Lusus Naturae (OSR)
This massive bestiary clocks in at 136 pages,1 page logos, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of backer-thank you,1 page ToC, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 128 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
This review was requested by one of my patreons, to be undertaken at my leisure.
Or, well, wait…you see, if you get the electronic version, you also get a landscape version of this book, you know, with two pages per screen, handy for reading on devices. Front and back cover (which form one massive and gloriously gory artwork) are their own pdf…and we get something amazing: A version that is JUST TEXT…and one version that is just all the artwork! Basically, this bestiary offers the most massive monster-artwork hand-out collection I have ever seen. That is super-impressive and mega-handy to have – this is how it’s done!
Anyways, I do have the limited hardcover print version, which is, regarding the quality of the binding, thick paper used, etc. on par with Lamentation of the Flame Princess’ standards. Yep. This is a gorgeous book, and if you can get your hands on a print copy, I’d suggest going for it…and then get the pdf: the sheer amount of electronic features makes getting the pdf really worthwhile.
On a formal level, this book is laid out for a 6’’ by 9’’ standard (A5), and layout is sparse and functional, but not frilly or the like. The OSR rules-system employed by this massive book would be Lamentations of the Flame Princess (LotFP). The full-color artworks within adhere to a uniform standard, as Gennifer Bone has drawn them all – and she obviously knows how to draw nightmare fuel.
Which brings me to a very important caveat:
This does not belong in the hands of sensitive persons.
If you have a trigger, this book will feature it.
The book is a really, really HARD R rating.
More so than even the Teratic Tome, Rafael Chandler’s previous monster book.
Similarly, if you have an issue with gore, horror, full-frontal, drawn nudity and gruesome, gruesome things, then move on, there’s nothing here for you. If you just want a bit of darkness in your fantasy and think that vampires, anything from the Cthulhu mythos and the like still are genuinely frightening and transgressive, then this book will probably disturb and/or disgust you. Another litmus test would be that, if you often think that there ought to be more censorship to spare your sensibilities, then this will probably offend the living hell out of you.
This is a book of all-caps MONSTERS, as the introductory text makes clear. It’s also the most METAL bestiary I have ever read. To quote the introduction: “…The truth, then: monsters love us. They love humans. They need us. They acknowledge the debt, in the same way that some people kneel beside an animal they have killed while hunting, and murmur words of gratitude; or clasp their hands over a holiday meal and express their thanks to some deity before cutting the meat from the bone and crushing it between their teeth, washing the warm bolus down with wines and gravies….It is not enough to end a life; for the end of life signals the end of pain…”
Okay, if that is too theoretical, think of the following: Picture those extreme metal bands: You know, the gore of Death Metal, the cosmic Nihilism and raw hate of Black Metal, the darkened Sword & Sorcery weirdness of acts like Bal-Sagoth. Picture their album covers. Picture the lyrics, the artworks, and then think what would happen if someone wrote a book that made these nightmare-scapes and their denizens reality for the gaming world, that embraced true, gruesome madness. That is Lusus Naturae.
Perhaps you’re not into metal and have no idea what I’m talking about. Let me ask you, are you into horror? Dark fantasy? Okay, after this book, pretty much any bestiary in those genres, with a scant few exceptions, will feel like bland and predictable weak-sauce boredom par excellence. This book is horrific and gory, and some concepts made me cringe, and I’ a really hardened dude when it comes to horror etc..
Now, in my review of the Teratic Tome bestiary, I mentioned that the book was best when it made its creatures unique, when they had basically an adventure-outline already ingrained in their design, by virtue of their modus operandi, by the strange and potent powers they exhibit, by their background. Lusus Naturae, while not exclusively, embraces this design philosophy. If you’re looking for critters to fill in your random encounter table, then this will have not much for you.
If you’re looking for a book where almost every monster can carry its own module, and in some instances, whole campaigns, well, then you’ve come to the right place. From a mechanically perspective, there are a couple of unique things to comment on: Every single creature herein has AT LEAST one mechanically unique ability, and contrary to many OSR books that use “rulings, not rules” as a means to justify sloppy design, the rules are PRECISE. To the point where many monster-designers should take a careful look. They are also innovative. Following the maxim noted before, many monsters herein do have the ability to offer boons or permanently scar/change the PCs and their psyche. Similarly, many of the monsters come with omens of sorts that evoke a tighter horror-atmosphere in a few words than many modules manage to invoke over 30+ pages. To give you an example from the entry of the hellish Adversary: “…During the days before its summoning, a predatory animal (such as a wolf or tiger) will give birth to a human baby, which will then devour its mother…” – and yes, there is more, including a note for the stats of this animal-spawn.
Beyond this, striking the killing blow on many of these horrid monstrosities can actually have amazing, or rather disturbing…or both, consequences. Take this one: “The character’s body becomes completely hollow; beneath the skin, there is a single organ, which can be rigid or flexible, as the character wishes. Food is no longer needed. Flotation is possible if the character is filled with the right kind of gas. Speaking of which, gases and toxins no longer hurt the character.
Each time the character’s skin is pierced by a blade or sharp implement, there is a 1 in 6 chance that the character will deflate and be incapacitated for one round (at which point the body will adjust and re-inflation will occur).”
What I’m trying to say here, is that I have rarely read a monster book that had me glued to its pages to this extent. Rafael Chandler managed to marry his expertise as a novelist with game design, without falling into the trap of the “frustrated novelist”-trope – this is inspired, but it is inspired in both prose and rules.
There are stats for both Cain and Lilith within this book, both coming with full-frontal nudity pictures, and their actually rather nice and cute, but alas, parasite –ridden son is also featured. And yes, these parasites could cause an undead-child apocalypse. Oh, and the cute moth-like thing is bound to become something horrible.
There is a nigh-undefeatable gelatinous hyperspace cube (!!!), and there are monsters to end civilizations, like the aptly-named Sunset, which comes with notes on how to use it as a living, vertical dungeon (!!!). (As an aside, if you’re good with rules, you can use Pelgrane Press’ 13th Age-supplement “Eyes of the Stone-Thief” as a good baseline for further ideas…)
There is a parasitic psionic emerald that grows through living tissue, painfully, while growing in size – the horrible idea of emerald farms certainly comes to mind, though this is dangerous…matured emeralds exhibit dangerous psionic powers. There is a super villain who just wants to return to Central City, fed up with this messed up, backwater world. There are two beings transformed into strange orb-creatures. There are horrid amalgamations of flesh and metal, fusions of clone and original, indistinct from another and bent on rewriting the tenets of faith.
There is a creature herein that will magically ask magic-users/casters for permission to inverse the universe – you know, make blank spaces solid and solid matter blank spaces. It will do so nicely. It may even kill folks that talked to the magic-user with mouths (EW!) for their transgression and regurgitate them in front of the most honorable wielder of eldritch powers. There are sentient robots that change gravity and build new metal monsters, and these should make me mention another thing that sets this book apart.
Know how the Mythos has become kind of stale? Tame, in a way? Well, this book provides a whole collection of entwined stories that form more than one mini-mythos complex, which, while far from lovecraftiana, exhibit a potency of concepts and disturbing concepts that are in equal parts refreshing and appalling. And I mean the latter as a complement. Now, there is basically an elder one-level of monster, the Malison, and it is tied to a variety of other monsters: You see, this thing manifests, and it’s a local apocalypse. No hyperbole. It also enjoys taking a whole settlement and making it into a collective, disturbing and unique monster. One of the creatures thus created was Bruchsal: “Once, Bruchsal was a quiet village in Germany. Its inhabitants were rounded up by the Malison and stripped of their skin; it was sewn together in the shape of a rough tent. Unfortunately, the people of Bruchsal were still very much alive and conscious, their minds trapped within their skins by the Malison’s sorcery (this was by design).” That’s just an excerpt.
Or, what about the beautiful, gigantic Mandala-thing that is called Phthisic, which manifests near settlements, causes plague, and has metal fly upwards, forming a levitating staircase to it, complete with sword-snowflakes and maws of shovel-teeth it uses to attack? What about the gorgeous slug that uses wide-spread destruction to cast a massive, reality-changing spell? Killing it will shift poles to equator and vice versa…and you thought you’d be done with it…
There are three kinda-immortal black metal serial killer sisters; there is an insane sorceress bound in a darkened gauntlet, creator of strange monsters that consist of fingers, noses, etc. And there would be Void’s Memory. A natural force of sorts, this fellow is the personification of the memory of extinct things. His full name is The Void’s Memory of a Cold and Hateful Smile Elicited by the Shrill Screams of Children Who Were Startled by the Rumble of a Thousand World-Long Feathers Upon the Alabaster Wings of God. If you’re a metal-head, that made you smile. His soul-edge like blade is btw. the Hymn To Forgotten Mothers Who Buried Stillborn Children in Shallow Graves Beneath Rotting Sycamores. Casting a spell on the fellow anagrams it and throws it back on the caster! And yes, the book has a MASSIVE selection of anagram’d spell-names noted. This guy requires referee-mojo, but oh boy. He also is the master of a variety of monsters conjured forth from his memory, and they are no less inspired.
The mighty Narcosan princess, a fungoid, extremely powerful and nice being, alas, does not help our reality: In a quarter-mile around her, nasty things start happening. One of the things from the table of such occurrences made me smile: “Vast runes of power light up the sky, and are visible for hundreds of miles. Naturally, they spell out the names of the player characters.”
Grievance, driven insane by voices in her head, has created an array of mighty guardian creatures and seeks to end them to erase all traces of her existence. And then there would be Ideologue and the associated myth. This creature is basically a sentient universe in humanoid form. The attacks of this being can scar those fighting it forever, and the beings conjured forth, are amazing: They are called forth from the monochrome land of Chiaroscuro, and represent, symbolically, absolute black/white thinking in one twisted way or another. Their artworks make them amazing album-cover artworks or surreal nightmares. To quote from the Blossom of Wounds’s description: “The Blossom seems to be a winged monster, tall as a man, devouring a torn carcass – which is also the monster’s own mangled body. Strange symbols glow between its horns. As its ragged wings flap, dark liquid seeps into a toothed flower of gray meat.”
As noted, some monsters lead themselves to carrying an adventure. These mini-myths that have so tantalizingly been woven throughout the book can carry whole campaigns. How good are they? They actually made me bemoan that I couldn’t use them all at once. They’re that damn good. As an aside: In the electronic versions, these are internally hyperlinked: One click and you’re at the right creature. Kudos!
But don’t get me wrong – there are creatures without internal connections that are just as disturbing. There would be, for example, the harvest blight: From a seed, a tower-sized monster springs, and it has a sense of twisted humor. “Those who are planted headfirst
in the soil by the Blight are able to survive by absorbing nourishment from the soil. Their mouths packed with dirt, their hands bound with thick ivy (or simply lopped off), these poor souls are jammed into holes four feet deep.
The Blight packs dirt around them, waters them, and watches proudly as shoots of thin flesh grow from their bare souls. Naturally, the pruning fork is used to trim these bits of skin and cartilage.” This monster has managed what no other has achieved in ages – I had a nightmare about it. What more can one ask of a book of horror monsters?
Well, what about a monster-generator, a random disease generator and a 100-entry “found in the monster’s lair”-table?
Now, I should also note, if that has not been made ample clear by the quotes I used: this is an INTELLIGENT book. Its monsters are frightening not because “throw shock-value at PCs”, book because they touch upon taboos, on intellectual and emotional anxieties, because they are alien and weird in the best sense of the word. Amoral and malignant. And absolutely glorious.
Editing and formatting are top-notch on both the rules-language, and the formal level. Layout adheres to a two-column no-frills b/w-standard and is nice, if unspectacular compared to the full-color artworks, of which we get one for each and every monster within. The electronic version offers peak-level convenience, with the text-only and art-only versions as well as the regular and landscape versions –super-impressive. The hardcover is in no way less impressive – a beautiful book that deserves its place of honor on my shelf.
Lusus Naturae is a masterpiece, a milestone. A book that may sour you on many vanilla monster manuals out there, a book that will forevermore represent a benchmark of horror-designs of the most twisted kind.
If you play LotFP, then get this – it is, in design-aesthetics and imaginative potential as close to an official bestiary as we’re likely to get in the foreseeable future.
If you play DCC and want some really horrific and weird stuff, get this.
If you play another OSR system and want some nightmare-inducing, creative creatures, get this.
If you play another game, this is still worth the asking price ten times over for the concepts and artworks. More monsters herein warrant conversion than in any other bestiary I have ever read.
If you even remotely like horror and dark fantasy and if you can stand the gruesome, hard R details, then get this – if your sensibilities fall, even remotely, somewhere on the darker end of the RPG-spectrum, if you’re ready to be both inspired and scared by monsters once more…then get this ASAP.
This book is a truly inspired, glorious tome, and receives 5 stars + my seal of approval. If I had known about it back when it was released, it’d have won a spot on my Ton Ten list. This is one of the most efficient, best horror-monster-manuals I have ever read. For horror-games, this gets my EZG Essentials tag. And yes, I am so going to use a metric ton of these monsters to spice up the plethora of horror modules I play.
You can get this amazing, gruesome collection of monsters here on OBS!
If you’re at Gencon: The last remaining hardcover copies of this book are sold at the LotFP-booth – once they’re gone, they’re gone! So if you want the hardcover, make haste!