Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Review: The Basic Fantasy Field Guide

For a complete list of my reviews, click my reviews page.

Compiled by Chris Gonnerman
88 pages (84 with content, including the title page)
Available free in PDF here.

This book is a monster supplement for Basic Fantasy-Roleplaying (review). What you get here is basically 180+ monsters for the game. Some are new and unique, and others are either riffs off of monsters from AD&D, etc. and still more just stats for animals and generic monster types overlooked in the BFRPG core book. If you're either playing that game, or a B/X compatible rule set (Labyrinth Lord, actual B/X D&D, etc.) or are conversant in B/X D&D's rules, this can be useful to you.

There is plenty to love in here. Want normal animals? Done. Want mind flayers-types for you game? Done. More eye monsters? Done. Themed sets of monsters (like the Nazgorians, or faerie), complete with common traits? Done and done. That last bit is especially good - all of the faerie types seem to have the same special abilities, so it's very clear that they are of a type (or at least of a category.) That kind of unified definition of terms of art and categories of rules helps speed things up a lot in play, even if it means a few book referrals when you're writing such a book. Good stuff.

Demons and devils are here, too, as infernals. The conversions are well done. However the downside of a no-aligment game is that "infernals" - that is, devil and demons and whatnot - are all put together. So you get excellent conversions of both types, but the overlap between similar types becomes clear (imps and quasits) and the differences between, say, devil's attack immunities and demon's attack immunities, becomes a little more odd. It might have been useful to sort them into two different bunches, with an organized class of infernals with common traits (devils) and a disorganized class of wild infernals (demons), each with a distinct group name. Either that, or go the whole way and change them from the originals and unify the special abilities and weaknesses.

Some of the monsters are very cool. Others seem a little . . . "annoyed GM did it" instead of "mad wizard did it." Like the flying, fire-breathing owlbear variant, or the many-jokes-in-one giant shrieking tarantella spider. Others are very cool but have pretty unimpressive names. For example, the Cadaver is a nasty and interesting undead being with a name that doesn't evoke much except possible confusion. Are we fighting in a morgue? Heck, it's an undead with cleric abilities, make it "Death priest" or "Corpse Minister" or something. If I use it, expect to hear "Corpse Minister" come up in my game summaries.

Most of the monsters have a very good text description of what they look like. Some, not so much. This is kind-of forgivable with, say, the remorhaz, or ones that have a picture.

But others, it's just not clear. The remorhaz tells me the size, but not much else. If I didn't have another monster book to look in, I wouldn't know what it is or looks like . . . fine for me with my giant monster book collection, but it puts a moment of hesitation in recommending this book to a new gamer who doesn't come with built-in knowledge of what a remorhaz is or what an otyugh is shaped like. That I do means I don't even need the description given, so it's either too much or too little. Similarly, some monsters lack just a tiny bit of vital information. The giant mosquito is clearly big. But how big? 1d+1 can swarm you, so not too big - but it never says. I can make a guess, but like I often say, if I'm using someone else's material I don't want to guess what was meant.

Overall, though, it's very good material in a free electronic form or very cheap physical form. It's a good addition to any GM's bookshelf of monster books. Like all of the other BFRPG supplements, you get a lot more value than you pay for. Recommended.


  1. Thanks for the kind words, Peter! I'll keep your commentary in mind; it's likely that a 2nd Edition of this book will appear in a year or two, and these are the kinds of criticism that help us get it right.

    1. I am glad my comments help, and I hope I am getting people who might otherwise have missed it to see and buy your game.


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