So this very rare and out of print book came today and I gave it an initial flip-through. My first impressions are the book is less of a hard-core stats book and more of a informative fan book. At one or more pages per monster, the book has a lot of flavor text with each entry and fewer monsters overall than something like the Rolemaster Classic guide.
The book is nicely long at 127 pages, with some full page charts and summaries and a lot of art throughout. It does have a lot of background information on monsters, almost a full essay on each important one, and I feel at times it goes a bit overboard in this area. Medusas have two pages of write up, for example. Some may like this, but I am a fan of a more concise format telling me exactly what I need to know, and then letting me fill in the blanks on the monster's ecology and nature of how it fits into my game world.
Is More Information Better?
Quality over quantity? I don't know, I wanted a complete set of monsters and what I got was more a selected collection of monster information with lots of background. Granted yes, if you just say this monster is a Aberaxitchect and stat it out without letting me know what it is, where it lives, and what it looks like that is pretty worthless. Stats alone do not make a monster, but I get a feeling a lot of the flavor text could be trimmed down for some of the more familiar monsters.
You know, like an orc, giant ant, or goblin could be pretty much well presented as a standard type of monster in a condensed format with just a couple suggestions on customizing them. You do have stats like those for some of the standards in the base HARP book, but I would like to see these organized and presented with options in a condensed, quick reference format.
Powers in Descriptions
Part of the problem I feel here is they are writing a lot of monster powers in the descriptions as special-case rules, and they have to repeat these or write new ones every time a new power comes up. These could be collected together in a power section, or integrated in the rules and the powers made a little more concise.
A turn-to-stone gaze could be used by a couple creatures and be handled as one power in the back of the book. Similarly for fire breath, acid spit, shape-shifting, or any other special power. To be fair, in GURPS they do this as well, where powers are done inside the monster descriptions, but they do it in a much tighter format in less space. I just found these special rules in the HARP monster book to be a bit on the long side and not as easy to read and use as I would like.
Wide but not Deep
They try for a wide variety of monsters, so the selection is broad but not terribly deep. There are a few monsters of each type covered in detail. That's depth, right? Deep for the ones chosen, it is like calling a river deep if there are a few deep holes here and there under the water. Overall, the river is shallow, with some spots where the fishing is good.
On second thought, I could shelve this book and go through and do my own monsters based on an OGL source. That is really what I want, a good, solid, comprehensive list of OGL style monsters with the standards and some unique ones to spice things up. That would take a lot of work, and I have a full list over in Rolemaster Classic that fills my needs.
The layouts too feel slightly off, some of the monsters start halfway down the page and end halfway down the next page. I would have rather had one monster (or group of monsters) per-page and edit or cut text to fit. As it is the book feels slightly messy in terms of layout, like the book was rushed or the flow just had to be the way it was and it got printed.
I get this feeling if the editing was tighter and the powers consolidated, each monster (or related group, like spiders) could fit on one page and the book would be easier to use, and you would have a better variety of creatures with more and varied powers. I do feel some monsters that should have special abilities are missing them, I could add them myself, but I would be house-ruling.
POD Version Needed, with Updates
If they are working on a revised version for POD I would like to see them base it on the Rolemaster Classic selection - that would be my ideal monster book for HARP.
This feels like an essential book to those playing HARP, but another part of me wishes for an updated version as print-on-demand and PDF. It is out-of-print and hard to find, which makes it sort of a reluctant purchase for me. This isn't all I wanted it to be, but it shall have to do. It does suck that most HARP players will have trouble getting their hands on it, and I am actively searching for alternatives to this that fill that "meat and potatoes" monster list I wanted for this game. This is okay for now, but not on the level of what I feel many OGL games (Basic Fantasy, Labyrinth Lord) provide in conciseness, organization, and variety.
I do want to see this out there as a POD though, even in its current form. This is an essential book regardless, and a great help for those looking for a variety of monsters that can get you started beyond what is in the base rulebook.