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Reviews of 'Savage Species'

Savage Species

by Jennifer Clarke-Wilkes, Rich Redman, David Eckelberry
D&D Supplements, Volume 4

Reviews of 'Savage Species'

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Reviewer: Matt

Rating: Stars

For those players who have always dreamed of playing one of the monsters in the Monster Manual, the day of reckoning has finally arrived: Savage Species: Playing Monstrous Characters, covers all aspects of playing a monster in detail, including new feats, spells, prestige classes, and more.

In order to use Savage Species, the Dungeon Master's Guide and the Monster Manual (and/or Monster Manual 2) are required reference materials. The first chapter of Species covers the basics of monstrous character creation-from selection of the base creature to generation of ability scores and starting package and skill/feat selection. The second chapter breaks the monsters in the Monster Manual into four types, roughly defined by the monster's ECL and how difficult a monster will be to play. It also details how to take a monster and calculate its ECL based on its special abilities and attacks.

The third chapter, Monster Classes, is where Savage Species is most useful. Using the monster ECLs found in the second chapter, the chapter provides an alternate system of advancement from that found in the Monster Manual and instructions on how to "regress" a monster with a higher ECL to lower level. This can provide a method for a PC to take on a monster character at low level, or allow the DM to introduce a more advanced monster earlier in the campaign by reducing its CR. Chapter three also provides guidelines for advancing the first level monster using the standard character progression charts by assigning it levels in its monster class, allowing it to gain ability score increases and special abilities incrementally over the course of its level advancement to its actual ECL.

In order for a monster character to further advance in level, the rules in chapter nine cover how to advance a character by type (per the Monster Manual rules), or through taking a prestige class (chapter seven presents a number of special ability-specific prestige classes for monsters to take) or by applying a monster template, which is covered in the tenth chapter of the book. Of course, a monster character could also take one of the standard base classes that are defined in the Player's Handbook in order to continue their level advancement.

Chapter eleven discusses the various ways in which a character from one of the standard races may transform into a monster character (or vice versa) using the rituals described there. And, when your character has completed the transformation, the chapters on equipment, spells, and feats will certainly come in handy.

The first of the book's three appendices present over 50 monster classes using the rules from chapter three, and include level progression tables and class descriptions. The second appendix contains compiled tables with the monsters from the Monster Manual and their base statistics and ECL. Appendix three includes the descriptions of three new monsters, and one new race: the half-ogre.

One chapter that will come in handy for the DM is chapter eight, which discusses the difficulties in running a campaign where the protagonists are monstrous characters, such as the difficulty in finding arms and equipment. Given the traditional disposition of townsfolk to monsters, even the traditional "you're sitting in an inn..." story opening may no longer work for your adventuring party.

With all that in mind, there is a lot to recommend Savage Species. The rules for regressing monster characters to lower levels are, in this reviewer's opinion, the most useful found in the book. However, due to the differences inherent in the various monsters that can be used as base creatures, the book is fairly "rules light" and offers suggestions more than concrete directions for working with monstrous characters. Savage Species does include a number of good litmus tests to ensure that your conversions are appropriate for the ECL that is calculated using the rules in the book, which balances that weakness out. The 50 monster classes presented in Appendix 1 have done much of the work for the DM, and cover many of the monster types that players will likely want to play in a game. The book does suffer from a number of obvious minor typographical errors, but the concepts presented in the book and the pre-generated classes using the rules in the book will certainly help players explore the possibilities that monstrous characters have to offer.

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