Don’t let the title fool you. The Crucible of Classic Critters is far more than a mere menagerie of monsters; it’s mostly a manual for maximizing your merriment! (whew…enough of that… I’ll leave the alliteration to the always erudite and entertaining expositor Erick N. Bouchard.
In all seriousness, I won’t bury the lede. This book is “blow you out of the water” amazing. I can’t emphasize enough the strength of this content. This reads like the expanded rules for Four Against Darkness (i.e. if you bought the rule books in two halves…THIS would be the second half). There is a lot to be said for Four Against the Abyss being that “other half” as well because of the expert skills and ability to take your characters past fifth level, but if that is so…then Crucible joins the original game and Abyss as the “Holy Trinity for the tabletop”.
What’s inside? Glad you asked. Number one, you can get out of the dungeon and into the forests! And it isn’t just the matter of exchanging copses of trees for dungeon walls. You’re out in the open so flying critters like to show up, there are bridges to cross, rivers to swim, and you may even discover an old drinking well that bestows a healing boon.
Next up (based on very popular demand!) animal companions show up. These provide some very cool options (have a wildcat as your buddy? He will kill rats for you!) . I think these are going to be immensely popular and for those who like a more narrative/rpg approach to the game will be able to add their animal companions to the fabric of the story. What would animal options be without new mounts? Erick provides a plethora of perambulating ponies and pals. With all these creatures running around you would think the game would have a beastmaster class…well…it does now! Erick handles that beautifully and even provides an option for the beastmaster to share his or her experience to level up the companion instead.
Beyond the beastmaster, two new cleric variants (both incredibly useful…one that charms foes and one that can calm animals) make their debut. And then finally we come to the critters…they are classic indeed! How about harpies, centaurs, troglodytes, the sphinx, griffins, lamias, rakshasas and unicorns? These monsters are amazing and slightly more complex than the base book creatures which adds additional interest. New magic items (check out the Scarab of Undeath…bring a fallen party member back as a vampire!) a special events table, and more content that I haven’t even mentioned (can’t give away all the surprises!)
The bottom line? a nearly flawless product (I personally wasn’t a fan of the- nearly strictly for laughs -useless spell section, but I can see some enjoying the chuckle). This should go directly to the top of everyone’s buy list. Kudos to Mr. Bouchard.