Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com-
When I was a kid, my favorite part about Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Second Edition wasn’t actually playing it, but the Monstrous Compendiums. I had several three ring binders crammed full with all the supplements from various different settings. Ravenloft, Dragonlance, Planescape, Mystara. I even had compendiums for settings I didn’t play in. Why? Because of the monsters. They were so creative. The art, the names, the verbose descriptions of the creatures, the methodology and personalities. For example, take a look at the Ravenloft Monstrous Compendium Appendices I & II. Bone Golems, Pyre Elementals, Wereravens, Vampire KENDER and more. This book was weird and imaginative, but also gave you exciting and frightening antagonists. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a book of monsters that really impressed me the way old 2e did. Modern D&D, Pathfinder, Castles & Crusades and other games with books devoted to nothing but fiendish thingies are extremely dry with the flavor text being dull and uninspired. I’ve spent well over a decade looking for a high quality book of beasties that would let my imagination soar. Mostly I’ve been very disappointed.
Until now anyway. The Ninth World Bestiary, for Numenera, is exactly what I wanted. With approximately 100 monsters, antagonists, animals, and enemies, this book offers an extremely wide range of encounters for you and your players. It helps that Numenera is already a very weird and bizarre place. The setting and mechanics allow a GM to cook up just about anything and have it fit rather soundly within the game. One can be as imaginative and off the wall as they want. The end result is a very fresh and original game that you can’t help but fall in love with. The Ninth World Bestiary follows this same pattern, giving us a collection of foul fiends and potential friends that are experimental, avant-garde, sometimes quixotic, but always extremely fun to read about. With each page of the Bestiary I turned, I found a new creature I wanted to use – sometimes an entire adventure unfolded in my head just as I read the page. Within this book, you will find creatures that will just leave you staring at the artwork for a while, wondering how someone came up with that visual design for something that could never exist in reality. It’s fantastic.
Of course, not everything is so freaky or out there that you and your players will suffer culture shock from how the different life forms are in this game. Some of the inhabitants of The Ninth World Bestiary might feel a bit familiar, and thus comfortable, for people used to more traditional gaming experiences. The Balkina could be a more animalistic Invisible Stalker. The Bellowheart is reminiscent of a Dark Young of Sub-Niggurath. An Ellnoica can play the role of a Displacer Beast. So on and so forth. The majority of creatures however, are not like anything you’ve ever seen before, and that’s what makes The Ninth World Bestiary so fantastic. Not even the sky is the limit here.
Besides the hundred or so monsters contained in The Ninth World bestiary, there is other content that, while different, is equally fun to page through. There is a whole section entitled, “Designing Numenera Creatures.” Six full pages are devoted to this topic, and each one breaks down how to properly design a creature rather than throwing crap at a wall and seeing what sticks. Level, health, GM Intrusions, forms of combat, diet and more are covered here. This section alone is worth the cover price if you are interested in designing your own living challenges for players to confront.
After that, you have an “Ecology of the Ninth World” section that talks about the ecosystem of the Ninth World and also gives an example of what creatures in the Bestiary are readily domesticated, used as mounts, really love the taste of human flesh and so on.
Once you get through the monsters, you’ll be surprised to learn there is STILL MORE CONTENT. This time it’s more humanoid based encounters. You’ll find three Level 6 potential antagonists to turn into long running adversaries of the PCs. You’ll also find seventeen “People of Renown” to put into your game as background, supporting or adventure driving characters. These range from Dorgur-Auk – an elderly warrior who looks more like a troll from Earthdawn, to Mila the Mindslayer, a dangerous psychic who tries to save mutants from the wrath and slavery of the Angulan Knights. Even the NPCs provided in The Ninth World Bestiary are eclectic in design and really showcase why Numenera is so different from any other game out there, while still managing to feel familiar and easy to play. You’ll find at least one “Person of Renown” you’ll want to use in an adventure or turn into a recurring character within a campaign.
Of course, the monsters are what matter most and I’m happy to say there wasn’t a one I didn’t enjoy on some level. This thing is fantastic. So rather than blindly gush over the Bestiary, here’s a quick list of my ten favorite monsters from it in alphabetical order.
• Astraphin Monolith: A giant floating obelisk of doom, powered by plants.
•Dreamsallow: A tree that sucks your very existence from you as you sleep under it, giving your soul effective immortality in a utopian dimension – for as long as the plant continues to live.
• Flying Elchin: It’s creepy and adorable at the same time. It looks like it should be a Pokémon. Which is pretty much a guarantee to win me over.
•Kirpus: This thing is perhaps the weirdest creature in the book – which is saying something. Anywhere and everywhere at once, this creature destroys anything it touches yet it isn’t purposely malicious at all.
• Nalurus: Think a Medusa except instead of turning to stone, you get a virus that causes your BRAIN TO MELT. This little oopsie aside, the creatures aren’t purposely evil. Which is and of itself makes them a great accidental or innocent antagonist.
•Neveri: The shoggoths of Numenera.
•Nychthemeron: a bizarre creature whose attitude towards other life forms ranges from murderously psychotic, to pretty friendly – based on the time of day it is. This can be either extremely horrific or hilarious depending on how you run your game.
•Queb: Kitty snake!
•Stellar Weaver: Giant spider looking things, composed of the very void of space itself. These things hunger for living flesh and are perhaps the most dangerous creature in the Ninth World. If your GM throws one at you, just run. Trust me on this – JUST RUN.
•Valma: An extremely bi-polar automaton whose curiosity about the world and gushing friendship towards everyone it meets can easily turn into a violent rage if rejected or snubbed. Craaaazy.
These are just a few of the wondrous and potentially deadly creatures The Ninth World BestiaryNumenera already, this book would have made me a convert. It’s by far the best piece released for the Ninth World so far and if you’re at all interested in Numenera, this might be the one piece to look at or by first, even before the core rulebook as it’s shorter and yet brilliantly showcases how beautiful and bizarre the earth will be in one billion years.
[5 of 5 Stars!]