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A Look At ... Monster Island, Part 3


Alex Greene

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Right, so we're back on Monster Island this week, and we're going to finish off the book by going through the final chapters, beginning with Magic.

The characteristics of magic on The Island are:- Workings take time and great effort. Magic is ritualised, so you can't exactly do a powerful sorcery spell of the wrist. Magic is culturally demarcated - some tribes do one type of magic, and other tribes do another type, and so on; and magical energies replenish very slowly, forcing magicians to use their spells only reluctantly, and never frivolously.

Not only is magic also jealously guarded; there are only two Disciplines of magic, namely Animism and Sorcery. Animism is practiced by the lowland Savages, and I'm using the term here as a collective noun rather than as an epithet. The High Folk exclusively practice Sorcery. And Theism is kind of extinct, though temple ruins (bearing ancient blood stains) indicate that it was once practiced fairly vigorously.

Until, presumably, the gods they summoned actually showed up. More about that later.

Magic is actually risky and time consuming. Page 129 has a table which shows the increased risks of Something Going Bad if a working is rushed.

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This slows down casting. A sorcerer is unlikely to want to be in the thick of a pitched melee battle, unless they happen to have formidable natural fighting skills and all their exits blocked. There are no modifications to Animism - use the Trance Preparation Table on page 131 of Mythras.

The next thing to note about magic on The Island is that Animism and Sorcery are orchestrated. Mass gatherings are common for large scale effects, and for bindings of powerful spirits into their colossal fetishes. Each participant, who must be at least at Follower rank, contributes +1% to the Invocation, Trance, or Binding skills of the kahuna. Nobody knows how to do this for Theism. The colonials of Grimsand certainly have no idea, and it's only the sleeping gods of Kapala who might have a clue.

Though, seriously, it's not worth waking them up to ask. See below.

Bad Things Happen

The Casting Miscarriage Table on page 130 presents a list of the horrible things which could happen if a working of any sort is rushed, botched - or even works perfectly.

Sources of Magic

The Island has a variety of sources of magical energies. Internal Magic Points recover slowly. Characters can also commit acts of sacrifice to release Magic Points from the spilling of blood - including their own. There is the, er, "self medicating" route which involves consuming psychoactive / poisonous plants Legal Department here. Don't Try This At Home, Kids - Just Say No! and then there is the process of Veneration, which involves sacrificing Devotional Magic Points to ancestral spirits and deities in the form of ancestral tikis.

Then, of course, there are the Geomantic Nodes, locations on or in the earth where these magical energies gather and pool. Here is where you are likely to encounter some of those plants mentioned above, as well as dangerous guardian spirits, magically-active plants and mutated beasts, and even a slumbering deity, all depending on the whims of your Gamesmaster.

Cultural Aspects

Magic is an essential part of Island culture. Members of Savage tribes belong to individual animist cults. Their kahunas venerate (and bind) their deities, conduct politics and diplomacy, and act as judges and priests. Ancestor worship is a deep vein of power among the tribes, and everyone deep down desires to become an Ancestor Spirit to the next generation and generations to come, so culturally they uphold their tribes' values in their behaviour, hoping to become a revered Kahuna and eventually Ancestor Spirit themselves.

Spirit Fetishes are as jealously-hoarded as workings. Dowager-Matriarchs hold on to Fetishes, and distribute them only as needed. A character with a Fetish may only have it for as long as required to fulfil the task; then they must return the spirit and Fetish to the Dowager who gave it to them.

On The Island, progression in an animist cult involves a trial by ordeal. The candidate Shaman must find their Fetch, and that requires them to gad about The Island learning what they can, until they pass out from starvation. There, they discorporate into the Spirit World and meet Aata, the Ancestor Spirit which introduced animism to the Savages. The candidate must answer three ethical questions relating to the past, present, and future - and then they must face their final foe, which turns out to be ... well, spoilers, but if you ever watched the second Star Wars movie or read Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey, you may already have an inkling. There are higher ranks - High Shamans, who overlook their tribes, and the Spirit Lord - of which there can only be one at any one time on The Island.

The next section covers the tribes, the beings they venerate and bind, their friendly and neutral spirits, and of course each tribe's secret Gift. The list of tribes begins on page 138. Pay attention to each tribe's totem god. See below.

The last bit describes random spirit encounters. And then we move on to the sorcery of the High Folk.

Politically, High Folk sorcerers are the dominant caste, hoarding their knowledge. There are over a dozen sorcery schools, each with their individual spell lists, ordeals, rank progressions, Gifts, and so on. The list of colleges begins on page 142.

Fancy Names

In what could be described as a deep nod to the late Jack Vance, the sorcery spells listed in this chapter have been given pompous, fancy names. "Defy Eidolon" for Spirit Resistance, Obliterate Conjury for Neutralise Magic, and so on. Page 147 covers unique new sorcery spells, as well as listing sorcery spells whose effects have been modified from the original sorcery spells listed in Mythras.

Here's where there seems to be an omission. The Cache Might spell is not listed. It's Store Manna by another name, and so I can only presume that its effects are exactly as listed in the Core Rulebook, without changes. There is a Dedicate Might spell, which is a slightly modified version of Enchant - which allows the sorcerer to attach the enchantment to a Geomantic Node to draw upon the enchantment indefinitely.

There are new Gifts following the sorcery spell list. These Gifts are immensely powerful - look at the example given by Horde, where a necromancer can raise an unlimited number of corpses within a given radius, effectively setting the Targets factor at infinity. Many of these Gifts require weeks of study to activate them (to claim them) and they include Aggrandize (create a monstrous illusion), Change Reality (turn an illusion into a real thing), Horde (Targets factor set to infinity within the Range of the spell), Dimensional Portal (you can imagine what Project VALHALLA would give to learn this Gift), Lichdom (does what it says on the tin), Matrix (creating another power source for an enchantment other than binding the Magic Points of the caster into the item - oh, and enchanters can learn this Gift multiple times to create different types of magic item, as well as create blueprints for their items), and many others.

After the Sorcery Gifts comes the Theism of the Colonists. And here come the humans.

Theism has been modified here. Most Theism is propitiation, either through the devotion of Magic Points by the faithful to keep their dark gods hungry, or offering to leave the people alone. The Extension Miracle is unknown. There is no Divine Intervention. There is no pantheon - everyone brings their own gods with them, and when they leave, so too do their gods.

There then follows a list of the different deities one may encounter, or believe in. This begins on page 155. Each religion is listed along with a short epithet (e.g. Judge of dooms, bringer of catastrophe), a brief description of the deity, and then sections listing the cult's Organisation, Cult Membership, Superstitions, Taboos, Skills, Miracles, and the benefits of Propitiation.

And Then There Are Those Deities

Oh yeah. There are some real gods lying about in, or under, The Island. I did mention I'd come to them. You might find Ubbozathla and Tzathogghua familiar if you ever read any Mythos fiction written by Clark Ashton Smith, whose works are frequently referenced within the book on the first pages of each of the chapters.

FInally, and wrapping up the Chapter, there is a list of new Theist Miracles, some of which are incredibly potent, such as a Miracle that transforms a person permanently into a glyph on a wall. Seriously, a spell which turns your target into living graffiti.

So, then, moving on to Chapter 7, Items and Substances. This is all about the things. Produce, Narcotics, Perfumes, Poisons, Diseases, Weapons, Treasures, and Artefacts. You name it, it's listed here, along with costs for trade, and so on.

Poisons, Diseases, Weapons, Treasures, and Artefacts are all given their own sections. Many of the poisons and diseases are horrific. Some are truly obnoxious and horrifying. Kahuna's Bane, for instance, is feared and loathed by the lowland Savages, because it is a drug which blocks access to the Spirit World. Eidolonosis is basically zombie disease - once you are bitten, this is what turns your character into a zombie. Better hope you get infected by Fire Scale first, and spontaneously combust into ashes before that happens.

Weapons follow, and this is just a list of the items commonly used by the inhabitants of The Island. Treasures just lists shiny, valuable things, and allows the Gamesmaster to randomly generate desirable trinkets and baubles to be found by Adventurers who stumble across such caches while raiding tombs.

There then follows Enchanted Artefacts - Fetishes, Matrices (a lot of Matrices), and a short text box explaining that iron is a cursed metal and rusts easily. I wonder if someone brought along pure iron, forged without carbon, like that imperishable iron pillar in India IRL which has stood untouched by the passage of time for centuries ...

Flora and Fauna

This is the thing most people come to see when they open Monster Island. Players want to see the stats of the monsters they are there to hunt; and Gamesmasters want to see what they can bedevil the Adventurers with.

First is a list of new creature abilities. Next, the creatures themselves, starting with the Shark People (the Adaro) and followed by a host of insanely lethal creatures, including the Alan ... okay, are there creatures called Steve or Henry? ... and including some dinosaurs.

Yes, you too can enjoy riding into battle on the back of some tamed dinosaur.

Aw hells, there are Aswang here. And bouda, bunyips, wendigo ... yeah, a whole lot of creepy horrors. Giant clams to trap the ankles of unwary divers - there's a trope I haven't seen for years - and horros plants ranging from the carnivorous plant from Little Shop of Horrors - "FEED ME!" to actual triffids. Yes, triffids. Those Smoking Mirrors have been busy.

Page 218 is very handy for the Gamesmaster, since it lists a bunch of different kinds of critters one would expect to attack in swarms or shoals, from bats to piranhas. Oh, there's a box text on jellyfish venom on page 219.

Can you imagine the looks on the faces of waiters and customers if they catch you reading this book in a cafe?

Oh, look. Girl Genius' Slaver Wasps. They're called Jempulex, but these are The Other's slaver wasps all right.

This whole chapter is just chock full of all the beasties and dangerous plants which they didn't have space for in the Creatures chapter of Mythras, really. You can use these critters to plague your Adventurers in any setting you like, really. Your Luther Arkwright Agents could stumble across a parallel where dinosaurs still live; or your modern story can turn into an enactment of The Day of The Triffids.

This chapter is extensive. This article cannot do it justice - it's a long list and honestly you could spend hours just browsing them. Imagine your Adventurers being tasked with bringing back a live Ankylosaurus, or looking for Yeti in the high mountains.

And after that, the Appendices list generic encounters, as well as provide examples of pregenerated Lizardfolk non-player characters for your Adventurers to encounter and interact with. By the way, there are descriptions of Lizardfolk and Ophidians within the previous creatures chapter, on pages 240 and 269.

Now turn to page 288 for the stars of the show.

The Gods That Walk.

The kaiju.

This shows you the stats of the kaiju.

You can play as a kaiju.

You can enjoy looking at the list of these behemoths, and identify their movie counterparts. They saved Gojira for last. Godzilla's right at the end.

After this, the index seems anticlimactic. But there it is, and it wraps up the book.

Conclusions

Practically every Gamesmaster will eventually need to get Monster Island, if only for the lists of creatures and deadly flora, diseases and exotic poisons. There really is something for everyone here - Players and Gamesmasters alike. You could delve into Monster Island for years and never run out of stories, or monsters and hazards to transplant into your own settings and adventures.

At the very least, it's an expansion of Mythras Core Rulebook's Magic and Creatures Chapters. At most, it can be the setting for some of the most exciting and bizarre adventures you can find in any fantasy roleplaying game or venue.

Next time, this blog wraps up its coverage of Monster Island with a look at the two main supplements - Monster Island Companion, and A Bird In The Hand.

Edited by Alex Greene

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