Rick: “Is he supposed to look like that? “
Evie: “No, I’ve never seen a mummy look like this before. He’s still… still…”
Rick: “…juicy.” (The Mummy, 1999)
I have always been a big fan of creepy undead monster movies. Whether they are serious and scary, or goofy and tongue-in-cheek, if it’s a movie about zombies, ghouls, vampires, or anything related – sign me up and pass the popcorn please!
Now, I had fully intended to do a blog about Book of the Dead shortly after I had reviewed his other amazing work, Book of Distant Stars. I know that’s sort of putting things a bit out of order, as I believe Book of the Dead was actually the Author’s first foray in creating a “monster manual”. But I ended up reviewing Book of Distant Stars the same week I did Goodman Games’ Critter Cache 6: Lovecraftian Bestiary, as it was in the same theme – icky tentacled horrors from another dimension!
But now it’s time to take a look at Mesh Hong’s earlier monster manual, and give credit where it is due.
From beyond the grave… to your computer
Book of the Dead
- Author: Mesh Hong
- Publisher: Self published / EN World Forums
- Year: 2009
- Media: PDF (69 pages)
- Cost: FREE – get it here!
Book of the Dead is a monster manual containing over 50 undead creatures to be used with D&D 4e by author Mesh Hong, and first appeared on the EN World forums. The undead monsters in the book range from Level 2 to Level 12, and include a broad range of monster types in a variety of roles. The book is divided into two sections – the first section contains single undead that can be used in mixed groups of a Dungeon Masters choosing, while the second section is designed with pre-planned encounter groups and strategies. The Author also provides an index table at the end of the book, sorting the Undead by Level and providing page numbers for easy reference.
The undead creatures in Book of the Dead are arranged in standard Stat Blocks with some descriptions and tactics to aid in planning. While there is a lack of illustrations depicting the undead horrors, the descriptions are more than suitable to give DMs enough information to inform their Players just how awful the creature is that is attacking them.
But hey, even the great horror author, Stephen King, admitted his ambivalence with relying too much on images, at least in movies, remarking that the characters in his books ought “to belong to the reader, who will visualize them through the lens of imagination.” (The Stand, Signet, 1991)
The first part of the book, entitled Section 1: General Undead is called The Author does some very insightful work with undead monsters, adding twists to old standbys like skeletons and wraiths, morphing them into surprising and frightening new shapes:
From the Razor Wraith (Level 9 Skirmisher)
Razor Wraiths resemble wraiths that have hundreds of sharp fragments of metal suspended in their incorporeal bodies. Every strike from a Razor Wraith includes multiple slices from its embedded razors causing its enemies to bleed and wince in pain and discomfort.
From the Poison Bound Skeleton (Level 12 Elite Brute)
Poison Bound Skeletons are tall and thin with glowing green eyes and clean elegant bones. They are surrounded by a thin green mist that seems to wrap itself around the skeletons bones and twist outward for 15ft in unnatural wispy tendrils.
Whenever the skeleton attacks there is a very slight delay before the poison mist follows and surrounds the wound. When destroyed the skeleton falls to the ground and the mist lingers in the shape of the skeleton for a second or two before dissipating.
From the Zombie Alchemist (Level 4 Elite Controller [Leader])
The Zombie Alchemist is an intelligent undead who continues his mad alchemical research beyond death. He is surrounded by a colourful, sparkling and dangerous alchemical aura that damages anything that gets too close to him. His bag of unstable alchemical grenades will cause a nasty surprise to anyone near him when he is defeated.
The Alchemist will usually be encountered leading a group of undead either in his laboratory or out in the field collecting ingredients or test subjects.
But while the undead in Section 1 show some great imagination and have an exciting array of new powers with which to challenge your Heroes, the Author really shows his creativity in designing for Section 2: Themed Encounters. These encounters are fully designed mini-adventures, complete with magic items, and need only a bit of mapping to encompass the encounters described.
The 9 Themed Encounters have some exciting possibilities for short quests and adventures, ranging from the tomb of a Mummy King and his horrid undead guardians, to a Servant of Orcus and his hideous laboratory filled with bizarre undead experiments. Dungeon Masters who find themselves short on preparation time could easily find a solution to an upcoming game in the latter pages of Book of the Dead.
From Ram’Kal’Ram’Raa and his undead guards
Somewhere an ancient tomb lies undisturbed, deep in a rocky gorge waiting silently to be discovered. This is perhaps the last surviving evidence of a race of man from thousands of years before, whose history and culture have long been forgotten. The tomb contains only a small portion of the accumulated wealth and possessions of the God King that is interred within, but even that is a prize worth risking your life for.
From A Flesh Prince of Orcus and his Secret Laboratory
The Following is a complete side quest for a party of 6 level 9 characters. This was taken from my ongoing campaign. Please note that this was designed very much with my PCs in mind. I will keep the plot to a minimum as anyone interested in using this would probably change things to fit their own needs.
Deep in a large unforgiving swamp is a small rocky island, just beyond the shoreline a rough stone wall rings a single storey forbidding stone building. A simple heavy wooden double gate is visible built into the wall, on the outside a small iron bell hangs from a bracket. This is the private sanctum of a Flesh Prince of Orcus.
And so Book of the Dead by Mesh Hong is one freebie every DM needs to have on their virtual bookshelves. Hopefully, the Author will forgive my delay in reviewing his work, because I think this book demonstrates how creative the Author is. And I certainly hope to see more books like this one and Book of Distant Stars in the future.
So until next blog… I wish you Happy Gaming!