Books of Magic: Creature Catalogue
I started my obsession with sourcebooks early. It wasn’t long after I got my hands on the red box Basic Rules—probably around 5th grade—that I got my hands on my first supplement: the Creature Catalogue澳门英皇娱乐. (Wouldn’t you know it would be a monster book?)
Not having the Expert through Master Rules yet (I still don’t have the Master Rules, in fact), I found the creatures inside to be jaw-droppingly powerful, and I stared for hours (often from the crook of a particular tree in my backyard) at creatures like the aquatic beholder, gakarak, the time-traveling oard, or the ability-stealing hivebrood (which Roger Moore would later reference in Dragon Magazine澳门英皇娱乐 as one of the nastiest monster races of all time).
Looking back, this book is most notable for including an Intelligence score for every creature (something that was novel at the time), for attempting to give a rough formula for how challenging encounters might be (always dicey in those days), and for dividing the monsters into types: Animals, Conjurations (Outsiders and Constructs to you), Humanoids, Lowlife (Oozes and Vermin), Monsters (pretty much everything else), and Undead. Also, “The Voyage of the Princess Ark” fans will quickly note that Bruce Heard positively plundered this book while filling out the Savage Coast’s races and nations in Dragon.
Thanks to the conversion of Mystara from a D&D to an AD&D world, many of the best of these monsters managed to eventually make it into later editions or even into the pages of the Pathfinder Bestiaries, including the aranea, brain collector (which just had a starring role in the Iron Gods Adventure Path澳门英皇娱乐), juggernaut, and soul eater.
Unlike other books I often mention on this blog, I can’t encourage you to immediately run out and pick up a copy of the Creature Catalogue—on the whole, unless you’re playing the old box set/Rules Cyclopedia rules, it’s just too out-of-date stat-wise to be worth it. But if you’re a true monster fanatic (and given that you read this blog I’m guessing some of you have to be) there are some gems in here that I don’t believe have seen the light of day anywhere else.
As far as the animals go, there are no particular standouts, though the illustration for the gargantuan is great (an adventurer’s leg is sticking out of its mouth for scale), and I like the inclusion of the magpie and giant magpie. (My totally unscientific supposition is that most U.S. authors don’t realize how omnipresent and full of personality—not to mention how territorial—these birds are in the U.K. and Australia.)
Among the conjurations, desert ghosts or the kal-muru/ship’s bane have potential. The neutrality-celebrating faedorne might make for an interesting demiplane encounter, and while I don’t love the android-like magen by themselves, I bet in the hands of the right GM or adventure author they could be awesomely creepy.
As noted above, the best humanoids either made the leap to AD&D/3.0 or at least graced “VotPA,” including the chameleon man, gator man, lupin, phanaton, and rakasta. Still the green-skinned orcs called kara-kara (originally from X8 Drums on Fire Mountain) are perfect if you want to have a really old-school, fight-the-cannibals-on-a-volcanic-island adventure without the stain of racism or colonialism inherent in that kind of scenario. An encounter with a shargugh might make a nice fey side quest. And I am stunned that the trap-laying, spider-riding, poison arrow-firing wood imp has never gotten more attention, especially after the spotlight Tall Tales of the Wee Folk澳门英皇娱乐 would later shine on them.
Among the lowlife, the archer bush, amber lotus flower, and vampire rose deserve to be imported into your game (as others have mentioned). The fyrsnaca/red worms have an interesting ecology. The slime worm, no matter how unlikely ecologically, is a nasty surprise to stick in your next treasure hoard. And if you ever wanted to replicate one of those cartoon jungle flowers from Saturday morning cartoons that beckons the character into its center and attempts to eat it, the sirenflower is your flora.
Among the monsters, the dragon-headed earthquake beetle is silly but I still like it. The cheval is an interesting addition/complement to the centaur race, and frankly any game world that doesn’t have pegataurs isn’t worth playing in (though I suppose I’ll give Dark Sun and Ravenloft a pass). The malevolent treant-like gakarak, the ability-stealing hivebrood, the thunderhead, and the vulture-headed nagpa (another “VotPA” star) all need to be in your game. And “pocket dragon” is a way better name than “pseudodragon” any day.
Finally (again, as has been mentioned by others澳门英皇娱乐) the section on undead is particularly strong. The agarat is like a screaming ghast, the dark-hood/rorphyr is a nice alternative to the allip, the elder ghoul does what it says on the tin (and glows besides!), and the topi is a nasty shrunken zombie. The mesmer, phygorax, and velya are bizarre aquatic undead. The energy-ball throwing wyrd will torment elf PCs. And one of the standouts of the entire book, the grey philosopher, is an undead cleric who died “with some important philosophical deliberations unresolved is his or her own mind”—deliberations that over the centuries take the form of wispy clawed spirits called malices that hunt for victims. If that’s not a monster you want in your games, I don’t know what is.
A few years later the Creature Catalogue would drop the “ue” and a handful of monsters (while gaining 18 more from other sources, mostly from the Hollow World and Creature Crucible books) and be reincarnated as the Creature Catalog in 1993. To tell the two versions apart, look for the AC 9 vs. DMR2 on the cover. If you do decide to grab one of these, the former has more early-edition weirdness, the latter more dinosaurs and fey creatures.
Is this a proper book of magic in the fashion I mapped out yesterday? Probably not. It’s never, for instance, going to sit by my bedside the way Forgotten Realms Adventures or Distant Worlds have. (But to be fair, this entry was originally going to touch on three more of the AC books—one of which, The Book of Wondrous Inventions, surely does qualify—but I got carried away talking about this one). Nevertheless, it’s worth putting the spotlight on. We spend so much time debating the merits of the Fiend Folio’s bizarre menagerie—to the point of spending an entire book rehabilitating its most egregious duds—but its D&D cousin barely gets a mention. If the neh-thalggu can star in Valley of the Brain Collectors澳门英皇娱乐, surely there’s room in your game for a nagpa or wood imp or two.