I said I’d do it, so I did it. Here, for your viewing pleasure, are my thoughts on the Pathfinder Bestiary by Paizo Publishing. I’m gonna be doing this a bit differently from my standard reviews, as a testing ground for trying to be (slightly) less verbose and more open-hearted about the titles I’m reviewing. The hype train’s come to a full stop and I’m able to look at the title cold-heartedly critically now, so I felt it was time to do this right. It won’t be a terribly long review like usual, since I’m still rather apathetic about everything around me 50% of the time, but I will have another blog entry or two in the next few days (or even one tonight if I’m lucky) to make up for it.
First thing’s first….Pathfinder has a distinctive stat block format that is very waning 3.5/early 4E era in design. Either you love it or you hate it, but personally it’s a downside for me. For a title that proclaims such excellent backwards compatibility, it’s hard to line up any of the new monsters directly to those in the Monster Manual due to this format change. The stat blocks also contain the redundancy of retaining the creature type, habitat, and climate portions of the stat block in spite of those shiny new indicator markers/tabs/whatever you wish to call them I talked about last time. I can somewhat forgive this, however, since it means you don’t have to flip back to the marker index constantly until you learn them. The book also has a nasty habit of forcing the flavor text to not lapse over a single page, which means that some are much longer than others; alas, I guess it’s an unavoidable sacrifice to stuff in more monsters. That leaves us with some minor annoyances and one major one when it comes to formatting, but not as bad as it could have been.
Two monster types have been eliminated by Pathfinder. Giants have been rolled into humanoids and elementals rolled into outsiders. I don’t really see the point, but I guess it isn’t too bad. There is a problem, however, with the giants. Sure, you could say that hill giant ranks as a really big humanoid…but why is the two-headed ettin or boarish-headed troll humanoid and not a monstrous humanoid (a type that was retained)? This is the main problem of trying to condense a creature type while trying to enforce strict limits as to where members of said creature type are migrated to; you get oddball cases like the monstrous giants (or, arguably, fire and frost giants with their elemental-like affinities). Not sure this was the best option to go for, myself…
New Monsters and “New” Monsters
There are some legitimately interesting new monsters in the Pathfinder Bestiary. For instance, you have army ant swarms and their ability to sacrifice some of their own hit points to continue an assault as the prey moves away (an idea I may incorporate into swarms myself). You also have interesting takes on old concepts like roc-sized phoenixes and cyclopes that can see the future with their single, unblinking eyes. There’s also a good dose of Open Game Content monsters such as those from Tome of Horrors and its sequels (although I cannot fault a book for gathering up monsters from other Open Game Content sources; I do this myself, even if I do my stuff for free and not $40-$50 like this title…). There are also two blatant expies in the title: the tengu (a kenku-expy) and the boggard (I’m not sure if these fit more with kuo-toa, bullywugs, or slaad…they seem to embody a bit of each). Not too sure about these critters, especially the tengu (strangely enough though, calling it a crowfolk would have satisfied me. But hey, what do I know?) Slightly wavering, but again not too bad.
Advancement to…What, Now?
Advancement is totally gone, in favor of “simple templates” that advance a creature for you and “the DM has right of way”. While I commend the effort, it’s somewhat unfair to remove the advancement system entirely for those that like a certain amount of hit die for a creature of a certain size or a relatively noviced DM; for that matter, hit die advancement has a broad range than the oh-so-shiny simple templates! They at least retain a chart showing what advancement in hit dice does to a creature. Maybe I’m overly nagging on this topic, but I’m not sure why this act would be done.
Well…that review was certainly shorter than normal, wasn’t it? What I see here is a good RPG book, not a great RPG book. If you’re really enthused about Pathfinder and its fluff or want shiny art, then I’d give at least a passing glance at the book. For the casual reader, I’d skip it and read over the Pathfinder SRD if anything. 7/10.