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I run and play lots of indie-style games (Burning Wheel and Apocalypse World in particular). Perhaps the one thing they lack that I miss from my D&D days is the tomes full of monsters to excite the imagination. I can pilfer various beasties from other systems, though, and that's exactly what I wish to do. However I have neither the time to browse through compendium after compendium in the store, nor the money to just buy them at random and hope I come up with something good.

Basically I'm paralyzed with indecision and I'd like a few solid recommendations of monster books - from any game or system. Don't just throw out some you know of - give me the book on your shelf you always turn to first.

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Welcome to the site! –  Sardathrion Feb 7 '12 at 7:59
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7 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

To be honest, the one I turn to for BW is the Monster Burner.

Failing that, the D&D Cyclopedia and the later add-on bestiary AC-9 Creature Catalogue for it. Plus PC1 to PC4 for intelligent races. Waynes' Books has pics

There is an online Medieval Bestiary (http://bestiary.ca/) as well - it's a collation of several real bestiary volumes. Much work needed to get it playable, but lots of good inspiration.

Oh, one other good source: video game cheat books. Especially the final fantasy ones. They often have a bestiary in the back.

The Final Fantasy series has a number of wikis that discuss the critters, too.

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I love me the Monster Burner. In fact I plan to use it to translate my monsters! –  Zelbinian Feb 7 '12 at 13:04
    
+1 for video game strategy (read: cheat) books. –  Sardathrion Apr 20 '12 at 7:29
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The new HackMaster Hacklopeda of Beasts is excellent. It is the best production value monster book I've seen in 30+ years of gaming. It is written from the point of view of a Sage's notebook/sketchbook. The first part of every monster is a "In Character" tale of the monster from either the Sage, GreyTar, or one of his sources. There are Human size comparison images and most have footprint examples and a map of the range where found on the Kingdoms of Kalamar. The range maps you can use to look at a map of the world and get a good sense of where the creature ranges, i.e. artic, mountains, swamps, etc.

Links: Hacklopedia of Beasts http://www.kenzerco.com/product_info.php?cPath=25_94&products_id=751

Sample pages(PDFs) can be downloaded for free:

Leechman: Devil: Animating Spirit: Sturm Wolf: Owlbeast: Dogs: Animating Spirit: Bugbear:

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Any Medieval Bestiary should suits you well enough. If not, look at wikipedia's pages on mythical creatures, myths and legends, and undead. You should find a plethora of monsters with background and visuals. Any books on legends from X culture will give you plenty of cool monsters.

Several anime/manga (fantasy and horror in particular) can be good sources of weird monsters but probably best to avoid anything with hentai in the title... Unless you are running a really disturbing game.

Shockingly enough, those are the sources I turn up to first: Greece, American Indian, India, Chinese, Norse, and Japanese legends are where I look first. Lovecraft, Ashtron-Smith, Howard, and Dunsany are invaluable sources as well.

Lastly, I look at Deviant Art and CGTalk sites and look for cool imagery -- there is plenty.

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I really, really recommend John Kirk's "Legendary Quest" source-books. Freely available @ http://legendaryquest.netfirms.com/Download.htm

Especially if you're comfortable ignoring stats (or converting by the seat of your pants).

LQ is based entirely on actual European and Mediterranean folklore and mythology. There's no fluff here.

The Tome of Terrors™ is an encyclopedia of monsters taken exclusively from mythology and folklore. It also contains detailed descriptions of all the various sub-races of the standard LQ races. For example, did you know that, according to folklore, there are a number of elven families, each having its own unique personality? You'll find the light-hearted natures of the Tuatha De Dannan and Liosalfar elves quite distinct from those of the dark and brooding Svartalfar or the murderous Sluagh Sidh. Dreaming up gripping adventures for your players proves far easier when you have a solid foundation to build upon, and the Tome is as solid as it gets. The Tome of Terrors is needed only by the game referee and, in fact, should be avoided by all other players to ensure the greatest enjoyment of the game. (175 pgs.)

There's 2 more explicit "monster manuals" after that: Celtic Creatures and Nordic Nightmares, & Monsters of the Mediterranean (and a few books of magic, traps, etc).

John has done some serious folk-tale research and traced the linguistic and cultural roots of nearly every common fantasy monster. The editing seems a little idiosyncratic (his own ruleset/spell-list/etc), and sometime it's not clear when you're in a subtype/race or have moved on to the next creature... but the flavor and theme shine through. I've been planning on converting many to my Earthdawn campaign, as Earthdawn has a very bronze-age high magic Mediterranean/Russian-steppes feel.

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This was a brilliant suggestion, too. Thank you! –  Zelbinian Feb 11 '12 at 17:40
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I really like the D&D 4e online compendium. It contains all the monsters ever released for 4e, and is searchable. Unfortunately, you need a DDI subscription.

http://www.wizards.com/dndinsider/compendium/database.aspx

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I ran a fantasy campaign for many months by just opening my copy of the Penumbra Fantasy Bestiary (published by Atlas Games around a decade ago) and randomly selecting a critter to use as the foundation of an adventure. The Bestiary draws on a variety of world mythologies in addition to the usual game-designers-make-stuff-up entries. Each creature is indexed to one or more of 5 different game uses, so a GM gets a sense of how the designer might have used it, and most entries have a few short adventure ideas attached.

It's a hefty book with contributions by some well-known names -- and yours truly, I should note. But I don't get royalties or anything. It's just an excellent monster book.

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This is a really great suggestion, too. I thought the best answer had already come but it seems as though I was wrong! –  Zelbinian Feb 8 '12 at 22:06
    
Thanks! I feel weird promoting stuff I helped write, but in my defense, I only wrote one entry for this book. My freelance fee didn't even pay the cover price... –  sprenge777 Feb 10 '12 at 21:08
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The book I turn to when I want to know about a creature and I don't care about the stats is the AD&D 2nd Edition Monstrous Manual (or the earlier Monstrous Compendium, the same thing but in a strange loose-leaf binder format and only B&W illos).

This books is in the sweet spot by my lights: AD&D 2e hadn't yet exploded the stat block so it didn't consume so much of the page, and unlike 1e and earlier each monster has usually an entire page of background dedicated to it. The result is a compendium of monsters that's medium-light for stats and has long paragraphs describing the habits, ecology, fighting (or not-fighting) tactics, and society of the creature. As another pro, someone who likes their fantasy to "feel like D&D" even when playing an indie game will be right at home with the selection of creatures included. It's also not padded with creatures that were invented just to fill "CR gaps" like many of the 3e and later monster books.

Cons are that it's out of print (though PDFs are floating around out there of course) and it suffers the perennial D&D ailment of taking mythical creatures and redefining them in ahistorical ways that are unique to D&D. (For example, mythical trolls are more like small ogres than the D&D vision of a tall, rubbery, fearless regenerator.)

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