Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The HAUL Reviews: Fire on the Velvet Horizon

I found two categories of creatures in Fire on the Velvet Horizon - “I could use this” and “I want to use this.”

By any standards for a bestiary that is a fantastic success.

The variety in the book is staggering. Single creatures could spawn entire campaigns. There are creatures to fight with, creatures to speak with, creatures to go on quests for and creatures to take quests from. There are creatures that are settings in and of themselves. There are creatures muddied by time and retellings, framed only by quarrelsome scholars counter-arguing. There’s an entire setting underneath it all, sewn out of passing references and small connections and themes. It’s a lonely world of splashes of color on waves of black, of birds and beasts to stumble across in the swamp or on the moor.

The book remembers something often forgotten in RPGs: these creatures are magical. Ineffable. They are what they are and do what they do because that is what they are and what they do. Their logic is a funny, fuzzy thing, just right at the border between what we can and can't grasp.

They're not mundane, is what I am saying.

The writing and art is pretty good too. I'm resorting to understatement here because much of what I could say has already been said, and it is so much better to experience it firsthand than listen to a much less skilled writer talk about it.

Naming everything I thought was cool would just be summarizing the entire book, but I must give credit in particular to:
  • The Abhorrer, for being an excellent summary creature to explain the book to friends.
  • The Flammeous Lads, because in any other book they would have been ‘fire goblins’ or something bland like that, and this is one time that what could have been is actually the thing we got.
  • The Navarch of Aaµt and his O’Neil cylinder to hell, which is just waiting to be run with the hellcrawl from Sickly and Pale.
  • The µkrogorµ, for being a really cool monster that i already want to terrify players with.
  • The Poignant Men, for prose that lives up to the name.
  • The Blathering Bird, for being what appears to be my spirit animal.
It’s all great. Even the creatures that I didn’t find particularly engaging or interesting (the Poyazuk, the Shrine-Oh, the Horolognomon) are still perfectly usable. It’d all still work if the entire thing were stripped down to just the bones, a sentence or two for each monster, and thank whatever mad muses Patrick and Scrap channel that they took that and kept going. Declining to include statblocks was an excellent decision, as it makes the book relevant across whatever game or edition might be used. A bestiary that everyone can use. Should use, even - even if not a single creature is actually used in game, the exposure to fresh ideas is the real gain here.

The only real negatives I have, both minor, are that the print size took a while to get used to, and that the thorn-hairball letter makes it exceptionally difficult to talk or write about some of my favorite monsters from the book. But these do not matter much in the face of the whole.

By the time I was done, I felt as if I had finished several hours of paging through Sandman. That sort of clear-headed, Lethe-drunk state of slowly rising to the surface of a dream despite never falling asleep. 

A good book for quiet, rainy days. An excellent book in general, but especially good then.

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