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Monster Island - A (long overdue) review


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I've placed a very abridged version of this review on Lulu, where I recently purchased the hard-back book, and Aeon Games website.

Monster Island is a stand-alone, setting agnostic, campaign guide and bestiary for the Mythras roleplaying game. A jungle and mist-wreathed island, the setting is distinctly sword and sorcery, with clear and welcome inspiration from the weirdness of Clark Ashton Smith, a hint of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Fritz Leiber and other classic lost-world adventure stories, and the films of Ray Harryhausen.  Monster Island was originally published for RuneQuest 6 by the Design Mechanism, and now for its descendent, the Mythras D100 role play system.  Because it is a D100 system, Monster Island is easily adaptable to similar games.  The richness of this supplement cannot be over-exaggerated, it offers years of game play, and a bounteous source of inspiration from every paragraph.  It inspired me to write the first adventure module for Monster Island, a Bird in the Hand.

The book comprises eight chapters, of which the last, on flora and fauna takes up roughly a third of the page count. This delivers on its first, core purpose: a bestiary of strange and deadly creatures from world-myth, the ancient past and, I suspect, the author’s evil imagination!  None of the creatures or plants are ‘generic’, it is a rich and weirdly diverse range.  However, Monster Island offers much more than a simple ‘monster manual’.

Monster Island is a sandbox setting for campaign play, with ready-made materials for the Games Master.  Three distinct cultures are offered, of which human colonists are intended as the main playable culture, but nothing restricts playing either of the two native, non-human, cultures. The cultures themselves are distinct, with unique customs, goals and magic; and supported by a sample settlement for each culture, including Port Grimsand, a Leiber-inspired town with a hint of piratical charm, but hints of Lovecraftian darkness!  Magic in Monster Island draws on the core Mythras rules, but offers a master-class in how to customise magic to suit a particular setting.  This alone is worth the price of admission!  Given the Mythras is a toolkit-based game system, Monster Island provides an ‘ready to play’ set-up for culture and magic.

As a sandbox for sword and sorcery, Monster Island provides a chapter on campaigns, with advice for running Mythras to fit the genre, and a chapter of strange items and substances to be found on the Island, including a range of nasty diseases and poisons, as well as treasures and magic items.  For me, the richest, most creative, and inspiring chapter is on places of interest, detailing 13 adventure locations, with 15 further locations in summary paragraph.  Each location touch on different aspects of the sword and sorcery genre with lost temples, tombs, imprisoned demons and strange magics, and hints of science-fantasy.  The detailed location provides a springboard for further adventure ideas, and campaign play.  Monster Island also lends itself very well to a more pulp-inspired game, suiting two-fisted adventurers from the 1930s, as much as swaggering sword-wielders or roguish thieves.

So, what can be improved, or what doesn’t quite work?  There is nothing in Monster Island that is poorly designed or developed.  The writing, and setting, offers just the ‘right’ level of detail, enough to inspire but not constrain the imagination; whilst giving enough to kick-off a game with relatively little preparation.  Almost errata free, some very slight adjustments to animism are needed to properly update from RuneQuest 6 to Mythras.  As a complete campaign setting, it is nevertheless easy to pick apart, selectively adopting parts of the supplement for use in any other Mythras game; but Monster Island comes into its own if run as a whole, it is the setting that keeps on giving!  Monster Island can, and should, be developed further!  Additional guidance on character creation to fit Monster Island would be helpful, albeit the setting is purposefully agnostic to fit any Games Master’s campaign world.  More art, floor plans and maps would also be very welcome.  My main, and only, gripe is the hex-map, with needs a grid-reference or numbered hexes: it would be wonderful to see a map with richer detail, showing the geography and climatic zones of the jungle.  Monster Island is a beast of a book, buy it. Now!

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