Lords of Madness: The Book of Aberrations




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First Post
Aberrations Take Over

Lords of Madness, the Book of Aberrations, brings details to some of D&D’s strangest and most potent monsters including aboleths, beholds, mind flayers and grell. It includes all the standard new mechanics a reader would expect like monsters, feats, spells, and prestige classes, as well as enough information and encounters to last the GM months of time.

The book is written by Richard Baker, James Jacobs and Steve Winter, but uses a lot of older material updated for the 3.5 version including material by one of my favorite writers, Bruce Cordell. The book weights in at 224 full color pages for $34.95, making it very competitively priced. Art ranges from some of my favorites like Wayne Reynolds, Michael Phillipi, Dan Scott, Wayne England and Ron Spencer, to some whose art I could really be without like Dennis Crabapple and Chuck Lukacs. Overall the art is strong because even D. Crabapple’s art, which normally I don’t like at all, works well when dealing with the freakish nature of aberrations. Editing could use another round. Anytime you see a page XX reference, you know that another round of editing was needed.

The book is broken into nine chapters. The first chapter starts off by defining what an aberration is and introduces us to the Codex Anathema, a book written by Iphegor using the Ebon Mirror, heavily influenced and telling of the Mythos touch. In short, while all aberrations don’t have one history or one nature, they are often related by being from reaches far beyond mortal men, from being before the dawn of time or from the far ends of time. From being from the dreams or mere fleshy cast offs of Elder Gods, or even created at the hands of wizards and moved beyond those beings ability to control. For those looking for ideas on what makes an aberration tick, the chapter provides forty adventure ideas, quick rules on how encounter levels should be tweaked for aberrations, and what style of play is good for using these monsters, including epic level recommendations and using psionics.

The advice isn’t in-depth and isn’t going to be enough to carry a GM through all plots and points of using an aberration, but it is more than enough to get a GM started on what makes an aberration different from normal monsters. About the only thing missing from this section, is a breakdown of aberration advanced per the Monster Manual with some explanation as to how to make your own creatures, advance them and provide details as to why it’s an aberration as opposed to an outsider.

The next chapter, The Deep Masters, starts the in-depth look at aberrations, once race at a time. Included are general introduction, anatomy, including external and internal, how the creature thinks, it’s life, including diet, variants, game material (prestige classes, feats, and magic), as well as religion, language, relation to other creatures, lairs, minons, cities, and characters. Each section ends with a mapped out encounter including details on each encounter location noted on the map.

Included are the following monsters:

The Deep Masters: The Aboleth. The terrifying thing about these monsters is that they were masters of the world long before man or even elf rose to any sort of prominence. They are given details including the Elder Evils that may have spawned them and some conversion notes on how these monsters might fit in a campaign using Cthulhu mythos.

The Eye Tyrants: Beholders are detailed here, including their creation by the Great Mother and their unstable minds that can only work together when under a greater creature known as a Hive Mother.

The Mind Flayers: The illithids and their terrible origin as masters of a doomed far future prime material plane, are brought into the campaign with more details. The different brands of illithid are detailed, including the undead Alhoon and Vampires, as well as how the illithids keep fresh brains in supply.

The Slave Takers: Ah, one of my old favorites from my Spelljammer days, the neogi are introduced as traders whose basic tenant is that they will own everything. The details of their slaveholding culture are detailed, including how one master can own several slaves, including other neogi, and in essence, owns all the slaves that his slave neogi owns, even if that’s other neogi who have their own slaves. An interesting chapter that continues the winks at the Spelljammer setting that the others hinted at with flying ships that ‘may’ be able to traverse the worlds. The best advice for dealing with neogi is only do so from a position of overwhelming strength, or be prepared to become a slave.

The Eaters bring more detail to the Grell than I’ve seen in previous products. I’m sure somewhere in my library, including various issues of Dragon, that the Grell probably have an ecology article or so out there, but this one provides ideas on how to use them in combat, and what a typical lair looks like.

The Wearers of Flesh or the tsochar, are another creature I don’t recall seeing too much information on. These things are various tendrils of independent life that link together to form a greater creature that in turn, burrows into creatures it’s size or larger and controls them. One thing that stands out for the tsochair is that they are one of the most religious of the aberrant races, venerating Mak Thuum Ngatha, the Nine-Tongued Worm.

The material selected for inclusion in their own chapters is fairly decent. While some like the neogi and grell have been updated to 3.0, this is the first time I remember seeing them in a 3.5 product as their stats are fully replicated here and updated. I wouldn’t have minded seeing a whole chapter or more on the Far Realm itself, but hopefully that becomes another book for another time.

One of my favorite chapters is Eight, New Monsters. See, the previous chapters all gave alternatives and variants, but don’t provide the game stats in those chapters. This chapter covers all those strange beasts and more. For example, under Beholderkin, we have the hive mother, director, eye of the deep, overseer, and spectator. While not a beholderkin, another old favorite, the gas spore, is updated.

One of my favorite monsters here though, isn’t a specific creature, but rather, a template. The half-farspawn brings madness to any creature that the GM wishes. Slightly more powerful than the psuedonatural creature, also included, it allows a GM to make anything more horrific.

One of the things I was disappointed about with the psuedonatural creature is that it used the same example, a hippogriff, with the same art. I can see why it’s included, but it seems lazy to include the same monster and cheap to include the same art.

I was a little puzzled at several monsters that were left out. For example, while I enjoy the worm like psurlon, where are the Kaorti, those who seek to warp the world to that of the Far Realm or their mutated servants, the rukanyr? It’s a strong chapter and includes a lot of information to digest in relation to the previous chapters but to be honest, I’d rather they got rid of chapter nine, a useful section for players, and went wild on the updates and information on the Far Realm.

Speaking of which, chapter nine, The Aberration Hunter, is great for players looking to customize their characters to stand strong against these monsters and provides the GM with organizations and other tools to include the new mechanics. It starts off with some combat advice for players to handle the big thing, aboleths, beholders and mind flayers, and then moves onto discussion of the unh8uman gods like Tharizdun, Ilsensine, and Ghaundaur among others including holy symbols illustrated by Wayne England

The section on feats is a bit strange in that it includes several general feats perfect for hunting down aberrant monsters, but also a new type of feat, the aberrant feat. This in essence turns the character partially into an aberrant and it all starts with aberrant blood, providing a moderate bonus to a skill check, and grows from there. For example, if you take bestial hide, you get a natural armor class bonus of +1 for every two aberrant feats you possess.

One of the weirdest feats is a meatmagic one, Ocular spell, where the caster takes his knowledge of beholders and holds a spell in his eye for up to eight hours. The spell takes up a slot two levels higher than the spell’s actual level and the spell is chanced to a ray with a range of 60 feet and now only effects the creature struck by the ray, requiring a ranged tough attack.

The prestige classes are a combination of those found in The Complete Adventurer and Races of Destiny, in that they are longer than PrCs in older books, but not all the information, like the organizations, are described with the PrCs, rather, that information coming latter. Information included is background, becoming that PrC, entry requirements, class features, how to play the PrC, including combat, advancement, and resources, how that PrC fits into the world, NPC reaction, lore, that PrC in the game, and adaptation, because several of the PrCs here have indirect ties with Greyhawk as the core setting of the game.

Classes include the divine spellcaster the abolisher, a druid whose love of the natural world pits him firmly against any and all aberrant monsters. The Darkrunner is a traveler of dark underground haunts whose darkvision, (a requirement for the class), continues to expand, as well as learning new secrets of the stone like tunnelport, using dimension door once per day or tremorsense.

For those looking for a new style of villain or just a really eccentric NPC for their campaign, the fleshwarper fits the bill. These wizards master the art of grafts and gain a graft reserve they can use instead of experience points, in addition to continuing to gain spellcasting ability and ‘Elder secret’, where they take an ability of an aberration and apply it to themselves. For example, Secret of the Beholder gives them a +4 racial bonus on Search and Spot checks and they can’t be flanked.

For those looking for a way to get the characters into the whole fighting aberrations, the Keeper of the Cerulean Sign is a good place to start looking. Most hail from the ranks of bards, continuing to gain spellcasting ability and banemagic against aberrants and a special magic item, the Cerulean focus. These individuals often use adventurers to fight against their monstrous foes and are keepers of hidden lore. Perfect for the campaign that needs a mysterious benefactor.

Some will seek more martial methods though, and the Sanctified Mind and Topaz Guardian, one perfect for a character with at least a little psionic power, and the former perfect for paladins seeking to turn their skills against abberant monsters.

In terms of new magic, the spells are arranged by class and level, and for arcane spells of wizards and sorcerers, by school. For clerics, most of use to GMs of players of evil characters, we have new domains like corruption, force, hatred, madness mind, and vile darkness, updated from the Book of Vile Darkness. The spell section here isn’t wide but does cover things like Invoke the Cerulean Sigh where aberrants suffer effects based on the difference between their hit dice and the caster’s level to invoke magic, where magic can function in an antimagic or dead magic area. Very handy for fighting those pesky beholders.

The book ends with Defenders of Humanity, including the Circle of the True, an organization most often using abolishers, the Darkrunner Guild, known for using, yes, the Darkrunner PrC, the Society of the Sanctified Mind, a group that uses, yes, sanctified minds, and the Topaz Order, “A militant order of crusading clerics, fighters, paladins and monks.” Each section includes brief background and a sample member with background and game stats.

The editing in the book could’ve used another round. I would’ve enjoyed seeing more details in terms of combat ideas and mechanics on the top three, aboleth, beholders, and mind flayers, as those creatures are some of the most common that can be encountered.

Overall, the book is a wellspring of ideas. It’s player focus is almost tacked on at the end and the book would’ve been stronger for GMs if more details on the gods and Elder Evils were provided, along with more updates of 3.0 aberrations. The guilds included in the player section, along with the sample NPCs and lairs provided earlier though, make this a book that can be run almost right out of the book. The templates and new monsters insure that the GM will never run out of creatures to throw against his players and the fact that the Far Realm doesn’t receive extensive coverage gives me hope that perhaps we’ll see a book on the Far Realm in and of itself in a future book.

John Cooper

By Richard Baker, James Jacobs, and Steve Winter
Wizards of the Coast product number 17410000
222 pages, $34.95

The third in the "creature type" series (behind Draconomicon and Libris Mortis), Lords of Madness takes an in-depth look at aberrations. However, since aberrations do not fall into as "generic" a category as dragons and undead, this book instead focuses on those specific aberrations that are intelligent, live together in societies, have some sort of magical power, and are a specific threat to humanoids.

The cover art is by Wayne England and Ed Fox; since the picture of the illithid holding a brain over a brain canister is simply a larger version of Wayne's illustration on page 67, I suppose Ed's contribution is the "magical tome" portion of the book. While the picture is nicely done, the fact that it's "rerun art" from the book's interior makes this the least impressive cover in the series thus far. (That, and unlike the other two books in the series, there is no artwork on the back of the book, just the "magical tome" stuff.)

The interior artwork, 77 full-color illustrations, 9 monochrome "chapter beginning" pieces, and 8 full-color maps by 16 different artists, is for the most part pretty good. I noted with a groan of disappointment that Dennis "Maybe if I keep changing my name people will eventually like me" Crabapple-McClain is back, and while his artwork shows a definite improvement when he isn't trying to draw a humanoid, I'm still not too impressed with his entries in this book; his beholder on page 55 is one of the sillier-looking I've ever seen (note how one "eyestalk" is really a tentacle with an eyeball halfway down its length, and how the beholder's teeth seem to be growing through the creature's lips), his gas spore on page on page 149 isn't much better, and those are the goofiest beholder cultists I've ever seen on page 60 (one's wearing a "beholder hat" with only 9 eyestalks, and the other two look like Star Wars jawas; I'm not even sure what race the fat guy on the left is supposed to be). Fortunately, most of the rest of the artwork is very well done; I particularly enjoyed Ed Cox's full-color anatomical diagrams of the various aberrations, and the maps were all very nicely rendered and easy to read. Best of all, each of the prestige classes and new monsters received their own full-color illustrations, although there were some details off in some of the monster pictures. The worst offender was Colin Fix's painting of the psurlons on page 165; psurlons are supposed to have a humanoid build - thus, two legs - not the centipede/caterpillar build he gave them! (Their eyes are also supposed to be in a ring around their mouths, whereas Colin puts them in "clumps" where a human's eyes would be.) Also, it looks like two of the illithidae are mislabeled, as the saltor is the one with the chin tentacles, not the kigrid. Finally, the hound of the gloom illustration should have "milky white" skin instead of the gray as depicted, and its two extra-long tentacles should end in five-fingered hands, not three-fingered hands as shown.

Lords of Madness is laid out as follows:
  • Introduction: A page describing how the book is laid out
  • What Is an Aberration?: The Codex Anathema (a book of notes about aberrations compiled by a wizard over a thousand years ago), various origins of aberrations (out of space, out of time, from the outer planes, the dreams of mad gods, magical mutations), various aberration characteristics (sinister masterminds, inimical to nature, unhuman, perilous lore), aberration campaigns (heroic vs. horrific adventure, epic-level play, psionics, and vile darkness), 40 adventure ideas, and brief descriptions of 12 other aberrations not otherwise detailed in the book
  • The Deep Masters: Details about aboleths, including their anatomy, mind, diet , 3 variant aboleths, the Savant Aboleth prestige class, 9 aboleth feats, 6 master glyphs, the origin of the aboleth, religion, (including descriptions of 5 aboleth deities), language, relations with other creatures, lairs, minions, cities, characters (with a set of NPC stats), and a 4-page mini-adventure, "The God in the Lake"
  • The Eye Tyrants: Details about beholders, including their anatomy, mind, diet, 11 variant beholders and beholderkin, the Beholder Mage prestige class, 7 beholder feats, 6 magic items, beholder religion, language, relations with other creatures, sane beholders, hives and hive cities, lairs, minions, a 5-page mini-adventure ("Sekarvu's Lair), and a 4-page mini-adventure ("Cult of the Hungry Eye")
  • The Mind Flayers: Details about illithids, including their anatomy, reproduction, mind, diet, 8 variants, 10 magic items, origin, language, religion, relations with other creatures, goals, and 2 separate 6-page mini-adventures ("Lagurno, Illithid Sept" and "The Lair of Sarkt")
  • The Slave Takers: Details about neogi, including stats for the adult, spawn, and great old master forms, their society, characters, anatomy, reproduction and development, 4 variants, leaders and slavery, language, religion, relations with other creatures, goals, and a 6-page mini-adventure, "Wreck of the Mindspider"
  • The Eaters: Details about grell, including stats for the grell and grell philosopher, their anatomy, senses, reproduction, development and aging (including stats for a hatchling and juvenile), language, religion, leaders, relations with other creatures, grell alchemy, 4 magic items, and a 5-page mini-adventure, "Sangkon Bhet"
  • The Wearers of Flesh: Details about tsochari, including stats, characters, anatomy, senses, parasitism, reproduction, development and aging, a new feat, language, religion, NPC stats for a tsochar and its human host, relations with other races, 2 tsochar spells, a new magic item, and a 4-page mini-adventure, "The House of Deros Frist"
  • New Monsters: 28 new monsters, 5 of which are templates
  • The Aberration Hunter: 20 feats, 6 prestige classes, 6 cleric domains, 19 spells, 6 magic items, 16 grafts, and 4 organizations, all (but the grafts) themed around fighting aberrations
There is no index in the back, but a well-detailed Table of Contents should do nearly as well.

I was impressed by the proofreading and editing jobs, which is at a pretty high standard. While I noticed a couple of errors - some of the entries in the Table of Contents didn't have the string of periods leading to the page number, a "(see below)" should have been a "(see previous page)" and an "on this page" should have been an "on page 205," one instance of a one-eyed man having "eyes," a map key reversing the symbols for "hole in floor" and "hole in ceiling," a lack of the "A, B, C, and D" on the map on page 53 referred to in the description of the area, a period missing from a "ft" abbreviation, a magic item's name not being italicized, and that most irritating of oversights, a "see page xx" that should have read "See page 213." Not bad at all (for a 222-page book), but still some room for improvement.

I have to say, although I was at first a little bit disappointed to find out that there was no "unifying theme" for aberrations as a whole (like there was in the Draconomicon and Libris Mortis books), I think the way the authors approached this book was probably the best way possible. In fact, although there are still plenty of aberrations that I would have liked to see more information about (chuuls, destrachans, ixitxachitl, nagas, and nel-thalggu (brain collectors) in particular), going for the "aberrations that have societies inimical to mankind" approach works out well. I don't really mind that each "specific monster" chapter has little to do with the other chapters; as it is, it's rather like having six greatly-expanded "Ecology" articles (from Dragon magazines) detailing the creatures in question. Most of the new monsters were interesting and made sense being there (I should point out that the gibbering mouther shows up in the "New Monsters" section, but only because the monster's been reworked to make it easier to play, and this is the "updated and official" version), although I was underwhelmed by the hound of the gloom (basically a Large dog with a ring of tentacles around its neck; surely they could have come up with something a bit more "alien" than that!), and the Shadow Creature template already appeared in the Manual of the Planes. Still, it was nice to see some 3.5 versions of the various beholderkin and illithids from the AD&D 2nd Edition "Monstrous Arcana" books I, Tyrant and The Illithiad, and old favorites like the cildabrin and the gas spore. I was particularly surprised to see stats for the embrac, kigrid, and saltor, as these illithidlike creatures originally appeared in a "Dragon's Bestiary" article from Dragon #150. (And, since the book's production team didn't see fit to give credit to the author on the Credits page like they did for the authors of previous TSR/WotC books - and magazine articles by "industry names" Eric L. Boyd and Michael Mearls - I'll do so here: the three creatures originally appeared in "All Life Crawls Where Mind Flayers Rule," by Stephen Inniss - nice job, by the way, Stephen! I always liked that article.)

As I read through Lords of Madness, I ran across the first few NPC and monster stats, and was pleasantly surprised, as the error rate was initially very low. Could it be that Lords of Madness was the first WotC book that had received the attention of an additional developer reviewing all of the game stats? I initially thought so, but as I progressed further and further into the book, the stat errors kept piling up, to the point that now that I'm done with it, I don't know that I'd say with any confidence that these stats had received any additional attention at all. With my standard disclaimer that these are the errors I noticed during a single reading of the book (and thus, I don't guarantee that these are the only problems with the stats), I recommend making the following changes:
  • p. 35, Huck One-Eye, male human ranger 3: Longbow damage should be 1d8-1/x3, not 1d8+1/x3 (-2 Str penalty, +1 magic arrow bonus).
  • p. 43, Kularkuthan, beholder elder orb sorcerer 16: Will should be +28, not +26 (+12 as a 20-HD aberration, +10 as a Sor16, +4 Wis, +2 Iron Will).
  • p. 58, Hungry Eye Cultist, human commoner 1/rogue 5: Flat-footed AC should be 14, not 11 (the +3 Dex bonus is retained, even while flat-footed, due to Uncanny Dodge).
  • p. 84, Intellect Devourer: HD should be 6d8+12, not 6d8+15 (+2 Con bonus, no Toughness feat). With 6 HD, it should have 3 feats, not 4; one should be annotated as a bonus feat.
  • p. 85, Kuo-toa Cleric 5 of Blibdoolpoolp: Bite attacks should be at +3 melee, not +4 (+5 BAB, +3 Str, -5 for secondary attack).
  • p. 87, Oristel, male elf rogue 6: Flat-footed Ac should be 18, not 14 (the +4 Dex bonus is retained, even while flat-footed, due to Uncanny Dodge).
  • p. 88, Sarkt, mind flayer sorcerer 4: AC should be 19, not 23 (+4 Dex, +3 natural, +2 ring of protection). Flat-footed AC should be 15, not 19 (+3 natural, +2 ring of protection). (Of course, he knows the mage armor spell, so maybe that accounts for the missing 4 points of AC, but in that case there should be a "*already cast" annotated after the spell, as is the case elsewhere in the book in this situation.) Under Full Attack, tentacle attacks should be at +12 melee, not +10 (+8 BAB, +4 due to Weapon Finesse).
  • p. 90, Adult Neogi: With HD 5d8-5, average hit points should be 17, not 18. (Round fractions down.)
  • p. 91, Neogi Spawn: Since an adult neogi has 5 HD, Advancement for a neogi spawn should be 2-4 HD, not 2-3 HD (or else how do you account for a 4-HD neogi?).
  • p. 91, Great Old Master: Flat-footed AC should be 13, not 14. (You don't ignore the -1 Dex modifier when flat-footed, otherwise your AC would actually improve when you weren't aware of an attack!)
  • p. 95, Neogi Defiler: Under Full Attack, claw attacks should be at +3 melee, not +3/+3. (You don't get iterative attacks with natural weapons.)
  • p. 96, Neogi Sorcerer 6: Under Full Attack, claw attacks should be at +7 melee, not +7/+7. (You don't get iterative attacks with natural weapons.)
  • p. 104, Jawarkk Fel, Neogi Defiler, neogi rogue 5: Flat-footed AC should be 22, not 17 (due to Uncanny Dodge, it keeps its +5 Dex bonus). Claw attacks should be at +7 melee, not +7/+7. (You don't get iterative attacks with natural weapons.)
  • p. 115, Silverspear: [Good catch by Kelleris (see comments below the review itself) - this one is actually correct as written]
  • p. 137, Director: Tentacle damage should be 1d6+1, not just 1d6 (it has a +1 Str bonus).
  • p. 144, Elder Brain: No Level Adjustment is given; presumably it's "-"
  • p. 146, Elder Eidolon Kraken: Dex should be 14, not 11 (a kraken has Dex 10, and the Elder Eidolon template grants +4 Dex). Initiative should be +2, not +0 (+2 Dex). Speed should have "(4 squares)" after the "20 ft." AC should be 30, not 28 (-4 size, +2 Dex, +18 natural, +4 deflection). Touch AC should be 12, not 10 (-4 size, +2 Dex, +4 deflection). Space/Reach shouldn't have that "(9 squares)" after the "20 ft." in the "Space" entry. (Where in the world did that come from?) Ref should be +8, not +6 (By the template, one-third HD + Dex mod = 6 + 2).
  • pp. 148-149, Gas Spore: Death Throes Reflex save should be DC 12, not DC 10 (10 + 1/2 HD + Con modifier, or 10 + 5 - 3).
  • p. 153, Hound of the Gloom: With HD 12d8+84, average hit points should be 138, not 156.
  • p. 156, Saltor: Either the bite attacks under Full Attack should be at +2 melee, not +5 (+3 BAB, +1 size, +3 Dex due to Weapon Finesse, -5 for secondary attack), or it should have Multiattack as a bonus feat. Fort should be +2, not +3 (+1 as a 5-HD aberration, +1 Con). Ref should be +4, not +5 (+1 as a 5-HD aberration, +3 Dex). Screech Fort save should be DC 13, not DC 14 (10 + 1/2 HD + Con mod, or 10 + 2 + 1).
  • p. 157, Mind Flayer Lich 12th-level Sorcerer: Its Possessions listing indicates it has a green ioun stone, but its stats don't take into account its +1 competence bonus to attacks, saves, and (presumably; I didn't check) skill checks. Either make tentacle attacks be at +20 melee, touch attacks be at +19 melee touch, spell attacks be at +19 ranged touch, Fort be at +11, Ref be at +17, Will be at +24, and possibly bump each skill rank by 1 point...or just delete the green ioun stone from the creature's possessions. If you choose the latter (and much easier) method, then you'll probably want to replace the ioun stone with 30,000 gp worth of equipment to balance it out. (An easy fix would be to give it both a dark blue rhomboid and a pearly white spindle ioun stone - 10,000 gp and 20,000 gp, respectively - which gives it the Alertness feat and allows it to regenerate 1 hp/hour. Since it already has the Alertness feat, you can then pick any other feat you want for it in its place.)
  • p. 163, Average Psurlon: Touch AC should be 12, not 16 (it doesn't get the +4 armor bonus from mage armor).
  • p. 164, Elder Psurlon: Touch AC should be 13, not 17 (it doesn't get the +4 armor bonus from mage armor).
  • p. 167, Shadow Choker: Since this is just a templated choker, its Advancement should go to 12 HD (like the normal choker) instead of stopping at 9 HD (as its listed here).
  • p. 168, Silthilar: In coalesced form, touch AC should be 15 and flat-footed AC should be 18 (no values were given). In coalesced form, grapple attacks should be at +6, not -10 (+6 BAB, +0 Str (Str 10 when in coalesced form), +0 size (Medium while in coalesced form); it looks like the designers were thinking it was still a Fine swarm with Str 1.
  • p. 193, Erkin Tiorki, male gnome cleric 4 (Boccob)/wizard 5/fleshwarper 3: AC and flat-footed AC should both be 18, not 17 (+1 size, +1 ring of protection, +4 mage armor, +2 natural). Touch AC should be 12, not 11 (+1 size, +1 ring of protection). The "+2 natural" is a result of the +2 chitin plating listed under "Possessions" - it would have been nice to explain where that came from! (It's listed on page 216, under Silthilar Grafts; I didn't completely fix this set of stat blocks until I finally reached page 216 and figured out what that "+2 chitin plating" was all about!)
  • p. 218, Whitecap, hawk animal companion: Dex should be 22, not 24 (a hawk has Dex 17, and it gets +5 Dex for being the animal companion of a 15-HD master). Initiative should be +6, not +3 (+6 Dex). AC should be 30, not 29 (+2 size, +6 Dex, +12 natural). Touch AC should be 18, not 17 (+2 size, +6 Dex). Talon attacks should be at +16 melee, not +17 (+8 BAB, +2 size, +6 Dex due to Weapon Finesse). Ref should be +13, not +14 (+7 as an 11-HD animal, +6 Dex). Since it doesn't have 3 or more natural attacks, it shouldn't have Multiattack as a bonus feat; instead, according to the "animal companion" sidebar in the druid section of the Player's Handbook, it should have a Full Attack listing showing talon attacks at +17/+12 melee.
  • p. 219, Jasper Ringlerock, male halfling ranger 7/darkrunner 1: AC should be 20, not 19 (+1 size, +4 Dex, +5 from +1 mithril chain shirt). Touch AC should be 15, not 14 (+1 size, +4 Dex). Flat-footed AC should be 16, not 15 (+1 size, +5 from +1 mithril chain shirt).
  • p. 221, Korrath, male human fighter 4/psion (egoist) 1/sanctified mind 4: Masterwork light crossbow attacks should be at +8 ranged, not +12 (+8 BAB, -1 Dex, +1 masterwork weapon bonus).
  • p. 222, Halvar Marth, male human ranger 1/paladin 4/topaz guardian 4: Fort should be +12, not +13 (+2 as a Rgr1, +4 as a Pal4, +4 as a TpG4, +2 Con). Ref should be +6, not +7 (+2 as a Rgr1, +1 as a Pal4, +1 as a TpG4, +2 Dex).
Not overly impressive, and making it rather unlikely that the "stat block cavalry" we keep hearing about has made it to WotC just yet.

While I'm in "pointing out errors" mode, I also wanted to mention that the arms of plenty spell on page 209 should probably mention that a Small creature's arms rend for 2d4 points of damage (plus 1.5 times the subject's Str bonus), instead of the 2d6 mentioned in the spell's description. (The description goes out of its way to mention that Small creatures using the spell do a lesser amount of damage with the extra arms the spell provides, but doesn't mention a corresponding lesser amount of rending damage.)

Okay, with that out of the way, I can get back to pointing out the good things about Lords of Madness. Of the 6 highlighted monsters, one, the tsochar, is a brand new, never-before-seen creature designed especially for this book. This is kind of an unusual approach, but again, Lords of Madness, due to its aberration theme, isn't quite fitting the same pattern as the previous books, and I for one think that the tsochar makes an excellent addition to the ranks of the master aberrations. First of all, I absolutely love the fact that this is a colony creature, made up of individual strands that work together to create a unified organism. That in and of itself makes it stand out from the crowd. Then, I also love the fact that it can either kill humanoid prey and live inside its animated body, or just squeeze in between the organs and live inside a host. Just imagine your players' eyes when you have a tsochar suddenly burst out of the body of the wizard they've been fighting!

I was somewhat less excited about the prestige classes, but then it takes an extraordinary prestige class to excite me any more. The six provided grant a wide variety of abilities - one is even psionic in nature, which is fitting given how many aberrations have psionic attacks - and pretty much cover all the bases, although "knightly order" gets covered more than once. I do rather like the Keeper of the Cerulean Sign, though; I think what I like best about it is the cerulean sign itself, a glyph of power that's anathema to aberrations, and which predates even the gods. It's colorful, it's got a neat background - I like it.

I was rather impressed with the various mini-adventures, as well. Again, just about all of the bases are covered, from the lairs of individual aberrations, to a downed neogi spelljamming vessel under repairs, to an entire illithid city hidden underneath the "cover city" of duergar above it. However, I think the one I like best is the wizard's tower with the wizard inhabited by a tsochar - besides being a cool adventure, I really like the design of the wizard's tower! Each of these mini-adventures should make for an evening's play.

One concept new to this book (that I'm aware of, anyway) is that mind flayers are from the distant future, instead of the past, and time-traveled into the past (the campaign world's "present") to avoid annihilation. This is a really cool idea, and one that gives a "standard" D&D monster (one from the very beginnings of the game) a new twist without completely rebuilding it from scratch (something too many game designers seem overly eager to do).

Halfway through Lords of Madness, I was still hovering on the border of a "5 (Superb)" rating. By the time I had finished it, it had dropped smack into the middle of a "4 (Good)" rating - definitely a good read, but all of the stat problems really bug me. (I find it difficult to refer to a book with that many stat block errors as "superb.") Still, I can highly recommend it, and while I'm not sure what creature type is next in line in this series, I wouldn't mind seeing a second "aberration' themed book focusing on some of the other aberrations mentioned only briefly in Lords of Madness. They could even skip the prestige class stuff - already covered here in this book - and fill it up with chapter after chapter of already existing aberrations, in the same format as the six presented here. I know I'd buy it in a heartbeat!
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Good review as always, but I believe the Grell spear-thingy is calculated correctly, assuming that "silvered" means "alchemical silver," and that alchemical silver's -1 damage penalty applies. I just checked and silversheen also applies this penalty, so unless silvered refers to something I've not heard of, the designer's math was right.


First Post
Good review. My only concers is that almost half of the review was spent fixing stats errors (something that I personally don't care a lot ) instead of talking more in depth about the book.

Apart from that, your review has been very useful and I think I will add this book to my collection.

Thank you for sharing.



First Post
Another good review, John. A book well worth picking up. I agree that my hopes were up at the book's beginning for a relatively error-free product; alas. I came away with the impression that most of the boo-boos were in the latter half of the book. Maybe the cavalry tires early.

The contents were great. I would have liked to have seen some more monster cultists, along the line of the Dragon articles, but I also still believe in Santa Claus.

John Cooper

Good review. My only concern is that almost half of the review was spent fixing stats errors (something that I personally don't care a lot) instead of talking more in depth about the book.
Largomad: Your views are shared by many. If you look through my past reviews of monster books, you'll note that many of them have comments, like yours, to the effect that I'm wasting the reader's time by focusing so much on stat block errors. (Several were not as politely worded as yours was, by the way.) However, every reviewer comes to a product with his own views on what's important in an RPG book. Some people place full-color artwork very high on the list, or worry about white space and font size and what the price-per-page comes out to be. My own, personal biases put a rather high emphasis on the quality of the proofreading/editing jobs, and of course correct stat blocks are at the absolute pinnacle of my list. While not everyone shares my concerns in these areas, there a few - designated "gearheads," I believe - who like to see the math behind the monster and see how the stats all work together, and are as concerned as I am about the accuracy of the stat blocks. For those people, the "unofficial errata" that I include in my reviews serves a useful purpose, allowing them to fix up the monster stats without waiting for the official errata from the company to be released. Hopefully, my "unofficial errata" might occasionally prevent a TPK from a monster whose AC was off by 10 points or whose erroneous attack bonus made it too powerful for its CR.

For those of you uninterested in the "unofficial errata," all I can say is that it shouldn't be that hard to just skim your way past it. I always put my suggested changes to stat blocks in bullet format, so it should be pretty easy to see where I start back in on the normal review verbiage. And, at the far extreme, you can always just decide that my review style just isn't for you and stick to reviews by the others who post here and elsewhere. I won't be offended.

John Cooper

I'd just like to point out that the Tsochar are not new. They are actually the Teln from Alternity with a few modifications
Black Kestrel: Ah, I was not aware of that. It shouldn't surprise me, though - didn't the "gray alien" race from Alternity (the fraal?) show up in a Monstrous Compendium Annual back in the AD&D 2nd Edition days? And I seem to recall a bunch of Star Frontiers aliens being renamed and retrofitted into Spelljammer as well. Renaming and reusing creatures from other games seems to be an ongoing process.

I have to say, though, I like the name "tsochar" better than I like "teln."


First Post

Thanks for the great review! As far as the stat corrections are concerned, I find them to be very valuable and wish more reviewers would take the time to look at mechanics.


Hmm... I've found another thing that makes me wonder. The adult neogi's full attack is listed as including a bite and 2 claws. Based on that, I think that the three errors in neogi stat blocks you point out are actually right, just confusingly abbreviated. They aren't getting iterative natural attacks, they're getting one claw and then another claw. The fact that the attacks aren't at iterative attack patterns (one attack, and then another at -5), but rather two identical bonuses, makes me think they've actually got the numbers right here too. :uhoh: This proofreading thing is harder than you and the designer's make it look, eh?

John Cooper

I assume you're talking about the neogi defiler on p. 95 and the neogi sorcerer on p. 96. Compare their stat blocks with the adult neogi's on p. 90. There, the Full Attack line specifies one attack bonus (+2 melee) and the number of claws (2 claws). This is the standard way to do it. Giving attack bonuses on either side of a slash ("+3/+3 melee" or ("+7/+7 melee") just confuses the issue, although now that I look again the neogi defiler's Full Attack says "2 claws" and the neogi sorcerer's Full Attack just says "claws." Still, as written (using the standard stat block nomenclature), the neogi defiler's stat block says that it attacks with two claws, each of which makes two attacks at +3 melee. (I think part of the problem is that the book has three authors and a two-man development team, any of whom might be responsible for a given stat block. Everybody might be using slightly different notation to try to get across the same idea, and nobody went through and standardized everybody's work.)

And nobody ever claimed that stat block work was easy! :)


Yes, the Grey are the Fraal from Alternity. As are a number of creatures in the Menace Manual and several of the Aliens in D20 Future. I for one am happy to see them get a new lease one life


First Post
I'll voice that I really, really, really like the stat block reviews.

Question though regarding the first entry:
I thought that strength bonus/penalty applied only to thrown weapons (slings/javalins/axes), not to bows. I also thought that a strength bonus could apply only if the bow was specially designed.

John Cooper

olshanski: You're partially correct. From the longbow description on page 119 of the Player's Handbook:
If you have a penalty for low Strength, apply it to damage rolls when you use a longbow. If you have a bonus for high Strength, you can apply it to damage rolls when you use a composite longbow (see below) but not a regular longbow.
This makes sense, given that there's an upper limit as to how far back you can pull the bowstring on a given bow (and thus after a point, higher Strength makes no difference), whereas if you're not strong enough to pull the bowstring all the way back, you're not going to send the arrow flying as fast, and thus your damage potential decreases.

Our good friend Huck One-Eye from page 35 of Lords of Madness has Str 7, and thus a -2 Strength penalty, which applies to his longbow damage.

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