A Magical Society: Beast Builder is one of my favorite d20 books. It?s easily one of the three or so best PDF products that I own. While it might not be for everyone, it does what it sets out to do with absolutely flying colors.
Never in the history of gaming has it been so easy to self-publish an RPG supplement. The portability of the PDF format combined with the openness of the d20 license allows designers of expand on a lot of niche products. The end result is some great products that boldly go in directions that Wizards of the Coast doesn?t have the interest or the pagecount to explore. Things that were once esoteric in D&D are now open to the masses.
MS: Beast Builder is a book devoted to one thing: d20 monster design. The authors have done a great job reverse-engineering the how and why of d20 monsters and compiling everything into one easy to use resource. Monster design can often involve flipping through multiple books, cross-referencing creature special abilities, and comparing and contrasting stats. With all the nuance and detail in third edition, its easy to make mistakes when making new monsters, a truism that even Wizards of the Coast have trouble escaping.
Expeditious Retreat Press has taken all of the guesswork out of monster design. MS: Beast Builder compiles all the rules relevant to creature creation into one source. Need to rate a new animal?s natural AC? Simply find its hide (or scales, or whatever) on the Estimating Natural Armor chart. Need the list of skill synergy bonuses? It?s right here on page 76.
In addition to the raw data, MS: Beast Builder gives plenty of advice. Each statistic (base attack bonus, types of attacks, saves) is explained with game mechanics, advice on how the stat might affect Challenge Rating, and examples from the core rules. Rules that I often need to look up during monster design are explained here as well. For example, what happens when a creature with natural weapons also wields a sword? MS: Beast Builder gives you a clear, easy to find explanation of the rules. Even ?non-crunchy? bits like name and concept get some attention. There is advice on making your creatures unique, various roles that monsters fill in the context of the game, and plenty of examples from the core rules.
The book also contains a number of appendices with useful charts, checklists, and a random monster generation system. Its pretty good stuff. I find the monster creation checklist is particularly useful for helping me avoid common mistakes in my work.
While the brunt of this book is concerned with the nuts and bolts of monster design, the first 50 odd pages are devoted to the ecology and environment of animals in the real world and how these things translate into the reality of the d20 system. The book contains a fairly in-depth primer on how ecosystems work and why animals evolve the way they do.
This section is full of examples of real world creatures whose strange abilities and characteristics would fit right in with the monsters in a typical fantasy campaign. Anyone looking to develop somewhat more realistic creatures, or at least design monsters that give a nod to a realistic ecology will find this section useful. It?s well-written, informative, and a pretty entertaining read.<br><br>
<b>LIKED</b>: This book has saved me a great deal of time and helped me eliminate a lot of small errors when designing monsters. The stats are spot on, the organization is good, and the advice is very useful.
If you?re designing a lot of monsters, and you want to do things right, I can?t recommend this product enough.<br><br><b>DISLIKED</b>: Magical Society: Beast Builder is a niche product. If you aren?t interested in monster design, or you prefer to trade technical accuracy for speed, this probably isn?t the book for you.<br><br><b>QUALITY</b>: Excellent<br><br><b>VALUE</b>: Very Satisfied<br>