Creature Compendium - a monster manual like no other
I know that title is making a bold statement but I feel that it is justified.
I mean, how many other monster manuals - or compendiums - do you know that have an art deco themed interior?
Yup, not that many.
I've know since last year that I wanted to do a reprint of Hal and Roger's adventures. I love their journal style entries in The Oracle, where they report back from the field and the entries are on cards or strips of parchment.
And those are great, they really are. But if you put yourself in their world they are representing a quasi-government organisation. Surely, when they get back to base, in-between assignments, they would be expected to produce a different type of report - one that was neatly produced and more evenly laid out.
Their Adventure Council, (that they work for) if in some ways like a National Geographical Society. So, they are doing 'science' when they explore and have fantasy adventures. That vision in my head led me to Art Deco or Art Nuevo as a style. The two are often confused and I would argue there is cross over. There are certainly 'pure' versions of the art forms out there but often, even in the early 19th century when those styles were current, there were mixed and blended forms.
Ultimately though, whilst I prefer Art Nuevo visually, my creative skills have their limits and within the bounds of what I am capable of I believe Art Deco is the stronger candidate. I've thus gone for the straight lines and geometric patterns that the style is famous for along with some of the swirls that were evident in the style just not as commonly associated with it.
The book still reflects the work of two travelling brothers who are, in my eyes, Victorian-esq explorers. Thus you still have items on parchment and card inlays but I imagine them having sat down and rewritten the entries. The artwork neatened up for display in the Adventure Council archives.
Hence the stat blocks being set on cards that are clipped into the book with wire picture frames. Like a really fancy paperclip! Which sounds about as Art Deco as you can get! At least to me. If there are any designers out there with Art Deco tattooed on their heart who want to email me and express their hate for what I've done to their beloved art form then please do. I will politely apologise and ask forgiveness - but I like what I've come up with!
That said, some of the specifics are still being played around with. As you can see below, the stat block colour is still in development. A conversation with one of my sons prompted the grey stat block. it was an attempt to produce something fresh and different and actually, a LOT of people have been picking that as their favourite. It seems to aid readability and I'm possibly leaning towards it now.
I've tried different parchments but they either end up being distracting or almost invisible - the grey below does have a faint pattern to it, although possibly not noticeable in that low res screen shot.
I'm also continuing my ongoing search to find a slightly nicer font for the two brothers. Anyone who's read their entries in the magazine will know that I have two different fonts for the two brothers. They work, their serviceable - however I'm not in love with either of them. I've gone through roughly 4500 fonts (I'm not exaggerating - that's a low ball estimate) in the last year for different reasons and not found any super strong candidates. Well, not for Hal and Roger at least. I found some superb ones for other purposes! Like the font for creature names - see above. I LOVE it and it properly fits the period and the design ethic I'm going for.
The book itself contains all their stories from Issue 1-12 of The Oracle however there have never been stat blocks before so those are entirely new. I find stat blocks a pain to create until I get into them and by the third or fourth I start to enjoy the challenge. Interestingly, a recent assignment for a client that saw me create some aliens and robots for a sci-fi adventure really helped me get into the design piece.
The double challenge of new game system and sci-fi seemed to unblock some hang ups I had about mechanics and creation which is excellent and come along at just the right time! Not that I'm new to creating stat blocks for 5e, not at all - I've just not enjoyed it much until very recently.
So, for a book that contains a lot of already published material I can tell you a LOT of work has gone into combining it and creating the new book. One day, maybe, I will just copy past into a book and go 'Ta da! Reprint' but in my heart of hearts I don't think so.
I don't like people who recycle their material unless there is something of value added in.
The Oracle, and the articles inside are system-neutral. Putting stat blocks in would undercut that massively. Better to keep those separate and then if folks want them, they can have them in the collected volume at the end of the year - plus a bunch of new creatures.
And, this might well bring in some readers who haven't read The Oracle and are looking for new creatures for their Dungeons and Dragons games. If they then move from this to the magazine, well, that would be amazing. It's always great to have new readers of the magazine.
An unexpected bonus, in my eyes at least, is that it has highlighted the different presentations that are needed for the magazine and the creature compendium. If the once a year compendium is going to be neat and tidy then the monthly 'field reports' need to be even more like that - coffee stains, writing on the page and smudges.
This is a page from the October issue and you can see some of the extra detail in there. Other pages also have stamps and other marks to bring home the 'written in the field' look. It takes time to add all of those graphical elements but it is a ton of fun as well!
So, a monster manual like no other - yup I think so. I'm not going to say it's better or worse, but it is different. Do check out the Kickstarter page and if you think it's a good better then by all means it would be great to have you as a backer! Hal and Rogers Creature Compendium Until next time, stay safe and keep gaming. Stephen