I’ll begin by admitting I love cryptozoology. I mean, really love it. Cryptids—monsters that science says doesn’t exist but legend say might just—are endlessly fascinating and have found their way into several of the non-fiction books I’ve written over the years. As I result, when I learned about Bloat Games’ Cryptid’s Manual, I was instantly excited.
This ‘Monster Manual’ for Dark Places and Demogorgons clocks in at 92 pages. The stunning cover, an atmospheric depiction of chupacabra, only increased my anticipation. I couldn’t wait to crack it open and take a look!
The book begins with the Hope Excerpts, supposed excerpts from the journal of an explorer searching the Staff of Bel, an ancient artifact that was used by Sumerian priests—and later heroes of other cultures from Greece to India—to defeat monsters. With the fall of Rome in 476, the staff was claimed and then destroyed by a hairy 9-foot tall Barbarian (perhaps as Almas of Central Asia?), its pieces scattered around the globe. Our explorer seeks to find these fragments and reconstitute the staff to defeat monsters that dwell in the shadowy recesses of our world.
All right, so that out of the way, let us get to the meat of the book and check out the monsters themselves. There are 55 in total, pulled from legend and lore the world over—from skinwalkers and thunderbirds of Native American culture to the mokele-mbembe of Africa, the Mongolian death worm of Asia, and the bunyip of Australia all regions are covered. There’s a strong European and North American leaning, however, which is understandable as the average reader would be most familiar with these cryptids. From North America we get the hodag, Jersey Devil, and Sheepsquatch, while kelpies, medusa, spriggans are among those culled from European sources. We also get 8 species of hairy hominids and 5 types of extraterrestrials.
For every instantly recognizable hellhound of wendigo, we get one—mishipeshu, nain rouge, or sheckles, anyone—that is more obscure. I’ve been reading and writing about cryptozoology for years and yet there were still some surprises in store for me—nice!
A page or two is devoted to each cryptid, which comes with game stats (naturally), as well as some—admittedly brief—details on its habits or physiology, and quite often a sentence or two of flavor text in the form of brief testimony from supposed eyewitnesses. I was really impressed with the way the mechanics were used to evocatively bring the monsters to life. It would have been really easy, for example, to make the eight hairy hominids statistically identical, but instead each comes across as quite unique, accurately reflecting differing cultural views.
The beautiful artwork deserves particular praise. Creatures are often shadowy and somewhat indistinct, lacking in details. This is perfectly in keeping with the nature of the subject matter. Cryptids are elusive, fleetingly—if ever—seen, and testimony often differs enormously in specific details. Presenting the monsters this fashion means something is left to the imagination. It’s a brilliant design choice and gives the book a distinctive look.
The book then concludes by providing a number of templates that can be added to the assembled cryptids, or indeed any creature. They include giant, rabid, radioactive, were-beast (were-skunk ape from the deep bayous—cool!), vampiric (an undead, bloodsucking sheepsquatch—even cooler!), and zombie.
Editing is excellent and the rules not only constituent but expertly handled throughout. I couldn’t find a single flaw. The layout is a thing of artistry, the occasional blood splatter adding to the illusion you’re reading a Top Secret file that Powers are desperate to keep under wraps.
Jodie Brandt and Josh Palmer have written an awesome offering: The supplement provides endless hours of adventuring opportunity by breathing life into some of legend’s best cryptids. Each monster represents an adventure-in-waiting.
The book offers, thus, a ton of excellent fuel for creative GMs. Heck, you could play an entire campaign with just the creatures continued within. It’s an invaluable—even vital—resource for Dark Places and Demogorgons game masters.
My final verdict is an enthusiastic 5 stars. I can’t recommend it enough.