Mystical: Kingdom of Monsters – Hey! Why is Your Pokémon Sniffing my D&D Books?! (A Review)

As I discussed in review last week of Kromore 2154 (Kickstarting Kromore 2154: Steampunk & Space Opera fuse into a Mind-Blowing RPG Setting), mash-ups are the name of the game these days – role-playing games in particular. I’ve been receiving a number of these genre-bending role-playing games over the past few months, and each has its own unique way of pulling tropes together into a cohesive gaming experience.

Northwinter Press has recently released a role-playing game supplement that offers variant rules based upon D&D 4E. With these new rules and content, players can embark on adventures in a land of monsters galore, and capture and train these monsters to be their companions and allies in Mystical: Kingdom of Monsters!

Mystical: Kingdom of Monsters

  • Designers: Malcolm Northwinter (AKA Kevin Glusing)
  • Illustrators: Jeff Porter (cover); Raynaldo Perez, Jeff Porter, JennaTheDragon, Joe Ketterer, Sushy00, Antriku, Jiko29, Meep-and-Mushrat (interior)
  • Publisher: Northwinter Press Team
  • Year: 2013
  • Media: PDF (187 pages)
  • Price: $12.00 (Available from RPGNow)

Mystical: Kingdom of Monsters
is an 3rd Party alternative rules supplement for D&D 4E, which is designed to allow heroes in a high fantasy setting to capture, train, and utilize monsters (monstorin) as companions and allies. In addition, the supplement also allows players to actually play one of the monstorin, and capture and train other monstorin as well. The supplement contains 154 new and classic monsters which have been modified to act as player allies or as enemies for their monstorin to fight. Mystical: KoM also offers monstorin customization through feats and talents, including multiclass feats. There are seven new character classes who can train monstorin, along with eight new paragon paths, and a new epic destiny. There are new At-Will, Encounter, and Utility powers available for monstorin and their trainers, along with inherent abilities to further customize monstorin. Finally, there is information on fitting monstorin into an existing campaign, how to fight with them, and even a gazetteer for Mystical itself.


Production Quality


The production quality of Mystical: Kingdom of Monsters is good overall, but there were a few issues of note which cost the product a higher quality rating. The writing in Mystical: KoM is fairly decent, but the presentation of contents and rules changes were a bit scrambled, and that muddled the main purpose of the alternative rules for this reviewer.

And while the product did contain a table of contents, it lacked PDF bookmarks, and so was quite difficult to navigate through the nearly 200 pages. As I found it necessary to bounce back and forth between chapters in order to make sense of the rule variations from standard D&D 4E character building, lacking those bookmarks made the entire process frustrating.

The artwork in Mystical: KoM is pretty good overall, with each of the 154 monstorin having its own portrait, as did each of the new character classes as well. The main cover hints at the overall theme of the illustrations, which are done with a Pokémon anime style. A vast majority of the monstorin in Mystical: KoM have a cute-plush-toy-like appearance, which might put some D&D 4E players a bit off their game.


Monstorin, I choose you!

Mystical: Kingdom of Monsters
is a bit obscure in its title, in that a majority of the content in the book deals with monstorin and advancing monstorin abilities through growth phases. If you’re looking for a setting or monster manual, then the book will not fulfill those interests. If you’re looking for a way to play a Pokémon-like game, utilizing D&D 4E stylized powers, then you’ve come to the right place.

The Mystical: KoM supplement divided up into four broad chapters:
  • Chapter 1 – Monstorin – details 154 monstorin, including stat blocks, growth abilities, and inherent abilities for each creature.
  • Chapter 2 – Standard Character Options – offers game style with characters, seven new character classes, eight new paragon classes, and an epic destiny.
  • Chapter 3 – Powers and Natural Abilities – defines scores of At Will powers, Utility powers, and Encounter powers from levels 1 through 22; also includes inherent natures and bonus natural abilities.
  • Chapter 4 – Gameplay and Campaigns – deals with rules for capturing, training, breeding, and trading monstorin; also includes gazetteer information about the Kingdom of Mystical.

Chapter 1 begins with very little preamble, and dives directly into how to read the information in each of the monstorin entries. This includes a D&D 4E style stat block for the base monstorin, as well as information about its growth benefits, and a few charts detailing their inherent benefits as they level. If you think this sounds much more complex than a Monster Manual entry, you’re dead right. And understanding of how all this extra monster information and charts fits together in context of the author’s 4E rules variations is not discussed until subsequent chapters.

As previously mentioned, the monstorin in Chapter 1 are designed much like Pokémon anime creatures, and some of them are D&D 4E monsters adapted to the anime’s toy-like style. Examples of this include Rustix (rust monster), Eyedolor (beholder), and Behirin (behir), as well as a wide variety of new chimeric creatures consisting of animal, humanoid, plant, and minerals. While I have no problem with the style, the cute, plush-looking, animal/plant/mineral hybrid critters detailed in the book just feel very out of place in any D&D game. And although the art is quite good, illustrations seem to suggest that this game is aimed at tweens and even younger audiences, but one look at just the monstorin listings suggests that the rules in Mystical: KoM are awfully complex to drop on kids.

In the second chapter, the author details character options and how they are created and utilized in the rules variation of D&D 4E. There are essentially two ways one can utilize the supplement: basic characters and standard characters. Basic characters have no ability scores, are all human, and have a class which has no abilities and is merely used for out-of-combat role-playing experiences. In this mode, the monstorin are used to fight other monstorin, either in the wilds or in arenas, while the character simply issues commands. Standard characters are 4E character classes who have chosen a feat to be a monster trainer, or one of the seven new character classes presented in Mystical: KoM – all of which, by defacto, monster trainers.

While it is not spelled out verbatim, it would seem that in combat the monstorin are like the Ranger Class’s pet, fighting on behalf of the character against other monstorin and NPCs and using the player-character’s actions and healing surges. Then again, as monstorin have their own At Will and Encounter powers, both player-character and creature get actions in combat – as I said before, the rules are a bit muddled.

The seven new character classes - such as Monster Hunter, Monster Scout, Monster Gambler, and Monster Auror – have interesting designs, and are built along the same lines as other Controller/Striker/Defender/Leader roles. However, they only have a few listed powers for each class, and several class features, but no clearly defined powers specific to that class. In actuality, the class powers for these new PCs are drawn from a massive pool of powers in Chapter 3, which are used by both the character and their monstorin ally in combat. So these new character trainer/monstorin powers have a wide range of effects from all four roles of D&D 4E classes, and no limitation on what a player chooses for his or her character. Munchkins, anyone?

As just mentioned, Chapter 3 contains a list of At Will, Encounter, and Utility powers usable by trainers and monstorin alike, and cover a wide variety of special effects and conditions. The author states that daily powers are eschewed in this variation of the game, and encounter powers are boosted to compensate. For the most part, the powers conform to the conventions of D&D 4E, although their universal availability to all trainers and monstorin seems a bit unbalanced.

There is also an interesting take on magic items for monstorin in Mystical: KoM, taking the form of natural abilities to act as properties or powers learned by monstorin. Like magic items, they are common, uncommon, and rare, and have a level, and cost in coins to purchase. They fall into categories of Guard, Defense, Attack, Speed, Ingenuity, Mind, Body, and Soul, and each conforms to a particular magic item “slot” such as head, hand, ring, armor, and so forth. It’s an interesting way to present non-item magic items to equip for your monstorin ally, and they can even be disenchanted for residuum to open the slot for a new one.

In Chapter 4, various facets of game play are discussed, as well as information about the Kingdom of Monsters known as Mystical. The first part of this chapter details how to capture a monstorin (with an at-will) and breeding monstorin (it’s a Level 4 Ritual), and training monstorin (it’s automatic and appears to take no time). Unlike Pokémon, where the critter allies are captured in a ball, monstorin simply disappear, reappearing when called. Locating wild monstorin to train is handled by a set of random encounter charts for each region of the kingdom.

Disappointingly, the kingdom itself and those charts are presented in about eight pages, with each region getting two or three paragraphs of description. And there is no map of the kingdom of Mystical in the book, which really makes the setting feel thrown together and a last-minute add-on at best.


Overall Score
: 2.25 out of 5.0


Conclusions


Overall, I found Mystical: Kingdom of Monsters to be an unwieldy set of rules variations, which I could only recommend to the most die-hard Pokémon -fanatic D&D 4E gamers out there - and I wish you the best of luck trying to run it as a campaign if that is you. The rules tend to be confusing and poorly explained, and its integration into D&D 4E is awkward at best. The creatures are imaginative, and the powers are interesting and varied, but without reasonable design constraints, for a DM to try and balance the characters and monstorin in the game would truly be an exercise in frustration. Further, the game seems so centered around the monstorin, that the characters would be taking a backseat to their pets, and the spotlight seems to be more focused on monstorin battles than adventures and role-playing.

My overall gestalt about Mystical: KoM was that the author designed a collectible card game, which was based upon another popular collectible card game, and then adapted the whole thing to ride on the coattails of a popular roleplaying game in order to get noticed. Like the monstorin creatures detailed in the supplement, merging a Pokémon knock-off and D&D 4E together creates a rather bizarre chimera, and one which would have functioned much better when not forced to be this hybrid.

In the age of Role-Playing Games embracing genre mash-ups, one must recognize one simple truth: Not every mash-up is successful. Despite what was clearly a monumental undertaking by the author and his team, Mystical: Kingdom of Monsters demonstrates that truth to the fullest, and fails to achieve a synergy even equal to the sum of its parts.
Editorial Note: This Reviewer received a complimentary playtest copy of the product in PDF format from which the review was written.

Grade Card (Ratings 1 to 5)

  • Presentation: 2.5
  • - Design: 2.0 (Decent writing; fair layout; confused presentation of content; no PDF bookmarks)
  • - Illustrations: 3.0 (Pretty decent artwork; imitative style)
  • Content: 2.25
  • - Crunch: 3.0 (Very crunchy material; rules variations confusing; game balance highly questionable; incomplete integration to D&D 4E role-playing)
  • - Fluff: 1.5 (Lacking in fluff; setting gazetteer incomplete; monstorin fluff feels juvenile)
  • Value: 2.0 (A poor adaptation of Pokémon and D&D 4E does not a bargain make.)
 

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