An Endzeitgeist.com review
This book’s content clocks in at 193 pages if you already disregard the front cover, editorial, ToC, etc. – these pages also include massive lists, but we’ll get back to that!
So, this book’s a first – this is the third time that I’m going in depth through an iteration of this book, so let’s see whether this version has improved over its predecessor. This review is based on the full-color hardcover of the supplement, which I have received in exchange for moving this book’s review up in my reviewing queue. As always, and as many a publisher/author can ascertain, this does not change the rating, just when I’m covering it.
So what is this book? In one sentence: Pokémon for Pathfinder. But it can be more than that – I was never a big fan of Pokémon, but I am a huge fan of e.g. the Shin Megami Tensei franchise, and the engine and content presented herein is only one reskin away from being usable in such a context: In short, you can run this in a kid-friendly manner, or reskin it and still get something out of this.
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. Personally, I do dislike it, but it helps duplicate the circumstances featured in e.g. the Pokémon anime.
Anyways, the main meat, the nexus of this book if you will, would be the new Monster Trainer base class. 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 Charisma-based arcane spells like a sorcerer, of up to 9th spell level, with Eschew Materials gained at first 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, but rules-wise, this is precise, and the monster does incur the AoO of the spellcasting, if relevant.
The class also gets 3/4 BAB-progression and good Ref- and Will-saves. The monster capturing engine has been tweaked: Additionally, each monster trainer may cast the capture monster spell at will, which may be heightened as if they had Heighten Spell, 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 full round (an essential change), a close range and targets one monster. (What does and does not constitute a monster is defined, just fyi.) 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 instead, and SR, if applicable, applies. At 9th level, the monster trainer may spend one use of talented trainer to cast a heightened capture monster as a standard action, as swift action if she also applies Quicken Spell.
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. This ability erroneously refers to itself as “master trainer”, when that should be “perfect capture.” This ability only resets if a monster thus caught is released, which makes sense.
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.
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. The book presents a valid in-game justification for why monsters with class levels can’t be 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. Big kudos: The engine has gotten rid of the nonsensical combat-based limitation, instead using the stress, and when in such a distraction/potentially dangerous situation, all but one monster are returned to the trainer’s essence. Monsters manifest with the trainer’s HP, and when “sheathed”, the trainer reduced their HP to that of the recalled monster, if it was less than that of the trainer – and this loss of HP cannot be redirected or reduced. Kudos for the anti-cheese caveat here. This change of the engine, away from the CR-based approach previously featured, is seriously clever – it prevents the trainer from cycling tricks, emphasizes the need to care for the monster, and not simply throw it in the meat-grinder, and represents rather well the bond, also on a meta-level, between trainer and monster. It looks deceptively simple, when it really isn’t; it eliminates the big soak-cycling exploit that existed in the last iteration of this book.
A monster does not gain its own actions in combat, instead being directed by the trainer – this uses a telepathic bond with 100-ft. range as the means of conveying orders.
At 15th level, the monster trainer may recall and redeploy a monster as the same action and may assign its HP to the new monster instead of herself – at this high a level, this cycling option, paired with the new base engine, actually did surprisingly well in playtest – potent if handled properly, but not broken. The improvement of monsters 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 also yields the ability that makes the aura of a trainer is harder to discern. 2nd level provides a variant of favored enemy that caps at +2, with an additional one granted at 5th level and every 5 levels thereafter. The previous exploit’s been taken care of. 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.
Also at 3rd level, we have that new talented trainer ability: Charisma modifier + ½ class level uses per day, which may be used to direct monsters to use their special attacks, defenses, etc., and monster spells not on the trainer’s list are properly codified. SPs can be directed at 3rd, Sus at 7th and EX abilities at 11th level, and the trainer can treat herself as the ability’s point of origin, which is a rather interesting trick. Restrictions such as daily uses are covered.
5th level grants the ability to share some senses between monster and trainer – the ability has been cleaned up. At 10th level, the trainer can spend one use of talented trainer to cast charm monster as a SP, but only while no active monster is in play. The capstone provides a master perk or three trainer perks.
4th level unlocks the talents of the class, trainer perks, which now properly states when new perks are unlocked. 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: We actually can catch monsters in downtime now, which is a definite plus. As a whole, I consider the monster trainer to be still a very strong class, but one that is certainly in its most elegant, smooth and streamlined iteration so far. Two thumbs up for the changes made.
A total of 6 archetypes are provided - the monster auror has been completely rewired – where the previous iteration was pretty much broken, the new version gets the ability to mimic temporarily spells, and even better, limitations by day, round, etc. are maintained: From a “get-every-spell-ever botchjob, this has improved to a valid blue mage-style trainer variant that retains the original vision and significantly improves upon it.
Monster Breeders replace 4th level’s trainer perk and channel monster with either an animal companion, beloved monster (think Pikachu) or familiar, which do not count as monsters for the purpose of the active monster cap. The archetype also makes the active monster treat its BAB as rthe breeder’s monster trainer level, unless its own is higher, and it gets + the trainer’s Charisma bonus to damage; at 9th level, this bonus also applies to saves. The archetype also presents some rules for breeders making templated monsters – which provides a good balance of firm guidelines and GM empowerment regarding what goes.
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 yes, this is tied to action and target. 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 use Int as key ability modifier, get no proficiencies and d6, but better skill-checks and channel monster. We also have Knowledge-themed bonuses and prepared spellcasting. Oh, and they get a bonus feat like Augment Summoning, which builds on summon-themed perks.
Monster scouts would be the d10 martial monster trainers with 4 levels of spells (as a ranger) and Sidekick 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. Per se interesting: There are two scout’s factions – one gets smite monster, the other favored enemy. Slightly annoying: The general text of the rules of the archetype sometimes refer to one of these sub-factions.
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; its wording has been cleaned up. Nice! Speaking of nice: layout has been cleaned up here, so that e.g. the capture monster spell is no longer cut in half by turning the page. We can also temporarily disrupt links, etc..
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, with all Paizo-classes minus vigilante and shifter 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 (+2 to two mental or physical ability scores, instead of one bonus to physical and one to mental), 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, used to sports some hiccups in previous iterations, the following, massive write-up of these creatures has always been pretty nice and remains so…in fact, I consider it to be better than before. Why? Well, for one, the layout. While it’s busier than previously, we now get more creatures per page, and the monsters are now grouped by family first, then internally alphabetically – so you’d have the ancestral, then all ancestral, then the next family. This may be contentious, but I actually found it made memorizing the monsters easier. Beyond that, the improved layout also uses more colors, and, though this might be a misconception, I do think that the book’s color saturation is higher than that in the previous iteration. The artworks and layout really pop from the page in this one, and some previously rather pale-looking artworks seem more vibrant when comparing both books.
Oh, and yes, I know that I’m using lots of Pokémon references in the review – so what about a Dr. Who one, for a change? Did you know that there’s stone angel monster here? Told you that adult fans who don’t like Pokémon have benefits here as well! Moreover, each page-spread provides comparisons of monster-sizes in relation to an adult human (cool!) and has small icons/pictures of the monsters on the next page on the side – this makes navigation of the hardcover a VASTLY improved task when compared to the previous iteration. Big kudos!
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. One of the strongest feats previously has been made a part of the main class, with the feat now here as an expansion. Nice. We have better AC, dabbling in monster engine, etc.. Monstrous Cohort also deserves mention, it’s now broken in a different manner: "If your cohort is a The new Sidekick feat actually delivers, finally, on a good cohort-style feat for the engine without breaking it.
The items provided here don’t all live up to the precision of rules-language required, and some slipped past the refinement process. 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? That’s a non-entity of rules-language. Worse, while it refers to the correct ability of the class in its cost, it still seems to be based on the previous book’s version of it, as the item maintains that the level’s use of the ability is consumed – in this version, however, the ability can only be used once anyway…
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 (14 pages) 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 (provide page upon page of handy information. Kudos! EXTRA Kudos: We even get artworks here, and the new version includes ALL Paizo Bestiaries – yep, including #6!
Editing and formatting have significantly improved on both a formal and rules-language level, particularly considering balancing. The only significant concentration of formatting hiccups I could find, is in sidebars, where spell-references are a couple of times not in italics- but frankly, that matters little, as these tend to be explanatory, and not rules-language per se. The layout improvements get two big thumbs up. Seriously. It may be a bit ore busy, but that FITS the book. It made it more FUN to read, and there’s some cool art going on pretty much everywhere. The use of icons in the monster lists is super helpful, and makes navigation and flipping through the book seriously more fun. I’m usually not a fan of busy presentations, but here, it’s pitch-perfect. As noted, the color-saturation, back to back with the previous edition, also helped here. The book feels more lively on an aesthetic level throughout. The hardcover has the name on the spine, as proper. I can’t comment on the pdf, since I don’t own, but all previous iterations had a TON of bookmarks.
I have dreaded going through this book’s latest iteration. I positively loathe reading (or watching) most forms of media more than once, and this’d be the third run for me. And I dreaded the snking feeling of seeing yet new issues, of having to complain once more about some snafus…or worse, unresolved ones. Then, something unexpected happened: I genuinely started SMILING.
I had issues with the last incarnations of the book, improved though it may have been. Almost all of my nitpicks have been addressed.
Better yet: The new engine is both SIMPLER without sacrificing complexity in what it can do (making it easier for kids to grasp) and actually uses a well-executed blend of GM control and rules-integrity to make the experience of playing the monster trainer work MUCH better than it ever previously has. It’s only once you give the new trainer a spin that you realize how much better it runs, how much more organic everything feels. From class features to archetypes to feats, this just WORKS.
It’s genuinely beautiful and made me grin from ear to ear. Lead designer Kevin Glusing, with additional design by Hel Greenberg, Ken Shannon, Doug Herring, Jenny Bradshaw, Scott Gladstein, Amy Glusing, Eric Glusing, Autumn Glusing, Timothy Ott Sr., Anthony Russel, and Zaaron Winn, has finally succeeded at the lofty goal this vision always had.
Mystical: Kingdom of Monsters Anniversary Edition is finally a book I can’t only recommend to fans of Pokémon, or within limitations and caveats – if you’re a fan of Shin Megami Tensei, mode-based classes or the like, do check this out. The trainer is a strong class, but actually plays rather well with the other classes; beyond that, its massive improvements regarding layout, and presentation should not be ignored either. This is a better book; it is a more beautiful book, and both in content and actual use at the table, it runs smoother than ever before. I genuinely find myself wanting to use this.
Oh, and, you know - this class is perfect for a 1-on-1-campaign...just saying...
Sometimes, third time’s the charm – 5 stars + seal of approval.