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I picked up Judges Guild’s Field Guide to Encounters[1] mainly because I’d heard it was full of funny monsters (think April issue of Dragon Magazine, but weirder), and because of its glorious cover. I went in expecting to enjoy the funny bits, but not find much I could actually use — but the Field Guide delivered. Not only are the oddball monsters in Volume 2 delightfully funny, there are plenty of solid, drop-this-into-your-campaign creatures, too.

The Field Guide is two books, one (packed in front when shrink-wrapped, I’d imagine) with a color cover and one with an identical B&W cover. And just look at those covers!

Six-boobed ALF is just hanging out in his bed, giant fuzzy pink slippers near at hand, working on his second bottle of rotgut liquor, when a gigantic woman’s hand with a flawless manicure reaches through his bedroom window — and based on the angle, she’s after his slippers. Even for late 1970s/early 1980s Judges Guild, this cover is something special.

I’m skipping Volume 1; I may circle back to it in another post. It’s a hodge-podge of stuff, none of which interests me at the moment. I’m here for the monsters, baby, and those are all in Volume 2!

What’s in Volume 2?

Volume 2, which unfortunately has the slightly-less-glorious B&W cover, contains 615 monsters, and every single one of them is illustrated. The quality of the artwork varies, but when was the last time you read a monster manual that 1) included that many creatures and 2) illustrated every monster? Just on quantity and dedication, this is a neat book.

It packs 615 monsters into less than a hundred pages by using a consistent, spartan layout throughout:

That seems too spartan, but let’s start with some funny ones and see how it works in practice.

Bacon

Look at this little dude! That sneer, that trident (dripping what I can only assume is bacon fat/the blood of innocents), that insouciant I can take you, bro stance. I’ve already gotten my money’s worth, and I’m only in the Bs.

Throat-laser warbler

Hey, that looks like a bird shooting a laser out of its mouth!

It is a bird shooting a laser out of its mouth.

It’s also a good illustration of where the interesting stuff lurks in a lot of these monsters: in the Special Abilities section. Every stat block looks like this — I’m not cropping my photos to omit anything. There’s no ecology, no tactics, etc. Just the stat block.

Sometimes, that’s kind of dull. Much more often, as is the case for the ruby humming bird, it’s a fine approach. The more I read, the more it grew on me.

Carrots

There are a lot of food-monsters in the Field Guide.

Are they there purely for humor, like a lot of the best stuff in an April issue of Dragon? Or did the Dragon’s Byte folks, who designed the Field Guides, actually play a campaign that featured carrot-shaped construct-rockets? I hope it’s the latter, because the picture of the world that would result from including all of the Field Guide monsters is delightful.

I feel like Willy Wonka here, moving hastily along from monster to monster because there are so damned many to see — but, nonetheless, onwards!

The cigarrette

If you’re not going “WhoooOOOOoooo, cigarettes are baaaaaad for you” in your best cigarette-monster voice while looking at this picture, I fear for our future.

Runneth over

Many of my favorite monsters in the Field Guide were illustrated by “RB,” which, based on the credits, I believe would be Bob Bledsaw, Jr. And I do love them, genuinely and not in a snarky way.

Sure, the average D&D campaign won’t include angry coffee cups and sullen teenager OJ cups . . . but maybe it should. The blend of weird, wonderful, and totally bananas is what keeps me coming back to Judges Guild.

Tinkles, so many Tinkles

Tinkles are a category of monster which shows up often in the Field Guide. They vary in appearance, but they’re almost always on the Tribble end of the spectrum. These are the best two.

Let’s get serious

I have a special place in my heart for the Field Guide’s freaks and weirdos, but what about the more serious side of things? There are some fantastic monsters in here, all the more impressive for not needing anything beyond a stat block and a small illustration to spark your imagination.

This was the first one that caught my eye[2]: the collector of eyes.

Creepy concept, bizarre artwork which makes the concept creepier still (he’s got eyes from two different victims in his head!), and I’m already thinking of evil ways to use this monster.

The assassin’s friend

A bug that injects acid into your victim and then dies, making an assassination look like an insect attack? Neat!

Portal gremlin

“You step into a portal. [rolls dice] Schloooorp. It’s actually an ooze, and it just teleported you to another dimension.”

Hollow carapace

Traps-as-monsters is another theme that runs throughout the Field Guide, and I dig it. Drop these in a dungeon and, after the first fight where someone’s weapon melts, the dynamics of future encounters change.

Mnair

Subtle. Still evil, but subtle. They’d make an awesome random wilderness encounter. (Plus, another excellent illustration!)

Pdolsyn

Finally, the pdolsyn. 12 hit dice, a magnetic whirlwind — which I assume hoovers up all the weapons you were about to use to fight it, not to mention the party’s actual fighters, if they’re wearing armor (probably injuring everyone in the process) — and then it flails at you with poison leaves and disease-carrying twigs? Awesome!

There’s less to write about these, but that’s in large part because they stand on their own: Read the Special Abilities, skim the rest of the stat block, and I bet you’re already coming up with ideas.

In closing, toast

I can’t tease you with evil toast in the post title and then not deliver, right? I’d like to leave you with toast:

Of course burnt toast is evil; that’s just science. But plain ol’ toast is one of my all-time favorite gaming book illustrations.

Do I recommend the Field Guide to Encounters? Hell yes, I do! Buy it just for Volume 2, and you’ll have a bestiary that, while mixed in its utility, is unparalleled in its breadth, depth, and weirdness. I love it.

[1] That’s the Amazon link, but currently the third-party prices are too high. If they’re still too high when you’re reading this post, poke around a bit more.

[2] Yeeeeaaahhh.

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