EZG reviews In the Company of Monsters
This compilation of Rite Publishing’s playable monster races is 94 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages advertisement, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving us with a total of 87 pages of content, so what exactly do we get?
Well, first of all, I have reviewed ALL of the component pdfs of this compilation and thus won’t go into each and every detail of the respective races and instead focus on providing you a good overview of the respective entries.
The first race of the pdf would then be T. H. Gulliver’s Gargoyles or rather stonewardens. As they call themselves – probably inspired by the cult animated series that gave the name to my favorite villain-strategy (Xanathos-gambits – even if the PCs “win”, they actually help the villain). The respective entries of Rite Publishing pdfs (and these chapters are no different) are written as conversations between Owain Northway, a scholar/detective in the city of Questhaven, and a member of the respective species. While perhaps a minor point for some of you, the fact that the entries are written from the perspective of one member f the species helps immensely to draw you inside how the race views itself, works in the context of a world and actually makes reading what would otherwise be a dry accumulation of crunch a joy. If all publishers did this, reviewing pdfs like this would be so much more enjoyable for me. Now stonewardens are essentially the racial foes of their mad bestiary gargoyle-cousins and their racial class (a full-blown 20-level one) allows them to learn to glide and later even fly – especially deadly if you take a couple of facts into account: First, stonewardens get bonuses to all physical attributes. Secondly, their racial class is full BAB. Thirdly, while not good with weapons, they get bites, claws, gore and potentially even tail attacks. Have I mentioned the options to chose talents (here called enticements) to grow additional arms, spew acid and the like? Yes. These stonewardens are damage Brutes that hit hard indeed! Especially when taking aerial combat feats and combining them with their already rather impressive array of attacks and use them to further empower their frightful presences. A total of 6 feats as well as 10 spells (one for each level) and some new magic items complement this first entry.
You can get just the gargoyles here.
The second entry is Steven D. Russell’s take on playing giants, one of the earlier installments of the series. The Jotun-class and race reflect those humanoids born with the potential to be giants among men – literally! Infused with the raw elemental power of their giant-kin, adherents of the racial paragon-class are prohibited from taking any other class-level without perishing due to this nature becoming unstable – this major restriction is design-wise a major criticism I have against the race of Jotunnar and while I get that the size-changing capabilities, energy infusions (including elemental auras and the like), attribute gains, improved rock throwing and slam attacks need some balancing factors, I still maintain that being incapable of multiclass is too stiff a restriction. If you’re like me and into cultural concepts, you should know that Vird, essentially proper conduct, veneration and embracing of giant values as well as Osoem are introduced: Where the latter feels more in line with being “good” and the latter more with being a more base being, both concepts cannot be truly reduced to an alignment and remain a more complex ambiguity, which I very much welcome. Iconic grappling, rending of foes, increased elemental damage output and the like cannot only be customized via the new feats contained herein, but also via a broad selection of talents, resulting in an overall martially-inclined race that is held slightly back by its restrictive racial paragon-class.
EDIT: The Jotun may multiclass once he reaches 6th level.
You can get just the Jotun here.
The third race is the Ironborn and a young race they are: Only relatively young as a whole, these sentient constructs modify their base racial traits with ability packages that reflect for what they were created – but without forcing them down a particular path. Ironborn come in small, medium and large sizes and their respective ability suites come with primary and secondary abilities, with e.g. large ironborn getting only a limited access to the latter to balance their increased reach. Beyond the obvious versatility (that allows for cursed ironborn that benefit from bad luck in minor ways akin to TPK Games’ Malefactor, those with truly alien brains, tanks and the like), we also are introduced to feats to create ironborn as well as modification-feats that e.g. improve the Ironborn’s joints and cost gold pieces in addition to the feat-investment as well as a “blood”line for constructed sorcerers. By the way: Ironborn make great saboteurs of constructs and traps via some intricate and complex feats and still, after all this time, constitute my favorite take on a playable construct-race, even before Rhûne’s Automata and the Fabricants of Necromancers of the Northwest and definitely before Midgard’s VERY disappointing and bland take on the subject – even though the centurion ability-suite still feels quite overpowered to me, I still consider the overall race to be versatile and work fine: Especially since Ironborn don’t get all those annoying construct immunities. Oh, and steampunk-aficionados should also know that the Ironborn can get clockwork familiars! There is no racial paragon-class here, though.
Check out the imho best construct race for PFRPG here.
The next race was, when it was released, a kind of revelation for me: The Minotaur-race, the children of Asterion are detailed by authors Jonathan McAnulty and Steven D. Russell in a blending of mythologic and game-lore: Coming with two distinct sets of ability-suites as well as alternate racial traits (which by then were almost unheard of), they also come with favored class options, an archetype for barbarians and one for monks, a bloodline for sorcerers and the 20-level Rog-Kalem racial paragon class. Culturally, the minotaurs have created a lawful evil society that per se would not be considered that evil, were it not for the misogynistic tendencies they exhibit and base their very society on – disturbing and mature in the approach of this particular evil, the writing shines here especially. Axe and horn-based feats as well as a broad selection of new Taurian weapons complete the installment of race/class-books that upped the ante for the whole genre.
Want to charge some foes and gore them real bad? Just the minotaurs can be bought here.
Speaking of upping the ante: Restless Souls. This was actually the first small crunch-pdf I ever bought from Rite Publishing and boy, did it hook me! If you follow my reviews, you might be aware of the fact that I HATE raising the dead/resurrection. A PC-death in my campaigns tends to be final unless the survivors embark on an epic quest to return their fallen comrade to life and even then, there often is something going wrong. Restless souls address this problem for DMs that want death to matter, but at the same time cater to players who don’t want to lose their favorite character to an unlucky roll of the dice. The basic idea is that sometimes, people return, much like revenants, from the grave since they have an unfinished task, something that defines their very being upon their return. Scarred by death, restless souls forget their death and can walk the earth again as augmented outsiders. Essentially, the race is a template that is applied to a fallen being and costs 2 negative levels, but allows the player to play a macabre version of his character with a vast array of cool new options that cover aura sight, blinking, telekinesis (poltergeist-style), calling a storm, a damaging gaze attack and even the option to gain regeneration, but at the cost of never being able to be resurrected. The restless souls are GLORIOUS for any setting that is a bit more on the darker side and keeps returning the dead a rare phenomenon, superb for players who have just lost their favorite character and ooze flavor – and I’d still give these five stars + seal of approval today without any hesitation!
Only interested in these quasi-dead guys? Buy them here.
The final new race would be the Wyrd, one of the cooler bastard-races you’ll ever find – a race of ogre-magi/elven-crossbreeds with a slightly oriental flair (that remains subdued, though), the Wyrd are a proud race of beings that combine elven arrogance and supremacy with a very distinct and unyielding sense of honor. Their powerful bloodline can be modified with feats (which could have been revised as alternate racial traits) and makes for consummate schemers and very capable sorcerers, especially if they follow their 7-level racial paragon-class that allows what originally was an ECL+6-race to work in the PFRPG-framework without sacrificing their integrity. Backgroundstory-wise, the Wyrd are the result of the experiments of the Dark Emperor, a mythic being that could stand for a certain whispering Tyrant or similar legendary evils – the thing is, the Wyrd consider themselves to be the crowning achievement of said being, essentially the creation transcending the creator and telling them otherwise will earn you just an entry on their lists of grudges – for they carry them, perhaps even more so than dwarves. The race also comes with an oni-bloodline for sorcerers, multiple feats to enhance their spellcasting prowess and modify their ancestral heritage as well as a prestige class that not only deserves the name, but imho still belongs to the more iconic ones I could name: The Whispering Advisor of the Emperor Dragons is a prime example of a nice 5-level PrC that not only swims in skill points (8+Int, baby!), but also gets abilities of such illustrious names as “Power behind the Throne” and the option t create deadly traps that let the victims know who ushered in their end – all in all a cool PrC, especially for campaigns that are roleplaying and intrigue-intensive. We also get new spells for the wyrd and some bonus content for the race I really welcome: The Wyrd get 12 alternate racial traits as well as a new archetype: The Hawk of Vengeance, an inquisitor-archetype, gains full BAB in exchange for their spells and orisons as well as the option to rapidly dispatch (coup-de-grace) downed foes, maim opponents instead of killing them and grant allies morale bonuses when you crit or kill foes. Furthermore, we get a neat, complex character, Cirith Masked Starfall, a CR 12 luckbringer 12/rogue 1 wyrd, fully detailed with all the information necessary to run her.
Want to check out the wyrdest race? Here you go!
Editing and formatting, while not perfect, are still good – while I didn’t notice any glitch that would have made understanding any rules harder, I noticed minor issues like a missing blank line between feats, minor punctuation glitches etc. – not many, though. Among the more annoying glitches are e.g. 3 lines missing from a spell in the wyrd-entry (components, school, level) – that should not happen. Layout adheres to RiP’s old, rune-covered 2-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes with massive, nested bookmarks that make navigating this pdf easy. Artworks herein range from ok stock-art to plain awesome b/w-drawings, with e.g. the depictions of the restless souls still ranging among my favorites.
This compilation of materials and races by Rite Publishing contains some excellent gems – the races and their respective classes, where applicable, are awesome and e.g. details like relationships with other classes and races, age, height and weight tables and the like all feature herein. Moreover, in contrast to many crunch-centric books, “In the Company of Monsters” is actually fun to read, which is a definite plus, for not only is the prose good and the writing concise, it manages to get you in the mood for the respective race and even spawn character concepts. That out of the way, each compilation has to answer the question “Do I need this if I have all the components?” For “in the Company of Monsters”, the answer unfortunately would be “No, unless you absolutely want it in print.”
Why? Simple, really: While the design of the respective classes and races is solid in every case, the compilation has simply missed the chance to expand its material and smooth the edges: Since this book has been around for a time, I won’t hold the lack of UM or UC-support against it, but what I do hold against it, is the fact that the APG-support is partially non-existent. The additional material for the Wyrd is great and really makes me wish ALL of the races (with the exception of the Minotaurs, they already are covered) had gotten a similar treatment – favored class options, alternate racial traits, a sample character, the like. Instead, the chance to bring the components up to date has been squandered. Speaking of squandered – I don’t get why the overtly restrictive Jotun-paragon-class has not be reevaluated and stripped of the restriction. As provided, the bonus-content is not enough to warrant a recommendation for people who already own the component pdfs.
Now that being said, while this pdf is in no way perfect, it is still a compilation of great material that contains some of the coolest races out there – and I’m VERY picky about allowing races in my games, since they imho should feature distinct and unique cultural concepts. These deliver, one and all, many dripping iconic goodness. Still, the relative scarcity of bonus-content, the lack of revision and the glitches make it impossible for me to unanimously recommend this compilation. For a final verdict, I’ll settle on a final verdict of 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 for the purpose of this platform. If the races intrigue you, check them out – the verdict reflects my inability to rate the top-notch content at 5 stars due to aforementioned gripes.
Want to get the whole book? There you go!