Weighing in at 296 pages and written primarily by RuneQuest guru Pete Nash, Monster Island is an attractive, softcover book (or pdf) with some nicely evocative cover art by John Hodgson. When the idea of this product was first presented to me--an overview of a horrific jungle island beyond known civilization and time--it brought to mind the dark reaches of the island from King Kong, gentlemen explorers (willingly?) lost to the mysteries and perhaps Lovecraftian horrors of the unknown Pacific, or even some of the terrible challenges that awaited adventurers in Greek Myth or the tales of Sinbad the Sailor. As it turns out, I was not far off for a starting point.
The aforementioned first portion of this product really dives into the setting with teeth bared describing the geography and climate of the island in a manner that would make a National Geographic Channel producer proud. There are also notes on using Monster Island with existing settings, from Glorantha to 1930s pulp to the present day. Far from being a fantasy-only resource, Monster Island makes it clear from the get-go that this is a product that can span different genres of gaming.
Monster Island's initial terror isn't even necessarily in its foul beasts or denizens; this is a place where climate alone can kill the unprepared explorer. The island is a place of extremes, from sweltering jungle to glacier-topped mountains and an arid, windy plateau. Rules for becoming lost or suffering from heatstroke are covered--Monster Island is not a walk in the park to explore.
The island also has sentient races, described in MI as Colonists, High Folks (the dangerous remnants of a sorcerous peoples), and Savages. These are each left somewhat open-ended, so that a Game Master needing to tweak what these races are (the Colonists could be, say, the descendants of a World War II missing freighter in a modern campaign, or a Viking effort to explore this new land, depending on campaign setting). I really liked the writeup on the taboos of the Savage, and the punishments for violating each. Each culture is given a nice amount of depth, and you get a sense of how the various tribes interact with one another, as well.
If you're looking to drag-and-drop elements from Monster Island into an existing campaign, well, that's covered, too, in the Campaign chapter. This is a mostly utilitarian guide to using the product, along with some general gamemastery advice. It's probably hard to get too excited about these sorts of chapters, but it does have some nifty encounter ideas and a great Special Event table.
I also liked the Items and Substances chapter, which identifies and stats out some of the natural resources to be found on the island. These range from big cat skins (safari, anyone?) to copper ingots. Of course, this makes sense; if you're going to have colonists, you're going to want to see what the island may yield, and of course the different civilizations on the island will want/need to trade.
It became clear to me, reading through the book, that this could be an absolutely lethal setting, as a drop-in or otherwise. Nash spends ample time weaving all these challenges together, and the writing makes it clear attempting to explore Monster Island is a lethal, lethal activity. It's hellish; the sort of place where a party of seven shipwrecked adventurers can wake up one morning to find their number reduced by two, without any immediate explanation; where the terrain itself seems cursed and determined to destroy adventurers, where the strange peoples and magics that inhabit the island can mean an end for even the most resolute warrior.
Even if the buyer has zero interest in the information presented in Monster Island to this point, the last part of the book might change one's mind. There are over 90 pages of monsters for Monster Island or any RuneQuest 6 game. I'm almost not sure where to begin with this one. These monsters are excellent. They're horrifying, challenging, and fit in perfectly with the horror of the island. These are not orcs for cannon fodder, or relabeled beholders. Some of my favorites include the Olgoi (a large worm that can spit acid capable of dissolving a human limb in under a minute), Morko (a hellish mountain monster who kills with an embrace of extreme cold), the Possessed Plant (already have a scenario using these that will scare the dickens out of my group), and the Lakooma (a monster vaguely resembling a hand that arises from--well, you'll just have to read to see how creepy it is). Oh yes, and there are plenty of dinosaurs and prehistoric-type monstrosities, if that's more your speed. If there's any gripe here, it's that not enough of the monsters presented were illustrated. Still, if you use Monster Island for your next random monster table, your players will never complain again about a lack of surprise or variety, and it might just give them the creeps.
Monster Island also has Appendices to facilitate use of this product, an excellent Index, and a nifty map of the island, to boot. I continue to be impressed with the overall thought and quality clearly present in Design Mechanism's work. Creating a sandbox AND bestiary product that remains inspiring and useful throughout is not a common or easy task, but Pete Nash and company nailed this one.
The product shares the same clean, generally legible design as the RQ6 main book, which is greatly to its credit. The art is generally on-target, with perhaps only a piece or two in the book not quite up to snuff (but that's a subjective call; RPG art is tricky that way). The illustrations of the island and most of the monster illustrations more than compensate, though defaults are also given.
Monster Island is currently $14.99 for the pdf at RPGNow, or around $30 for the pdf and print at the Design Mechanism store. Bear in mind if you want the nice big map I got with the softcover, but in pdf form, I believe you'll need the Monster Island Companion pdf, which is a bit of a bummer for pdf-only folks, honestly.
Still, this is a great supplement for players of RuneQuest 6, and probably other d100-related systems as well, and I'm very happy with my purchase. It's absolutely packed. Time for some terrible adventures and dark horrors on a strange, mist-shrouded island...