Hacklopedia of Beasts Volume II
Hacklopedia of Beasts Volume II Capsule Review by Charles Phipps on 15/02/02
Style: 5 (Excellent!)
Substance: 4 (Meaty)
More monsters from Kenzerco with a lot of new information on dragons.
Product: Hacklopedia of Beasts Volume II
Author: Jolly R. Blackburn
Page count: 128
Year published: 2001
Comp copy?: no
Capsule Review by Charles Phipps on 15/02/02
Genre tags: Fantasy
Hacklopedia of Beasts Volume II
The Second Volume in the Hackmaster Hacklopedia series has a promising cover. The violent Dragon attack indicates within these pages shall be the huge critters of yore along with every other monster Jolly Blackburn could squeeze in between Cat, Small and Efreeti. A brief primer for those who haven't read my other reviews of the Hacklopedias is that they are a variant (as opposed to a spoof, parody, or send up) of the tradition Dungeons and Dragons Monstrous Manuals. In addition to the normal entries expected in MCs Hacklopedias contain humorous ones and in-jokes (usually) about gamer culture. The books are fully compatible with Dungeons and Dragons third edition, given they were made for the Dungeons and Dragons 1st edition and half system of Hackmaster this is not unexpected. In addition to "classic" monsters described in the MC volumes the HP also contain a great number of new ones. At 128 pages is well worth the 19.99 to read as well as use in a game in my humble opinion.
Now for the meat of my review....
This book has fewer "purely humor" monsters than the previous volume in the Hacklopedia series but a few of the monsters do unfortunately border on the ridiculous. Monsters such as these include the Drowtaur (Centaur Drow), Dopple ewe, and Cataplasm who I found less funny than annoying. Other monsters are unfortunately a bit boring like the Dark Folk entry which is merely a scary group of short people who dress in black and kill people, the Crocolisk a giant crocodile with petrification, the Confusion beast that is a variant on the Displacer Beast not even placed beside it, and Desmodian/Mortal Doombat entries which are needless variants on the same theme of Batmen. However, the book has an additional 16 pages on it's predecessor for the same price so these "dud" entries by no means diminish it's value as a supplement.
Highlights of the book include the War Dawg which is an homage to the armored dogs of Conan the Barbarian starring "Ahrnuld", the Doppelganger section which greatly expands the usages and origins of the Doppelganger race of D&D, the Dragon section which adds a ready to use detailed hierarchy along with fifteen new dragons species (whose humor value is only in their names and how quickly you want them to destroy your party), and the Dwarf section which includes some wonderful information that lays to rest quite a few arguments (yes female dwarves have beards and they even illustrate it to prove it).
There are a few humorous notations sprinkled through the text but they are added to the existing monster entries as opposed to the actual point of the entry itself. Examples of the type of humor include the Chaos Feeder's natural enemy to be dragons (due to their tendency to break into lairs in order to stack their coins), Gold Dragons description of hobbies matching perfectly James Bond's, Silver Dragons having a propentisity towards Strip poker that shows off their perfect human bodies, and Dryads being willing to do absolutely anything to protect their trees with an accent on anything.
Some curious choices are made with old favorites that do make a certain amount of sense in retrospect. For instance, unlike Dungeons and Dragons, the Hackmaster games makes no attempt to play down Angel involvement in their world. Curiously no attempt is made to assemble the planar beings of good into anything resembling an order that the evil planars are shoved into (alas Demons and Devils aren't included in this volume and instead shoved into Nefarions in the Fifth Hacklopedia for space reasons). Another curious choice is, unlike in D&D, Duergar are portrayed as having skin just as black as any Drow's which is odd to the extreme given they like the Drow live underground and should be more pre-disposed to being Albino than darker skinned.
The Art in Hacklopedia II is much more menacing and dark than in Book I with a great deal of effort spent to make each critter illustrated (save for the Dryad) to appear like it's ready to take off your head. It still isn't up to the standards of first edition but the almost Sailor Moon style qualities of some pieces mixed with the terrifying appearance of others makes an interesting contrast. I applaud Bob Burke (who like me has a fondness for Dryads) in his decisions regarding the illustrations of the monsters.
Finally the information available about each particular critter's benefits once their corpses are harvested has always been a favorite feature of mine in the Hacklopedias. It's fairly obvious that whoever created the entries for Dragons had been watching Pete's Dragon because they really go into overdrive in this book on what's available from Wyrm hides. If it weren't for the major power boost that some of the Dragons have undergone (Tiamat has 4128 hit points and quite a few aren't much less), they would have become even more a Monty Haul gamers dream.
While I have more complaints about Book II than I do about Book I, I have to say overall it has a lot more originality and useful ideas.