Ah Christmas, a time of holiday cheer. A time to contemplate peace on Earth, decking the halls, and chestnuts roasting on open fires. A time of…monsters? The guys at Super Genius Games seem to think so, as that’s the theme of Mythic Menagerie: Winter Ravagers, a brief supplement of Christmas monsters.
To be more clear about the “brief” part: at fourteen pages long, there are eight monsters here. Thoughtfully, there are also counters and stat cards available for each one, which is a very nice touch. Regarding the artwork here, each page has a bluish border along the top, and every monster has a full-color illustration, done by none other than Stan! himself. Now, it must be said that these drawings are a tad cartoony, but honestly that’s part of the charm here. After all, it goes along well with how these monsters are all unified by their yuletide theme.
Of course, this theme is dashed right out of the gate when it introduces you to its first monster, the Autumn King…a jack-o-lantern-headed fey lord. I really have no idea why they included a Halloween monster in a book of Christmas monsters, but it really pollutes the idea that they’re trying to get across here. Even this would be forgivable, except for the fact that the editing really fell down here. The Autumn King, for example, is described and pictured as wearing chainmail armor, and yet his stat block doesn’t take armor into account. His Immune line has “freedom of movement” listed there and in his SQ line, and the latter also gives him a power called “otherworldly grace” which isn’t expounded upon. I seriously have no idea what that special quality does (though I suspect it improves his saving throws). I’m used to a pretty high level of quality from the Super Genius boys, and right away this product isn’t meeting it.
The next monster is the Badalisc…or the Basalisc, I’m not sure; the page’s main entry disagrees with the title for the stat block. I’m not sure how this guy is related to Christmas either, since it seems to be a Dark Naga by another name. I’m not kidding here, as the stats and powers are almost word-for-word the same as the Pathfinder Bestiary’s Dark Naga. The flavor description is different, but that’s not enough to justify paying for the exact same creature all over again.
The third monster finally moves back towards what this book is all about, being the Cobbler Elf. Now, this seems very much like the shoemaker’s elves of fairy tales, but I’d like to think this is more in line with Santa’s elves. Surprisingly, this is the only monster in the book to be given two pages, as its flavor text far and away outstrips what one page can contain. I’m glad the writer decided to go beyond the one-page spread that honestly seems to crimp his style in other places, but I’m surprised he did it for this particular little guy.
The Dire Flying Reindeer is the first monster to be completely unambiguous in its holiday origins. Ironically, of course, these things don’t fly most of the time. Their schtick is that they naturally eat vegetation that tends to make a potion of flying in their stomachs, hence why they’re sometimes airborne. I took exception to this, simply because it seems to imply that not only can you make flight potions just by mixing some vegetables and bark together, but that other animals don’t stumble onto this at all. Presumably, there’s some aspect to how these animals digest the food, but that’s barely hinted at. It was also slightly irksome that this monster was basically an animal with no special powers whatsoever…they’re only interesting for the fact that if you kill them, you might be able to drain some flying potions out of their carcass. I predict this species will become endangered very soon.
Halfway through the book, and the Grinj was the first creature that I really enjoyed. Oh he’s a mean one, Mr. Grinj. He really is a heel. He’s as cuddly as a cactus, he’s as charming as an eel…well, you get the idea. Basically, this guy has very sensitive hearing, and revelers tend to bother him. A lot. He’s also a master at crafting things, and so it’s easy to imagine him making all sorts of items and contraptions so as to go to elaborate schemes to ruin someone’s good time. Crafty GMs will likely sport a ludicrously-wide smile at the thought of what they can do with this guy.
The Krampus is an obscure monster, but one I’m actually familiar with from folklore. My understanding is that this guy is basically the anti-Santa, punishing the wicked children. However, that role gets assigned to another monster here (see below) with the Krampus basically being reduced to a yeti that radiates a cold aura. He’s not even evil (in fact, most of the monsters here are Neutral with a rather sulky disposition).
The Perchta is another folkloric monster that gets a write-up here. I can’t really compare this monster to mythological version, however, since the mythology was rather garbled depending on what region you heard about her from. This Perchta is a shape-changing monster that supposedly preys on (presumably bad) children. Ironically, her flavor text – which is actually supposed to be read aloud to the players, mind you – mentions that she’s in a magical disguise. Maybe the designers just assume the PCs go around with a true seeing all the time?
Finally, we come to the Whip Father, who’s the ubiquitous anti-Santa I referred to earlier. Or at least, that’s what I thought. As it turns out, both the Krampus and the Perchta refer to that more than this guy does. Rather, this was apparently a murderous innkeeper who, when slain for killing a local prince and stealing his gold, went to the Abyss and was rewarded for his evil. What that has to do with the powerful magic whip he now has is beyond me. However, that’s the extent of his special abilities (notwithstanding his spell-like abilities): his whip. Once again, this is a monster with no real unique ability.
Overall, I was quite disappointed with this book. I picked it up expecting to be wowed, but almost all of the monsters fell flat in one form or another. Stat blocks with errors, blasé flavor text, and one monster who was a virtual carbon copy of an existing monster all conspired to make this book a dud. It’s shocking that such a talented group of game designers managed to do this badly. To put my feelings about this book into the same Christmas analogy that it uses, I was expecting a wonderful present, and wound up getting a lump of coal instead.
[3 of 5 Stars!]