Back in 2002, before the d20 glut swamped the industry with third party books for the 3.0 version of Dungeons and Dragons, Necromancer Games released the Tome of Horrors (“ToH”, hereafter) and achieved significant market success with the product. A revised version for D&D 3.5 and two sequels, Tome of Horrors II and Tome of Horrors III, would follow the book. Published by Necromancer Games and released under White Wolf’s Sword and Sorcery imprint, the ToH series were some of the most warmly received third party books for the 3.5 version of D&D.
The original Tome of Horrors and Tome of Horrors III each won the Gold ENnie for best Monster/Supplement, in 2003 and 2006, respectively.
One of the keys to success in the original Tome of Horrors lay in including updated versions of monsters from the first edition era of the game, many of which had fallen by the wayside over time, through a special one-time arrangement with Wizards of the Coast. Tying into Necromancer Games’ “Third Edition Rules, First Edition Feel” moniker, all three volumes of the ToH series tapped into (what was then) a growing nostalgia for the first edition era, in many ways presaging what would become the “Old School Rules” movement.
The vibe that the ToH was channelling was not accidental. Bill Webb, publisher of Frog God Games (and partner with Clark Peterson at Necromancer Games) sat in on a conference call on September 16, 2011 with both Greg A. Vaughan (Lead Developer on Tome of Horrors, Complete) and me. Bill unabashedly describes himself as a member of the OSR movement. “I still run my games in the original Judge’s Guild City State/ Wilderlands of High Fantasy setting, using Swords & Wizardry, our 0ed game rules. I love a low power, grim and gritty game where the foes are usually animals. That’s why there are so many animals in ToH, actually. It’s what I mostly tend to use in my own home game. That’s why there is a snake table in ToH; it’s something I use all the time.”
Kick-starting the Tome of Horrors Complete
The intention to release Tome of Horrors Complete (“ToHC”) was first announced in January 2011 on Bill Webb’s blog at TalesoftheFrogGod.com. Further details emerged on Bill’s blog and on the Paizo Messageboards in early March, 2006. Webb’s goal was to release two versions of the book: one for the Pathfinder RPG and another as a complete monster source book for Swords & Wizardry. Discussions on the Paizo Messageboards and on Know Direction and Chronicles: Pathfinder Podcast followed in the spring of 2011. By early July, it was felt that most people who wanted a copy of the book were aware of it by that time.
The Pathfinder RPG version of ToHC promised to be big and heavy, featuring 750 monsters and would come at a hefty price, too: $89.99, available for pre-order. At that price, the book could not realistically be sold in stores. It would be sold online only.
Webb explains, “The stitched binding alone added $6.00 to the cost, but there was no other way to do such a big book. I wanted ToHC to be properly bound, stitched, sewn, and then glued. There is no way that a book that big would ever hold together with just glue. Besides, I want all our books to last and be stitch-bound whenever I can. I have never seen any of the early copies of the first edition Players Handbook or Dungeon Master’s Guide come apart. The stitched binding lasts and holds forever. You go look at Unearthed Arcana from first edition where they used glue only. Those things have just fallen apart over time. I want my books to last.”
In the end, the Pathfinder RPG version of ToHC is a mighty tome indeed: 816 pages, consisting of 51 signatures of 16 pages each, stitched, then sewn to one another, with a cloth binding and finally glued to the covers. “It’s big, real big. You can hit someone over the head with that thing and take ‘em down. It’s a weapon,” Webb chuckled.
The problem with such a large book is the printing cost, Webb explains. “Bless those guys who pre-ordered. The pre-orders were key to our being able to get this thing out. I could not have done it without them. The print-run was very expensive. I paid $20,000.00 as a down payment when they went off for printing. Last week, when they finally shipped out, I paid the balance. Frog God Games is not a large corporation. I am the one signing the cheque here. Other than when I bought my house, the cheque I signed last week was the largest cheque I had ever written in my entire life. Yes, I was worried.”
In the end, FGG had about 1644 copies of the Pathfinder RPG version of the book printed, plus additional copies created for FGG’s Swords & Wizardry game rules. “Under 500 of the Pathfinder versions went to those who pre-ordered, with Paizo allocated to receive another 1,000 copies of the book. I had author copies and some other commitments, too. After deducting those, I had 100 copies left over that I figured to just sell over time.”
Paizo told Webb that he should be printing more. “Lisa Stevens told me I should be printing between 5,000 and 10,000 copies. Erik Mona told me I should be printing more, too. While we figured we would eventually sell out, I thought it would take more like 9 months. My real fear was that it would take two years which would have been really hard on my cash flow.”
Last week on Wednesday, September 14, Paizo sent an e-mail to every customer in its database, in which Paizo Publisher Erik Mona explained to Pathfinder fans that the book would be going on sale on Paizo.com the next day. Mona described the ToHC in glowing terms and cautioned fans that the product was expected to sell out quickly:
“A project of this magnitude had to have a catch, of course, and in this case the catch is a doozy. The Tome of Horrors Complete was printed in extremely limited quantities, and once that first print run is gone, it’s gone for good. By special arrangement with the publisher, paizo.com has managed to secure the lion’s share of the print run, but even these (we’re talking hundreds of copies, here) are sure to sell out in record time.Even Paizo Underestimated the Demand
As a special offer to paizo.com customers, we’re offering $10 off our price for the Tome of Horrors Complete print and PDF bundle ($99.99). This offer extends only until Thursday, September 22, 2011, but we don’t expect the full print run to last even that long.”
It turns out that Erik Mona was more prophetic than even he thought. The Tome of Horrors Complete did not just sell fast – it sold so fast that there were real concerns that the product had been allowed into people’s virtual shopping cart by Paizo’s computer system when there were not any more copies in stock to sell. Webb quickly allocated his remaining 100 copies to Paizo as Thursday September 15, 2011 unfolded to ease that pressure, but it did nothing to stem demand. The last 100 additional copies FGG had of the Pathfinder version were allocated or sold in minutes.
Before most customers living on the West Coast were even home from work to order the book, Paizo had sold all 1,000 copies of the ToHC that had been allocated to it, plus an additional 100 copies that Webb had promised to Paizo as the day’s record sales unfolded. At $89.99 for the 816 page physical book plus the PDF version in a special bundle, the gross sales for the day on the ToHC alone was $98,989.00.
“I’m told that on Thursday, Paizo set a record for the largest one day gross sales ever on their website”, Webb said. “Frankly, I’m still in shock, I thought nine months, maybe. Nobody seriously thought it would take less than twelve hours to sell them all and certainly not me. My wife is happy though. She said to me, “Finally, now you can stop acting like such a [jerk]!”
“I promised Erik and Lisa when I get more, I would send them a copy with me repeating the line -“Lisa warned me I should print more books, Lisa warned me I should print more books” over and over on the inside cover,” Webb laughed.
The problem was that there were not supposed to be any more copies. As Clark Peterson of Necromancer Games noted, “This was supposed to be one and done. Some (collectors and fans mostly) got this book because of its collectability. Now we have tons of gamers like me and you who want this product and can't get it. And that's just not right.”
The easy solution when the market demand was so plainly underestimated was to order a second printing. However, Webb had promised on his own blog that the first printing would be the only printing and Erik Mona said the same thing in his e-mail sent out the day before the book went on sale on Paizo.com. The problem was, no matter how well intentioned and sincere the promise of no second printing was, it was made at a time when nobody expected the demand for the product would be so high. The book had been advertised for pre-order for about four months and attracted less than 500 pre-orders during that time span. “Nobody expected to sell 1,100 copies in less than twelve hours, nobody. I was just blown away,” Webb said.
Webb was concerned. “There are collectors who buy a limited edition for that reason. I know several of the hardcore collectors who bought ToHC and I e-mailed the ones I knew to ask them about how they felt about a reprint. All of them were okay with it, as long as there was some change on the front cover. Therefore, that is what we are going to do for the Unlimited Edition. Right now, it looks like we will reprint 2,000 more copies of the ToHC in the first printing of the Unlimited Edition and it will have a different cover. I’m not sure yet when it will be available, I’m working on those details and there should be an announcement soon.”
Webb confirmed that all of the reprinted copies of ToHC are expected to be allocated for sale directly through Paizo.com and he did not expect to allocate any of the Unlimited Edition copies for sale on FGG’s own website.
Webb also confirmed that the sale on the Pathfinder RPG version of ToHC had influenced the sale of the Swords & Wizardry version of the ToHC, too. “I have some of those left and I have also reserved a number of copies for sale at a convention next June. I promised I would do that. In total, between the Pathfinder RPG version and the Swords & Wizardry version, there were about 2200 copies of the first printing manufactured.”
Getting Down and Dirty with the Tome of Horrors Complete
First things first: the book is big and satisfyingly heavy. If you have held a copy of the Worlds’ Largest Dungeon, World’s Largest City, or Ptolus in your hands before, you can expect the same heavyweight feel from the ToHC.
The artwork remains essentially unchanged from earlier editions of the ToH. Without putting too fine a point on it, the artwork and black and white text of the book itself remains its greatest weakness. That does not mean that the art is bad; some of it is indeed, very good. However, with so many illustrations put together by such a varying number of artists, the artwork is quite uneven, both in terms of its quality and style. In many respects, just as the Tome of Horrors Complete represents an evolution of the game from first through the third editions of Dungeons and Dragons and now to Pathfinder RPG, the artwork depicts a similar evolution within its own pages. Some of the pieces, stylistically, might not look out of place in mid-80s Judges Guild products employing bold, black, unshaded line art. Others seem the progeny of the original Fiend Folio’s art-style. However, for the most part, the black and white illustrations are solid renderings of fantastical creatures. While they are not Wayne Reynolds color masterpieces of modern fantasy art, they are not intended – or priced at – such lofty heights.
In terms of the typeface, I was less pleased with the choices in fonts. It is readable, but highly evocative of early 90s Iron Crown Enterprises font styles used in their Space Master line, at a type face a little smaller than my eyes would prefer -- but nothing close to the miniscule font sizes we have seen before in World’s Largest Dungeon.
The layout of ToHC is comfortable and aims for one monster stat block and illustration per page. At times, given the size of the monster, this layout goal is not achieved as the stat block is simply too long. At other times, the stat block and artwork look a little small and there is more white space on the page than I would have anticipated. Still, for the most part, 816 pages of content is what was promised – and that is what it ultimately delivers, albeit a little unevenly.
The stat blocks appear competently revised and overseen by lead developer Greg A Vaughan. Vaughan is no stranger to fans of the Pathfinder Adventure Path series and no author has been featured in the AP line more often than he has. (Greg’s latest contribution to the Adventure Path line is this month’s Pathfinder #50, Jade Regent Vol 2: Night of Frozen Shadows, marks his ninth appearance in Pathfinder.)
The monsters themselves are the stars of the book, and there are far, far too many of them to even scratch the surface on in a review of this kind. The foes in the ToHC run the entire gamut; from the mundane to the fantastic; from lowly animals drawn from the real world to Orcus, Demon Prince of the Undead on his dark layer of the Abyss. Many of the monsters will be familiar to readers from first edition days, whether they appeared in the Fiend Folio, the Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth, (often favourites for conversion in the ToHC) or from Gygax’s own pen in the Monster Manual II.
My personal favourites are many of the devils, demons, and daemons of the lower planes from the Monster Manual II. I cannot really articulate a logical basis for why these monsters are favourites of mine and such a joy to read about in Pathfinder terms, as it has been over two decades since I ran a high-level “Picnics to the Lower Planes” campaign where they might have seen use at the table. In terms of their value in use, I have to admit candidly that I cannot imagine the circumstances under which I would ever reach for Charon’s stat block during game play again. Nevertheless, I find it immensely fun to read the stat block of a CR 37 creature like The Oinodaemon or that of Jubilex, the Faceless Lord (a mere mook at CR 23). I think it has always been that way with my own appreciation of epic level monsters in D&D and now, Pathfinder. I certainly remember similar warm smiles and chuckles when I first read Gygax’s entries for many of the Arch Devils in Monster Manual II or in Ed Greenwood’s classic first edition articles on The Nine Hells in the pages of Dragon magazine.
I think it comes down to this: most of the time, a creature’s stat block value is in the enjoyment and use you get out of it during actual game play; however, sometimes, the joy of a stat block and monster description lies simply in the reading of it. In imagining just for a moment, the sheer lethality such an encounter would impose upon players. In that respect, passages from a monster book can be like an adventure product that you can enjoy reading but never actually get around to running. To the extent you also will admit to such guilty pleasures, I can assure you that dozens and dozens of examples of such nasty high-level beasties await you within the pages of ToHC.
However, more importantly, there are hundreds and hundreds of highly usable monsters throughout the book, some of which appeared in earlier iterations of the game and many that were created for the ToH series by original authors Scott Greene and Erica Balsley. In particular, I found that many of the creations of Scott Greene were crafted to fit in with creatures from the early days of the game and most are very appropriate and “feel right.” “Third Edition Rules, First Edition Feel” as a moniker for Necromancer may need revising to coin a newer phrase to encompass the Pathfinder RPG line, but the essence of it remains correct and genuine.
As for Greg Vaughan’s personal favourite from the ToHC, he took some time to reflect and then confessed it was the Decapus. A Lovecraftian inspired horror, the Decapus is described, “This creature is a large spheroid with ten octopus-like tentacles protruding from its body. Hair grows in broken patches along its body. Its eyes are stark white and pupil-less. Its large mouth sports long, yellow fangs.” If the Decapus seems familiar to fans of Pathfinder, it should. Vaughan believes it has appeared three times in the first fifty issues of Pathfinder Adventure Path, twice as a 3.5 monster from the ToH. An advanced half-fiend version of the monster appeared last month in issue #49, Jade Regent Vol. 1: The Brinewall Legacy.
Of more immediate use to all GMs is likely to be Appendix A, Animals, which provides a number of real world foes for your PCs to combat in the wilds (and maybe not so wild areas) within a campaign. As mentioned earlier, an extensive table of snakes and their venoms that appears in Appendix D is an extremely useful chart and summary of snakes, their poisons and their effects. If you cannot find a way to use these in your game, the only possible explanation is that you are not trying.
The ToHC also presents a large number of variant templates to add to monsters and animals. While many of these templates are interesting, I confess that Lone Wolf’s Herolab has thoroughly spoiled me at this point. While I appreciate very much Vaughan’s work in retooling all of these templates for use with Pathfinder RPG, what I would appreciate even more is for these templates to be made available for use within Herolab so that I could apply them to my monsters within the Herolab software easily and painlessly.
I would appreciate the ability to apply those templates within Herolab to a computerized version of the monsters in ToHC as well. I can verify that Necromancer/Frog God Games and Lone Wolf Development are each aware of the interests expressed by posters on the Paizo Messageboards and on Lone Wolf’s own forums, too, for a Herolab version of ToHC. Whether such a product will ever become available and, if so, when, remains to be seen.
Similarly, there are 24 new monster feats presented in the book for use by some of the monsters in the ToHC. While not intended for use by player characters, some of the feats have obvious application (Swim by Attack, Improved Scent) while others manifest only in highly unusual circumstances (Power of Evil, for example, is tied to use while on an Evil-aligned plane of existence). While none of the feats are awe inspiring on their own, taken collectively, they serve to improve the utility of the monsters for use with Pathfinder RPG and add to the “freshness” of the creatures and the rules under which they operate.
While the book does not purport to be a “planar guide” to Pathfinder RPG, the ToHC has a brief chapter on new planes of existence too, and the denizens that may dwell there.
In terms of the availability of ToHC in print form, the timing of the release of the Unlimited Edition should be announced shortly. Until that reprint is announced and made available, your only current recourse is to purchase the PDF of the book for $29.99. For many people, the PDF is all they will need to use the ToHC in their campaigns.
Like all things to do with the ToHC, the PDF weighs in as a Super Heavy Weight, tipping the scales at a tad over 227MB in one contiguous file, without any bookmarks or short cuts within it. At 227 MBs, the file is significantly larger than even the Pathfinder Core Rules. I am not sure why the greyscale PDF is so large, but I suspect that the resolution of the images and the compression settings for the file have a great deal to do with it. While the PDF, like the book itself, is in greyscale format, should you wish to print selected pages for an encounter you can easily do so. I found the output to be rather crisp on my 600 dpi laser printer and watermark free on the printed page.
There does not appear to be any overt locking of the PDF to prevent you from copying images or text to and from a document. Whether the DRM goes deeper than that (and how far), I cannot say. I should also note that the version of the PDF I tested was obtained from Drive Thru RPG and not from Paizo.com, so it is entirely possible that Paizo employs different DRM for their PDF files that might have different performance characteristics when loaded into your PDF reader. Accordingly, YMMV.
Despite the size of the file, I found that navigation within Goodreader throughout the document was rather snappy after five or six pages were loaded by thumb paging through the document on an iPad ver. 1 for a total of about fifteen seconds or so. Thereafter, when using the slider bar for navigation in Goodreader, the pages loaded almost instantly, even when paging randomly using the slider to page numbers separated by hundreds of pages from one another. Given that I am extremely unlikely to bring the physical copy of this book with me to a game outside of my home, I was very satisfied with the performance of the PDF while using Goodreader. While I did not have an opportunity to test the PDF on an iPad 2, I have every reason to suspect that performance will be even snappier on that device than on my iPad ver. 1.
Free Web Enhancements
One aspect of ToHC that I particularly enjoyed is not even in the main PDF file at all. FGG has prepared a “lair” for each of the encounters in the ToHC that was cut from the Pathfinder version of the book to save on the overall page count. This material has been made available as a free web enhancement to the ToHC and is available here. Like everything about the ToHC, it is big, a very respectable 127 pages in length – rather impressive for a free download!
The so-called “lairs” are not represented with maps, rather, with descriptions of the encounter, a back-story or plot hook, and often with a verbal description of the room or rooms within which the beast is encountered.
The language used in the Lairs web enhancement is colourful and highly descriptive, allowing any GM to quickly use the suggested “lair” as a hook for the encounter for ad lib play. I found this to be quite a useful web enhancement and as a free product – you cannot beat the price. While the “lairs” were clearly written for the Swords & Wizardry version of the product and make reference to terminology that is no longer used in Pathfinder RPG, the document is still extremely useful for inspiration and I found it to be quite charming in its writing style. The vast majority of GMs will find this to be useful while preparing or using the product for a spontaneous encounter during play.
Lastly, the ToHC provides extensive tables for using the monsters within it, broken down by type and CR. One table treatment that was omitted from the book was a breakdown of the monsters by terrain type. Again, FGG has released this information as a free web enhancement. The 13-page PDF with that information may be found here.
For those who find the $89.99 price tag to be too high for their budget, the obvious solution is to instead purchase the PDF only version of the Tome of Horrors Complete. This may be especially appropriate for those who live outside the United States and for whom shipping costs on the nearly 8 lb book may make purchasing the book difficult to justify – even when available.
Either way, as a PDF or as a physical product, I found the ToHC to be the strongest 3rd party product yet released for Pathfinder RPG. It was fun to read and I expect it will prove exceedingly useful at the table, simply when considering the utility of the animals contained within it. When the hundreds of other creatures are also considered, the ToHC more than doubles the available foes to GMs playing Pathfinder RPG. For those who run only Adventure Paths, the book may see little use and a PDF version of the product would be more than sufficient for their limited needs when adding random encounters.
However, the main audience for ToHC are those GMs whose campaigns are mainly home brewed affairs. For those gamers, I believe the ToHC adds such a plethora of possibilities to the game that it is a must-have reference book for running Pathfinder RPG.
Title: Tome of Horrors Complete
Publisher: Necromancer Games/Frog God Games
Author: Scott Greene
Pathfinder Lead Developer: Greg A. Vaughan
Price: PDF ONLY (Currently) $29.99 Paizo.com