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The Bestiary
Dragonlance: Fifth Age Dramatic Supplement
TSR/Wizards of the Coast, 239 pages

Art: DiTerlizzi
The Bestiary
Additional Details
ISBN: 0-7869-0795-9
Age Level: 12+
Designed for: All players and Dragonlance novel readers
Price: $24.95US; $32.95CDN

TSR Catalogue

A review by Don Bassingthwaite

What can I say about The Bestiary (other than perhaps that "dramatic supplement" is a fine dramatic way of saying "game accessory")? Simply put, this is a really good book. No, let me rephrase that -- this is a really, really good book.

In essence, this is the Monster Manual of the Dragonlance: Fifth Age game. Its basic purpose is to catalogue and give statistics for monsters using the SAGA game rules. There's the usual big assortment of creatures inside, all of the old standard AD&D favourites plus the more atypical creatures native to Krynn, the world of Dragonlance. In the best Monster Manual tradition, every creature has a write up and a table of stats and an illustration... this is the type of product that has the potential to degenerate into lists of names and numbers really fast.

Guess what? It doesn't! The Bestiary is very well written and beautifully illustrated. The numbers and game stats are -- hallelujah! -- secondary to descriptive text.

The book is cast as a reference text created by Caramon Majere, one of the Heroes of the Lance, based on his adventures. Most of the description is in his voice, with occasional asides from a scholar of the Great Library of Palanthas. This means that the description is not only interesting to read but also reflects directly on Krynn. These are not generic entries. Many descriptions say where the creature can be found -- not just "among mountains" but "atop peaks in the Worldscap Mountains" -- and relate it to particular events in the history of Krynn or in the adventures of Caramon. The other effect of having the book narrated in this way is that it gives the information an apocryphal feel. In a few places, the narrators say flat out that the information they have is unreliable or conflicting. In others places, information that they swear is true will ring off-key with experienced gamers. This gives the book a totally authentic tone -- and leaves a way open for the game narrator to play nasty tricks with a creature's abilities. Heh-heh.

The book has an authentic look to it as well -- it's printed on a nice buff coloured paper, giving it a fantasy feel without being over the top. What really brings the whole thing together though are the illustrations done by Rebecca Guay and Matthew Mitchell. Matthew does pencil sketches, Rebecca does watercolours (correct me if I'm wrong, but that's what they look like -- either way, I love them) and the effect is spectacular. This maybe the best match of artist to product since Tim Bradstreet met White Wolf. The art is consistently excellent from beginning to end. There's no visible effort to force the art into boxes, so the layout on the page is clean. In fact, the overall design of the product is simply brilliant.

Gamers will find hard stats in boxes accompanying each creature's description, along with a short hook for an adventure involving that particular creature. Other game-related materials -- lists of ability effects, creatures by habitat, and a summary table of stats and abilities -- are printed at the beginning and end of the book (on white paper with an attractive green border, setting them off from the rest of the book). A particularly handy inclusion is the section on converting standard AD&D creatures to the SAGA setting. By the way, if you're coming to SAGA from AD&D, watch out. Monsters you may be used to thinking of as nuisances or cannon fodder can end up substantially tougher under SAGA rules.

The Bestiary is the best game product I've seen this year. The layout is good, the writing is fantastic, the art is great -- and most importantly, it's a useful game product. If you play Dragonlance: Fifth Age, I don't see how you can get along without this. Buy a copy now! Even if you don't play, wrangle a copy and read it -- it's fun on its own. I thought I knew everything there was to know about AD&D-based monsters, but I still found myself reading The Bestiary cover-to-cover and loving every word.

Copyright © 1998 by Don Bassingthwaite

Don Bassingthwaite is the author of Such Pain (HarperPrism), Breathe Deeply (White Wolf), and Pomegranates Full and Fine (White Wolf), tie-in novels to White Wolf's World of Darkness role-playing games. He can't remember when he started reading science fiction, but has been gaming since high school (and, boy, is his dice arm tired!).

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