This chapter, which concerns the Old World’s Menagerie, comes with a preface of like DnD but…, as do the two preceding it. Let’s start with a general overview. I have not covered Bestiaries of appreciable size before so the format might be rough. Don’t say I did not warn you.
Monsters in WHF 1e are statted similar to PCs. A guide for converting them from Warhammer Fantasy Battle is provided, allowing you to import the stats from various creatures described therein, a nice touch. While some creatures do indeed have unique attacks. An easy upgrade format is also provided, allowing you to make champions and heroes (i.e elite mobs) for the various humanoid races described within the book.
The first thing one realises upon reading through the entries is how big a role the Cool stat is likely to play in many games. A large percentage of the monsters in the bestiary causes Fear in creatures below 10 feet (i.e you). If you fail a Fear check (i.e Cool test) when confronting such a creature you are paralysed with fear for the rest of the round, repeat until you succeed. Any creature over 10 feet high causes fear, as do many if not all of the most formidable monsters. You can be an absolute stone-cold slayer of men but if your cool score is low you will whimper in the face of these horrors. Nice.
Besides fear, several monsters are equipped with the habitual special abilities of the RPG genre. The ability to cause infected wounds, poison, terrifying gaze attacks (which may be averted at a great cost to hit chance and increased vulnerability), constriction, breath weapon attacks, regeneration, the ability to cause various diseases and so on. Some monsters, like trolls and giants, are quite formidable but suffer from stupidity, allowing them to be tricked and making them unable to act with focus. Ghouls, for example, will drop whatever it is they are doing to consume the corpses of the recently slain.
The Bestiary is divided into several sections. The Humanoid section covers the more well-known varieties of orcs, goblins, ogres, trolls, giants and orcs that we all know and love, as well as your humans, elves, dwarves and halflings. I like the way the game uses short descriptive passages to give some identity to these well-worn tropes of the fantasy roleplaying genre. Goblins are cowardly and sadistic murderers. Ogres are stupid and obsessed with eating. Giants were once the dominant species within the old world but have been driven back and have degenerated into stupid, clumsy alcoholic savages. Trolls are even more stupid and have stomach acid so potent cutting one open can ruin your armour and cause you vicious injuries. Orcs are constantly infighting, the most powerful of them being the Black Orcs, the end-product of a centuries long process of darwinian cannibalism. Even the Lizardmen and their Troglodyte servants make an appearance, virtually indistinguishable from their DnDic Counterparts.
The tropes are familiar but given a bit more of an edge, oscillating between grim and at times, farcically silly, and sometimes combining the two. It helps to make each monstrous race more then just a collection of hit points with slightly different stats for you to murder in search of gold or sorcerous artifacts. The demihumans are similarly well done: Elves are foppish decadents, the High Elves having grown so hedonistic that actually doing work is considered a great shame. Dwarves are a dying but proud race, obsessed with the accumulation of material wealth and gradually driven from their strongholds by goblin incursions. The animosity between Elves and Dwarves is explained by a great misunderstanding leading to an epic conflict in ages past and still to this day the Dwarves hold them responsible for their current predicament. Halflings are comicaly parochial and would have been exterminated a long time ago had they not been under the protection of the Empire (making them a perfect juxtaposition to the overal very grim and warlike tone of the Old World). Gnomes are included but their presence, as it was in Dnd, is essentially superfluous and adds little.
Some new faces make their appearance. The Fimir are bizarre, cyclopean monstrosities that attack only at night or under the cover of sorcerous fog and require human females for procreation. Bands of hideously mutated beastmen serve as the footsoldiers of the forces of Chaos, led by black-armoured human champions of the Dark Gods. Minotaurs are not a seperate race, but merely giant, bloodthirsty beastmen with the heads of animals. And we have of course the Skaven, arguably the coolest of the major races in Warhammer Fantasy, vast hordes of ratmen that vastly outnumber mankind and live in secret in a vast network of caverns and tunnels stretching out under the Old World. They are given only a short description in this version of the game, which is a bit of a shame. Still, hordes of humanoid rats that came into being by gnawing on mutagenic space rock is something anyone with wealth and taste should want in their game.
The Animals and Monsters section is most reminiscent of the old Monstrous Manual. All the classics make their appearance: Harpies, chimirae, hydras, griffons, steam-breathing dragon turtles, manticores and pegasi and so on. Giant intelligent Owls, Eagles and the dreaded Bog Octopus are a nice shout out to Lotr. Most of these monsters are insanely deadly and should not be tackled by the inexperienced (i.e your party). I like it that some of these beasties have rules for domestication, provided your character has the Animal Training skill and about 14 months worth of spare time. Then there are the more silly monsters that one could only reasonably be expected to encounter in Dungeons. Giant Amoebae. The Chameleoleech (essentially a mimic). Various lethal forms of mould (though annoying and often deadly, they never reach quite the level of insane lethality the brown mould did in Dnd, thank god). The coin-eating goldworm. The electricity using Sunworm. Carnivorous marsh worms. No game would be complete without dragons, although in this game they are more akin to vicious gold-obsessed animals then the intelligent, spell-using bastards of DnD.
Do I even go into the normal animal section? Dire Wolves, stags, boars and bears make their appearance, as do Giant Beetles, swarms of mundane pests (nice to see Warhammer had swarm rules before DnD did, chumps!) and the War Dog (as well as the domestic dog). The format is terse, which I like. Different varieties of the same creature are given a single stat block, with any differences in stats being described in a sentence, maximum two sentences, which saves space.
The descriptions of these various beasties are okay, and each is perfectly suitable for use in a fantasy game of heroic adventure and grim peril, though nothing really stands out. I like the existence of the Zoat, strange reptillian centaur creatures with druidic powers that live and protect forests, rumoured to be the oldest race in the world. They would vanish from the canon soon. Many of the greek mythology-derived monstrosities are blamed on the mutating influence of Chaos, but this feels kind of tacked on.
The Undead naturally make their appearance. Skeletons and zombies serve solely as minions and require the guidance of a powerful necromancer or unique undead creature to prevent them from desintegrating. Ghouls are the result of men feeding on the bodies of the dead. Liches are evil undead wizards and the Vampire section is exactly like the one we all know and love, complete with a Bela Lugosi look-alike as a picture (though the mechanism by which they can only regain magic points by feeding and require magic points to animate each night is more defined then in ye olden times). Liches are undead necromancers with a transfixing gaze attack, only without the phylactery mechanism that made them cool in Dnd 😦 And what game would be complete without flammable mummies with a rotting disease attack. The closest thing to innovation is the existence of the Carrion, a giant undead vulture that may be ridden by evildoers.
In similar fashion, the incorporeal undead make their appearance, though the hated level drain attack of ADnD is thankfully omitted. Ghosts can merely frighten, having no power to affect the corporeal world, while Wraiths and Wights drain strength from the bodies of men. You know the deal. The appearance of the Marshlight, which hypnotizes men to lead them into perilous locations is a nice touch.
Elementals make their appearance and if you encounter one on the wrong side of the battlefield you are fucked. They can use an elementalist spell per round at no point cost and while damaging them causes them to lose potency, anyone who stands against one of these mindless agents of elemental beatdown is going to get his shit ruined.
The Demons section is kind of dissapointing, but there are some new contenders. Next to the, ahem, unstoppable Baalruhk (gee whiz), most demons are only described per category and in very general terms, with further details being forthcoming in later supplements. Fuck you Hogshead! We are dripfed some nice unique demons. The hideous Mabrothrax, a walking anthrax epidemic with 10 attacks per round, 59 wounds and it causes THE BLACK PLAGUE if you come within 10 feet of it. The Mardagg, essentially the Grim Reaper beholden to the Blood God. And curiously, a single servant of the powers of law, the Vydiagg, an avatar of life created by the powers of Life that has a 10% chance of appearing if anyone summons the Mardagg. Demons are terrifying and horrifically powerful and will require large amounts of soft, warm, disposable bodies between themselves and even high level characters to ever take on succesfully.
Overall, this section is the most dissapointing because DESCRIBED IN FUTURE SUPPLEMENTS is a shitbag move. Better to just describe the demons of Khorne or give us a single cool servant of each of the powers of Chaos and do the rest later. Anything but these generic templates.
What more can I say? Some of the creatures are nice and innovative and the bestiary is perfectly serviceable for what it sets out to do, which is to give you shit your pcs can kill. It feels like offbrand, british DnD. Some of the silly monsters like the Goldworm would not be out of place in the Fiend Folio. As an alternative to Dnd, this suffices, and there is enough variation in the strength of the creatures to make the Bestiary usefull at all levels. It is servicable, and some of the unique creatures are kind of neat, but overall there is little to set this bestiary apart from other fantasy games, most notably DnD. Later editions of the game, as well as future supplements, would serve to flesh out the Old World a bit more so as to differentiate it from the fairly generic fantasy collective unconscious from which all fantasy games are spun. The Humanoid section is definetely the strongest section of the book I should say, and insight into the behaviour of these various lumpy monstrosities is given in but a few sentences, as god intended.