Friday, May 11, 2012

Augury - The Midgard Bestiary

The Midgard Bestiary is back with a Pathfinder-based Edition. Only one word: finally!  The first version of the Bestiary was released for AGE System, which I found odd given that the original monsters were for D&D 3.5. I was pleasantly surprised by this new version.

The Midgard Bestiary is a monster collection taken from the pages of Kobold Quarterly and – most important! – various Open Design patronage projects.

The cool thing (for me) about Open Design’s adventures is that they tend to be quite unique in terms of flavor or encounter (and monster) design. One of the best side-effects of creating a patronage-based book is that it allows you get all kinds of feedback right during the production process. Even if a particular creature lacks an innovative mechanic, you can bet that it carries a new (and possibly weird) concept or employs a clever twist. Take, for example, the Bestiary’s initial entry: the Ala (CR 8). At first you think this is just a new hag with a storm theme. Then, check the first paragraph:

Ala are born from galls that grow on the trunks of treants. While in this parasitic pocket, an ala sickens the treant and devours its life force. When the treant dies, the ala takes the treant’s soul as its own before erupting in a black whirlwind of claws and lightning.

Great flavor for what would be otherwise a merely mechanical variant of an old creature. In fact, like the Midgard Campaign Setting itself, these monsters sound truly “mythological”. Each one has a folklore, legend, symbolism or mystical association that sounds as some taken from real myths (and in fact quite a few are based on less known Scandinavian and Slavic tales). Together with that you get strange powers and proprieties – like the mighty Andrenjinyi (CR 14) (based on an Australian legend) who can polymorph his victims once it swallows them (yeah, bizarre).

The Midgard Bestiary is full of these weird critters: homunculus that are grown inside its masters’ body, butterfly swarms that feed on undead flesh, undead creatures that can assume humanoid shape but are actually made of hundreds of tiny bones, small devils that can corrupt you with a touch, rats that kill its pray by multiplying, fungal hive-minds Body Snatchers-style, sentient electrical sparks, lustful two-headed dragons and – of course! – the derro fetal savant! Not even the original Fiend Folio can beat this one in outright strangeness and fun.

Another example of a creature with an “out-of-the-box” ability is the Slavic demon Bagiennik (CR 5), famous for its healing powers; the Chikavak (CR 2) , which can be summoned by a folk ritual and employed to talk with animals (or to steal honey from the neighbor’s beehives); and the Kot bayun (CR 7), which is a fey cat that can remove conditions by telling tales, besides being “a natural enemy of elves and blink dogs”. Most creatures of the Midgard Bestiary present a nice twist for what would otherwise be just another encounter (or even a short adventure).

Some of the creatures can work as new character races, like the Alseid (CR ½), Dust Goblin (CR ½), Half-Merfolk (CR ½) and the Roachling (CR 1).

Zobeck’s fans get stats various famous monsters, like clockworks, the darakhul (Midgard’s take on Lovecraft ghouls) and their legions, the shadow fey and the lorelei.

The Midgard Bestiary’s art ranges from good – most of the B&W ones, with some exceptions like the horrid Bukavac (CR 9) – to excellent (mostly the color ones). We’re talking of a PDF with 109-pages and 60+ monsters, for $ 9.99. Although it has fewer creatures than a typical D&D/Pathfinder bestiary, the Midgard Bestiary more than compensate for it in sheer originality (besides potential scaring moments). Because many of its creatures’ art are in B&W, I recommend the PDF version (the PDF + printed version goes for $24.99).