Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Augury – Pathfinder Bestiary 3

The Pathfinder Bestiary 3 follows its predecessors (and Paizo’s quality standard) with a beautifully (color) illustrated 319 pages hardback.

You can call this book the “Pathfinder Oriental Bestiary”. We have baku, imperial dragons, bhuta, foo creature (template), garuda (as an outsider), jorogumo, kami (as a native outsider), kappa, kirin, manananggal, nue, (more) oni, pennanggalen (another template), shinigami (thankfully as an outsider, not an undead), tanuki, taotieh, terra-cotta soldier, jiang-shi vampires and the yuki-onna. Lots of Asian-flavored monsters, but there’s still enough space for other types of creatures, which I find a positive point.

In many ways, the Pathfinder Bestiary 3 is also a consolidation of material previously seen in other Paizo products, like Adventure Paths, the special Bonus Bestiary, the Pathfinder Chronicles (Monsters Revisited) etc. Examples are the allip (with new stats), the annis hag, the (in)famous carbuncle, the caryatid column, cyclops, the derhii (flying gorillas!), contract devils, the disenchanter, dragonnes, the terrible flumph,  goblin snakes, the heucuva and the jackalwere.

The Bestiary 3 suffers from an old issue in D&D (and now in Pathfinder) – “humanoid inflation”. You have the adaro (shark-mermaids), the adlet (CR 10 humanoid wolf-men), catfolk (with race stats), cecaelia, ceratioidi, derhii, maftet (what in the Nine Hells is thing for?), ratfolk (also with race stats), sabosan (bat humanoids) and vanara (race stats). I have nothing against cat-, rat- and monkey-folks, but the entries on the Bestiary are too bland (I would rather use nezumi  or skaven for ratfolk, for example). [Except for the flying gorillas – the derhii. Intelligent apes are always fun and morally necessary to the success of any setting; better yet if they can fly, shot laser through their eyes and other unique traits.]

My favorite part of the Bestiary is the “new weird” stuff – creatures that manage to balance novelty with a dash of the bizarre (but not much). In this peculiar field we have the big akhult (a wolf-orca shapechager), the weird azruvedra (a benevolent giant beetle gardener with a human head), the gorynych (truly a “true dragon”, at least regarding the usual symbolism of the medieval wyrm), the kongamato (Hyborean dragons!) and the lukwata.

For those searching for the classics, the Bestiary also has a plethora of good creatures. We have the demilich, the incubus, the deathk-*COUGH*- I mean, the graveknight (with a really terrific mechanic) and even a new take on the concept of the Animal Lords. Bandersnatchs, clockworks of all CRs, flailsnails and jubjub birds are other “new old” option.

Many creatures are simply updates from their 3.5 versions, like the ahuizotl (an Aztec monster), the ascomoid, the berbalang (reskinned now as an undead), the dire corby, the aforementioned caryatid column, the dragon faerie, scorpion-men, the kech, lammasu, phantom fungus, shedu, sphinxes, spider eaters, the alien tojanida etc.

Rest assured that you also get more new (or old) animals, dinosaurs, familiars, giants, linnorns, golems and trolls, among other critters. We also see the official fey creature template for Pathfinder.

For high-level play, the new thing are the Behemoths – the manifestation of divine punishment over the Material Plane (which I find a little odd because Behemoths speak Aklo, the non-Euclidian language usually associated with the Dark Tapestry and Cthulhoid beats in general) .

The Bestiary 3 has its fair share of evil outsiders: asuras (Indian-flavored Lawful Evil creatures derived of divine sins or mistakes); new devils, daemons and demons; demodands (nicely reskinned as titans’ servants); the flavorful divs (all with very cool limitations or taboos), the Hellraiser-like kytons and even more rakshasas. Together with the divs, I really like the new demodands – their faith-stealing strike is a cool and fearsome ability.

Talking about cool things, the pale stranger is the champion of the “wow!/never in my game!” monster category. It’s a famous concept – an undead gunslinger. I believe that Classic Westerns are a valid option for Pathfinder settings (they surely inspired some of the traits of pulp tales, like Conan) and, because of that, I’m quite happy with the pale stranger (albeit the art isn’t much).

Still on the cool part, the Vyshkanyas are the one race of humanoid that I see many players asking to play with. Instantaneous anti-heroes, like the Dhampyr from Bestiary 2. Another cool concept is the grodair (they made a fey fish looks cool… that’s something worth commending for). The unfettered eidolons is another idea that I’m happy to see explored here.

On clever mechanics, my favorite is the terrible rejuvenation ability from the bogeyman (a fear-based fey) and the entire concept behind the lukwata (a magic-eating monster vulnerable only to non-magical weapons).

The Bestiary 3 also draws heavily from myths and legends. We have a good selection of Scandinavian monsters: norms (as fey), sleipnirs and valkyries are here. For obscure myth-based monster we get the game’s highest CR monstrous humanoid: the Humbaba. If you find the original legend, this critter gets yet cooler. Paizo also gets points with me for the inclusion of Persian myths (Peri and Simurgh), African (Popobala), Native American (pukwudgie, Philippines (Siyokoy) and even modern myths/hoaxes (Sasquatch). Even the aforesaid kongamato is based on African legends, with a certain pulpish vibe. Paizo really did a great research, showing an eclectic selection perfectly in the spirit of D&D/Pathfinder (although I still more miss science fiction-based monsters).

Now on the creatures with a really strong and badwrongfun D&D flavor – our winner is the deathtrap ooze. It’s such a ridiculous but useful (and sadist) concept, that I can’t help but smile. On the “trash” side of things, our prize goes to the globster – “a living collection of half-digested parts from large sea creatures such as whales and squid”.

Finally, Paizo’s tradition of Lovecraftian goodness is kept with moon-beasts, vooniths, ythians and zoogs.

So? What more can I say about this book? While the Bestiary model is (in a fashion) out-dated, specially for D&D-based games, its amazing how Paizo managed to pull this off with this third installment, creating a book made of pure awesomeness (it’s definitely better than the Bestiary 2). In fact, you almost get the impression that they could do a Bestiary 4 effortlessly. While I still miss robots (for Numeria-based settings) and subsystems for creating monster-on-the-fly, minions (or lesser enemies), besides more quick templates, the Bestiary 3 is a great resource, recommended for all Pathfinder Gamemasters. It’s good, useful and not just recycles stats from previous editions.