Following my recent habit of draining my bank account of money, I decided to pick up Blackdirge's Dungeon Denizens. The last book I got from Goodman Games was pretty good considering that I didnt really like dragonborn, and I had some time on my hands today between me putting off doing homework and rushing through it at the last possible moment. I'm a massive wanker for crunch and a book about monsters should basically be wall to wall mechanics.
Compared to the actual Monster Manual, the price tag seems a bit steep at $25 considering that its less than half the size, black and white, and excepting the cover, the art leaves (quite) a bit to be desired
Before I get to the actual content I want to talk about the art. I heard someone describe the art as "retro". To me retro is more often than not synonymous with "shitty". I didnt think it was good art back in the day, and my standards have only increased laterally with my age. Par for the course it runs the gamut of crap to tolerable. As with Hero's Handbook: Dragonborn I can sympathize that since this is probably a lower budget project that I shouldnt expect full-color works, but some of them are particularly crude (the klaklin comes to mind).
So, the art is all in all pretty ho-hum, but that only has an impact on the game if you suck at describing things and decide to destroy what reputation you might have by copping out and just showing the players the illustrations.
The book lays out monsters by origin and keyword, which is something that I was disappointed that Wizards didnt do. I like being able to have a thematic index for monsters, especially when I am running a thematic adventure. For example, I might want to have the characters go through the Feywild, and knowing at a glance what creatures have the fey origin would be pretty fucking handy.
Most of the book is occupied by monster stat blocks bordered by lots of text that serves to describe the creature as well as impart a bit of personality and history, and it more or less follows the format directly out of the Monster Manual. You get monster tactics, lore, and encounter groups clustered together for your convenience.
Some of the monsters, like the aphyss, seem like reskins muscling in on core territory. Some are classics like the barghest that didnt make the cut to 4th Edition, which is great if you dont want to wait. The downside is that you can expect Wizards to produce said classics in an official release, and it probably wont match up. That being said, most of the book has a lot of new stuff or at least expands upon existing creature categories: new beetles, new bats, and new golems. There are a few things that are completely different, like the floating polyp.
Dungeon Denizens is a pretty good book. I wouldnt say its completely worth the money unless you have somehow run through numerous level 1-30 campaigns and are in desperate need of new scenery, or just want to throw something completely ass-random at your jaded players so that they might actually experience some modicum of surprise.
Some of their powers come off as a bit overpowered/could use some work. For example, the coin golem's Arcane Resistance is a big red flag that basically tells wizards and warlocks to fuck off while the stick-wielding beaters handle the problem. I would have made it a recharging ability that lets them force a reroll or something simple, not just ramping up their defenses automatically against all arcane attacks (especially by 5-10 points, yikes!), but then I'm not writing game supplements.