Blackdirge's Dungeon Denizens Review
by Isaac Calon
Tired of Facing the Same Old Kobolds?
Indeed I am.
Blackdirge's Dungeon Denizens (140 pages, Goodman Games, 2008) offers over 100 monsters for your 4E game ranging in levels from 1-30. The print package is billed at $24.99. Is it monstrous enough for the price, or are Blackdirge's original and updated critters doomed to be dusted off only for the occasional online mocking? Let's find out.
Blackdirge is the handle of Aeryn Rudel, a "monster artiste without peer" who made his name at EN World before being hired at Goodman Games to (among many other projects) convert some of the original monsters that appeared in the Dungeon Crawl Classics line to be compiled into a single book. The result is Blackdirge's Dungeon Denizens (BDD), which Blackdirge himself promises is much more than an update or simple conversion, but a "complete re-envisioning," including many new monsters as well.
What really matters here are the critters, of course, and by-and-large BDD delivers the goods.
There are some cool and fun critter designs, including quill-firing terrestrial urchins and enormous drakes that are used a mobile weapons platforms with multiple riders. The puppeteer vine is more than a little horrific with some fun mechanics, and the vargouille is back with a bad-ass level 29 elite skirmishing swarm. The grave swarm, coin golem, and living hoard are all fresh enough to earn their use in your game (and are bound to surprise and disturb your players), and they're in generally fine company. Each statistics block ends with a description of the monster, and new monsters bring new diseases (and new ways to contract them) to your encounters. Finally, there are a handful of aquatic critters presented here, which is nice considering the MM left that niche empty.
While the monsters are very strong overall, there are a few that seek to crowd niches that are already crammed full. Dragonborn atavists cover 8 pages of the book, and offer little that is new to differentiate them in any meaningful way from regular dragonborn. The aphyss are reptilian humanoids superficially akin to Yuan-ti; rooks offer nothing more than harpies already do; and drakons are more serpentine humanoid reptilians that resemble the flame-clad salamanders from other editions.
It's a soft complaint that BDD offers more choices where some already existed, but even so there's no compelling reason to choose one over the other in these cases (although the level differences and a simple "reskinning" allows you to use similar critters for much greater level ranges, which is certainly a bonus). I should also mention that the Octophis (an octopus with a fanged serpent for each of its tentacles) is bound to find its way online alongside such "joke" critters as the flumph.
Presentation and Layout
Blackdirge's Dungeon Denizens is a fine-looking hardcover book filled with statistics blocks and content layout that will be very familiar to you if you play 4E. The content gets the job done, with the only innovation being the critter descriptions at the end of each statistics block.
The art, however, leaves a lot to be desired. Images range from stylish and evocative all the way to downright goofy, with some illustrations definitely lessening the chance that I would take a given critter seriously. I dislike the bearded, robed, and pointy-hat wearing wizards we've seen so often in pre-3E editions of D&D, but I'd prefer their inherent, awkward nerdiness to a few of the images in BDD.
Still, art is subjective and has no effect on the quality of the mechanics that Blackdirge has put together for us here. Good organization of the monsters by origin, type, and keyword are nice, although they would be nicer if they included critter levels in these lists. Fortunately, appendix II lays the monsters out for us by level, role, and page number, and Appendix I offers up three new playable races for your players.
Despite a few deficiencies in presentation, Blackdirge's Dungeon Denizens is a fine collection of 4E monsters varied in level and type, and is well worth owning.
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