Fantasy Roleplaying: An Omnibus of Opponents by Blackwing Productions (Jeremy Puckett) is a fantastic addition to the Cortex Plus Heroic Roleplaying line, bringing over a 100 new monsters to the game with great mechanics and showing off an awesome mix of styles, from D&D fantasy to classic folklore to Mythos monsters and more. It’s a bit weak in the looks department and doesn’t have enough art to be a real contender in the wider “Monster Book” market, but you can’t find a better resource if you’re playing Cortex Plus and need some foes!
Rating: Content 5/5 and Form 3/5.
- Buy the PDF or Print-On-Demand versions at DriveThruRPG
Read on for the full review!
An Omnibus of Opponents is available as both a PDF and as a print-on-demand format from DriveThruRPG; this review concerns the PDF.
Clocking in at 83 pages, the PDF is cleanly organized and formatted in a two-column style with artwork for several of the monsters and NPCs presented. It ends with the very useful indexes of:
- All Opponents by Level
- Alphabetical Index
The monster artwork is top-notch, but not everything is depicted, which is a pet peeve of mine, even though several monsters are fantasy RPG standards. Books like this just cry out for more artwork, and that’s hard on an indie publisher to afford. The border art mimics that of the Cortex Plus Hacker’s Guide, which is a bit drab for my tastes, but doesn’t detract from the work, either.
Overall, it’s a handsome book and the provided indexes make navigating it a breeze. The PDF doesn’t feature bookmarks and the indexes aren’t clickable, which is a minor annoyance, and there’s no Table of Contents…but there’s effectively just an introduction and two chapters, one of monsters (90% of the book) and one of NPC opponents, so…not really a huge deal.
An Omnibus of Opponents is a supplemental monster and NPC book for Fantasy Heroic Roleplaying, which appears in the Cortex Plus Hacker’s Guide. There are ~42 monsters in the Hacker’s Guide; this book adds about ~120 more, which gives us something close to what the old school Monster Manuals for D&D contained.
Whereas the Hacker’s Guide stuck to the D&D fantasy milieu pretty closely, Omnibus gets a little more experimental with its roster in a few points, though it too includes some classics and some alternatives: chimera, an orc shaman, some dragons, the rakshasa, and a rogue necromancer all make appearances, and so too does the Chupacabra, several folklore monsters like the kitsune and Yuki-Onna, and a few silly or bizarre monsters like the drop bear (literally a bear that drops on people from trees and splats them) and Star Jelly (which are really just flumphs by another name).
Let’s go chapter-by-chapter.
The introduction notes that there’s some bizarre entries and calls attention to them, but spends the bulk of its time covering Mobs and Large Scale Threats, and then talking a bit on Encounter Balance in Cortex Plus. The author’s experience with the game shines through, expertly covering both the mechanical aspects of gameplay by simplifying the process of turning existing monster statblocks into Mobs or Large Scale Threats, as well as giving some great advice on encounter building. Some may find it unfortunate that Cortex Plus is less “systematic” in its approach to encounters than games like D&D’s later editions, but with the advice Jeremy provides, it becomes clear how to work with the more narrative aspects of Cortex Plus.
Critters and Creeps
This chapter is the opening of the monster entries, and it’s obvious just how much Jeremy sticks to the script with regard to statblocks: the only change in formatting is moving Specialties closer to the top of the monster entry. Additionally, you’ll find that there are non-monster entries in the form of traps, such as the Bear Trap. No surprises in terms of formatting, and that’s great because we like consistency.
A good number of the monsters — whether old standbys or more bizarre creations — use traits and SFX that are pretty standard fare for what you’ve seen in Fantasy Heroic already, just in different combinations to more thematically represent the creature in question. But there are plenty of monsters that mix things up a little more than you might think, or find unique ways to stand out from their “classic” representations in other RPGs or in folklore. So, let’s go over some highlights and stand-out monsters, shall we?
Highlights and interesting call-outs include:
- There’s a couple variations on dragons, so you can get them at a few different Levels (faerie dragons, hatchling, adult dragon). There’s also dragon-related monsters like Dragonkin (half-dragons or dragonborn, depending on your origin of choice) and Dracolisk.
- A number of otherwise copyright-protected monsters or ones whose names are closely associated with other games (::cough:: D&D ::cough:) get into the book via artful renaming and reskinning: Aquatic Dominator (aboleth), Arachnaur (drider), Paradox Hound (evil blink dog), Shimmer Cat (displacer beast), Mycelian (myconids), Star Jelly (flumphs), among others.
- Some monsters take the form of myth and folklore that isn’t as popularized in fantasy RPGs, such as the Gorgon (medusa), Lamia (a snake-woman rather than D&D’s lion-woman), Rakshasa, and a few others.
- There are some really bizarre, sometimes silly monsters. Check out the Chronovore (a time paradox given form), Drop Bears (adorable koalas that eat people’s faces off after falling on them), Gold Gorgers (metal-eating badgers), Hidebehind (a creature so busy hiding it suffers penalties for doing so on Reactions), and the Mace Mollusk (D&D’s flail snail).
- Some cool “alternative” folklore monsters include: Dullahan (the headless horseman), Kitsune, Penanggalan, Punkinhead, Rokurokubi, Jackalope.
- The Cthulhu Mythos gets some call-outs: Deep Ones, Shoggoth, and Yuggothian Crustacean.
- There are some fun mechanics, like the Will o’Wisp’s Lure (splitting the party also creates an additional environmental Complication), several Social-based abilities (monsters that rely on intimidation or riddles, like the Sphinx), the Sky Whale’s Radar Sense (re-rolling a Reaction and adding Senses dice), and the Reaper’s Touch of Death (inflicting Trauma after Taking Out an opponent).
All in all, the selection shows a strong mix of serious and fun, silly and terrifying, and a masterful knowledge of the rules for giving monsters a unique feel and strong mechanics.
Monsters in Human Flesh
This chapter covers the NPCs, which in this case are fully fleshed out opponent statblocks in the same vein as monsters. It provides a little advice on fleshing out these characters, but nothing in the way of random tables or lists of potential quirks and traits.
There are 7 in total:
- Assassin for Hire
- Black Knight
- Criminal Overlord
- Rogue Necromancer
- Street Tough
- Vampire Hunter
- Wandering Swordsman
This roster leaves you wanting more, especially in the “not just a black-and-white villain” realm. For more political campaigns there should be various guild masters and royal this or that, and a few more variations on spellcasters would be nice. But what’s there is great, so I can’t knock the product for my unrestrained feelings of greed!
There are two indexes that close out the book.
All Opponents By Level. This index sorts the monsters by Level Die. That’s exactly like sorting D&D monsters by Challenge Rating, and is a fantastic resource for balancing encounters and looking for monsters that fit into thematic niches like “minion” or “low-level meany” all the way up to “Big Bad End Guy” or “elite henchmen of the villain.” Good stuff.
Alphabetical Index. Since there’s no Table of Contents, this A to Z index of monster listings will serve as your primary reference point for navigating the book on the fly. I couldn’t find any missing entries, so it looks like it’ll work perfectly!
- Want a combined index of all the monsters in the Cortex Plus Hacker’s Guide and Omnibus of Opponents? We’ve got one right here! (It’s also on our Free Stuff page.)
- Looking for more Fantasy Heroic player races, classes, and rules expansions? Check out Blackwing Productions’ Registry of Rules at DriveThruRPG, also in PDF and POD formats.
If you enjoyed this article, please comment, like, and share! You can support future reviews and articles at our Patreon. We publish supplements, campaign accessories, and adventures for Dungeons & Dragons at Dungeon Masters Guild as well as other OSR games and Cortex Plus at DriveThruRPG.