RPG Revivew – Monster Menagerie: The Construct Companion
This massive tome clocks in at 123 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page ToC, 1.5 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page blank back cover, leaving us with 114.5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
We begin this massive, huge book with an aptly-written piece of prose before diving straight into this massive book, which can be pictured as w2hat would happen if a book of the series formerly known as Mythic Menagerie (renamed due to the release of the mythic rules) took more steroids than an 80s locker-room full of pro-wrestlers. What do i mean by this? Well, this huge book is almost completely crunch – which means that, were I to go into my usual level of detail, this would be a review of epic proportions indeed. Instead of this, I opted for a more dynamic approach and filtered the analysis I undertook for your convenience. I will hence try to give you a fair sampling of what to expect within this book, so let’s not lose any more time and get this beast going!
Well, the first thing you obviously have to know is that this book can be considered a toolkit among other things and contains a new expanded array of options for the creation of animated objects – whether it is the option of animated objects to animate more objects themselves, anchoring or a means to avoid detection, special materials and even swarm-form – the options herein enhance animated objects in meaningful, evocative ways – to the point where the few pages devoted to that made me come up with no less than 3 adventures. Better yet, following the design-philosophy of the horsemen’s great gruesome monster templates, the inclusion of drawbacks for animated objects allow a GM to create adversaries that reward clever players, rendering this very much in line with my own tastes. This is NOT where the usefulness of this chapter end, though – we receive a second massive list for re-animated objects – whether from the remains of an alchemist’s laboratory or from carrion, the added options here in no way remain behind in means of evocative ideas presented.
Speaking of evocative: Animated traps. I have NO IDEA how no one so far, me included, failed to codify a trope I have used in so many adventures, I can’t even count it – the concept of a self-aware trap that can reset itself not only can enhance greatly the believability of a given world (who resets those death-traps?), it also sports easy and concise guidelines along samples for GMs to embrace this great concept – one less “A wizard did it.” lame excuse. Animate Objects variants for diverse spell levels alongside mythic spell support further complement the awesomeness delivered so far. How can you increase my squee-factor further? Simple – add cool vessels. And indeed, animated dirigibles and galleys can be found here, though I admittedly found myself wishing the authors had opted for at least one options that was more far out.
Golemcrafters and DMs should grins from ear to ear at the selection of options that follows now – construct modifications. Whether as enchantments or templates, the options are glorious. What do I mean by that? Well, Jacob Blackmon’s rendition of a plague-doctor-mask-wearing golem with a bloody saw and a hand of injector-needles captures, in spite of Jacob’s lighthearted style very much the level of disturbing options here. Oh, and MOBILE SUIT GOLEM. Do I really have to say anything more? Best of all – no overlap with Rite’s multi-pilot suit: Here, we have an option for a one-character golem-suit, whereas Rite provided the Saber Rider/Power Rangers “All control one”-style. The constructed creature and golem creature template also add a significant array of unique options to the fray. So that would be the toolkit section herein.
Of course, if you’ve followed the series, you expect a bestiary – and I never said it was not one. Since I’ve already gushed about animated objects – need some? Well, this pdf delivers in spades -from ill-tempered gates to wells with delusions of being a gallows, the diversity and imagery evoked here leaves simply nothing to be desired. What about canopic jars with multiple different subtypes? “But endy”, I hear you say, “this is not necessarily a ‘sexy’ type of construct!”Got ya, but what would you say about full-blown mythic support in the guise of a return of our friends, the massive colossi? Gigantic, nay, colossal constructs of ice, vegetation…giant bodies? Yes, they’re as awesome as they sound. Now what would happen if the Iron Throne of “A Song of Fire and Ice” were a golem? The CR 15 Broken Blade Golem, lavishly rendered, answers exactly this question. Golems made from the flesh of fey and the 4 unique constructs first premiered in the small pdf by Christina Stiles Presents can also be found within this chapter, though admittedly, one can perceive the growth of the horsemen since then. That being said, receiving mythic alternatives for example for the spiritflesh golem is cool and golden golems, grave golems or lodestone golems are awesome.
Now as you may know, I’m a HUGE Ravenloft fanboy and hence, I obviously also have run Vecna Reborn and Die, Vecna, Die!- though heavily modified since both modules sucked hard. I made them essentially a end-times scenario of the worst kind. Why am I bothering you with this? Because, when my players infiltrated the fortress-city of Vecna, the group’s paladin led his final charge with the last survivors against the armies of Vecna’s undead, duking it out against “The Eye”, one of the 2 unique golems of Vecna. Well, there is a golem in that style in here as well, the disturbing, eye-themed Oculus Golem, who coincidentally comes with AWESOME upgrade templates for blinking and cursing glares. I ADORE this golem. Crystalline record-keepers, things entirely made of poisonous stinger – in here. What about a mechanical kraken or sand or salt golems?
Fans of Catherynne M. Valente’s “Cities of Gold and Spice” will enjoy the tooth golem, a way to potentially represent the dread being entirely made of teeth, Gholad – once again, especially due to the glorious CR-modifying additional options available for the golem. Totem and Tusk golems can also indeed prove to be fertile grounds for the imagination, though the soldier-storing war golem should also be explicitly mentioned as a creature I enjoy. Beyond golems, guardian lions, mechanical butlers, disturbing construct butchers, telepathic link and poison combining mechanical scarabs – this chapter is thoroughly exciting, with all creatures sporting some sort of unique and compelling combination of options and signature abilities.
This is more than just a bestiary, though – we also have a new player race with the Impendigs – obviously artificial creatures that get +2 Con and Int, -4 Wis, darkvision and low-light vision. They may choose a skill each day and receive the benefits of Skill Focus for the chosen skill and are half-constructs. An okay race, I guess, though I can name a couple more compelling ones. The Adaptable Arcanist Wizard archetype receives a wildcard-slot at his highest spell level known (later on all ) that can be used to cast any spell in the arcanist’s spellbook (or learned via Spell Mastery) instead of Scribe Scroll. At 5th level, the archetype can also choose a specialization every day with freely chosen opposing schools, but without gaining bonus slots or focused arcane school powers. All in all, okay, if a bit on the strong side – not a fan of further increasing the flexibility of the already very strong wizard class. The awakened would be a construct-themed druid, using cha instead of Wis as governing spellcasting attribute.
The Inexorable construct race receives +2 Dex and Wis, -2 Cha, get darkvsiion 60 ft. and low-light vision, ferocity, 6 + level SR, a slam attack at 1d4 + 1.5 times the Str-mod and the half-construct type. Again, okay though I can name some imho more compelling construct races. Racial-archetype wise, we get the drone fighter, who get modified proficiencies (minus heavy armor, plus firearm), base skills per level (4 instead of 2) – drones are created for one of 3 divisions: Command, strike or infantry, all of which modify the class skill list and various abilities of the archetype, rendering it more versatile than one could expect -at least thematically. While I LOVE this concept-wise, the actual impact on gameplay imho should have been more distinct – as written, we get a cool design-idea that is only carried through halfway to its logical conclusion. Still – kudos on a design-aesthetic level, also for the skill-deviation. 🙂
The second archetype would be the Munitionist gunslinger, a gunslinger with an integrated firearm who can spend grit to temporarily enhance the firearm with enhancement bonuses and weapon-qualities, magus-style. Solid.
There also are a selection of non-race specific archetypes to be found herein, though construct/half-construct as types remain prerequisite for the bloodless sorceror, for example, who essentially replace bloodline powers with natural armor, slam attacks et al as well as one wild-card spell. Golem Slayer rangers are pretty self-explanatory concept-wise, though the immunity-negating and nasty debuff sigils render them more than a default bland nemesis archetype. Idolater clerics summon construct creatures and channel elemental construct healing energy. Lawbringer cavaliers get a construct companion (its own template/companion archetype) and the accompanying law-themed order fits, though it is not revolutionary. The Progenitor summoner replaces summon monster with animating objects and gets aappropriately-themed substitution for the eidolon, in which he can also store spells. The capstone exoskeleton deserves special mention here – I honestly wished the archetype had focused on that one instead of its current focus. The Shielded magus is the first of these archetypes I truly consider cool – a shield specialist, these guys can grant properties of animated objects to their shields – and with new arcana and scaling effects, the tactical options this one allows are intriguing indeed. Finally, the warmachine fighter is also interesting, gaining half-construct benefits at the cost of permanent penalties of mental attributes and appropriately themed benefits. Over all, a nice archetype that allows for several concepts and narrative twists I like, though I have solved the same concept in a morescaling-heavy way in my own game.
Among the PrCs presented, the maker (d6, 2+Int skills, 1/2 BAB-progression, 1/2 will-save progression, full spellcasting progression) determines a creature she has made as her guardian and thus provides scaling benefits, including skills, feats and abilities for said construct – pretty much a pet PrC with spell storing, no berserk etc. On the nitpicky side, the special column is usually in the class table between saves and spell progression, not at the end, but that is a cosmetic gripe at best. The second PrC, the Martinet (d8, 2+Int mod skills, 3/4 BAB-progresison, 1/2 fort- and will-save progression, 7/10th spellcasting progression) has the same presentation peculiarity and can be considered a bard-based commander-PrC – solid, though I’ve seen so many options to execute this theme that I can’t really get excited about it. It’s solid. The aforementioned template for construct companions and construct familiars respectively do not share this fate – I really like both options.
The pdf, obviously, also sports feats – a LOT o them: From natural armor to DR, you can expect quite a few customization options, with the themes, obviously, being construct upgrades and item creation feats. Not much to complain here. Where the pdf returns to full-blown form, though, would not be with feats that render golem creation a valid option during an adventurer’s career – it’s with the magic items, which btw. include their share of mythic items – for example golem armor, which, powered by mythic power, can confer temporarily the tricks of these iconic sentries upon their wearers.
Speaking of mythic – I have intentionally so far kept my mouth shut regarding abstraction golems – these would be mythic golems that represent special concepts from love to time, with corresponding templates and unique abilities as well as sample builds. The academic in me ADORES this chapter – why? Because it enhances the narrative cohesion by allowing a GM to provide mechanically relevant options for constructs that serve to emphasize chosen leitmotifs – from the temporal immortality of death golems to the obsession-inducing love golems (in case you need inspiration for a horror-story with this theme, play the indie-adventure Anna and unlock the final ending…), these golems are absolutely glorious. and combinations can provide more – take the sample dust golem, crafted from sand and time: Fear in a handful of dust indeed!
Oh, and if you’re on the time-starved and/or lazy side, you will definitely appreciate the sample encounters provided in chapter five, where a recap’s gambit (lavishly illustrtaed) can end up extremely nasty for the PCs or where golden and lodestoen golems combine for lethal threats in defense of the treasures of the kind of thieves. Have I mentioned the deadly tooth fairy swarm?
Editing and formatting are excellent, especially considering the size of this massive book – on both a rules-language and a formal level. Layout is the one component of this book I positively loathe – each page has wide margins left and right, above and below, which also sport colored graphics in the background. Not only does this mean that this pdf takes more pages when printing it out, it also drains more printer. I don’t understand why the fragmented artwork, mostly obscured by the main area of text anyway, still remains – it has NO FUNCTION and does not look good: What help is half an elven lady’s head o the left side? The only thing this does is distract me from the text and wonder why the artwork has been cropped into the borders. Urgh. On the plus side, you will be hard-pressed to find a 3pp-pdf with such a vast density of qualitatively high full-color artworks: Jacob Blackmon’s distinct style is evident in every artwork and renders a sense of visual cohesion to this pdf that somewhat serves to offset the layout faux-pas. So kudos to master Blackmon! The pdf comes fully bookmarked with extensive nested bookmarks for your convenience.
The author-collective/roleplaying think-tank called the The Four Horseman, consisting of Steven T. Helt, Stephen Rowe and Dan Dillon have a reputation with me – why? Because their templates rank among the very few monster books that still elicit excitement from me. Let’s face it – with over 2000 reviews and most 3.X monster books by 3pps at my place, I’ve read more monsters than I probably should have. I still have all those second edition appendices and still remember the time when monsters were defined by story, not just mechanics. PFRPG’s current development, at least in the 3pp-market, has thankfully moved away from the bland reconfiguration of mechanics towards unique and compelling creatures – but still, at one point or another, you have just seen SO MUCH. You get déjà-vus ALL THE TIME.
Where am I going with this rant? Well, usually it falls to Rite Publishing’s complex builds or Legendary Games’ unique mythic abilities to provide this sense of the exciting and new to me. This pdf manages exactly this feeling as well. Once you’ve read a certain amount of books, you get a kind of radar for when an author phones in a creature. You won’t find that in here. Indeed, it can be considered stupefying how many unique tricks can be found in this massive bestiary/toolbox- for this is exactly that: A huge kit to render constructs relevant and exciting, a smart book full of inspired concepts that reward brains. Now the toolkit aspect, imho, is also a minor flaw of this book – for as inspired as I consider the monster/item sections, I would lie when claiming that I was blown away by races or archetypes.
The player-centric material, while solid, just does not have the space and detail to shine – from missing FCOs to traits, age, height and weight-tables etc., it is evident that these components are bonuses that have been included to make this a definite resource – and in the end, at least to me, they detracted more from the book than they added to it. Why? Because the other components, from the expanded animated object options to the mythic abstraction golems universally reach a level of quality only seldom seen in a bestiary, much less so in one with such an excellent bang-for-buck-ratio. It is against this backdrop of stellar concepts that anything “only” good seems infinitely less compelling. So, at least for players, this is perhaps not the revelation that it most definitely is for GMs.
The golems and options here are varied, unique and inspired – and were all components of this book as awesome (and the borders not as &%$§$), this would be a candidate for my top ten. As written, it remains one STELLAR, huge book that showcases well the reason why the Four Horsemen have developed a following in such a short time. This belongs in the library of any Dm looking to make golems interesting and fun…and, most of all: Versatile. This is one of the best monster books I’ve read in ages and demands 5 stars + seal of approval – and rest assured in a book of a lesser quality, my rant on layout et al. would have been much more pronounced. Here, though, both that and the aforementioned pieces just are swallowed by awesomeness. Get this!
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