 14th level necromancer exiled from the ghoul city of Nemret Noktoria.

6.  Hags: I've never really used these in a game, but the entry does provide a useful discussion of the relationship between the three most common types of hags (Annis, green, and sea hags) as well as night hags.  There's some discussion of the powers that hag covens (as opposed to individual hags) could possess.  The sample is Ulla Jarnrygg, a formidable hag with 9 levels of sorcerer and ice giant ancestry.

7.  Mummies: There's an excellent discussion here of the role of mummies in a campaign: as (un)living transmitters and reminders of the game world's history.  Mummies are often focussed on recreating the society and time period from when they died, and this allows GMs to incorporate otherwise dry historical information as an important part of a story arc.  The entry gives four different ways to re-flavour mummy rot, and the sample mummy is very cool: Shielseis, Queen of Asps in Osirion.  The artwork for her is great.

8.  Vampires:  I'm one of those annoying people who think vampires have been overused in pop culture, and frankly there wasn't anything in this entry that I found new or exciting.  The entry offers five new variant vampire abilities, including everything from changing into a swarm to being able to survive longer in daylight.  The sample vampire is Audbrey Aldamori, a pretend "aristocratic fop" who travels the Inner Sea feasting on those of noble blood.

9.  Walking Dead: We're talking zombies and skeletons here, and Pathfinder sticks with the traditional concept of them being mindless, low-level threats.  The artwork in this entry is pretty bad.  There's 13 variants, however, which really spice things up.  Throw some "Exploding Skeletons" or "Gasburst Zombies" at your players and watch them recoil in surprise!  The sample is a "Gillamoor Plague Zombie", which (unlike all the other samples in the book) is not a named NPC.

10.  Werewolves: This entry has a good, clear summary of what it means to be a werewolf in Pathfinder (different forms, means of transmission, etc.).  I was intrigued by a passing mention of good werewolves inspired by the dead god Curchanus.  The sample NPC is Ruxandra Katranjiev, a werewolf with levels in ranger who is also a cleric of the goddess Jezelda and wants to purge the Varisian town of Wolf's Ear of all non-werewolf lycanthropes.

Classic Horrors Revisited is an older book (2009), and some of the monsters here have also been revisited in more recent Pathfinder products (such as ghouls and vampires in the Monster Codex and derro in the Inner Sea Monster Codex).  That being said, there's great value for the money here if a GM is hoping to gain better understanding of these monsters and to add more depth to running them in a storyline.  Bestiaries can give a basic stat block, but usually don't have room for much description, making books like this one quite useful.  As I said at the beginning, the writing is top-notch even if the artwork is of varying quality.  I'd definitely recommend this one for a GM who is interested in any of the monsters covered.

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