Posted here: http://theotherside.timsbrannan.com/2019/07/monstrous-monday-mystical-companions-5e.html
208 pages. Full-color covers and interior art. PDF and Hardcover.
For this review, I am reading primarily from the digital PDF version, but it applies to the hardcover as well. I purchased both the 5e and C&C versions at Gary Con and received my PDFs via Kickstarter.
Spend any time reading my blog or reviews and one thing is obvious. I love my spellcasters and familiars. I have often felt the rules for familiars are quite under-developed in many games and familiars, or animal companions of any sort, are often an under-utilized or a forgotten aspect of the game and lives of the characters.
So far every 5th Edition game I have run the players have wanted an animal companion of some sort. While the rules in the game are fine enough, there is plenty of room for improvement. Thankfully, the Troll Lords believe the same thing.
I have mentioned that this book is an update and replacement to their Book of Familiars, it is, and it is more than that.
A quick look over the table of contents reveals that we are getting an animal companion for every class. I feel that this appropriate and looking forward to reading the details.
Now before I go on I do want to point out that unlike some third-party books this one is NOT "plug and play". You must make plans to add these animal companions from the start. In one game I tried to tack on these rules in an on-going game and ran into some issues. In another game, I used this from the start and everything went much more smoothly. I guess think about it as getting a real-life pet. You are going to do a little work and thought beforehand. Once I did this THEN adding these to an ongoing game was much easier. This is NOT like adding a new spell or magic item to your game, this is a new, but highly compatible sub-system.
Chapter 1: Introduction
Here the purpose of the book is laid out and how the authors made certain decisions on how to incorporate this new material into the game. There is a section here that bares repeating since I have heard this complaint online.
A WORD OF EXPLANATION: This book requires that you have access to the three core rulebooks for the 5th edition rules, or at very least to the Basic Rules document that is freely available online. Throughout this book, we have used the terms ‘CK,’ and “Castle Keeper” to indicate the game master or person running the game, and ‘player character’ or ‘PC’ to refer to the characters created for the game. In addition, when you see terms like, “Game Master’s Guide” or “5th Edition Monster Tome,” these refer to the Core Rulebooks for the 5th Edition fantasy rules set.
So if you see "CK" or "Castle Keeper" in this book, it's not shoddy editing, but a design choice. Hey, they like CK better than GM. And since they can't say DM then CK is just as good as anything else.
There are rules to what an OGL publisher can and can't say, so I can't fault them here.
Here the other sub-systems are described.
Advantages. Advantages are Feats. They are gained the same way and used, mostly, in the same way. The difference in wording here (at least for me) helps differentiate the "feats" from this book from all the other feats you can get in the Core rules or other publishers. In play, this has been a boon since I know immediately that an Advantage on a sheet means something from this book and not another book on my shelf.
Paths. Time has been kind to Troll Lords here. When this book first came out in 2017 not a lot of 3P publishers were doing paths yet and there was some confusion about what these were. Now everyone has a new path (read: sub-class, kit, path, option) for the 12 core classes. These CAN slot right into a game like anything else from any 3PP.
Tricks. Things your animal companion can do.
Rituals. How you can get your animal companion. I mean there has to be some magic right?
New Familiars and Animals. Kinda what it says on the tin to be honest.
Animal Companion vs. Familiar. While rules in the book cover book and treat them somewhat interchangeably an Animal Companion is more like a loyal pet or friend. A Familiar is a creature summoned to work with the PC. Animal Companions are free willed, familiars are not.
Chapter 1 also covers the basics of familiars. A point. A familiar/Animal companion "character" sheet would be GREAT here, but there isn't one. Ah well, can have everything I guess.
The list of Advantages (again, these are just like Feats) are presented. There are more here and some might complain about giving up a Feat or Ability advancement for a Familiar, but these are all quite balanced in my experience. You give up one "power" (feat, advancement) for another. Quite implicit in 5th Edition's design really. Not only that it is actually quite elegant once you use it.
The best part about this? You can take the Summon Familiar Advantage/Feat multiple times (Wizards get it for free at first level) so you can have multiple familiars. I don't do multiple familiars often, but when I do, I really want to do it. Though my son runs a game with this book and he describes the group of PCs and their companions as a "traveling zoo". One girl even has a sheep as an animal companion. Why? No idea. But this book supports it.
Another great piece of advice from Chapter 1 bears repeating (coping) here.
Give yourself a visual reminder of your familiar’s presence. Write “REMEMBER THE FAMILIAR” to a Post-It note and stick it to the table in front of you. Or make it a point to buy and use a miniature for your familiar.
Good advice. I am a fan of the Wardlings minis from WizKids or getting a custom mini with a familiar from Hero Forge.
Chapters 2 through 13 all work in a similar fashion.
Each core class is covered with attention given to special Animal Companions, Familiars or Mounts as appropriate. Different animals are discussed and a new Path is given that focuses on having an animal companion.
For example, the Barbarian (the last class you might think needs a familiar) has the Nature Fetish Path and the Horseman Path (Dothraki anyone?) The Barbarian chapter is quite good really in that it really shows that animals really do need to be a bigger part of a barbarians' (and all characters) lives. Reading this chapter has made me want to play a barbarian for the first time EVER since they became an option to me in 1985-1986 or so. No content just to talk about familiars and paths, the barbarian chapter also covers special mounts.
The other chapters are as equally robust. There are sections on the Paladin's mount and Ranger's companions but also familiars for rogues and clerics and others that you might not think need animal companions. I particularly like the Rogue's path, the Shadow Pact. How's that work? Well, Rogues can take creatures of shadow as familiars! Tell me that is not cool.
As expected the familiars of the Sorcerer, Warlock and Wizard are ALL very, very different from each other and really reflect what the classes do now. Back in the 3e days Wizards and Sorcerer wre 100% interchangeable in terms of role. The differences were largely fluff. Since 4e this is less true and now in 5e they are very different sorts of classes. In 4e Sorcerers and Warlocks filled similar roles. Again in 5e they are very different. This book reflects the new 5e differences.
Naturally there can be overlap. The chapter on Wizards talks about how the Wizard rituals can be used by sorcerers for example.
Appendix A: Familiars and Companions. This covers the familiars and "normal" animals in 5e Stat blocks.
Appendix B: New Monsters. New monsters.
Appendix C: New Spells. New spells, as expected.
Likewise, Appendix D: New Magic Items and Artifacts.
Appendix E though is something different. This covers Dragon Riders. While many of the same rules are used here as for familiars this takes them to a new place and should be considered optional.
This is the Appendix/Chapter that my son grabbed this book from me for, BUT he opted not use their Dragon Riders but kept the book anyway for everything else.
A Dragon Rider is a Path that can be added to any class, but some have more use for it than others. If the idea of PC Dragon Riders concerns you, then keep in mind it is being sold as "optional". And also Dragon Riders of some form or another have been around since the dawn of the game. If it is something you want, then there is plenty here for you to use.
If I ever ran a Magic School game with this then Dragon Riders would be included.
We end with a robust index and the OGL section.
A note about art. There is not as much in this book as other Troll Lord books, but what is here is from the fabulous Peter Bradley and Jason Walton, who also gives us the cover art.
Your results may vary, but this book has quickly gone from a neat oddity to one of our must-have books for my 5e games. My son uses it in the games he has run so much that I have not seen the book in months since it is now in with all of his books.
Do you need this book? I say yes, but only if you are adding animals of any sort to your game, be they pets, familiars, mounts, companions or all the way up to Dragon Riders.
This is one of my 3PP books for 5e. One of the best really.