Hacklopedia of Beasts - Volume II
Hacklopedia of Beasts - Volume II Capsule Review by Spencer M. Lease on 04/10/01
Style: 4 (Classy and well done)
Substance: 5 (Excellent!)
Volume II of the Hacklopedia of Beasts strikes an intriguing balance between humor and utility.
Product: Hacklopedia of Beasts - Volume II
Author: Jolly R. Blackburn, et al
Company/Publisher: Kenzer & Company
Page count: 128 pp.
Year published: 2001
Comp copy?: yes
Capsule Review by Spencer M. Lease on 04/10/01
Genre tags: Fantasy Comedy
Note: I have done some work on the HackMaster line; specifically, I wrote several of the magic item descriptions featured in the Game Master's Guide, scheduled for release in October 2001. This is the extent of my present affiliation with HackMaster, and I am striving to remain unbiased while reviewing this and other books in that line.
This is where HackMaster becomes somewhat more entertaining. Here we have such monsters as the Cataplasm (it looks like a cat, but it's actually pure energy!), the Corpse Crab (a parasite that infests and animates corpses), and the infamous Dwarven Warhorse. There are also more than a few monsters that are - shall we say - less comic, but most are still quite interesting. We'll get back to that in a moment.
Let me first say that, once again, the layout is very nice. The art is of good quality, the text is crisp and clear, and it's easy to tell where one entry ends and another begins. I was not terribly impressed with the cover, but I'm willing to overlook that.
Moving right along, one of the more useful aspects of this book is found at the end of each monster entry. The "Yield" section describes the various things that can be derived from the creature in question - from medicines to spell components to trophies and treasure. (For example, according to the book, dwarven warhorse meat can cure rickets!) Some of this information might be available elsewhere (spell descriptions and so forth), but it's nice to have it all in one place - especially when PCs with monster lore-type skills start asking annoying questions.
But back to the monsters themselves.
Some are frankly ludicrous, and will probably draw more than a few chuckles and stares of disbelief. Take, for example, the centisteed, a hundred-legged horse that can run incredibly fast. There's also the DoppelEwe - literally a wolf in sheep's clothing.
Don't worry - there are plenty of more serious monsters, and I found these most impressive. The handful of doppelganger variants spring immediately to mind; and I must say, the variety of dragons bordered on overwheleming. (To give you some perspective, let me just say that the various species alone took up over 25 pages. That's not counting the 7-page introduction to the dragon section or the various dragonkin described throughout the book.) Virtually all of the original monsters in the book were quite creative and unique, and there are a number of classic AD&D monsters as well - a welcome sight for this old fan. All in all, superb work.
Despite my love for this book, I do have some complaints. First - while some monsters have psionic powers, these abilities are not defined here or in the HackMaster Player's Handbook. They do appear to use the old AD&D psionics system, but not everyone has access to that. I imagine psionics will be detailed in a future book, but it would be nice to have them now.
Also - each monster has something called a HackFactor, a number which can range (according to the introduction) from zero to over 400. Supposedly this is meant to help GMs construct balanced encounters (a sort of variant on D&D 3E's "Challenge Ratings"?), but no one takes the time to explain how, exactly, these HackFactors work. Do I add up all the PCs' experience levels and find a monster with an equivalent HackFactor? Is there some other formula I'm meant to use? I just don't know, and the book isn't very forthcoming.
And lastly, while this is a minor gripe, I am somewhat annoyed that I'll have to wait until Volume 5 to get the statistics for demons and devils ("Nefarions" in HackMasterese) - but then, I suppose there just wasn't enough room.
Is Volume II of the Hacklopedia worth its $20 price tag? Well, I must say I continue to balk at that sort of thing - I remember a time when you could get a significantly thicker book (a hardcover, no less!) for about the same price. But ultimately, this book is an invaluable resource, chock full of interesting and entertaining critters. I'd gladly pay the price KenzerCo asks.