Friday, November 13, 2015

Review & Commentary on The OSR Monster Resource - Chthonic Codex - Cryptic Creatures By Paolo Greco For Your Old School Campaigns

I'm finally fighting my way back across this pile of OSR material to review and give proper due to some of the great titles that I've been wanting to access. A great example of this is the Chthonic Codex - Cryptic Creatures book by +Paolo Greco.
This is one of those monster titles that's been out for a long while and I've never gotten a chance to look over this book and boy I'm glad I did. To understand why I like this book is to really understand that like False Machine and other indie OSR material. This is especially true of the material that Paolo Greco has come out with. This book is like someone reached into my imagination and pulled out the half demented magical university that was situated someplace in an alternative Italy where the professors have incredibly outrageous accents. This entire book is written from an in game world perspective with easy to understand and straight forward rules for each monster. There isn't a ton of BS and fluff because the entire product actually is the fluff and the layout is clear, concise, and yet spare while being attractive. You get a bunch of in world material that you could flesh out and blow into your own take on Paolo's world. Why? Because this book's perspective unlike other monster manuals draws you in as the reader.
A sample of what you get in this book is stuff like this;

"To resist the vexing environment and wanton aggression covenants and congregations were formed. Eventually the Schools of Magic were founded; as they started accepting apprentices a greater influx of young, foolish and ambitious students came to the Hypogea. But conflict continued. Many schools were destroyed, together with their immense knowledge.
The Five Great Schools left joined in a Conspiracy, to find strength through numbers, to keep their friends close, and to keep their enemies even closer. Together they elect the Grand Sorcerer of the Valley of Fire, to lead them through the Dark."  The man is very good at painting a mental picture so you can spare yourself the headache of actually loading the back end of your campaign adventures.
Monsters range from this nasty piece of work to the far more sublime horrors that wizards create.

I really love the artwork by Christopher Stanley, because it sets off the game world and brings you into it. There's a feeling that this a world on the edge and you've just walked through the door while university is almost in full panic mode. If your expecting Harry Potter's universe, absolutely forget it! This is the world that would have burned Harry's corpse, created a display for the ashes, then put them in some back corner to be used for a demon summoning later. The world of Hypogea is a world of wizards who do whimsical and yet highly unpleasant things, this is a place where the academics have run amok and can cause all kinds of havoc to those around them. Yet, they keep training more students in the craft! Meanwhile, there are monsters in the countryside and scheming from the shadows just waiting to rip your face off. The bearowl is a good example of the sort of weirdness that lurks on the fringes here. If your looking for a monster manual turned up to eleven, then this book isn't for you as a dungeon master.

Constructing adventures around this book's setting is very easily done. Everything is laid out with the creature descriptions, minor histories, and character NPC's who are quietly whirling through the descriptions and set pieces of the book. And that helps to not only set the tone but deriatives the monsters presented in this book. This isn't the AD&D Monster Manual instead this an OSR European flavor monster book. What do I mean by that? Its all about the voice of the author and designer spoken through his creations.
This is a very European monster book with some incredibly richly imaginative creatures and horrors being discussed here. The author intelligently lays everything out the feet of the DM while giving a guided tour of his campaign world through his monsters yet sparking the imagination again and again. I'm actually very good with this approach, having grown up with Italian academics and such. This book clicked with me big time. Why? Because this book is  the opposite of Lusus Naturae  From Neoplastic Press. Which is not a bad thing at all. The material in this book is the breathy world weary civilized student of academia guiding you through his world. While Lusus Naturae presents you with the monsters and flavor in the form of a tool kit. Both are creature tool kits in their own right but they simply take vastly different approaches to their monsters. What's really cool is that both of them can easily be used together but that's a whole other article for another time. One of the things that liked about the Cryptic Creatures book was the fact that I found myself being drawn to it again and again over the last day or so. This is always a good sign to me as a DM. I found the flavor of the text sinking into my imagination's skin again and again. This is a book about people from a Renaissance style of world who sit around salon style in a guild hall or other place and discuss the dangers and progression of their magick. All of the while plotting to steal the magick of one another yet at the same time giving hospitality and errant tasks for adventurers. Yet there is bits and pieces of mechanics that can add just that little extra push over the edge for an OSR campaign. Take for example the Cephalopods and their Lost Empire, here's a nice group of nasty schemers who can be quietly and nicely inserted right into the back end of a campaign to throw a wrench into player's ideals of whose behind the scenes.

This is a monster book that makes me want to take the location of the university in the book, the NPC's inferred by the setting material, & the monsters then drop them whole cloth as well as all into a campaign! That's right, especially some civilized older city region right where the PC's have to go, this is the type of place that the PC should experience through the NPC's of Cryptic Creatures. Now if that's not a recommendation for getting this book I don't know what is. This is a book that is worth your time, patience, and gaming skill, the author has created a quality product even as a PDF and I look forward to reviewing more of his material in the future.

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