Product Review – Critter Cache 6: Lovecraftian Bestiary

Alternate title: “You know you’ve had a bad day when you’d prefer the unspeakable horrors…”

I’m not alone in saying that Lovecraft is one of my favorite authors of all time. His insights into horror, fantasy and surrealism have influenced me in ways no other modern writer ever has. This might have something to do with the fact that my father introduced me to the Cthulhu Mythos at age twelve or so. Either way, I’ve read almost every word Lovecraft has ever written, and have read quite a few Mythos stories to boot.

Actually, Lovecraft is one of the most influential authors in the world, yet somehow, also one of the most obscure. So many people know of Cthulhu, without knowing where he comes from, and the Necronomicon gets referenced many times, again, without people realizing why. It’s lots of little things like that. He changed the way we think about horror stories, but most people don’t know it.

Fantasy geeks, however, do. And many have tried their hands at introducing Lovecraft’s monstrosities into various games, not the least of which being Dungeons & Dragons. Sure, D&D has had the “Far Realms” ever since Gates of Firestorm Peak, and this continues into 4e, what with your Star Pact Warlocks and the “dread stars” that empower them, but there’s rather little in the way of actual name dropping in the game itself.

Enter Aeryn “Blackdirge” Rudel, who seems to be Goodman Games’ “monster guy,” a man who has written literal volumes of monsters for 4th Edition. These works include the six (so far) Critter Cache PDFs, three of which I will probably review soon, and Blackdirge’s Dungeon Denizens, a monster book I own in hardcover, which I will also likely review someday.

On top of being a D&D fan, Blackdirge is also an avid reader of the Cthulhu Mythos, and thus we find ourselves here, reviewing his attempt at introducing Lovecraftian horrors to your 4e game.

First and foremost, I bought this from RPGNow, and it turns out they do the same thing Paizo does: They put a watermark on the file when you download it. Fine by me.

The PDF begins with a short dedication to Lovecraft and his works, and moves right on to monsters. There’s a good twelve types of monsters in here, each one from Lovecraft’s stories, and a good mix of his earthly horrors, and things that lurked in the Dreamlands. The Dreamlands are an oft-ignored facet of the Mythos, and so I applaud Blackdirge for throwing some in. Obscure ones, no less, like the Gug and Shantak. Night Gaunts are also in, but almost everyone whose read some Lovecraft knows about them.

Before I comment on their utility, I’d like to again applaud Blackdirge for putting as much of the stories as he could into the monsters themselves. The Color out of Space, for example, has a power called “Blasted Heath,” and Cthulhu has one called “A Mountain Walked.” Really, this is an almost pandering nod to the works that inspired this collection, but I find it to be a welcome one.

As for the monsters? Kind of a mixed bag, here. Blackdirge’s monsters are useful, make no mistake. However, a problem I’ve found both here and in Dungeon Denizens is… They tend to be far too strong for their levels. The most glaring example (forgive the pun) is the Color out of Space, a level 21 Elite Lurker with 318 HP, abilities that allow it to heal itself, insubstantial, and a 50% miss chance.

Yeah, you read that right: You’ll only hit it half the time, and you’ll do half damage every time you hit. This kind of front loading is all too common in Blackdirge’s works, and while I once again hasten to add that this does not make the work unuseable, it does leave me scratching my head.

For other examples, Great Cthulhu himself is a level 35 Solo Soldier that may well be too hard, even by Level 35 Solo standards, the Flying Polyp and Ghoul monsters, all of whom have Auras that bestow a -2 pentalty to attack rolls, on top of their beefy Armor Classes (another Blackdirge signature), things like that…

I apologise if I’m harping on this point wrongly. It’s possible I am. But from my expirences, these advantages render a monster neigh on invincible, even at the levels you’re supposed to face them at. I’m used to “patching” monsters mid-encounter, so it’s not a fate worse than death. Still, I feel it’s worth noting.

He also provides various “Eldricht Artifacts,” which are equipped by some of the monsters in this book, and represent the alien and unknowable implements that appeared in the stories these beasts were inspired from. Of course, mortal races were not meant to use them, and we have a version of 3rd Edition’s Use Magic Device shoehorned in, with dire consequences should you fail the roll. Your call if this is a good idea or a bad one.

If you can get past these issues- And I can- What you will find is a well-written and well-researched resource with monsters to, as Blackdirge himself puts it, scare the living hell out of your players. And at $7 regular price (Listed at $4 at the time of this post, however), what more can you really ask for? Not a must-have, unless you’re starved for Things That Should Not Be, but it’s not a bad purchase at all. You can probably wait for it to be on sale, honestly, but you’ve no doubt spent your money on worse. Like Player’s Handbook Races: Dragonborn, oy…

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