Review: Creature Components vol. 1: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly
Creature Components Vol. 1 from Playground Adventures is a supplement detailing the use of spell components taken from fantastic creatures to power spells and magical items for fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder. The supplement gives rules and examples for the effects that components taken from many creatures may have in spells as well as new feats and magic items that emphasize the benefits of collecting components from creatures.
If you have watched Critical Role, you may have seen Vox Machina hunting monsters such as a white dragon for the Slayer’s Take and harvesting their remains. Looking into the Dungeon Master’s Guide or Player’s Handbook you might ask yourself why they would do this. Now you can bring those ideas into your game!
This is an interesting and well-thought out approach to flavoring spellcasting and item creation. With so many spells available it becomes easy to forget variety and choose a few favorite spells. This might spur characters on to try new things and revisit the possibilities.
The benefits of fighting monsters get amplified when the spellcasters in the party can put their foes to use for their benefit. There’s also a great source of new gold and adventures in the quest to track down and get components from different creatures.
Another benefit is that magic item creation is extremely costly. Using creature components according to this supplement is a great way to either reduce the cost of an item or amplify its effect. For most players, telling them they have that opportunity is motivation enough to send their character on a quest.
For the handling of the product, the makers (Playground Adventures) make it clear in their DriveThruRPG listing that the content of the book may not be appropriate for children. I think this is a great, very responsible move considering that the book has content that could be disturbing. Additionally the book does not have explicit or inappropriate art which is nice when dealing with a serious topic.
Speaking of the art: it is incredible! The book features top-notch art on par with the D&D books from Wizards of the Coast.
The idea for the supplement is one that I would use sparingly in a game if at all. The concept makes sense; we know that creatures have valuable body parts that get used in food, clothing, medicines, etc.
The supplement has rules for live harvest of creature components, which I definitely would not use. I think the intention is to offer a non-lethal solution to getting creature components like a horn or a lock of hair, but the rules also imply that you could remove something’s eye, leg or wing instead. The good news is that the rules for harvesting creature components are immediately followed by a discussion of the concerns that could arise around using these rules and how they may be addressed.
In the section on creating magic items Creature Components features a chart for the difficulty to find and create a formula to make a new magic item. This is something briefly discussed in the Dungeon Master’s Guide and never formalized. The rules for the creation of new magic item formulas presented here are very expensive and difficult. It’s definitely more than I would expect in using a rule for the creation of items.
For me, this reinforces the fact that a lot of the rules in this book bring more ‘crunch,’ in other words, detailed step-by-step rules, then I would want to use in my game. If the supplement encourages you to have characters in your campaign creating magic items using creature components, they’re going to hit a major roadblock when it comes to these formulas.
They will either work hard to get the formulas or spend lots of downtime crafting them. A new Very Rare item formula is going to take them 2000 to 2200 days, which is roughly 6 game years, and 100,000 gp to create. But they’ll be able to create a flying carpet. Actually, they’ll have the formula for it. They still need a further 2000 days and 50,000 gp to make the carpet. So 12 years total to make a flying carpet in game.
Something I’m not fond of in the writing is the small callout text on page 7 that describes in character the way a person becomes familiar with the benefits of a creature component. There’s a description of the process of meditating and attuning, then the idea of the ‘essence’ of a component is addressed. The callout asks you ‘what does essence look like?’ then tells you that you’ll have to figure it out on your own. I know this is in-character but it’s not what I expect from a supplement. There could have been a description here, even something vague. Instead this seems hostile and withholding. On page 5 there is a whole paragraph of in-character callout text describing spellcasting like a dance. The description of essence could have been handled much better. For me these are the small things that make me put a book down.
As a PDF, the product has good bookmarks to the different sections, especially the creatures listed but there is no bookmark to the Table of Contents or the front of the book.
The layout is inconsistent. Some of the callouts are placed awkwardly so that they go across entries. Others are above the entries they refer to so that without a 2-page layout it doesn’t make sense. I don’t typically read my PDFs in a 2-page spread because the text is too small, so for me this was hard to follow. Lastly, a creature (barbed devil) is referred to by both its ‘common name’ and descriptive name, which is confusing without careful reading. Given that this is paired with a layout issue where the callout does not appear adjacent to the creature, I had a hard time following this passage.
The fonts used in the book are standard serif fonts like Times New Roman in around 11pt size. The headers are all done in Gothic and script fonts. There are also a lot of callout boxes in dark magenta colors that are similarly difficult to read. This may be similar the style of official D&D products but makes it hard to read and not very accessible for impaired readers. I think this is particularly important in electronic products; many impaired readers prefer these for the accessibility features computers and tablets offer.
If I was OK with this theme and it interested my players I would introduce several complications: spoiling monster parts, monster factions seeking revenge, spells failing over time due to component exhaustion, the moral implications of hunting monsters for sport, a noble sacrifice to end a greater evil. Take the players on a roller coaster. Have at least one person tell them they are the monsters.
This would be a good book to tempt a spellcasting character with because then you could have a fun set of adventures based around the rare components they could get that would supercharge their spells. If that wasn’t of interest to your group you could also focus on the material cost or benefit of creatures, so this could be a great way to implement a campaign that has reasonable monetary rewards: in other words not lots of treasure but still ended up being beneficial to the characters financially because they could sell creature components.
At 58 pages, most of this book is devoted to describing the components that could be harvested from each creature in the Basic Rules (33 pages). You don’t get the classic beholder, but that’s part of the D&D-specific license. The remaining pages have some interesting magical items and rules on how to incorporate creature components into spell casting. If the premise interests you, it’s definitely what you’ll get.
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