If you were to compare d20 monster books to meals, it would be fairly accurate to call the MM a full three course meal ? a variety of dishes, all combining to make a full meal. A Magical Society: Beast Builder by Expeditious Retreat Press on the other hand is not some much a meal, as a well stocked gourmet kitchen full of the finest, most expensive ingredients just waiting for an Iron Chef to appear and transform these delicacies into a multitude of delicious dishes.
AMS:BB is an odd kind of ?monster book? in such as it contains no monsters. What Joseph Browning has done in this tightly packed PDF is distill every monster available in the SRD as well as ERP?s Monster Geographica: Underground book down to their components parts. He then takes these ingredients and shows how to recombine them into new combinations. But BB is more than just a ?recipe book? for combining; it might be more accurately considered an advanced course in ?cooking? up new monsters as well.
The book starts off with a brief two page introduction, where Browning spells out his ambitious goals. Beast Builder is ?the first book entirely dedicated to making good, exciting, and fun monsters.? Sounds good to me. However, a book with this goal is clearly aimed at GM?s, rather than players. In fact, DM?s are going to want to be sure to keep their players out of Beast Builder, so new monsters will keep their surprises until sprung on the unsuspecting PC?s.
Chapters one (Monster Concepts and Functions) and two (Monsters and their Environment) really set the stage to get a DM thinking in the right direction to create a new monster Chapter one?s concept and function section might be thought of as the ?metagame? of creating critters. Browning points out the variety of ways in which a monster can be used, the different roles available for these monsters, and encourages DM?s to consider ways to modify a monster to make it more exciting and fun, in keeping with his introductory philosophy. The basic environment types outlined in the SRD are further expanded here. Food chains, metabolism, reproduction, and socialization issues are all covered in this portion of the book in exhaustive detail.
There is some great material in these two chapters. I found the Concept portion to be full of great ideas that add challenge to monsters. Both these first two chapters contain data that not only achieves Beast Builder?s goal of helping DM?s create new monsters, but data that would also be readily useful for a DM just pulling monsters from a published product. The advice on identifying a monsters role in the game, as well as the advice on combining monster abilities and even other monsters to add challenge was some of the best monster related advice I?ve ever read in ANY RPG monster product.
After the appetizer of chapters one and two, chapters three (Monster Statistics), four (Type & Subtype), and five (Templates) are the ?meat & potatoes? or monster making. Here Browning goes into great depth on the mechanical aspect of creating a new monster. There?s the potential for this sort of material to be a dry read. But Browning gives plenty of examples, and even pauses for a ?Math Break? when absolutely necessary. The tables detailing Monster stats are clear and easy to read, without a lot of flashy graphics that would drain your print cartridge should you wish to print the material. If you?ve ever struggled flipping pages back and forth in the MM trying to invent a new monster, you?ll appreciate the clean detailed approach in Beast Builder. Determining the proper values for any monster is very easy, and after a little use the entire process becomes almost transparent. The Type and Subtype section is more than just a reprinting of this material from the SRD. While all that material is represented here, a Designer Notes section is included that also detail what sort of Special Attacks and Special Qualities that Type or Subtype of creature tends to have. The Templates section also benefits from this kind of approach, with templates being broken down into more types than the simple acquired and inherent types delineated in the core rules. As such, if you?d like to use east Builder to create Types, Subtypes, or even Templates for creatures rather than whole creatures, it should be a simple matter.
Chapter six ? Bits and Pieces introduces a new kind of magic item - The holistic magic item. Holistic items are made from the remains of monsters. Collecting a Blink Dog paw will allow a PC to create a charm making teleportation magic more difficult. These items require no special feats, skills or prestige class levels to create, merely the knowledge of such items existence. This allows a DM to simply introduce these minor magics into his campaign with very little extra effort. On the balance side, all the effects seem very minor, and the creation cost is quite high, which should keep these scavenged trinkets from outshining those items PC?s must invest xp into. The flavor of these items is excellent and very much in keeping with a medieval mindset. After all, in the era that sees the invention of such food delicacies as blood sausages and headcheese, and such products as drinking vessels made from animal bladders, is it really believable that adventurers would leave any part of a monster behind? These rules give PC?s a reason to realistically behave in this historically accurate manner.
At last we come to chapter seven ? Special Abilities and Conditions. This is the largest chapter in the book (covering nearly half of the page count), and rightly so, as it breaks down every SA, SQ and condition found in the SRD, as well as ERP?s Monster Geographica: Underground book. These 600 powers are broken down alphabetically, with extensive bookmarks allowing the reader to jump directly to any listing. The powers are each broken down into the stats the aspiring monster creator needs, with formulas as to how to determine any required DC?s. Even those powers that are listed in the SRD with flat numbers have had the math done to allow use of the power with any HD creature. The monster that the power is taken from is referenced with each entry, as well as listing the sourcebook each creature can be found in, whether SRD or MG:U. If multiple versions of a power exist (i.e. Ex, Su, or Sp), they are all referenced. Thoroughness is the watchword for this chapter. There are enough possible combinations of abilities in this chapter to create an almost limitless number of new monsters.
Three appendices round off Beast Builder. The first is the Monster Checklist. This quick reference tool walks you through every aspect of monster creation in a user-friendly paragraph format. If you follow this checklist completely, your new monsters will be a snap to create, and they will be properly formatted upon completion as well. This is an invaluable tool for any DM that wants to really wrestle with the nuts and bolts of the monster creation system.
The second appendix is the d20 Mechanic table. This table can be used to find accurate attack and save percentages for any creature. Personally, this table doesn?t do much for me. I recognize what it?s meant to be used for, but as my games are much more freeform, this appendix is of limited use for me. DM?s who want to really crunch numbers and squeeze ever ounce of power out each CR of monster will likely get more use out of this table however.
On the other hand, the final appendix, the Randomized Monster Generator is quite simply worth its weight in gold! The tables presented here provide the DM with a way to quickly generate a new, completely random monster. Even after just a cursory reading of this section, I was able to roll up three NEW fully statted, ready to play random monsters in under an hour. Like all random tables, the DM must show some restraint. Te first monster I generated with this system was a small ooze with five special features, after discovering that this ooze dealt double damage to objects, caused acid damage, and could use Prismatic Spray as a spell-like ability at will, I had a the perfect image of a critter I envisioned as the ?Rainbow Ooze? looking like an iridescent slick of oil floating on water. Of course the final two powers coming up as a Smother attack and Superior Two Weapon Fighting seemed like two much of a good thing, so I chose to drop them, leaving the Rainbow Ooze weaker in total power, but stronger thematically.
Beast Builder finishes with two pages of OGL, and three pages of ?Shameless Advertising?
LIKED: The ability to crank out rules-correct monsters in near infinite variety is simply awesome. As a DM that likes to make new and original monsters, Beast Builder has been invaluable to me. In the first two months I have owned this product I have created over 50 new monsters. Most of them have already seen use in my games. his product is usable in any campagn immediately.
DISLIKED: As I said in my review, the d20 Mechanic Table in the second appendix wasn't that useful to me. There's nothing wrong with per se, and for a less experienced DM it will likely be a vital tool. However, for me, it was less helpful.
VALUE: Very Satisfied