Publisher: Paizo Inc.
System: Pathfinder Second Edition
The Pathfinder Second Edition Bestiary from Paizo Inc is their first installment of monsters, beasties and baddies. This book is the companion to their Core Rule Book and crucial for game masters building and running games in this system.
Setting: Open – Golarion/Inner Sea
The Pathfinder universe hinges around Golarion and most often their premier region of the Inner Sea. There are hundreds of foes presented in this book, but this is a sub selection from thousands of builds. The goal of the designers and editors for the debut bestiary was to provide the basics for new game masters and players as they familiarize themselves with the updated rule set. This means few of the monsters are location specific to Golarion and those that are dabble in and around the setting. If you are a fan of the rules but prefer to create your own campaigns, you should have your basics covered.
Aesthetics: Sword and Sorcery
Paizo’s bestiary comes in two flavors, the standard graphic cover and the special edition red and gold cover. The expectation is for the graphic cover to be the unlimited print run edition with the red and gold cover noting an inaugural print run. This trend has continued with the release of each guide and bestiary to date. Inside the cover are highly detailed and stylized renditions of the creatures. Colors are bright and generally friendly even while some of the monsters are anything but. Editors and layout artists worked diligently to cram as many depictions of monsters as they could onto these pages while keeping space for the game statistics.
Mechanics: Types, Stats & Actions
The bestiary is a book about the monsters and how to quickly modify their qualities to fit your party. Rules for building encounters are primarily in the core rule book with updates and options available in the gamemastery guide. The meat of mechanics in this book are detailed in either the core rule book or in the last pages of the bestiary, starting on page 342. You can expect your monsters to claw, kick, bite blast, engulf ect ect depending on their types and fantastical anatomy.
Where possible mechanics rely heavily on keywords so that space can be made for unique abilities, lore and useful information for game masters. There is an expectation of underlying familiarity when approaching the material and while first blush understanding is maintained the corner cases will require careful reading.
For gamemasters who are comfortable with making rulings on the fly the stat blocks and unique monster mechanics get their point across quickly. The slow downs will occur when attempting to adhere as close as possible to the rules as written. The best example of this are the engulf and rupture mechanics. Engulf is a listed ability in the glossary while rupture is a keyword that is described in the ability description of engulf. Where this gets tricky that some keywords like rupture are generally unique to monsters but are referenced in multiple monster abilities. In addition, keywords do not have their own glossary table in the bestiary.
Layout: Think Monster Sandwich
Three percent of this bestiary is dedicated to rules for understanding the stat blocks and abilities in the remaining pages. Game masters will find themselves flipping between the first seven pages and the last 10 pages often for details on each of the monster’s general abilities. Broad monster categories like dragons have wonderful sections detailing lore and context but does not dive into fine details. The bestiary does not care if your dragon has three toes or four unless there is special reason for the fourth toe.
Once you become familiar with the action system the stat blocks read quickly and can be shorthanded with in a few minutes when building encounters. The stat block itself is information dense using color coding for monster types, symbols for actions and many keyword references. The abilities are bolded and while they use evocative language you may find yourself bookmarking the ability glossary. This starts on page 342 and you will need to read it carefully. Keywords are not generally bolded, and they do not have a glossary available in the text but are often outlined in the core rule book or in the ability glossary in the back when they are relevant.
Modularity: Select, Describe & Attack
Bestiaries are designed to be an ala cart reference text. Do you need a dragon? Flip to their section, grab your baddie by color and age to then throw them at your party. You won’t find shadow dragons or ethereal dragons in the first bestiary, but they will be expanded on in the supplements. The broad monster types are each this way. Notable and classic fantasy fare are included. You can modify your monsters combat power quickly but do not expect the bestiary to help you build and measure the level of the custom monsters. These rules exist in the Gamemastery Guide to build them from the ground up or use this text as a base.
Unique Features: Not Just Basic Monsters
Interspersed throughout the text are delightful gems that set the bestiary separate from other monster collections. These monsters are often the setting specific big bads like Treerazor or the Guthallath. I classify these monsters as the raid bosses of Golarion. Roll out these when you want to stomp your party.
Sometimes you will find quirky monsters like the Cauthooj which is like the cross between a magpie and an ostrich. If you want to kill your party in a unique way use one of these bird buddies. They can sense thoughts, redirect melee attacks with a reaction as well as cause confusion from a range of 120 feet. They have a stout health pool and dish out some respectable damage. Their initial design is for wilderness encounters and guarding menial quest items when they are challenged on level. Throw one of these at your party when they are level eight and they will feel like they just fought the meanest bird on the planet.
Takeaways: Beautiful Book, Must Have but Has Flaws
Whether you grab the standard or special editions of the bestiary, this book looks great on a shelf. The art presented in the text looks awesome and keeps the visual feel of Pathfinder monsters while bringing some fresh designs. The book is heavy because of how dense it is. You will want to have a comfy pack as you haul this and your core rule book to games.
While the pages are jammed packed with text and images, they boarder on too much of a good thing. Some more space towards glossary information for keywords would cut down on new users getting confused about complex abilities. As users become more familiar with the text and memorize the abilities the need for reference tables is diminished and the monster stat blocks are interpreted even faster. The side effect is that new game masters or those trying out this edition have been trained on reference tables and specific layout queues. In packing in so many monsters there is just not enough space to ease readers into the document slowly.
Navigating the document is like jumping in a diving pool with no stairs. You must go all in and when you do, you have to climb out using that ladder everyone hates. Once you get used to it, you no longer notice but if you have any reading issues the problem becomes pronounced. Despite its flaws the bestiary is a must add to your bookshelf. Classic monsters, great looks and chock full of information every new game master to second edition will need this reference. If you want to support the site you can pick up your copy using the link below!