The Ninth World Bestiary (2014)

I am further flummoxed by The Ninth World Bestiary (2014). Monster books are where I go to figure out how I would run a game. Coupled with an equipment catalog, I feel like I can get more practical/mechanical understanding of a game world than through the gazetteer. Weirdly, for Numenera, the opposite is true for the most part.

Befitting a game organized around experiencing wonder, the monsters are frickin’ weird. There is very little here that conforms, visually, to fantasy tropes. Which isn’t to say there is nothing prosaic—there are bug monsters and lion serpents and things I can intuit at a glance how they act. But I admit I am slightly overwhelmed by the lack of anything so obvious as a dragon to kind of ground my understanding. The art is above average though, and I can sort of see a through-line in all the monster designs, but I’d like a little more.

Again, I find my best touchstone is Talislanta, which just excels in excess (the Mercandian Soldier even reminds me of Talislanta’s Thralls). For whatever reason, I don’t expect the monsters of Talislanta to form a compelling gestalt, though, where I do for Numenera. It seems like that’s what the designers want! But when I start trying to piece stuff together, it winds up being too much to parse. The rare time a monster book isn’t my way in.

There are lots of cool monsters I want to lift for other things, though. A monolith that hungers for flesh? A titan whose head is an abandoned city? Heck yea. I really like the ghouls who lick their blades after they attack and get insights into their opponent from tasting their blood. That scratches at one of the problems, though — there are lots of monsters with cool little puzzle details that I want to see solutions for sussed out in play, but for a game arranged around discover and awe, the bestiary has far more opponents than inhabitants.

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