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Review of Dark Sun Creature Catalog by Wizards of the Coast

He’s got huge, sharp… er… He can leap about.  Look at the bones!” ~ Tim the Enchanter (Monty Python and the Holy Grail, 1975)
DSCC Cover
The world of Athas is a completely unique D&D setting in many ways.  Isolated from the rest of the “multiverse” of worlds, torn apart by wars and ecological disaster, and even separated from the gods, Players and Dungeon Masters alike find that the Dark Sun Campaign Setting is a totally different play experience than offered by other “high fantasy” worlds.

The savagery and alien nature of Athas, with its lack of magic and its prevalence of psionic powers also means that many creatures native to more traditional fantasy world settings have no counterparts in the Dark Sun Campaign Setting.  In fact many of these creatures are so utterly alien, and bred to such a hellish environment, that if they were transplanted to Toril or Eberron, they might overwhelm even the nastiest of the native species!  So it comes as no surprise that Wizards of the Coast would publish the Dark Sun Creature Catalog, the first world-setting specific monster manual offered for Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition!

Dark Sun Creature Catalog
  • Design:  Richard Baker (lead), Ari Marmell, Chris Sims
  • Cover Illustrator: Wayne Reynolds (front), William O’Connor (back)
  • Interior Illustrators: Dave Allsop, Matt Dixon, Tyler Jacobson, Scott Murphy, William O’Connor, Andrew Olson, Adam Paquette, Michael Phillippi, David Rapoza,John Stanko, Arnie Swekel, Matias Tapia, Mark Tedin,Tyler Walpole, Ben Wootten
  • Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
  • Year: 2010
  • Media: Hardbound (144 pages)
  • Retail Cost: $19.95 ($13.57 from Amazon)

Dark Sun Creature Catalog is an official D&D 4E monster manual and campaign supplement, designed specifically for use with the Dark Sun Campaign Setting’s world of Athas.  The book includes over 200 new monsters designed for the unique ecology of Athas, with a special section offering thirteen individual Personages, which includes powerful NPCs and the dread Sorcerer-Kings along with their personal guards, agents, and servants.  There is a final section in the Creature Catalog offering suggestions on customizing and re-skinning monsters other monsters for use in Dark Sun, and also offers four new monster themes, fourteen examples of fantastic Athasian terrain, and twelve hazards which Characters could encounter in the Dark Sun Campaign Setting.

Dragon of Tyr 4e

Dragon of Tyr 4e

The Production Quality of the Dark Sun Creature Catalog is exceptional, with detailed and well-written monster entries, and with all statistic blocks using the new and improved format introduced in Monster Manual 3.  The Designers also provide a complete index of the monsters in the book sorted by level, to make it easy to reference by Dungeon Masters, and to assist in quickly building level appropriate encounters.

In addition, each creature entry includes beautifully rendered, full color illustrations, to assist Dungeon Masters and Players in visualizing these often bizarre and often alien-looking beasties roaming the wastes of Athas.  And although the artists involved in this project had to follow in footsteps of Brom (the head artist from first release of the Dark Sun setting), the artwork in the Dark Sun Creature Catalog is truly remarkable, and the images offered show many Athasian beasts which are utterly brutal looking, and even downright terrifying to behold!

The first section of the Dark Sun Creature Catalog, entitled Creatures of Athas, takes up the majority of the 144 pages of the book, and contains the bulk of the 200 monster listings.  Looking through the entries, it would appear that the Designers have gathered many of the original Dark Sun monsters released in the D&D 2nd Edition Monstrous Compendium: Dark Sun Appendix and the Dark Sun Monstrous Compendium Appendix II: Terrors Beyond Tyr together, and have updated them to 4E statistics.  And of course, one of the benefits of this new updated version of the old Monstrous Manuals is that it makes use of the creature design paradigm introduced in Monster Manual 3.  Not only are the statistic blocks easy to read and well organized, but the monsters now have the more richly designed flavor text and Lore sections that made MM3 the most useful of the three monster manuals.  The Designers provide not only physical descriptions of the creatures, but their Lore entries and Encounter information offer Dungeon Masters plenty of ideas for how to introduce these monsters into adventures, use them in designing “hooks”, and how they will act and react during encounters.

Dragon of Tyr by Brom

Dragon of Tyr by Brom

The second section, Personages of Athas, is a much smaller section, but perhaps contains even more lavish details and possible adventure hooks than the preceding section, as these creatures represent some very powerful and unique “monsters” which Characters could hope to face.  However, it should not be assumed that all of the thirteen main entries are Epic Tier monsters, such as Sorcerer Kings.  Nearly half of the thirteen main entries are of Heroic and Paragon Tier “personalities” which represent power-brokers and villains which Characters might encounter in their journeys.

[Editor’s Note: For examples of these more expansive detail, the monster entry on the Belgoi  and on the Personage of Lalali-Puy are available for download from the Wizards of the Coast official site to any interested Reader.]

The final section of the Dark Sun Creature Catalog, Encounter Options, offers Dungeon  Masters a veritable tool-kit for creating unique, exciting, and very dangerous encounters in the world of Athas.  This section offers recommendations on new monster creation, monster themes, and the use of uniquely Athasian terrain and hazards to make for some very memorable, and potentially deadly, encounters!

Belgoi 4E

Belgoi 4E

I have to say that I was really pleased to see the Designers make use of yet more Monster Themes in this book, similar to the ones introduced in Dungeon Masters Guide 2.  The Arena-Bred Monster, Elementally-Infused Monster, Psionic Adept, and Sunwarped Monster offer some really nice power packages to augment monsters and to make some surprising combat options for them.  However, I was a bit disappointed to note the lack of Elite Templates, which I had hoped might be included from Athasian Lore, or inspired from the new Character Themes introduced in the Dark Sun Campaign Setting.  While not a necessary requirement, it would have offered another possible way for Dungeon Masters to create increased challenges from existing monsters, and extend the threat level range of lower level monsters against higher level Characters.

The Athasian Terrain and Hazards offered in the Dark Sun Creature Catalog are often more dangerous and insidious than a standard monster, and Characters in the setting would be well advised to pay attention to what might sound like another innocuous “boxed text” from the Dungeon Master, describing yet another desert scene along their journey between the “points of light”.  It does not always take a creature of Athas to kill a Character, particularly when the very land and environment itself is more than capable of the task!

Overall Grade: A

I have to say that I am really very impressed with the Dark Sun Creature Catalog.  I think the Designers did a fantastic job of creating a campaign setting supplement which not only provides a huge variety of monsters, but also additional information such as hazards and terrain to truly bring the world of Athas to life for Players and Dungeon Masters.  In many respects, the Dark Sun Creature Catalog is also a bit of a Dark Sun Dungeon Masters Guide, given the wealth of lore in the monster listings, the notable NPC villains, and the monster themes.  And given the amount of content packed into this book, the retail price for the Dark Sun Creature Catalog is quite reasonable, and a must-have book for any Dungeon Master who plans on running a campaign on Athas.

So until next blog… I wish you Happy Gaming!

Grade Card

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.


2 Responses to “Review of Dark Sun Creature Catalog by Wizards of the Coast”

  1. Stig Beite Løken says:

    The art in this book is very good, I agree, but come on, look at the 2E picture of Brom’s Dragon and O’Conner’s Dragon. Which looks creepier, stranger and out of this world? The first one looks very pedestrian, and to my (untrained) eye it looks to belong in a comic book. The Brom painting, the pose, the background, the creature is out of this world. Incredible.

    Anyway, the Creature Collection is excellent.

  2. @Stigbeite – Well Brom is… well… BROM. His style is utterly unique and it is hard for any artist to fill in his shoes. But I wanted to point out that the artists in this new 4E book remained true to many physical characteristics and overall image of the Dark Sun creatures, and did a good job illustrating the book.

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