This compilation of six evocative player races and racial paragon classes is sure to bring new and exciting encounters to your game. These new options include:
Gargoyles: Stonewardens of the night who have left behind the evil predations of their brethren, emanating fear that make your foes flee, while still allowing you to soar above it all.
Giants: From troll to storm giant, this race and paragon racial class allows to emulate the abilities of all the giants, you can even change your size so that it does not hinder you in tight places
Ironborn: A race of constructed humanoids, providing custom designed trait packages that allow you to create the favored build of your choice without unbalancing the game.
Minotaur: Come embrace its mythological Greek roots while gaining the chance to play both a true master of the maze and a truly monstrous character with a decidedly foreign outlook.
Restless Souls: Why stop playing just because you dead, this player character template allows you to return from beyond the grave as a mournful spirit, a vengeful revenant, or a questing soul seeking to finish some work undone.
Wyrd: Unique groups of half-breeds that trace their lineage back to the Ogre Magi and the Elves, a heritage of arrogance and magic that allow them to emulate the abilities of both, so that no two wyrd are alike in abilities or in intent.
These fully detailed races, racial paragon class which allow to emulate all the powers of a full realized member of that race, new custom feats that enhance these abilities or provide a unique path for your character to tread, and introducing new spells that the greatly favor the members of their specific races. This supplement presents all the introductory material on each race in a first person point of view, so that you can find a unique insight into their very nature of these new and exotic cultures.
Pick one and let the members of your adventuring group find themselves In The Company of Monsters.
This compilation of Rite Publishing’s playable monster races is 94 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages advertisement, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving us with a total of 87 pages of content, so what exactly do we get?
Well, first of all, I have reviewed ALL of the component pdfs of this compilation and thus won’t go into each and every detail of the respective races and instead focus on providing you a good overview of the respective entries.
The first race of the pdf would then be T. H. Gulliver’s Gargoyles or rather stonewardens. As they call themselves – probably inspired by the cult animated series that gave the name to my favorite villain-strategy (Xanathos-gambits – even if the PCs “win”, they actually help the villain). The respective entries of Rite Publishing pdfs (and these chapters are no different) are written as conversations between Owain Northway, a scholar/detective in the city of Questhaven, and a member of the respective species. While perhaps a minor point for some of you, the fact that the entries are written from the perspective of one member f the species helps immensely to draw you inside how the race views itself, works in the context of a world and actually makes reading what would otherwise be a dry accumulation of crunch a joy. If all publishers did this, reviewing pdfs like this would be so much more enjoyable for me. Now stonewardens are essentially the racial foes of their mad bestiary gargoyle-cousins and their racial class (a full-blown 20-level one) allows them to learn to glide and later even fly – especially deadly if you take a couple of facts into account: First, stonewardens get bonuses to all physical attributes. Secondly, their racial class is full BAB. Thirdly, while not good with weapons, they get bites, claws, gore and potentially even tail attacks. Have I mentioned the options to chose talents (here called enticements) to grow additional arms, spew acid and the like? Yes. These stonewardens are damage Brutes that hit hard indeed! Especially when taking aerial combat feats and combining them with their already rather impressive array of attacks and use them to further empower their frightful presences. A total of 6 feats as well as 10 spells (one for each level) and some new magic items complement this first entry.
The second entry is Steven D. Russell’s take on playing giants, one of the earlier installments of the series. The Jotun-class and race reflect those humanoids born with the potential to be giants among men – literally! Infused with the raw elemental power of their giant-kin, adherents of the racial paragon-class are prohibited from taking any other class-level without perishing due to this nature becoming unstable – this major restriction is design-wise a major criticism I have against the race of Jotunnar and while I get that the size-changing capabilities, energy infusions (including elemental auras and the like), attribute gains, improved rock throwing and slam attacks need some balancing factors, I still maintain that being incapable of multiclass is too stiff a restriction. If you’re like me and into cultural concepts, you should know that Vird, essentially proper conduct, veneration and embracing of giant values as well as Osoem are introduced: Where the latter feels more in line with being “good” and the latter more with being a more base being, both concepts cannot be truly reduced to an alignment and remain a more complex ambiguity, which I very much welcome. Iconic grappling, rending of foes, increased elemental damage output and the like cannot only be customized via the new feats contained herein, but also via a broad selection of talents, resulting in an overall martially-inclined race that is held slightly back by its restrictive racial paragon-class.
EDIT: The Jotun may multiclass once he reaches 6th level.
The third race is the Ironborn and a young race they are: Only relatively young as a whole, these sentient constructs modify their base racial traits with ability packages that reflect for what they were created – but without forcing them down a particular path. Ironborn come in small, medium and large sizes and their respective ability suites come with primary and secondary abilities, with e.g. large ironborn getting only a limited access to the latter to balance their increased reach. Beyond the obvious versatility (that allows for cursed ironborn that benefit from bad luck in minor ways akin to TPK Games’ Malefactor, those with truly alien brains, tanks and the like), we also are introduced to feats to create ironborn as well as modification-feats that e.g. improve the Ironborn’s joints and cost gold pieces in addition to the feat-investment as well as a “blood”line for constructed sorcerers. By the way: Ironborn make great saboteurs of constructs and traps via some intricate and complex feats and still, after all this time, constitute my favorite take on a playable construct-race, even before Rhûne’s Automata and the Fabricants of Necromancers of the Northwest and definitely before Midgard’s VERY disappointing and bland take on the subject – even though the centurion ability-suite still feels quite overpowered to me, I still consider the overall race to be versatile and work fine: Especially since Ironborn don’t get all those annoying construct immunities. Oh, and steampunk-aficionados should also know that the Ironborn can get clockwork familiars! There is no racial paragon-class here, though.
The next race was, when it was released, a kind of revelation for me: The Minotaur-race, the children of Asterion are detailed by authors Jonathan McAnulty and Steven D. Russell in a blending of mythologic and game-lore: Coming with two distinct sets of ability-suites as well as alternate racial traits (which by then were almost unheard of), they also come with favored class options, an archetype for barbarians and one for monks, a bloodline for sorcerers and the 20-level Rog-Kalem racial paragon class. Culturally, the minotaurs have created a lawful evil society that per se would not be considered that evil, were it not for the misogynistic tendencies they exhibit and base their very society on – disturbing and mature in the approach of this particular evil, the writing shines here especially. Axe and horn-based feats as well as a broad selection of new Taurian weapons complete the installment of race/class-books that upped the ante for the whole genre.
Speaking of upping the ante: Restless Souls. This was actually the first small crunch-pdf I ever bought from Rite Publishing and boy, did it hook me! If you follow my reviews, you might be aware of the fact that I HATE raising the dead/resurrection. A PC-death in my campaigns tends to be final unless the survivors embark on an epic quest to return their fallen comrade to life and even then, there often is something going wrong. Restless souls address this problem for DMs that want death to matter, but at the same time cater to players who don’t want to lose their favorite character to an unlucky roll of the dice. The basic idea is that sometimes, people return, much like revenants, from the grave since they have an unfinished task, something that defines their very being upon their return. Scarred by death, restless souls forget their death and can walk the earth again as augmented outsiders. Essentially, the race is a template that is applied to a fallen being and costs 2 negative levels, but allows the player to play a macabre version of his character with a vast array of cool new options that cover aura sight, blinking, telekinesis (poltergeist-style), calling a storm, a damaging gaze attack and even the option to gain regeneration, but at the cost of never being able to be resurrected. The restless souls are GLORIOUS for any setting that is a bit more on the darker side and keeps returning the dead a rare phenomenon, superb for players who have just lost their favorite character and ooze flavor – and I’d still give these five stars + seal of approval today without any hesitation!
The final new race would be the Wyrd, one of the cooler bastard-races you’ll ever find – a race of ogre-magi/elven-crossbreeds with a slightly oriental flair (that remains subdued, though), the Wyrd are a proud race of beings that combine elven arrogance and supremacy with a very distinct and unyielding sense of honor. Their powerful bloodline can be modified with feats (which could have been revised as alternate racial traits) and makes for consummate schemers and very capable sorcerers, especially if they follow their 7-level racial paragon-class that allows what originally was an ECL+6-race to work in the PFRPG-framework without sacrificing their integrity. Backgroundstory-wise, the Wyrd are the result of the experiments of the Dark Emperor, a mythic being that could stand for a certain whispering Tyrant or similar legendary evils – the thing is, the Wyrd consider themselves to be the crowning achievement of said being, essentially the creation transcending the creator and telling them otherwise will earn you just an entry on their lists of grudges – for they carry them, perhaps even more so than dwarves. The race also comes with an oni-bloodline for sorcerers, multiple feats to enhance their spellcasting prowess and modify their ancestral heritage as well as a prestige class that not only deserves the name, but imho still belongs to the more iconic ones I could name: The Whispering Advisor of the Emperor Dragons is a prime example of a nice 5-level PrC that not only swims in skill points (8+Int, baby!), but also gets abilities of such illustrious names as “Power behind the Throne” and the option t create deadly traps that let the victims know who ushered in their end – all in all a cool PrC, especially for campaigns that are roleplaying and intrigue-intensive. We also get new spells for the wyrd and some bonus content for the race I really welcome: The Wyrd get 12 alternate racial traits as well as a new archetype: The Hawk of Vengeance, an inquisitor-archetype, gains full BAB in exchange for their spells and orisons as well as the option to rapidly dispatch (coup-de-grace) downed foes, maim opponents instead of killing them and grant allies morale bonuses when you crit or kill foes. Furthermore, we get a neat, complex character, Cirith Masked Starfall, a CR 12 luckbringer 12/rogue 1 wyrd, fully detailed with all the information necessary to run her.
Editing and formatting, while not perfect, are still good – while I didn’t notice any glitch that would have made understanding any rules harder, I noticed minor issues like a missing blank line between feats, minor punctuation glitches etc. – not many, though. Among the more annoying glitches are e.g. 3 lines missing from a spell in the wyrd-entry (components, school, level) – that should not happen. Layout adheres to RiP’s old, rune-covered 2-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes with massive, nested bookmarks that make navigating this pdf easy. Artworks herein range from ok stock-art to plain awesome b/w-drawings, with e.g. the depictions of the restless souls still ranging among my favorites.
This compilation of materials and races by Rite Publishing contains some excellent gems – the races and their respective classes, where applicable, are awesome and e.g. details like relationships with other classes and races, age, height and weight tables and the like all feature herein. Moreover, in contrast to many crunch-centric books, “In the Company of Monsters” is actually fun to read, which is a definite plus, for not only is the prose good and the writing concise, it manages to get you in the mood for the respective race and even spawn character concepts. That out of the way, each compilation has to answer the question “Do I need this if I have all the components?” For “in the Company of Monsters”, the answer unfortunately would be “No, unless you absolutely want it in print.”
Why? Simple, really: While the design of the respective classes and races is solid in every case, the compilation has simply missed the chance to expand its material and smooth the edges: Since this book has been around for a time, I won’t hold the lack of UM or UC-support against it, but what I do hold against it, is the fact that the APG-support is partially non-existent. The additional material for the Wyrd is great and really makes me wish ALL of the races (with the exception of the Minotaurs, they already are covered) had gotten a similar treatment – favored class options, alternate racial traits, a sample character, the like. Instead, the chance to bring the components up to date has been squandered. Speaking of squandered – I don’t get why the restrictive Jotun-paragon-class has not been completely reevaluated and stripped of the restriction. As provided, the bonus-content is not enough to warrant a recommendation for people who already own the component pdfs.
Now that being said, while this pdf is in no way perfect, it is still a compilation of great material that contains some of the coolest races out there – and I’m VERY picky about allowing races in my games, since they imho should feature distinct and unique cultural concepts. These deliver, one and all, many dripping iconic goodness. Still, the relative scarcity of bonus-content, the lack of revision and the glitches make it impossible for me to unanimously recommend this compilation. For a final verdict, I’ll settle on a final verdict of 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 for the purpose of this platform. If the races intrigue you, check them out – the verdict reflects my inability to rate the top-notch content at 5 stars due to aforementioned gripes.
In the Company of Monsters, a 94 page PDF, could easily be dismissed as a collection of 6 previously released PDF's, it could. But that would be doing this book a disservice. Formatting and layout show a great deal of learning as far as what works and what doesn't. The book has a cleaner feel to it than the individual PDF's from which it's material was gleaned. There are new pieces of artwork tucked in here and there, as well as a few minor changes to previous rules (the Jotun's ability to multi-class being the largest that I saw). But all of this info is truly only important to those who have previously purchased the In the Company PDF's that were used to build this collection. So let's take a look at this from the point of view that doesn't make that assumption, shall we?
94 pages with 7 pages going to OGL, ToC, credits, Front/Back covers and 2 Ads. That's 67 pages left to cover 5 playable races , 4 paragon classes, and one template that truly steps past just being a template. A paragon class, for those now scratching their head and wondering just what that might be, is the epitome of perfection for a race. It is a racial class that can only be taken by its specific race, and will allow a character to continue to develop both physically and ability wise throughout the advancement of the character. In short, paragon classes are freaking sweet, and allow for those legendary ideal examples of a race we all know from mythology. Now, having read that, it sounds very easy to consider paragon classes to be a game unbalancer, if it wasn't for the simple fact that like all classes, you only get the bonuses if you invest the levels. What I mean by this is by putting xp into levels of paragon may make you a better Giant or Minotaur (making you bigger, stronger and such), those xp can not then go into trained levels, like fighter, cleric or such. The paragon levels allow you to be a better (insert race name here), not a better (insert class name here). Henceforth, I feel the balance remains.
Now, after a description of the Paragon Class, and how that all works, we dive right into the Gargoyle, or the Stonewarden as this book refers to them. Why the distinction? Because there is acknowledgement that the world of Pathfinder already has a feral gargoyle, and these are not those. The gargoyle section gives us an alternate origin story, a rather interesting tale actually, in which gargoyles actually originated as humans. The tale is told to us by Kiyus the Stonewarden, in the usual format of first person stories that this series is known for. Crafted of the greatest warriors of their time, the original gargoyles were charged with defending the mountain clans of humans from their enemies, but eventually found themselves at odds as to how to handle their weaker charges. Humans of course renounced all gargoyles when they were presented with demands for obedience from those who would rule, so those who would protect slept. They slept and they watched, and they waited.
The gargoyle section focuses on the stonewarden as a race, allowing the term gargoyle to remain where it is, with the monster option. The stonewardens find themselves awakening into a world where humans still do not trust them, despite their allegiance to a pledge to defend the human peoples. Physical variations are explained with an interesting chameleon-like ability in that the longer a stonewarden perches and sleeps near other structures and stone, the more like those structures they begin to look. Able to gradually, over hundreds of years, to assume the “theme” essentially of what they roost amongst, many a stonewarden chooses their sleeping grounds based on pleasing aesthetics, i.e. a cathedral covered in beautiful angelic statuary, a marbled or black slate rooftop, things of this nature. Stonewardens also however have a degree of control over how the changes will affect them, and by “asking” the stone of their body to adapt to their needs through the usage of their abilities, they can add to their claws and talons, enlarge and sharpen their horns, grow stronger wings, additional limbs, etc.
The Stonewarden Paragon class is a 1-20th level class with a stack of class features and abilities. I'm not going to get into the math of what you gain here, as I don't want to give that away. The paragon section introduces a handful of new feats and spells, as well a few new magical items.
Giants, as told to us by Aevarr “Grinsaga” Valisson, prefer to be called Jotunnar. Within the introduction to this section Aevarr explains to us that his people are not the giants of old, but are still giants, and therefore continue the theme of the In The Company Of.. series by giving us a race that is an option to the established race. With a base height chart starting at 6'5” for the medium Jotun and ending at 58'6” for the colossal, there is some serious room to grow within this paragon class. The jotun paragon class demands that a jotun chooses an elemental power from the 4 elements at first level, thereby used as the jotun's descriptor. After choosing an elemental descriptor, the Jotun must stay with their paragon class until at least 6th level before being allowed to multiclass, lest the elemental powers literally destroy the jotun. Again, this paragon class presents a 1-20th level full class, with a selection of new feats and class features to support it.
Firstbuilt gains the honor of telling the story of his people, the Ironborn to Owain Northway in the third section of this book. Differing in nature from the typical origin story, the Ironborn have existed for only 60 years, and our tale is told to us from the first of their kind. Created by an artificer to replace her assistants, Firstbuilt was the answer to a genius's frustration at her inability to find help that could keep up with her. Designed with all of her gifts, and allowed to learn and expand, Firstbuilt created and crafted the first generation of his people, instilling in them the desire and knowledge to continue his race. Often times facing discrimination depending upon what socitey they are within, and to whom they are dealing with, the ironborn are a people attempting to find their place within the world. Seen as both property and individuals, trusted friends and devious machines, servant and comrade, the ironborn truly have no home of their own yet where all are accepted as one. Now, given that ironborn are built to a specific purpose, the ability score modifier is handled in a clever way, in that you choose where the bonuses are going, and how many you get, for a cost of a negative to another ability at the ratio of 2/1. Or, you can choose to forgo ability modifiers, or simply add them to strength and take no negatives, the ability build is up to you. It was in this section that I found my favorite piece of artwork for this collection, page 32, a divinely inspired ironborn, yes, you can play a cleric folks, the ironborn pray, and receive answer. All ironborn characters pick an ability package at creation which will determine the purpose behind their build and give them their racial perks to start. A few package options would be Woodwalker (more suited a life of the ranger or druid), Property (built to be a slave), Iron Heart (an obedient warrior), or the Combat Virtuoso (efficient loyal warriors). So, by now you're expecting to see some feats, right? Well, this section does not disappoint, and goes one step further, giving us new feats, and a bloodline. That's right, a bloodline for a created machine race, now that's fantasy gaming folks. And, if that's not enough, rules for the clockwork familiar as well, because really, who doesn't want a whirring clicking toy owl?
Minotaurs is our fourth section, and the tale is handled this time by Lord Commander Merotes Halfhorn, and the story in question is the Taurian Tale. A well developed origin tale that fleshes out not only where their people come from, but where they are today, and why their society has developed the way it has, the Taurian Tale is one of my personal favorites for an origin tale from the collection so far. A people of honor and strength, the Taurians are a strict society that demands one adhere to a personal code of conduct in the treatment of others, and an even stricter code in how they view themselves. Covered within this material is the viewpoint of this race in regards to the fact that they, as a race, raid, steal, kidnap, buy and rape the women of other races. They of course do not see it this way, and explain it from their point of view. The odd thing about this being, that when reading it, you will realize how very similar to many different cultures of human history this practice actually is, the vikings being the first to come to mind.
We are presented with two variations physically speaking within this section, the Taurian (bearing all three markings of their origin, hoof, horn, and tail), and the Mereitaur (bearing only one or two of the markings). Class archetypes for the Barbarian and Monk are presented, as are favored class options for several of the classes. A new bloodline is presented, the Taurian bloodline, with new abilities, but no spells. The racial paragon this time is the Rog-Kalem, a class that gives you the ability to grow into an over sized large killing machine suited for the labyrinth unlike any other class. This section closes out with a handful of new feats, weapons and equipment.
Next up, Nestra Darklaugh walks us through the specifics of the Restless Souls template. My first impressions of this class, honestly, someone really liked the Crow graphic novels, a lot. Not that this is a bad thing, not at all actually. This section of this collection takes a severe change of direction, and one that is a little jarring. There is a very dark, tongue in cheek humor to a great deal of what is written here regarding the issues of the restless souls, and how the world would be different for the dead, as opposed to the living. The legal matter of regaining ones possessions after returning from the grave for instance, or the punishing of one for casting forbidden magics such as soulbind. There is even comments pertaining to pink bows and skulls for fashion choices. I get that each book was originally a separate entity, and each is supposed to be presented in first person, but the dark humor really distracts when presented as part of a collective like this.
Much like the Crow mythos, a restless soul has an unfinished task that was a catalyst for their return, but reading through the material, there doesn't seem to be much urgency to finishing, and getting back to the grave. So, by now you're wondering what exactly is the template, right? It can only be applied to a dead creature. You return the character to life, but neither as a living thing nor an undead thing, but rather an outsider. You of course pick up a collection of new traits and abilities, including amusingly enough Death Amnesia (can't quite recall the exacts of the big event). This template also allows you to substitute new feats presented in this section for ones you already possess. A handful of new spells closes out the restless soul chapter of this book.
The Wyrd, the final offering of this collection, are explained to us by Deimos Invincible Fox. A crossbreed of Ogre Magi and Elf, their physical description leads to an unintentional chuckle with an editorial miss: “My own perfect eyes, like the rest of the wyrd, are a single color, revealing no difference between purple and iris; generally our eyes are red in color, though mine are a remarkable gold.” Um, wha? I'm assuming purple was supposed to be pupil. For the record, that's not the first grammatical nor editorial mistake I've stumbled across, but it was the funniest.
A society based upon personal supremacy, the wyrd are all about proving to the world and others how much better than you they are. They spend a great deal of their lives weighing transgressions of others against their own worth and value, deeming other races as inferior before them. Only to the Ogre magi and Elven race do they look with any measure of respect. Ironically, they pity the half elf for being of an inferior bloodline, when they themselves are technically half elves themselves. The Wyrd's paragon class path, unlike the others, is only comprised of seven levels, and can be taken at anytime. Taking levels in the wyrd paragon class represents showing one's worth, as well as undertaking the rites that activate the heritage locked within the blood of every wyrd of their elven and ogre magi ancestors. Wyrd are supported with feats, spells, a bloodline, alternate racial traits, an archetype, and a prestige class. The section ends with a fully fleshed out NPC to show off just what can be done with these racial options.
Final weigh in.....several editorial errors present in the individual books are still present in this reformatted collection. Misspelled words, the usage of incorrect words, names presented with one spelling, only to be spelled slightly different a few pages later. There are new illustrations added here and there, and the layout has drastically changed, and does look better over all. But the question remains, is the book worth it? For anyone who has picked up the individual PDF's, I saw nothing here to make this worth re-buying a PDF. However, if you are like myself, and like a printed book, I can't help but think this would look great on a shelf of game books. For those who have not purchased the individual PDF's that comprise this collection, every chapter in this PDF represents a new concept for players within the Pathfinder rules. Several of those concepts are very familiar, with a few twists. But, every one of those concepts is well developed, and extremely playable. The restless soul is an extremely enjoyable template to play, personally speaking.
Given that the book retained a great deal of the editorial mistakes from the six individual PDF's even though it obviously was reformatted with a new layout, I can not go to 5 stars for this book. But, the balance of solid material, presented with more than enough balance in my opinion to allow one to play some of the more “legendary” versions of a few of these races guarantees no less than a 4 star rating, so that's where I'm going with it, 4 stars.