This is hands down one of the finest sandbox gaming products I’ve ever had the pleasure to read. From what writer Pete Nash tells me, there may be other sandbox products coming from Design Mechanism and I will definitely be at the front of the line when they’re released.
But what, you ask, is a sandbox gaming product? Well, a lot of adventures are site-based. Take the most famous (and one of my least favorite) dungeons of all time, Tomb of Horrors. It doesn’t matter where you put Tomb of Horrors, really, because the entire product is about the dungeon and its contents.
Monster Island is a very different animal. First, it isn’t out to arbitrarily kill the players. Second, it isn’t just one adventure, it’s a campaign book – but not one that’s a linked set of adventures or dungeons. Instead, it describes an entire setting. It provides a host of adventure sites, setting specific monsters, random encounter charts, thumbnail adventures, background details, and the like.
In non-gaming terms, a sandbox is like a detailed description of the setting, history, and background details for a TV series, lacking only the starring characters (because those, of course, are the ones that the campaign’s players will create). You get the toolbox to do with as you will, and can alter or expand upon the material based on the substantial amount of information presented between the book’s covers.
Monster Island is a mash-up of all the coolest features of sword-and-sorcery, B jungle movies, lost world stories, and Ray Harryhausen adventures. So… giant monsters, lizard folk, sinister secrets, lost tombs, hideous ghosts, ancient sorcery, perilous foes. And I mentioned giant monsters, but all the monsters are worth mentioning because they’re almost all original, frightening, weird, and worthy of meeting over the course of an adventure.
Anyone using the sandbox can take as much or as little of the product as they wish. Unlike an ordinary game module, this one actually is modular. If you don’t want the whole setting, you can port over half (or more) of the monsters. Or use only the encounter areas that you want or use everything but make up your own history. It’s just incredibly user-friendly.
Monster Island is a RuneQuest product, which does mean that if you’re playing Pathfinder, D&D, an old school game, or FATE, that you have some conversion in front of you as far as monster statistics and spells. That still shouldn’t hold a non-RuneQuester back, because the great adventure sites, background, and encounter tables are system neutral. Converting monsters is a little more challenging, but hardly insurmountable.
This one gets two thumbs way up and is getting a slot on my favorite gaming shelf. Highly recommended.
Monster Island is written by Pete Nash and friends and is available as both a PDF and a softcover. It is 296 pages in length, including a detailed index.
Read more about RuneQuest Sixth Edition in John O’Neill’s January New Treasures article.