Saturday, February 4, 2017

What Do I Know About Reviews? The Book of the Tarrasque (5e OGL)

I heard about this book a month or so ago, listening to the Misdirected Mark podcast. At the time, I wasn't thinking that it would be something I would jump in and pick up, let alone read and review. The more I heard about it, the more interesting it sounded, and the more I thought that I probably would snag it when it dropped.

I still remember sitting on the chairs outside of Waldenbooks at the local mall, reading my Monster Manual 2 after I purchased  it, when I was in junior high. Specifically, I remember reading about this thing called the Tarrasque, an unstoppable killing machine that player characters seemed to have almost no chance at killing unless everything went perfectly and they had plenty of time to plan and prepare for the fight.

It's the kind of monster that is as important for what it can do and how it shapes the game world as it is for practical use at the table. I actually used the creature only once in a campaign, for the longest running group of characters our collection of gamers had at the time. These were the characters that we had translated from D&D over to AD&D, and abandoned only when 2nd edition was looming and we decided to make a fresh start.

I may have only used the monster once, but I dropped hints about the Tarrasque and what it could do many times over many campaigns, and the fact that so many players knew what the creature could do and what it's appearance heralded made it more valuable as a cultural touchstone for D&D players as an actual opponent.

So there is a lot of history and mythology built up around the D&D incarnation of the Tarrasque. The more I read about this book, the more I wanted to read it.



The Form of the Destructor

The PDF (currently the only version of the product) is about 80 pages, with about 10 pages of handouts, props, and sheets to make running the Tarrasque easier, and a page dedicated to the OGL. The pages are done in a parchment color with adorned borders. There isn't a ton of art, but it appears every few pages, and is very professional, although the most impressive pieces are the unique interpretation of the Tarrasque used for this book. It appears similar, but not identical, to the formatting used for the official WOTC D&D books. The PDF download also includes the maps from the books as separate files, form-fillable versions of the worksheets from the end of the book, and files to print out the paper miniatures that appear in the handouts section.

Tarrasque Rules and Advice

The first section of the book details optional rules for adding in older abilities that the Tarrasque had before the 5th edition version, as well as a few general kaiju-inspired abilities. These include options like expanded spell reflection, trample abilities, breath weapons, and area attacks from it generally tearing up terrain.

All of the above is great and fun if you are planning on using the Tarrasque in a 5th edition game, but the next section of this chapter goes into tactics that players might use against the creature. This section is entertaining and worth reading for multiple reasons. It's great to see creativity on display, but it's even more fun to read it from the perspective not of shutting down these tactics, but following the logic and seeing what happens if you let them take the tactics to their logical extremes. There isn't a lot of "a strict reading of X says that Y won't work," but instead a lot of "if you let this work, it will probably lead to X, but you might argue that Y might happen instead," which is a lot more entertaining and useful to read.

It's also worth noting that the author of this section talks about collaborating with the players to make a fight against the Tarrasque an epic fight, rather than just trying to counter everything they do. This mindset makes reading all of this section a lot more fun, and gives it some legs beyond literally just running the Tarrasque in 5th edition versus X level characters. 

The chapter wraps up with a discussion of using props in the game and the value of using them to make the fight feel more important, and ways of introducing the Tarrasque into an existing campaign.

The History of the Tarrasque

This section is another area of the book that makes it fun to read beyond just using it as a sourcebook to run the Tarrasque in a 5th edition game. It talks about the real world mythological origins of the Tarrasque, where it has shown up in official D&D products, where it branched out into other RPG products, and where Tarrasque references can be found in the wider culture. It's pretty interesting and extensive, and depending on how iconic you feel the Tarrasque is to gaming, almost worth the price of admission by itself.

The Machine of Unmaking

The built-in adventure to showcase some of the moving parts from the previous chapters is written for 15th level characters, and has those characters going up against an apocalypse cult and the Tarrasque to prevent something well within the interests of the cult in general.

The adventure has a few set, detailed encounters, and a few notable NPCs, and in general the beginning and the end are defined, and the middle is a little more open-ended. Depending on how prepared the PCs want to be, they can trade preparation for a tougher end battle. 

I like this structure for a high level game, because some higher level characters are just going to trust to their abilities, and others got to that level by making sure that they don't stick their face in the woodchipper before they notice if it's turned on. Its very flexible and makes the adventure useful for a wider range of play styles.

The names of the cult, and cities have been bolded and are noted as being placeholders for what those specific things would be in your campaign world, and spells that spellcasters would cast before a fight and those that require concentration are called out, which is a nice extra step to make the adventure easier to run. 

The themes and elements of the adventure also make it a great campaign capstone if you are looking for an adventure that will feel like a good "series finale," and there are sections specifically written to accommodate what battlefield the PCs pick to confront the Tarrasque, and tailor the information gained in various sections based on what optional abilities you give the Tarrasque.

Printable Handouts

If you have read some of my other reviews, you know I'm a sucker for extra items included in an adventure that help you track more complex events that might happen in a game. The Tarrasque is both a monster and a complex event, and this section has worksheets to help track regeneration, what optional abilities you give the creature, and even gives you a fold up mini for the Tarrasque and an enlarged PC that might be fighting it.

In this day and age, when I find that I'm a bit lazier when it comes to what I want to do when I prep for a game, little touches like this really sell a product to me.

The Void Bomb

About the most negative thing I can say about this product is that if you have zero interest in the Tarrasque or the history of D&D, the amusing stories of past convention play and the evolution of a gaming icon may not be enough to make this something you want to buy. 

A Wish Spell

This book has fun optional rules that even have tools to help you track them, interesting bits of gaming history, GMing advice that is all about collaboration to make an epic story, and a great campaign ending adventure, which is hard to find outside of the capstone adventure for an adventure path.

The Lair of the Tarrasque

I might be blowing any minimal credibility I have as a reviewer, but hey, it's my blog. This is exactly the kind of thing a small publisher can do that big companies can't get away with. Its a very focused, quirky product that can take a risk on a very narrow subject. 

Keeping the above in mind, and knowing what my criteria is for my star rating, I'm going to point out that not only would I recommend this book to a D&D 5e player, and not only would I say it has value to someone that has played any version of D&D for the discussion of tactics and how to make the Tarrasque a noteworthy high point of a campaign or an awesome one shot (a lot of the advice on this would work for 3.5, Pathfinder, 4th edition, etc), but I can honestly say that if you are a person that doesn't play D&D and is interested in the history of roleplaying in general, and you want to pick up a few interesting anecdotes, as well as find a few really nice examples of the kinds of extra play aids you may like to see included with gaming products, it's worth it to purchase this product.

***** (out of 5)

(Don't expect to see that happen too often, even if I opened the flood gates on this one)

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