Books full of monster stats generally fall into three categories; solid and workmanlike (3rd Edition Monster Manual I), not very good (3rd Edition Monster Manual II) and sparkling with critters that just jump out the page and yell “pick me! pick me!” at you (Tome of Horrors, Monsternomicon…. and now, Blackdirge’s Dungeon Denizens).
What makes Dungeon Denizens stand out is that it’s chock full of tried-and-tested monsters converted over from Goodman Games’ Dungeon Crawl Classics line. The interior artwork is enough to make any old school gamer squeal in delight as it’s delightfully pure hinky black-and-white pen-and-ink goodness that wouldn’t look out of place in the Arduin Grimoire or Grimtooth’s Traps. It’s hard not to look through this and feel like you want to run an Old School Dungeon using 4th Edition D&D, right now.
On to the specifics.
There’s 64 monster entries in 145 pages with over half of the critters having 2 to 5 statblocks and variants. In total there’s over 100 unique beasties. It costs $14.99 which is right at the limit of what I’d pay for a PDF. Thankfully though it’s well worth it – I’ll get more use out of this than I would 20 x $2 PDFs, easily.
A quick flick through gives the impression that there’s a high number of Constructs and animated beasties in here; there’s 12 monsters with the Construct keyword as well as numerous animated Undead and Elemental types. Personally, I’d have liked to see more humanoids and fewer animated things, but that’s just me. Not that I’d know what to take out as they’re all great with the Living Hoard right at the top of my “favourite Construct” list. The idea of a treasure hoard coming to life and teaming up with it’s Draconic owner to attack the hapless adventurers………..
Other high points include the Aphyss (serpent folk who can magically disguise themselves as humans), Dragonborn Atavists (Dragonborn who are even more Draconic), Hollow Ones and Zain-Kin. Old School goodness is pushed even further with the Monstrous Frog and Klaklin (fire elemental Lobster folk!). If Undead are more your thing we’ve got the Wightwarg (undead wolves who unfailingly track their prey), Xochatateo (ghoul-like undead who’ve had their hearts ripped out. Nice!) and more. There’s not a single monster I wouldn’t use with only one critter – the Athasi – that doesn’t immediately grab me. That’s a pretty good hit rate!
When it comes to the layout, Dungeon Denizens gets it (mostly) right, my only objection being the 4 pages of adverts at the back, especially given that they’re the most ink-intensive pages in the whole PDF. It would be all too easy for someone to print out the whole thing and be left with an empty ink cartridge and 4 useless pages. Folks, don’t put ads in your PDFs. I’ve paid for it, and if it’s good that’s advert enough for the rest of your stuff, ok?
As with the 4e Monster Manual, every monster entry comes with suggested Encounter Groups at several levels and they’re made up of a mixture of the monsters from the MM and Dungeon Denizens itself. We’re also given Racial Trait entries for the Aphyss, Thornblood and Zain-Kin. As with the MM they’re designed for NPC use but I’d have no qualms about allowing a PC to use any of them provided they suit the campaign setting. Finally, Appendix II provides a list of Monsters by Level. Every level from 1-30 has at least one critter with a goodly number covering levels 2-10. This is a tome you’ll use throughout the adventurer’s careers.
Overall, it’s a darned good book and a sure sign of great things to come from Goodman Games’ 4e release schedule.