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Review of Asuang: Shapechanging Horrors by Nosfecatu Publishing

I dunno what the hell’s in there, but it’s weird and pissed off, whatever it is.” ~ Clark (The Thing, 1982)

There’s something a little extra creepy about monsters that can assume a friendly face in order to get close to its prey.  Movies like The Thing and Invasion of the Body Snatchers have a really unsettling quality to them, with the insidious way in which some horrifically alien creature so easily slips into the midst of human beings, looking and behaving just like them, so that you have no idea whom you can trust.
asuang cover
In classic D&D, there were only a few creatures which had this ability, of which the most notorious is the doppelganger.  Here you had a creature that could become the perfect likeness of anyone in the party, or even a trusted ally, so that when it attacks it gains serious advantage over its prey.

But Nosfecatu Publishing, the creators of the Buan Campaign Setting, have unveiled a whole new order of terrifying creatures from Filipino folklore and myth in Asuang: Shapechanging Horrors.

Asuang: Shapechanging Horrors
  • Designers: Billy Recio
  • Illustrators: James Macaspac  (cover), John Corpuz (interior)
  • Publisher: Nosfecatu Publishing
  • Year: 2010
  • Media: PDF (18 pages)
  • Cost: $1.99

Asuang: Shapechanging Horrors is a monster manual supplement of ten new polymorphing predators designed for the upcoming Buan Campaign Setting by Nosfecatu Publishing, although these creatures can be utilized in almost any 4E campaign setting.  The ebook includes Statistic Blocks and Descriptions of ten unique monsters, ranging in challenge from Level 1 to Level 18, as well as Lore and Encounter Group combinations.  In addition, the Author also includes Thematic Elements which can be used to create other asuang horrors, a new combat condition (Attached), a Player-usable Terrain Hazard, and as well as a possible Background which can link a Character to an asuang clan.

The overall production quality of Asuang: Shapechanging Horrors is very good, with the Author adopting the new 4E Monster Stat Block format as previewed for the upcoming Monster Manual 3, and with excellent descriptions of these horrible creatures.  However, the flow of the description and Lore text was sometimes a little disjointed around the Monster Stat blocks, and I found I had to frequently flip between pages to fully comprehend what I was reading.  The artwork is very original and excellently rendered, and the illustrations of the sigbin and manananggal’s many forms were particularly creepy.

The Author explains in the Introduction that while asuang may have many similarities to both lycanthropes and doppelgangers, these horrifying monstrosities are actually something far more terrible, sharing traits with vampires, demons, and even worse entities:

The asuangs are creatures of the night. Their forms are monstrous and they hunger for raw humanoid innards, delighting in consuming sentient prey. However, in a world rife with supernatural dangers, it is not their cannibalistic tendencies or their horrific forms that truly terrify. Rather, people fear the asuangs because when the sun rises, an asuang can wear the face of a perfectly normal person: a merchant, priest, friend or neighbor.

The asuangs are insidious because they can be anybody. The bite of an asuang allows it to wear the shape of its victim, allowing them to take the form of those they kill. When a loved one is revealed as an asuang, it means that at one point, he or she was consumed painfully and replaced by the monster.

When adapting the Filipino myths of these shapeshifting creatures, the Author designed the asuang to fill a variety of roles in an encounter:

  • Tianak – Level 1 Controller
  • Malakat – Level 4 Skirmisher
  • Sigbin – Level 6 Lurker
  • Tianak Swarm – Level 9 Brute
  • Tiktik – Level 10 Minion
  • Manananggal Witch – Level 11 Elite Controller
  • Manananggal Creeper – Level 11 Lurker
  • Manananggal Deathwing – Level 11 Skirmisher
  • Balbal – Level 15 Brute
  • Busao – Level 18 Solo Soldier

Overall, the monsters seem to fit their roles quite well, and have a number of unique abilities which have not been seen before in the official Monster Manuals.  The Stat Blocks are clean and easy to use, and can offer some very challenging combat encounters to adventurers.

Most of the asuang can be encountered in the Heroic Tier as singular monsters, as a “random” wilderness encounter, or perhaps as some horror haunting a lonely village.  However, due to the strange interrelationships between this tribe of shapeshifting entities, killing a lowly tianak or malakat might incur the wrath of more powerful asuang.  It is these relationships between the asuang that can offer Dungeon Masters a unique opportunity to create an entire campaign storyline dealing with a clan of asuang, bent on avenging their fallen brethren at the hands of the heroes.

Of the asuang discussed in Asuang: Shapechanging Horrors, two of these creatures really appealed to me as a Dungeon Master, both from a “story-teller” perspective as well as an appreciation for an innovative use of powers: the tianak and the manananggal. Both of these shapechangers are true terrors, offering not only a possible adventure arc, but also the chance to create a frightening horror story as well.

The tianaks are a form of undead, created by other asuang from infants.  Infused with dark power from an asuang’s blood, the undead baby becomes a terrible blight upon any village it is left in:

The tianak are tiny undead created from infants and the unborn and given a profane hunger for human flesh.  Having only been briefly alive, it despises the living.  With its tiny size, the tianak can only assume the appearance of similarly tiny humanoids.  As such, their preferred alternate form is that of a helpless infant.  Many who see it in this guise feel pity for what they assume to be an abandoned child.  But when they approach the tianak, it quickly reverts to what it truly is – a decaying little creature with razor-sharp teeth and a horribly disfigured leg.

Given their ability to disguise themselves, these ghoulish babies would make an excellent star in a murder mystery in a small village or town, where the adventurers would have to not only figure out what is killing and devouring the folk there, but prove to the villagers that they need to put a baby to the sword!

The other asuang I found particularly fascinating was the manananggal.  The main creature, the manananggal witch is a foul ritualist, using forbidden magic to maintain life at a terrible cost – the desire to feed upon the flesh of the living:

The manananggal is a practitioner of the arcane arts that has bound its own soul to that of a demonling of elemental air.  Able to divide itself at its torso, its upper body prowls the night skies in search of prey. Unlike many asuangs, the manananggal is incapable of assuming the form of those that it kills. Instead, it maintains the humanoid form that it had before the soul bond. Likewise, the transformation of a manananggal is unlike the other asuang.  It divides itself at the torso and its arms turn into bat-like wings as the upper half takes flight.  Its face contorts and wrinkles in a hag-like manner, while its teeth sharpen into fangs and a long, tubular tongue juts out in between. Where the creature segmented from each half, its own innards lash out constantly.

What I particularly enjoyed was how this creature can divide from an elite controller into a standard lurker and skirmisher, literally splitting its body in half at the midriff, and becoming two creatures to challenge a heroic band of adventurers.  Not only does the manananggal have an innovative combat style, but there is a detailed and fascinating story behind these witches, from how they form their bond with demonic forces, and how they can lose all semblance of humanity over time to become a more horrid monster – the balbal.  The Author even provides a new Background, the Manananggal Scion, which allows a Character to have been from a family of these manananggal, but managed to escape before they were transformed like their parents and siblings.

The Author kindly provides a “GM’s Toolkit” as an appendix to Asuang: Shapechanging Horrors, offering several adventure hooks and encounter templates, as well as thematic elements (as introduced in Dungeon Masters Guide 2) to use in creating other asuang-related creatures.  These features make it easy for asuang to be added as campaign elements.  The new condition, Attached, makes for a good rule to handle small creatures that can grab and cling to their prey, but cannot impede the victim in a way that a Grab does.

Overall Grade: A-

Asuang: Shapechanging Horrors is really an incredible monster supplement for D&D 4E Dungeon Masters, offering a number of unique creatures to design encounters, storyines, and potentially even a mini-campaign arc around, depending on the needs and wishes of the Dungeon Master.  Although designed for the soon-to-be-released Buan Campaign Setting, these monsters can horrify and challenge Characters in almost any D&D 4E setting, and this monster manual supplement just makes the anticipation for seeing what the Buan Setting has to offer even more sharp.  The price is very reasonable for the content provided, and makes this ebook a great buy and a welcome addition to any DMs virtual bookshelf.

So until next blog… I wish you Happy Gaming!

Editor’s Note: This Blog’s Author received a complimentary copy of the product in PDF format from which the review was written.

Grade Card

  • Presentation: B+
  • - Design: B
  • - Illustrations: A-
  • Content: A
  • - Crunch: A
  • - Fluff: A
  • Value: A+

About The Author

Michael is an Adept of a Secret Order of Dungeon Masters, and dwells in a hidden realm with his two evil cat-familiars, deep within the Vale of Wolverines, called by some "Michigan". He has been esoterically conjuring D&D Campaigns for nearly a Third of a Century, and has been known to cast ritual blogs concerning Dungeons & Dragons every few days with some regularity. Michael has freelanced for Wizards of the Coast, and writes reviews of D&D and other Role-Playing Game products on EN World News.


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