Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Bestiary and Bill


Tim’s post about monster manuals over at Gothridge Manor got me to thinking about an interesting monster book from back in the day: The Bestiary (1986) from Bard Games. It was part of the “Atlantean Trilogy” which included The Lexicon (a setting book) and The Arcanum (a rule book). The Bestiary was co-written by Stephan Michael Sechi (creator of Talislanta) and, most interestingly, featured art by then popular comics artist Bill Sienkiewicz:


The stats were for the Arcanum system but that was close enough to AD&D at a glance that conversion wasn’t too difficult.


The Bestiary separated the stats and fluff--and it gave quite a bit of fluff, which was written “in world.” While this isn’t fashionable in some circles these days, it did allow most of the book to perhaps function as a reference for players.  Kind of a unique approach.

18 comments:

Tim Shorts said...

You got my interest in this one. Just check ebay and they have a copy for $60. Yikes. And I don't mind the fluff. Thanks for the heads up.

Oh, and I tried to read this last night, but you took it away again.

Trey said...

Yeah, sorry about that bit of tease. :)

There wasa combined addition called Atlantis: The Lost World that had the Lexicon and Bestiary in it published in 1988. That might be easier to find.

Adam Moore / Laemeur said...

Ah, this is fantastic! Much as I love Sienkiewicz's painted and coloured work, I think I have the most fun looking at his black and whites. Thanks for posting these.

Trey said...

You're welcome, Adam. Yeah, I kind of prefer his black and white, too. Particularly in New Mutants, the color printing of the era tended not to serve him as well. There are probably more pics from this book on the internet somewhere, these were just the best ones I could find on sort notice. There are a lot more illustrations in there.

Brendan said...

That's some awesome art.

Needles said...

I have this & its awesome! Very much Sword & Sorcery. This is my go to instant world when you've got getsomethingforplayersin15minutes world. Easy, fast, & with enough character options to fit the bill!

Trey said...

@Needles - I really liked the Arcanum system in a way too. The total late 80s triumph of the "A Class for Everything!" design philosophy.

Akrasia said...

Wow! Sienkiewicz was my favourite comic artist from the 1980s (among other things, I was a huge fan of the 'Elektra' series he did with Frank Miller). A pleasant surprise to learn that he illustrated at least one RPG book. Thanks.

Trey said...

You're welcome. :)

Brennen Reece said...

I recently found this book when I was cleaning out my Mom's garage. My grandmother bought the Atlantean Trilogy for me when I was 12. The art and the fluff fueled my imagination in a way no other (gaming) books had before. So cool to see it profiled here.

Trey said...

Hey, Brennen. Glad I could bring up that memory for you. :)

ancientvaults said...

This setting is so awesome. It is like the D&D usual suspects but the setting encourages surface play (at least more city and wilderness adventures are stressed). The Bestiary has art that stands next to Trampier in awesomeness. I love these books and would love to see a real revamping of this system. Morrigan Press tried years ago, but failed.

Matthew Slepin said...

Anyone who knows me knows that I love Secchi's Atlantis Trilogy with an unholy passion. And The Bestiary is a great example why: it just oozes flavour even when dealing with pretty bog-standard D&D monsters. I love the fake quotes in each chapter which give the feel of a real world. The animal by terrain tables tucked in the back are great.

And, of course, having the entire book done one artist - and what an artist - is just the capper. I asked SMS how he possibly managed to get this to happen and he basically said that he ran into Sienkeiwicz on the subway or something, asked him if he do some art, and he said OK (I gotta go find that email if I can).

I wanted to buy the IP when Morrigan fumbled it, but, alas, twas not to be.

Trey said...

"it just oozes flavour even when dealing with pretty bog-standard D&D monsters."

Yes, exactly. I actually think the monster book is a cooler part of the setting than the actual setting book.

Do you know who owns the license now?

Matthew Slepin said...

Forgive the coyness, but I don't think that I should say.

Brendan said...

I just received a copy purchased from Ebay. It really is a wonderful book. I never would have known about it if not for this post, so thanks for that.

I'll also add that, looking at the physical book, the organization is very interesting. The bulk of the book is just description and illustration ("flavor") with all the stats isolated in an appendix. Also, mundane creatures also get a line of stats in the back, but no descriptive text or art was provided. I think this is a nice balance, only spending space on real added value (no page-long descriptions of horses, for example).

Matthew Slepin said...

It's the best organized MM for my money. The wilderness tables in the back are good too.

Trey said...

@Brendan - Glad I could turn you on to it.

@Matthew - Yeah, I really like the separation of flavor text from stats allowing its use as a "in world" bestiary for players, if one wanted.