An Endzeitgeist.com review of the revised edition
This revised edition of Mystical: Kingdom of Monsters clocks in at 206 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 3 pages of ToC, 1 page advertisement, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page credits, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 196 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
This review is based on the version 11-01, which is the most current one – NOT the one that reads “finished” at the end.
So what is this book? In one sentence: Pokémon for Pathfinder. As such, the book begins with a pretty concise introduction to be then supplemented by easy to grasp fast-play rules. These include the notion of “heart” – which represents a benefit to the monster’s stats based on CR faced. This captures, to an extent, how power-levels of characters in Anime tend to fluctuate with the challenges faced. The result of this rule is that lower level creatures have a higher chance of being capable of contributing in fights against more potent adversaries. Whether you like that or not depends ultimately on your own vision.
Anyways, the main meat, the nexus of this book if you will, would be the new Monster Trainer base class, and it was what provided a lot of the issues of the original version of the book. These guys can see the aura of a monster, which allows them to determine whether they can capture a given monster – this is concisely-presented: The creature can’t have class level, may not be summoned/captured or gained through feat or class ability; the monster’s CR must be equal or less than the monster trainer’s level – that should probably be class level. Creatures sans Intelligence score must btw. be awakened prior to capture.
Mechanics-wise, the monster trainer gets d8 HD, 6+Int skills per level, proficiency with simple weapons, all bows and the whip as well as light armor and they may cast trainer spells while wearing light armor sans spell failure chance. Spells? Yes, and this would be one of the mechanically most interesting features of the class: While monster trainers cast Cha-based arcane spells like a sorceror, of up to 9th spell level. They can only cast spells granted by their active monster and only if the trainer is high enough a level to cast the spell and uses the active monster as a channel of sorts – it is the origin of line of effect and sight. The latter is a bit weird, since RAW, the monster hunter still needs to cast the spell himself and line of sight of monster hunter and active monster are bound to be different.
The class also gets 3/4 BAB-progression and good Ref- and Will-saves. Additionally, each monster trainer may cast the capture monster spell at will and begins play with one monster already caught. This spell is crucial for the functionality of the class, so let me give you the details: It has a casting time of 1 standard action, a close range and targets one monster. The cantrip can be resisted via a Will-save, which is modified in the following manner: Monsters above 1/2 of their hit points receive a +5 bonus, +2 when above one quarter of the monster's hit points and SR, if applicable, applies. AT 9th level, the DC increases by +2 and the monster trainer gains Heightened Spell, but only for use with this cantrip. Weird: What if the monster trainer has the feat? Does the class ability override universal usability of the feat? This needs a bit of clarification. At 13th level, spellcasting is further modified: When resting, the trainer can choose a monster and may cast a spell of the monster from each of the spell levels available as granted by the monster, regardless of active monster. At 17th level, the monster hunter may catch a monster sans saves, SR, etc. – RAW, exactly ONCE. Not once per day or the like, ONCE. Additional levels beyond 17th allow for another use of the ability, but predicated on the release of a previous target.
Starting at 2nd level and every even level thereafter, the monster trainer gets to choose a spell that may now be cast regardless of active monster.
Monsters already captured cannot be captured again (no monster theft) and, as mentioned before, monsters with a CR higher than the monster trainer's class level cannot be caught against their will, though higher CR adversaries may be willingly caught – this is known as accepting a monster into her essence and the duration for the process takes time governed by CR. This works like copying spells, but does not take materials – so, does that include costs? I assume so, but I’m not 100% sure.
From the get-go, this makes me question what the in-game rationale for monsters with class levels not being able to be captured? I'd really need a reason, for if indentured slavery BEYOND DEATH to those pesky humanoids is all they can look forward to, I couldn't imagine a single intelligent monster NOT going for a class level (or, well, suicide if in a pitch…) as soon as possible. Big plus, on the other hand: A sidebar now mentions more powerful creatures (since the CR-system is more precise than HDs, but still not perfect) and templates in particular and explains why the captured monsters do lose templates while captured.
Deploying monsters in combat is, rules-wise, inspired by drawing weapons - you need a move action to call a monster, but do not require the BAB +1 prerequisite to do so. Monsters may be sheathed as a move action; a trainer cannot call upon a monster with a higher CR than monster trainer class levels in combat. This still makes no sense, for combats are a fluid, non-defined time-frame in-game; there ought to be a more salient way of explaining this…and there is. I mean…think of Pokémon and Ash’s issues when attempting to control critters with too high CRs. Why this is not represented here as a limit, I don’t know.
A monster trainer may only control one monster at a given time. A monster does not gain its own actions in combat, instead being directed by the trainer – this uses a telepathic bond with a medium range as the means of conveying orders. Recalling a monster immediately heals it fully and transfers the damage to the monster trainer – though this damage cannot kill the monster trainer, only reduce him to -1 hit points. The action economy of the 0 hp-threshold is covered, which is nice…but this still opens up a problematic question: What prevents monster cycling and infinite healing siphoning exploits? RAW, nothing. Since the monsters that are recalled are fully healed upon being recalled, the monster can soak damage, which is then transferred to the trainer. Trainer keels over. Healer buddy whips out that cure light wounds wand and there we go. The next monster can once more soak damage or have HP transferred to allies; then recall, keel over – presto, we have just upgraded cure light wounds to a better version of frickin’ heal. And yes, with a bit of creativity, you can make this an infinite healing exploit. As soon as level one. Yeah, the class desperately needs a limit regarding the healing of monsters here. This is broken. At 15th level, the monster trainer may recall and redeploy a monster as the same action and may instead assign damage to the new monster, exacerbating the issue.
On the plus-side, the commanding process of the monster per se now works better than it did before. It is important to note that improvement via monster growth has been hard-wired into the progression of the class – much like e.g. Pikachu in the series, favorite monsters thus retain their significance at higher levels.
First level yields Eschew Materials and the aura of a trainer is harder to discern. 2nd level yields favored enemy +2 against all monster types she has captured…which is unnecessarily gameable and favors diversified trainers over specialists. Why not make the number of types to which the bonus applies contingent on class level, with higher levels unlocking new ones and player agenda to select the switch? This is particularly relevant, since 3rd level unlocks empathy, which means that creatures that qualify for favored enemy also increase their starting attitude, with influence as a 1d20 + class level + Charisma modifier check that takes one minute. RAW, this stacks with the hard cap of Diplomacy, though that may or may not be intended.
Yes, 5th level grants the ability to share some senses between monster and trainer – the ability has been cleaned up. At 10th level, the trainer gets 3 + Cha-mod uses of charm monster as a SP, but only while no active monster is in play. The capstone nets 3/day shapechange into a fully grown monster – RAW, it’s Su, when SP would make a bit more sense here.
4th level unlocks the talents of the class, trainer perks. The ability RAW does not state when additional perks are unlocked – you’ll have to consult the class table for that. These include making a monster gain the benefits of animal companion at -3 levels; swift action boosts for the monster, having monsters manifest within 30 ft., natural armor sharing, etc. and the class can choose both evasion and its improved benefit and, at higher levels, stalwart. While the perks sport a few cosmetic hiccups, the list is significantly improved.
Speaking of improvements: While capture monster still does not note interaction with temporary hit points, we actually can catch monsters in downtime now, which is a definite plus. As a whole, I consider the monster trainer to be still stronger than most Pathfinder-classes, but the revision at least makes the base chassis work. The class can potentially be cheesed in some ways, but the improvement is significant and palpable.
A total of 6 archetypes are provided - the monster auror cannot channel spells through his monsters.
is broken as hell: When subject to a spell by a monster, he automatically learns it and even when not, he can learn a creature's spell, even ones that are not on his list – sure, usable only 3 + Cha-mod times per day, but…boy. And he may even learn spells that don’t directly target the auror on a proper Spellcraft check. It suffers from similar issues as the trainer, only exacerbated since it does not nearly pay enough for this power.
Monster Breeder replace spell familiarity and channel monster with either an animal companion or familiar, which do not count as monsters for the purpose of the active monster cap. The archetype also provides significant atk bonuses (and less significant ones to damage and AC) to monsters below his CR - yes, this means he's pretty much glass-cannoning via his pets.
Monster Gamblers or their active monsters can take up to -5 to a single d20-roll as a free action and grant it as a bonus to the other or use it themselves to the next attempt to perform such an action – and now, this is tied to action and target, which means you can no longer abuse the living hell out of it. The archetype also gets sneak attack and a 1/day reroll.
Monster Performers get limited spells (only up to 6th level) and bardic performance that can be maintained by the creature. Monster researchers get no proficiencies and d6, but better skill-checks and channel monster. Oh, and they get bonus feats like Augment Summoning, which builds on summon-themed perks.
Monster scouts would be the d10 martial monster trainers with 4 levels of spells and Monster Companion as a bonus feat at first level, while also gaining smite monster at 2nd level or the option to upgrade favored enemy analogue to the ranger. Ironic here: Since the archetype nets the favored enemy of the ranger, it actually RAW loses flexibility granted by the base class.
Next, we have a massive list of trainer spells by level as well as new ones - like Battlefield Adept, which grants you Dodge, Mobility and Spring Attack for while it lasts and it has this cryptic note: "If you can cast Battlefield Adept without preparing it first, you can learn feats with Dodge, Mobility, or Spring Attack as a prerequisite. Those feats can only be used while the spell lasts." Note something? Yes, any further prerequisites are ignored, meaning that any feat that has any of these in the prereqs suddenly turned wildcard. And yes, I understand how this is supposed to work, providing a spell-centric alternate and limited prereq-option. Still not a fan.
The level 1 blind-lock spell has been cleaned up, thankfully. We can also temporarily disrupt links.
The pdf does sport a toolkit for making regular monsters into monstorin as a race, i.e. Pokémon-like creatures. While certainly not perfect, it does do its job surprisingly well and provides such stats, handily, for each of the monsters - and yes, this book is chock-full with them. The race also comes with extensive favored class options for the race, with all Paizo-classes minus vigilante covered. The vast array of the critters and their available spells granted to monster trainers is interesting and while some monstorin end up as slightly lopsided on the physical or mental attribute side, the respective entries do sport some nice ideas and a vast array of downright cuddly Pokémon-style artworks that help visualize the creatures featured. It should also be noted that the guidelines here try to mitigate issues. We also get a racial archetype for a monstorin trainer – think Mewto, essentially. How much monsters are here? More than 122 pages. While the first section of the book, in the original, was a mess, the following, massive write-up of these creatures has been pretty nice and remains so.
The third chapter then provides more supplemental material regarding monster training: For example, there are feats that allow you to cast spells through allies at +2 level increase; granting a limited evolution pool to a monster is interesting and minor monster trainer tricks for non-trainers may be found. When making a monster attack as a full-round action, you can execute an attack as a free action, basically in a split flurry at -2 to atk. This stacks with the swift command trainer perk, which has a similar benefit – both of these have one issue, though: You get to rack up extra attacks rather quickly and the respective write-ups imho should prevent stacking with haste et al. The feat is also pretty much a no-brainer must-get level of powerful…it would make more sense as a class feature, particularly since it may be taken multiple times. Semi-autonomous monsters out of combat, etc. – there are some interesting tweaks here. Monstrous Cohort also deserves mention, it’s now broken in a different manner: "If your cohort is a monstorin or a monster that could grant spells to a monster trainer, you can direct it to cast those spells using your spell slots, as the monster training class feature. Doing so uses your actions, not the cohort’s, and your cohort can still act normally on its turn." LOL. Srsly? You don’t even have to strain to realize the issue here, right? I mean, your ally can suddenly double-cast? Put a cadre of folks with the feat behind casters and have them yelled at, suddenly double-casts?? sigh (And yes, this actually is an improvement in rules-integrity over what the feat did previously…)
The items provided here don’t all live up to the precision of rules-language required. Take this 140K item: “An orb of the master trainer is a consumable item that allows a monster trainer to capture a single monster without fail. The monster must still be one the trainer is able to capture.” Okay, how? Activation? Is a roll required? Does it not grant a save? That’s a non-entity of rules-language.
We also get alternate summon-lists, an amorphous eidolon base form and a few new evolutions.
The final section of the book, which provides an all too brief glimpse at the eponymous kingdom of monsters, alongside random monster tables for respective environments is interesting- and the writing here is really nice. The level of passion that went into this is also mirrored by the copious indices: Monsters by CR, by spell granted and even those not covered in the book (up to Bestiary 4) provide page upon page of handy information. Kudos!
Editing and formatting have significantly improved on a formal and rules-language level – where previously, the book was unusable RAW, it now works – though there are still quite a few issues in the more complex aspects of design-aesthetics and balancing. Layout adheres to a per se nice two-column full-color standard that remains pretty printer-friendly and the child-friendly Pokémon-style artworks of the monsters are neat and inspiring if you enjoy the aesthetics - I certainly liked them. There are a lot of them in the book, so yeah…aesthetically pleasing. The book comes with excessive bookmarks for your convenience.
You see, while I never was too much into Pokémon, I am huge fanboy of the Shin Megami Tensei franchise and the superb Lucifer's Call game in particular. In short, I've been waiting for a good "recruit foes"-class for ages. Good news first: The monster trainer as presented herein now mostly works. While there are still hiccups to be found and while it still remains a very, very potent class that will make balance-conscious GMs gnash their teeth, I can see a trainer-campaign work, for example.
The latest revision has significantly improved the book. While it is still apparent in some details that the author Kevin Glusing is not familiar with all tenets of the balancing-process of classes, at least now the base framework works, even if said framework is not exactly what I’d allow in any of my games. The material works, but internal balance and that with existing class options out there is somewhat dubious – beyond purely monster trainer-based campaigns, a power-level as assumed by Path of War, for example, may be the best way to think about this supplement.
At the same time, though, the indices and monsters provided are pretty awesome and something that bespeaks the passion that went into this…and similarly, the campaign setting information, brief though it may be, is nice.
So, how to rate this? See, that's difficult: The monster-section is pretty cool and takes up the majority of the book and thus should have a more pronounced influence on the rating...but its usefulness as intended is based on a rules-foundation that, while significantly improved, is not yet 100% up to the level I demand to see from other supplements. My impulse is to round up from my final verdict, mainly since I absolutely love the extent of the improvements that were made. Similarly, I wholeheartedly applaud a lot of the design-decisions made to streamline the class and the playing experience. However, it would be unfair to the other books I review, many of which have been rated down a whole star for a single problematic/broken design-decision…and this book does sport a few of them. Then again, this is a massive book, and the racial options for the monstorin and the stats for the critters themselves are surprisingly well-made…and make up the vast majority of the book, so I can’t well compare it with a 7-page pdf that has a similar glitch.
As a summary: This revision of the book has made the engine work, but the flourishes and details could have used further polishing, particularly regarding functionality in conjunction with other classes. While there are components herein that require GM-oversight to prevent being gamed, the book also sports a lot of components that one can love. Ultimately, my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars – and while I can see this work as a 4-star book for many a group out there, the fact remains that it requires some GM-oversight, has some decisions in its crunch that I consider to be problematic; the chassis works now, but the blemishes in the details are still here. Hence, I have to round down.