Playable Monsters Vol. I – Fantasy Iconics & Mythology

Playable Monsters Vol. I – Fantasy Iconics & Mythology


This pdf clocks in at 58 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of artist/writer-contact-info and 3 pages of SRD, leaving us with 50 pages of content, so let’s take a look!


So, after some general discussions on how to handle monstrous PCs and parties, we dive pretty much straight into the respective races, which cover a brief physical description, some minor information on society, relations with other races and alignment/religion preferences as well as how the race interacts with adventurers. After that, we get the racial traits…and that’s pretty much it. If you were looking for traits or alternate racial traits to customize these, you won’t find them here. Neither will you find favored class options…though the appendix does offer some feats…we’ll get to those later. The races also lack age, height and weight-tables – basically, this is the most bare-bones presentation of a given race possible.


The first race herein would be the boggard, who gets +2 Str and Con, -2 Dex, swim speed 20 ft., +4 to Acrobatics (and are always considered to have a running start) and they also get SPRING ATTACK as a bonus feat at level 1. Oh, and they ignore difficult swamp terrain…and get hold breath.  Okay, so from a design-aesthetic point, the race is lopsided – two bonuses to physical attributes mean that the race is geared towards certain professions more than similar races. Secondly, the formatting: The formatting of the race, while feasible and functional, deviates from established standards. Beyond not bolding the respective racial trait’s names, we get entries like: “Speed: 20 feet, swim 30 feet.” We *know* what that means, right? Well, the formatting of slow base speed is different. As per ARG et al., it should also read BASE speed. I exaggerate? I nitpick? Perhaps, yes. But deviations like this create rules holes. You see, Swim speed’s formatting is usually: “They also have a swim speed of 30 feet, can move in water without making Swim checks and always treat Swim as a class skill.” Notice something missing here, omitted and opaque due to sloppy presentation? Yup. And, of course, finally, we also have the glaring issue of gaining a multiple-prereq bonus feat. This is particularly baffling, since the ARG grippli has already a precedent ability with the jumper racial trait….and no, these boggards will go nowhere near my table. The formatting glitches extend to all races herein, so please bear that in mind.


The second race would be the centaur, which get +2 Str and Wis, 40 ft. movement, darkvision 60 ft., +2 to saves vs. poison and disease and are quadruped. Finally, they get two 1d6 hoof natural attacks, failing to specify whether they’re primary of secondary and they also deviate from the default damage of 1d4 for the size…which is btw. denoted as medium, which is VERY odd. Centaurs are defined pretty much by being large and having undersized weaponry… Oh, and no, in case you were wondering – no solutions for the ladder-conundrum or the like in here.


The choker, also known as “Sel” in this book, is a small aberration that gets +2 Dex and Wis, -2 Int, has speed and climb speed separated oddly (20 ft base, 10 ft. climb) and oddly treat Climb as a class skill and can even 10 when threatened. Which is half of the default of climb speed’s detailed definition. Now usually, climb speed is just noted in the speed-entry…but does the specific deviation from the standard here mean that the usual accelerated climbing options granted by climb speed are not available for the choker? No idea. They treat natural weapons or manufactured ones as though they had reach., but only when it would be beneficial for the choker and count as +1 size category (i.e. medium) for grappling purposes. Rather OP: Creatures grappled can’t speak. No save, so check, no pin-requirement. Broken.


Dark Folk (aka “Vraysh” herein) get +2 Dex and Con, -2 Int, are small, can see in darkness and may use rags as the equivalent of a leather armor sans ACP. Does this armor have the same hit points/hardness as leather armor? How do you replace it when it’s sundered? They also get Poison Use and 1/day darkness; detect magic as SPs, light blindness and +2 to Climb, Perception and Stealth. They also actually get alternate racial traits that lets you play as one of 4 alternate castes of dark folk. These castes feature a touch attack curse that is somewhat akin to a hex, but fails to specify activation action and ability type, other SPs, slightly better spellcasting pertaining {shadow] and [darkness] spells or an alternate ability array of +2 Dex and Cha, -2 Int. So…where’s the signature explosion? The literal one thing everyone remembers about dark folk, their one unique thing? N/a. Still, this entry isn’t the worst in this book and would perhaps fare a bit better, had Jeff Lee not codified dark folk as a player race infinitely more compellingly in Rogue Genius Games’ monster menagerie-book associated with them.


Next up would be the Derro, who get +2 Con and Cha, -2 Wis, are small, slow and steady, gain darkvision 60 ft, oddly hatred versus aberrations and outsiders and dwarven weapon familiarity. Derro with Cha of 10+ gain 1/day ghost sound, darkness, daze as SPs and the derro suffer from a curse, which imposes a -4 penalty (penalties are untyped…) to saves versus illusions, but provides +4 to save vs. fear and imposes a penalty of 4 to attempts to Intimidate them. Oh, and the racial curse can be removed by making a CL-check versus 25 with the appropriate spell. Sooo…the racial insanity, the defining characteristic of a race that categorizes them as predominantly evil can be cured by a single mid-level caster. This opens a whole array of issues. Also: Kobold Press’ take on them in the Advanced Races Compendium is superior in every regard.


Doppelgangers have an odd ability-score line: “Doppelgangers who use their alter self racial ability are capable of gaining a +2 Strength or Dexterity, effectively resulting in a net +2 bonus.” Do I even have to mention what’s the issue here? Why not grant the bonus to all shapes? It makes no sense to shove a mechanic that has no true value beyond being overcomplicated and diluting how alter self works in here. Also: Count the deviations from regular formatting. *sigh* Doppelgangers are shapechangers, have darkvision 60 ft, get +2 to Bluff and Disguise, can use alter self at will as a SU (why not use the regular change shape ability?) and may quickly learn  to mimic mannerisms and even proficiencies – here, I have to give credit where credit is due: Quicker learning is cooler than immediate access to all proficiencies as per the base monster. Kudos!


Dryads get +2 Dex and Cha, -2 Str, are fey with low-light vision and get +4 to Craft-checks pertaining wood. They add +1 DC to druid and ranger spells cast and Dryads with Cha of 10+ gain Charm Person, Create Water and Know Direction as 1/day SPs. They can also meld with trees…and it manages to almost get it right, to have a nice, player-friendly version…and then proceeds to botch it. Dryads as depicted herein can cast spells while melded with trees. Since it deviates from how the ability works for the monster, it has no expulsion clause and it breaks when material components and foci are concerned. *sigh*


Eshtar, so-called “true” giants, are large and get +4 Str, -2 Dex. *insert anti-+4-to-a-single-attribute-rant*. Their speed of 35 ft. deviates from standard movement rates and they get “Low-light Vision” – sans the usual notes, but oh well. At this point I have quite frankly given up on the ability-formatting of this pdf. They get no penalty for thrown improvised weapons and gte +1 to atk with thrown weapons. They may throw objects of up to small size with a 30 ft. range increment and a base damage of 2d6, which surpasses quite a few weapons. They also get Toughness and +2 to Intimidate and Will-saves. They also try to experiment with weapon-sizes, which is usually an alarm-flag: You see weapon-size categories and wielding are pretty much a colossal cluster-f*** in PFRPG. The ability specifies: “A greatsword sized for humans is but a longsword to the giants. Hill eshtar can wield two-handed and one-handed weapons of Medium size without penalty” This ability would doesn’t do much as written – and the first sentence makes me believe it was intended to allow them to one-hand medium two-handed weapons…but I’m not sure. A true joke is the balancing of the alternate racial traits: You can replace Toughness with DR 2/- and darkvision…or fire resistance 5 + HD…or breathing underwater + swim speed…showcasing that there is no consideration for even completely obvious power-discrepancies here. These alternate racial traits are capital letter-level bad design that both have balance-issues even within the relatively enclosed space of a single race’s traits. Again, this comes nowhere near my table.


Gnolls as depicted herein get +2 Str and Int, -2 Cha, darkvision 60 ft., scent, +1 natural armor bonus, proficiency with battleaxe and nunchaku and +4 to saves vs. ingested poisons. This one is actually pretty nice and shows that the author is capable of solid work…but unfortunately, Kobold Press has done it better and more detailed as well.


Harpies get +2 Dex and Cha, -2 Con, are monstrous humanoids, darkvision 60 ft, two (not one!) talons that fail to specify whether they’re primary or secondary natural attacks and that deviate from base damage-size by one step, a massive +4 to Perform (Sing) and they begin play with limited flight – fly speed 30, Fly as class skill…but they can only maintain flight for Con-mod minutes per level until 9th level. Still, this means flight at level 1, below the usual cap, which is problematic. I also don’t get why this did not build on the glide racial trait as established by tengu and similar races.


Lizardfolk (aka Sasgar) get +2 Str and Cha, -2 Int, are reptilian and get swim and base speed 30 ft. as well as hold breath. Utterly broken, failing to specify primary or secondary for either: 4 (count it!) natural attacks: 2 claws, 1 bite, 1 tail, all for 1d4 damage (damage types are correctly clarified, which is nice) – deviating from bite and tail slap default damage. They also get +2 natural Ac and +4 to Acrobatics and CMD to resist bull rush and trip.  Once again, 4 natural weapons are frankly too much…and once again, Kobold Press has the vastly superior (and better balanced) take on the race.


The Gorgon would be the take on the playable medusa – +2 Con and Cha, -2 Dex, monstrous humanoids with darkvision 60 ft and a natural bite attack (primary or secondary? Don’t know.), all-around vision and a 3/day gaze that deal damage, penalizes base speed and scales in damage output over the levels…and I actually like this one. Sure, it’s formatting is nonstandard…but the mechanic itself is solid and something I’d actually consider for a race. Kudos where kudos are due!


Naga get +2 Dex and Wis, 2 Cha, are oddly medium native outsiders with darkvision 60 ft, +1 on all saves and get +4 to all knowledge checks pertaining holy ground, supernatural prisons etc. as well as +2 to CMB, CMD and Escape Artist. Once again, this is not per se a bad take on the naga and actually one of the races herein I’d consider using base stat-wise. Solid.


Pixies get -2 Str, +2 Dex and Int…and are tiny. They are treated as small when it would be disadvantageous to do so (e.g. only a +4 size bonus to Stealth), are fey with low-light vision and have a land speed of 20 ft as well as the similar limited flight solution of the harpy, alongside its accompanying issues. They can also 1/day sprinkle pixie dust upon a weapon to charge it with either sleep or charm person. Tiny characters…are a hand full. Still, this does an inelegant, but laudable job at making the pixie feasible, though the lack of reach-explanation and the like will probably result in some confusion. I’d strongly suggest getting Everyman Gaming’s Microsized Adventures if the topic intrigues you. As per this race – it needs something to prevent dying from AoOs all the time.


Next up would be Sahuagin, who get +2 Con and Int, -2 Cha, land speed 20 ft, swim speed 30 ft, darkvision 60 ft, 1/day Blood Frenzy and the ability to speak with sharks. Overall, a balanced one I won’t complain about. Solid.


The final race herein would be the vampire, who gets +2 Str and Cha, -2 Wis, is undead and gets darkvision 60 ft as well as Blood Drain (bite damage deviates from standard, but this is offset by Con-damage…and gets all the other vampire abilities. I’ll make this brief: This one is somewhat overpowered and the mechanics aren’t precise enough to warrant it. The direct competition would be Dreamscarred Press’ Lords of the Night…which I’d certainly advocate getting if you want to play vampires.


The appendix contains 8 new feats, which include an unlimited AoE-cone that can be made from boulders, 1/day personalized hold monster, a 3rd level vampire-feat that allows for instant sunlight adaption and also Fire resistance. *sigh* Does this also render immune to sunlight-duplicating spells and effects? You guessed it – no idea. Alternate slow-effects for medusa-gazes are pretty neat, while daze-inducing gales feel a bit weak. Another feat makes ALL knowledge skills class skills AND is tied in with an organization we know nothing about. Syncretic Faith is odd: You only get one domain, but may 1/week switch deities by one step on the alignment axis, gaining a new domain. Why odd? Well, what happens to domain powers? I assume they’re lost as well…but what if they’re permanent? Oh well, overall, this one’s still one I could see myself using in a modified iteration. The final feat allows for the wielding of weapons at reach in the tongue as though it were your primary hand….but what does that make of your other hands? Very strong, available at 1st level, not getting near my game.  The appendix also sports the landwalker spell, which provides the aquatic-to-land-adaption you’d expect and two alchemical items – one to breathe underwater and one to ignore temporarily light blindness.



Editing and formatting are…the main friggin’ issue of this book. While editing isn’t bad in a traditional sense, this book suffers from not ONE, not a single one of the races herein adhering to the presentation-standards established for races. With deviating wording, issues creep in and to me, they broke this book’s back. Layout adheres to a 1-column, per se printer-friendly standard, though the 1-column standard means that this book has more blank space and bloats its page-count beyond what a regular presentation would have offered. Artwork-wise, the pdf sports solid full-color pieces – nothing breathtaking, but okay. What’s not okay is the lack of bookmarks – for a book of this size, their omission represents a major comfort-detriment.


Ray Chapel can make balanced races. There are quite a few examples of such races herein I’d consider using in my game regarding their stats, were it not for the presentation-deviations that gall me to no end. Still, there are some good ideas herein…but you’ll have to carefully look for them.


Ultimately, this book feels like one you’d expect in the infancy of a given roleplaying system: When the author has not yet established a firm grasp of rules-language and conventions of a given system, when basic books such as this still have a chance to shine or at least be considered okay, when internal balancing of races and their options is not yet that important.


Let me reiterate this: This is by no means a book sans worthwhile content. However, it is a book that fails to provide any of the things that have become standard: Multiple race traits? Selections of alternate racial traits? NOPE. Wording conventions, conventionalized finer rules-details? NOPE. Racial scaling-advice? RP-break-downs? Favored class options? Nope. And then there would be the sad fact that we don’t even get age, height or weight tables…not to begin with the lack of bookmarks and, more jarringly, the lack of detailed information regarding the respective races.


You see, a new race should be more than just a collection of mechanical tidbits – it should have a unique culture or some unique thing it can do that makes it feel different. Not a single one of the races herein manages to get these two right. The medusa-gaze is solid, but the fact remains that we have races existing mostly in a vacuum here – there simply isn’t enough information on each of them, in spite of what you’d believe what looking at the page-count bloated by the layout.


What really breaks this pdf for me, though is one simple fact: I can, from the top of my head, mention quite literally dozens of pdfs that cover the same races in a better and more holistic manner. Whether it’s Kobold Press’ Advanced Races Compendium, series like Astonishing Races or In the Company of Monsters, Fehr’s Ethnology or books like Bloodforge or Lords of the Night – the 3pp-circuit literally has dozens of books that cover the themes…and, unfortunately, ALL have one thing in common:


They are vastly superior. There is no sugar-coating it, they all are better. No exceptions. They have tighter rules, better layout, better rules-language, more detail, more options….I could continue this list ad infinitum.


See, I try, very hard, to unearth the positive aspects of a given book and highlight them. My impulse was to give this, for its solid craftsmanship, at least the saving grace of a 2 star-rating…but ultimately, I’d be doing a huge disservice to all those well-crafted, detailed books I mentioned before, some of which got flack from me for much, much less. In direct comparison with these, I can see literally nothing that would warrant getting this. I feel bad doing this, I really do, but I have to take into account the exceedingly high standards among 3pps, the reason why I actually can dish out as many high ratings as I can – it’s because they meet very high standards. This wouldn’t have made my standards when I began reviewing, much less so now. For the sake of fairness towards all those hard-working designers that have to put up with my high standards and for my readers, which by now expect them – I can’t rate this higher than 1 star.


If you want, you can get this pdf here on OBS and here on’s shop.
Endzeitgeist out.


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Reviewer without a cause