Tabletop Review: Ravenloft: Monstrous Compendium Appendix III: Creatures of Darkness (Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, 2nd Edition)
Ravenloft: Monstrous Compendium Appendix III: Creatures of Darkness (Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, 2nd Edition)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast (Originally TSR)
Page Count: 126
Release Date: (Originally 1994)
Get it Here: DNDClassics.com
I’m of the personal opinion that each Ravenloft Monstrous Compendium Appendix is a bit weaker than the one that came before it. Earlier this week we looked at the collection of the first two appendices and saw firsthand why I consider the first Ravenloft MCA to be the best TSR ever put out, while the second was extremely outside the box and intriguing, but nowhere as useful or universal. MCAIII aka Creatures of Darkness is easily the weakest of the three and as you flip through its 126 pages, you can definitely tell many of the creatures are in there for padding. Of course, MCAIII is as big as I and II combined, so it was definitely the better deal back in the day, but not only were a lot of the creatures odd and unnecessary variants of ones that came before, but several like the Loup-Garou, Strahd Skeletons and Zombies, Nosferatu and Gremishka were reprinted from the original 1991 core rulebook. By 1994, Ravenloft had gone through a second box set and a hardcover, so newcomers might have missed out on their original entries had they purchased the new versions of the campaign setting. Older gamers, however, basically paid for the same content twice. It is what it is.
Basically for every very cool creature (which includes the reprints), there are some stinkers as well. So let’s try and take a look at some of the creatures in this collection
Akikage. Undead mute ninja ghost assassin. Pretty crazy and a lot of fun, but hard to make work in Ravenloft. There’s not a lot of Asian influence aside from one or two islands of terror. This would have been better in a Kara-Tur MCA.
Bakhna Rakhna. Little albino goblins that steal food. Dull and not needed.
Baobhan Sith. EEEEVIL Pixies. Yawn. Do we really need a separate race just for that? Besides, I can’t think of a time even GOOD pixies would show up in Ravenloft.
Boneless. Undead made of nothing but skin. Very creepy opponents to face and a good way for a budding young necromancer to double his undead army. One corpse = one boneless and one skeleton after all.
Bruja. I appreciate the real Bruja (as opposed to V:TM’s Brujah) getting their fifteen minutes, but AD&D had so many hags, these weren’t really needed.
Midnight Cat. Creepy curse dishing felines. Fun, but not very useful.
Skeletal Cat. Horrible idea across the board and the art for this creature was pretty controversial in its time. These cats were undead revenants who rose from the grave to get revenge on animal cruelty. I completely support the wholesale torture of those who would hurt animals, but this did not need to be in Ravenloft or ANY form of AD&D.
Undead Cloaker. Undead cloaker. Very cool idea I was surprised never came about before now. Too bad there were two other unneeded cloaker variants in this collection as well.
Death’s Head Tree. A Tree whose fruit…looked like severed heads. Stupid.
Doppleganger. Did Ravenloft really need its own version of the doppelganger? No, it did not.
Undead Familiar. Again, you can tell the writers were straining to pad the compendium with entries like this one.
Six pages of living figurines. SIX!
Geist. Another undead that had appeared in other forms of AD&D before. Why write up their stats yet again?
Flesh Golem. ANOTHER creature that has appeared in other Monstrous Compendium Appendices. Why redo them here? This is just wasted space and like quite a few creatures in this collection something people already have somewhere else.
Snow Golem. Ditto. Already appeared in Ship of Horror. Why reprint their stats here?
Spectral Hags. Ghost hags! Sigh.
Hebi-No-Onna. Another very cool oriental creature…for a setting that doesn’t have an oriental style culture. Again, why not in a Kara-Tur MCA?
Jolly Roger. Pirate ghost zombie thing. Did I mention the writers were really just throwing crap at the wall and seeing what stuck here?
Lashweeds. A neat killer plant.
Magical Leech. Oy.
Psionic Leech. Oy x 2
Defiler Lich. A VERY cool idea, especially for Dark Sun fans, but should it be in THAT MCA instead of a Ravenloft one?
Drow Lich. Did this really need its own entry, and if so, then why not in Forgotten Realms?
Elemental Lich. This is just stupid as well as ANOTHER LICH.
Psionic Lich. A nice idea, but poorly written.
SIX kinds of Lycanthrope, including the stupidest looking one in the history of AD&D – the Wereray.
Mist Ferrymen. Very creepy and memorable art, but a somewhat nonsensical creature.
Obedient. Regular human joes controlled by Dementlieu’s Dark Lord. Why did this need an entry?
Recluse. A Vistani gypsy who lives by themselves. Again WHY DID THIS NEED ITS OWN ENTRY?
Skeleton Archer. Do I need to make the same basic comment a third time in a row?
Insectoid. Magical insects! With the art of a drow vampire for some reason. Big formatting error here.
Shadow Unicorn. An evil unicorn. Why is this needed?
Drow Vampire! To go with all the other demihuman vampires in Ravenloft.
Oriental Vampire. Again, Kara-Tur please.
FOUR pages on viruses.
Vorlog. A vampire’s intended undead spouse. Silly idea and another reprinted one.
Four new kinds of Will o’ the Wisps. Why?
Cannibal Zombies. Basically Romero style zombies. Ick.
As you can see, there’s some very cool stuff in this collection, along with a LOT of half-assed ideas thrown together to pad out the collection. I won’t say the bad outweighs the good, but Creatures of Darkness is definitely where a lot of people feel you can begin to see the change from Ravenloft being a setting of high quality to sometimes pure crap thrown together for a quick cash grab. I’ll be kind and give this collection a thumbs in the middle as it’s only ten bucks for a pretty hard to find physical release and there are a lot of monsters in it, even if most are subpar. I do feel Creatures of Darkness is easily the weakest Monstrous Compendium Appendix for Ravenloft and possibly the weakest in all of AD&D. If you love Ravenloft, you could add this to your collection, but really, just get the first two and you’ll have everything you’ll ever really need monster-wise.
Tags: AD&D, Dungeons & Dragons