The undead are one of those creature types that tend to get painted in very broad strokes, with subsequent monsters being narrower definitions of the initial archetypes. This is why you tend to have so many differing “breeds” of zombies, vampires, ghosts, etc. It can be difficult to come up with a new kind of undead that isn’t just “it’s a ghoul, but with X new power.” Mythic Menagerie: The Kingdom of Graves represents Super Genius Games trying to come up with that level of innovation for their short monster book of undead. Let’s see how they do.
Kingdom of Graves is thirteen pages long, and contains eight new monsters. Some of these are the aforementioned variations on a theme, such as the lich tyrant (a type of lich) or the bean chaointe (banshee). Others, however, such as the rot giant or the soul harvester, are completely new. While it might be nitpicking for such a short book, I do wish there’d been bookmarks and/or a table breaking down the creatures by CR. It’s not really a big deal, but even for concise books I like to have these extras around.
The cover art is a fairly impressive full-color piece. The remainder of the book’s illustrations are black and white pieces that are of an exceptional quality. I was quite impressed with the pictures of the monsters, which is a very good thing in a bestiary, where illustrations are very important for showcasing the creatures you’re selling.
The monsters here have a unifying theme beyond simply being unliving – they all fulfill a role in a royal court. From the sovereign, to knights, to courtiers, all of these creatures have a place in medieval politics; it’s a shame there’s no undead jester around.
The monsters themselves are fairly interesting, though I noticed that at the lower levels their special powers seemed somewhat sub-optimal for being used in a fight. A rot giant that takes a full-round action to eat a corpse, and then a standard action next round to spit up an animated skeleton is leaving himself open to being whacked by the entire party for a single skeletal helper. This is offset somewhat by the skeleton being able to act on the turn it’s created, and those witnessing its creation possibly being nauseated, but it’s still quite a few actions given up to make one ally of questionable combat effectiveness.
What really killed me (pun intended), however, was that some monsters were clearly variants on existing templates – specifically the lich tyrant and the bloodknight – but how you’d incorporate these new powers, and any other subtler changes I missed, into the normal template for these undead wasn’t touched upon. The lich tyrant, for example, is a specific creature with class levels. It has several powers a normal lich doesn’t, but there’s no retooling of the standard lich template. Do these new powers increase the CR? How else is the base template modified to make a lich tyrant instead of a mainstream lich? That wasn’t here, and I think the book is worse off for it.
Of course, the book is still highly useful in what it does offer. The new undead all have interesting powers, and fulfill useful roles both within and out of combat. The soul harvester, for example, eats souls to power its abilities much like a devourer, but can hold more than one at a time, and serve as a great way for more powerful undead, and necromancers, to go and collect souls that they can then use for nefarious purposes. The Kingdom of Graves is an imperfect book, but not by too much. If you’re less concerned with the how’s of monster building, and just looking to let some new undead challenge your PCs, you’ll get a lot of mileage out of this Mythic Menagerie.