Welcome, fans! What’s a bestiary review, you might ask? It’s where I go over an all creatures book and give my thoughts creature per creature. There’s not really any other way of getting a good feel on whether you’ll want a bestiary in your hands than this, I say. So, I decided I’d look at every book in the E.N. Critters line as a startoff to this type of review. We’ll start…well…at the start, with the very first volume of the series, Ruins of the Pale Jungle.
Total number of creatures: 32 (35 counting substats within 1 creature’s heading)
Breakup of creature types: 1 aberration, 5 animals, 1 construct, 1 dragon, 1 elemental, 1 fey, 3 humanoids, 2 magical beasts, 1 monstrous humanoid, 1 ooze, 3 outsiders, 3 plants, 6 undead, 3 vermin
CR range: 1/3 to 20
Animus: A small, whispy undead at a meager CR 3, the animus (a vaguely visible ectoplasm that remains to guard ancient jungle tombs) may seem like a small helping for any party at first. I’d say that’s wrong. It’s a fascinating creature, with abilities that can make it pretty fierce; for instance, not only is it incorporeal and has the ability to control objects, it can actually puppeteer living beings. If nothing else, that should give your players a reason to fear the animus if they’ve defiled its guardship. Despite being “just a toned down ghost”, the animus is a great addition to any spooky exploration adventure, and is most likely to give your party’s Rogue a run for its money.
Arach: This, on the other hand, is just a standard “creepy Evil race for you to kill”. A CR 5 spider-taur creature that has little to define it from being a weakened drider beyond tremorsense and increased grappling; indeed, it doesn’t even have magic to aid it. If you use it in the campaign, arachs are likely to be just a beefed up “orc race” of the jungle. Also has nothing to do with the decidedly more awesome Tome of Horrors arach.
Balam Chac: A brutal CR 18 outsider, the Balam Chac is an anthropomorphic jaguar that can take on either its typical form, that of a normal jaguar, or a “god beast” form that is that of a massive supernatural jaguar. These powerful beings can induce fear, create powerful nature-related spells, and induce a save-or-die effect with any critical hit they make. Based on the sacred jaguars of Mayan lore, the Balam Chac is a creature that is most likely the penultimate encounter race in a jungle campaign. It certainly has plenty of supernatural bite to back up its frightful presence bark.
Banyaba: A CR 5 dwarf dryad connected to banyan trees. Exhudes an aura of innocence and has a childlike appearance. See where I’m going with this? No? Well, think about all the havoc the “innocent elf child” could wreak on a logging party or similar defacers of her banyan grove. Add in the ability to animate trees, and you have a creature that is pretty much a dryad in a smaller (yet stronger) package.
Baya Tumbili: As awesome as using actual Swahili to name a creature is, I’m…not so sure I’d ever use a baya tumbili. There’s only so much you can do with a CR 10 incorporeal, fast healing, primate-dominating, energy-draining, blood-sucking undead ape that is effectively immortal. Okay, so there’s a lot you can do with a CR 10 incorporeal, fast healing, primate-dominating, energy-draining, blood-sucking undead ape that is effectively immortal…doesn’t mean it’s easy to think of those things.
Colony Spider: Sentieny monstrous spiders. Yawn. Moving on.
Creeper Cat: A magical invisible tiger. Umm…sure….whatever you want. Works well for a “shiny magical stuff” replacement of normal big cats or an unseen menace.
Demon, Pashinor: A CR 16 warrior demon resembling an anthropomorphic purple tiger with spikes (seriously). In spite of its silly appearance, the pashinor has a vicious arsenal of energy resistances, summoning powers, a magical longbow, and an immunity to illusions and disguises. In essence, it is a creature that will hunt you down no matter how you try to evade it. Death of the hunted or the hunter is the only option, because it will find you. Great for a predator and prey type game.
Detritus Lurker: Ooze that pretends to be leaves and sticks. Has a jumbo size variety. Interesting flavor-wise, but inconsequential if your party knows oozes.
Devil, Bloodhunter (Coagadirra): A CR 12 devil that resembles a huge-handed minotaur made out of blood. Like the pashinor, it is a hunter that has strong energy resistances (plus massive spell resistance). Unlike the pashinor, it relies on physical power and its impalement ability (sorta like rake, but “impregnates” the impaled with a fetal goagadirra that doesn’t appear until the infected dies…so, sorry, no “bursting out of the living chest” moments). It does have a few spell-like abilities, but they aren’t that impressive. If nothing else, you will get good fear mileage out of it in a “dark and stormy jungle” horror game.
Dragon, Jungle Drake: The big CR 20 of the book. It’s essentially a sorta-dragony python with a sonic beam and the ability to shoot magic missiles and cloudkill at you. So…yeah. I’d just use a wyrm or something instead, unless you really want a dragon that hunts from the trees.
Earthbound: No, not that Earthbound. This earthbound is a template that creates a plant monster. It’s essentially a shambling plant-filled corpse, sorta like a yellow musk zombie. It has enwrapping vines and a breath weapon of poisonous spores. Good for pod people homages.
Engraved: Have you ever seen Maya or Aztec wall carvings? Well, the engraved are golem versions of those. Beyond a massive spell resistance and its stony form, the engraved don’t have much going for them crunch-wise…but think of the look on your players’ faces when the wall carving’s spear is coated in their companions’ blood and you’ll know why these are great.
Haze Horror: A fiery CR 6 undead that resembles a humanoid-shaped bank of haze. It’s rather wraithish, but the fact that it can move around in the daylight and is immune to fire makes it unique and fun to throw at those not expecting undead during a bright daylight jungle walk.
Kithrotto: A CR 5 elemental that is essentially an animated waterfall…no, not a foamy water elemental. I mean it has both the earth and water subtypes, since it’s the whole darn rockface the waterfall flows from. It’s modus operandi is “drench, grapple, drown without mercy”.
Leafling: At first glance, these individuals just look like pygmy Amazonian natives with druid powers. Then you realize that they can summon leafling ancestors, which are flying undead shrunken heads. I repeat that…they can summon flying undead shrunken heads. Need I even say more? Oh, and yes, the stats for the leafling’s shrunken head zombies are provided.
Leechvine: A vampiric assassin vine. Moving on!
Parryn: Erm…feathery…flying…gnome…things. Yeah, let’s just move on, with haste.
Revered Ancestor: More or less a psionic mummy, the revered ancestor enjoys playing mind games with intruders from afar. In other words, you may not ever see the revered ancestor in a tomb raiding campaign, but you’ll sure feel it. What you can’t see can hurt you…and makes another good horror campaign addition.
Root Roper: A weaker, terrestrial version of the roper…next!
Sandtrapper: A big vampiric flower that creates quicksand. Interesting for a way of showing the players that the jungle isn’t welcoming, even when it gives you a sweet-smelling flower.
Scrimp: A poisonous rat-lizard. Not much use for it beyond a strange faunal note or a minor encounter.
Shetani: A monkey zombie. That’s…pretty much it. A monkey zombie. I can understand if this was in an appendix or something or with a reprint of the zombie template (or a new template), but not taking up space in the main entries.
Swarm, Delirium: A fly swarm with hallucinogenic poison. Interesting, but ultimately more of an annoyance than a danger.
Swarm, Piranha Bird: Killer swarming hummingbirds! I’m not sure I could come up with a more random encounter in a short period of time.
Swarm, Vermiliant: A swarm of creatures that has a poison that produces…a healing spell? I take back what I said about the piranha birds…
Mundane Appendix: Ocelot, peccary, two snakes. Nothing too out of the ordinary…obviously, since they’re real-world creatures.
The layout is nice and concise, and there are plenty of interesting ideas. While there are some stinkers, I cannot really fault the book that much. The title is pretty cheap, so you aren’t losing much even with the stinkers taken into account, and if you need a jungle encounter…well…here it is. If you like the sound of the creatures above, go for it! Definitely a decent buy. 7/10.