Friday, June 7, 2013

Review: The Teratic Tome, by Rafael Chandler

Note to readers: I won both the pdf and the hard copy in Tenkar Tavern's Best Character Death Contest.  

First off, I'm assigning a soundtrack to this book, since these songs kept playing in my head as I read through it the first time: "In tiefster Nacht" and "Geister und Dämonen," by Schwarzer Engel, followed by "Rammstein," by Rammstein.

There's plenty of monster books out there, most are just ho-hum. Grrr... another monster. It's hard to invoke fear and horror at the gaming table. But if you, as the DM,  have the Teratic Tome, you stand a good chance of instilling some good old fashioned horror in your players.

 Teratic Tome is a combination of old school AD&D, Gothic Horror, and Cthulu Mythos. It's old school AD&D because its formatted just like an old monster manual (its meant for OSRIC, after all). It's Gothic Horror because many of the monsters hunt people down for their sins. And it's part-Cthulu Mythos; many of the creatures would require a sanity check to look at them (at least that'll be my house rule).

You also get an ecology with each creature, highlighting how it selects and hunts victims. You almost get the full range of senses with each description. First, of course, the monsters often look terrifying. Second, the often make scary sounds; one recites bad poetry while another waxes philosophical on its own nature of evil. Third, how many monstrous compendiums out there mention a monster's odor?

The Altar Beast smells of strawberries. The Onlooker "sweats a milky substance that reeks of fresh fruit." Gusion, the Countess of Misery, "drips a clear fluid that smells of pine."

As for touch, of course some of the monster are slimy, and others have sharp pointy teeth and claws, fetid breath weapons (and so on) Yet many of the more powerful ones issue portents of their eminent arrival--asthma attacks, painful bleeding, animals going crazy, paintings that speak of horrible calamities.

As for taste, well... perhaps I shouldn't go there.

The Tome also features a large number of unique monsters. The standard fair, of course, are new high level creatures like powerful demons, devils, and aberrations. Yet every dragon in here is unique. You've also got a few unique monsters (around 3 HD each or so) for low-level characters. One that stands out is the Seamstress, "a demented old sorceress" who creates pillows and quilts out of humanoid skins to sell to demons.

Overall, the Teratic Tome is well done. While some might turn up their noses to the black and white art,  I think its fine--its supposed to look like an AD&D book after all.

My only caveat: some might view the female monsters in here as bad taste. There's at least twenty creatures with sexualized female forms altered in a horrifying way. You have the "lamia" trope throughout (woman's torso and breasts on a monstrous body). But there's also more, monstrous, mutations.

I can only say that horror is a delicate subject, and I think the Teratic Tome delivers.

You can get (and preview) the hard copy and pdf on Lulu.
The pdf is available on RPG Now as a "Pay Want You Want" item.

Presentation: 9 out of 10
Creativity: 8 out of 10
Utility: 8 out of 10

Get this is if... You want a manual of monsters to frighten and horrify your players, and you don't mind, as a DM, that some of the monsters might even frighten you.

Don't get this if... You prefer more traditional "Tolkienesque" fantasy, or are easily offended by sexualized horror, or if you don't like horror at all.

(Yet horror in fiction, by definition, is supposed to be offensive. Part of the appeal of horror is being able to overcome it. But that's a topic for another time...)


  1. Something I'm curious about as I mull a purchase: would it possible to set up a campaign using this book as the only source of monsters? In other words, are there enough threats to spread across low-, middle-, and high-level play? (Assuming that one can, of course, also fill in the gaps with "Normal Man"-type opponents.)

    1. I suppose it would depend on the campaing.

      For a sandbox campaign, I don't think there's enough monster as lower levels to pull it off.

      I could easily see using many of these creatures in an episodic "monster of the week" campaign.

      A couple of the monsters can function as an evil race bent on some nefarious plot: I forgot to mention that halflings are evil in this book. There's also a an "aberrant" race of religious zealots. So you can probably focus an entire campaign on those.


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