Four Horsemen Present: Minmaxed Monsters
This installment of the Four Horsemen Present-series clocks in at 19 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD and 1 page of stock color artwork (the cover of the Dracomancer-class) gobbling up a page sans necessity, leaving us with 15 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
So, most of us will have been there; I know that there’s a reason I need to redesign basically ALL monsters in my main campaign (the one non-playtest game) – some smart players excel in not only making insanely captivating characters…they also have the rules-savvy to back them up. This results in very powerful characters and when some folks complain about modules being too hard, I often listen pretty closely…for in my group, they may actually prove to be at least a moderate challenge.
This book hence is for GMs who have players that can do the numbers-game pretty well. And if you’re like me, your immediate response will be “You need to amp up GM-tactics” – you’d be right. Adding terrain, tactics, interrupting rests, draining resources…it’s odd, but my players routinely run out of spells, healing, etc., which makes all the complaints about “spellcasting being already infinite”-blabla-rebuttals I have to contend with when I rip OP BS apart just blatantly wrong for games in the hands of experienced GMs. It’s not only me either, mind you. But I digress.
The pdf begins with a pretty broad selection of strategies that you can employ to deal with groups that seem to cakewalk through published modules. GMs: READ THIS. Seriously. And read the tweaking/adding class levels-sidebars. But you didn’t get this for the GM-advice alone. You got this for the powerful creatures – the first would be the umbral dragon Vahasoon, who is presented as both CR 11 and CR 16 and a CR 11 duergar general cohort with lance-specialization. Yes, we know what THAT can inflict… Slightly expanded tactics and tricks help using the dragon properly and the damage output is impressive, though with the number of 3pp-books I allow, it can be further augmented, I am left with not much tweaking to do…kudos!!
The next two monsters are organized amidst the flavorful introduction to the dreaded Green Flame Monastery within Hell’s deepest regions – here, a CR 22 pit-fiend monk with AC 53 and CR 12 Hamatula monks make for intriguing and deadly adversaries. This would be pretty much the place where I comment on GMs not playing monsters as befitting their Intelligence/Wisdom/Charisma-scores: Making ogres dumb is neat and all good; but genius foes should have items to help cover their weakness, increase their survivability, etc. – a smart foe should act the way, is what I’m saying. Anyways, the Vizier (erroneously titled “Visier” in the statblock header) Rastas Emar, Efreeti Abjuror at CR 11 does just that and uses his familiar to bypass the wish restriction. Yep. Nasty.
Finally, one of my favorite tactics, template-stacking, can be seen in Evra, a nightmare vampire nymph, whose background, aptly titles, would be the “Fevered Dream of the Screaming Oasis” -at CR 10, she is delightfully nasty and will prove to be a very potent foil for PCs, no matter how awesome they think they are. Yep, she would be the delightful lady on the cover!
Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no grievous hiccups here. Layout adheres to the 2-column full-color standard and the pdf employs some nice full-color pieces of art that you may have seen before – the one-page version of the Dracomancer cover-art-reproduction is imho the weakest of the bunch. The pdf comes with bookmarks to each flavor-region and critter and the respective sections of the GM-advice – no complaints.
Stephen Rowe’s Minmaxed Monsters show a lot of care, precision and are valuable for many a GM beyond the value of the statblocks herein; the strategies shown in these pages help make the game more challenging (and fun) for groups that have grasped the system to a very advanced degree. If your players contain optimizers and number-wizards, you will certainly appreciate the critters herein. Now my own piece of advice for this is to also contemplate getting LG’s Path of Villains/Dragons and Mythic Solutions and, contemplating these, adding mythic options to the bosses, but this will admittedly require system mastery and a lot of work. If you want to remain firmly rooted in the non-mythic segment, this offers some really nice builds.
At the same time, if you find yourself staring at players that e.g. defeated the much-cursed boss of 3.X’s RotRL #2 (nerfed, much to my annoyance in PFRPG) or that defeated some of the really challenging modules out there (Just observe the trail of whining/complaining that something’s too hard, compare it to what your players can do…if it’s too hard for them, well, then the module may be broken…otherwise…it may not be.), if e.g. the addition of options simply has increased the power-curve in your game and you don’t want to disallow them…well, then take a gander here, weary traveler, for this book may well hold answers for particularly less experienced GMs. Similarly, GMs stumped by what their players can dish out who feel the need to introduce some new tricks to their arsenal will consider this nice.
Let it be said, though, that veterans like yours truly get a little bit less out of the book – personally, I’ve been employing the strategies herein for years. I actually considered them to be pretty common knowledge, but a quick survey did prove that to not be necessarily the case, at least not unanimously. For veterans, the value of this book lies primarily in the statblocks used to exemplify the respective tactics. Which kinda brings me to a point – this isn’t necessarily the minmax book I expected. Why? Because the strategies aren’t combined. Now, this does not mean that they don’t work – the aforementioned pit fiend monk can almost stand on par with Rite Publishing’s Ahnkar Kosh in regards to defense, mind you – but I still would have loved to see options combined.
For less experienced GMs that don’t know the tricks herein, this is a godsend of a book and should be considered to be a must-purchase. Veterans will get flavorful critters and some BRUTAL builds out of the book as well…but frankly, I would have loved to see the builds be a bit more complex than they are and I guess I probably won’t be the only veteran GM thinking this; still, even for me, this is a good book. How to rate this, then? Well, ultimately, the builds herein do justify the price-point of this inexpensive pdf and my final verdict, taking all into account, will reflect this: A must-have 5 star + seal category book for less experienced GMs, a 4 star book with deadly, flavorful foes for veterans. Were it not for Rite Publishing’s Faces of the Tarnished Souk-series and LPJ Design’s Cyrix or Folding Circle setting the bar so high, I’d have rated this higher for veterans as well. In the end, my official verdict will be 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5 for the purpose of this platform.
You can get this neat collection of properly powerful adversaries here on OBS!