Sunday, 10 January 2016

Pathfinder: Bestiary 5

Image credit: Paizo.com
If there is one thing you can't accuse Paizo of, it is not providing you with enough material to expand your game with. From the numerous Adventure Path modules, to the various Advanced Guides and Ultimate books, to the assortment of Campaign Setting supplements, they've spent the last several years working to make sure as many options as possible are covered.

One key element of this for me, as a GM who is trying to relearn the ropes, is the series of Bestiary books that have been released. While I'm unlikely to get to a point where I'm writing scenarios where my group are having to fight Dagon or C'thulu1, there have been a whole host of creatures - and potential character races - introduced in each book that I am likely to make use of.

In November, the latest Bestiary volume was released. I picked a copy up from my local game shop as it was released, and have been reading through it since...

As Paizo have published new material, the Bestiary series has tended to take it into account when creating new monsters. Bestiary 4, for example, made use of the Mythic rules when creating several of its creatures, and both feats and spells have turned up from the Advanced Guides and Ultimate books in the Bestiary series after they were released. Bestiary 5 is no different in this regard, coming out in the same year as Occult Adventures, and it introduces the first set of creatures with psychic magic into the generic Pathfinder line2.

Overview


The Pathfinder Bestiary series follows a pretty consistent structure - you get a short introduction which provides a recap of how the creature entry will be laid out, as well as how materials in other books will be referred to (normally the book titles initials in superscript). After that, roughly 300 monsters (and variants on monsters) across a range of CRs are presented, with a full-colour illustration, flavour text, the creature's statistics, and a varying amount of background (apparently dictated by remaining space on a page). The book is then finished off with a set of appendices, covering templates, rules for creature types, common special rules, etc.

Creatures


One of the first things I look for in one of these books are which creatures come with a framework which can be used to create PCs, and Bestiary 5 comes with nine of them. Of the nine in the book, I'd say there is one that isn't suitable for PCs without really good justification (the Deep One Hybrid), along with one that probably needs the flavour tweaking to fit into most settings that aren't that technologically advanced (the Android - I'd probably go with some type of awakened Construct, even if the Type remained the same).

Of the remaining seven, the one I'd be most interested in running as a character myself is probably the Astomoi - using telepathy instead of speech is quite cool, and with a world that you can only perceive out to 60 feet, it makes for some characterful experiences. A character who has never seen the sun rise with his own eyes, for instance, or appreciated the vista of mountains in the distance...

Moving on from the new PC races, there is a slew of creatures to add to existing types within the setting. Most of the various Outsider groups seem to get at least one entry, though I didn't notice any Daemons or Divs. The Dark Folk, who have grown through the Bestiary series, get a PC race in the Caligni. The Thriane, a race of insectoids introduced in Bestiary 4, picked up two new types of drone. We even picked up three new groups to add to the range, in the forms of the Manasaputra, Robots and the Sakhil. As with the Android, I'm not sure about using Robots in my games, but they could easily be changed to Constructs as well.

The Dragons pick up a new sub-type, in the form of Esoteric Dragons. These entries highlight one of the areas where I feel the Bestiary series has been a bit of a let-down. The Esoteric Dragons are a really interesting idea, and I'd love to see background about them, but despite each Esoteric Dragon getting a two-page spread in the book, there's only six or seven lines of information for each one.

I don't see the need for three profiles for each type of Dragon - Young, Adult and Ancient. Sacrificing any one of those would allow for a minimum of half a column more background material, allowing a GM to represent them from a more informed perspective in their games. While this issue is most apparent on the Dragons, there are quite a few creatures in the book that have minimal information on their entry which could do with expansion.

Outside of the sub-type groups, there are plenty of new creatures to keep the interest of your players. Some come from classic mythology or urban legends, such as the Firbolg or the Death Coach. There are templates to apply to base creatures to open up whole new baskets of themed creatures, such as the Plagued Beast or the Taxidermic Creature (and the latter is just begging for a Halloween-themed one-off). And there are even new end-of-campaign villains if you really want to test a high-level party, with the Devastator, Zygomind or Grim Reaper all being creatures that should cause most PCs to pause before rushing in.

Verdict


Having had chance to read the book, and digest it over the festive period3, I like what I see in this Bestiary. I can see a use for pretty much everything in it, though spread over several campaigns in different parts of the world. I am starting to wonder if Paizo might be starting to run out of ideas for some of the sub-types (Giants, Drakes and Oozes, I'm looking at you), While there were a number of creatures with psychic magic present to tie the book in to Occult Adventures, the usage didn't feel ham-fisted - and using some of the psychic spells as spell-like abilities on certain creatures made perfect sense.

All in all, I'd happily recommend this book to any Pathfinder GM, with two caveats. Firstly, if you don't own the various hardbacks that are called out in the introduction, the d20pfsrd is your friend (though hopefully they'd already know that) - I'm missing several of the books from my collection, and being able to look up feats and spells without feeling guilty for torrenting a book is a weight off my mind. Secondly, I have heard that there are several creatures in this book that are reprints from various Campaign Setting splatbooks - if you have a wide collection of those, then it would be worth seeing just how much is going to be new compared to your existing collection, and factoring that in to your purchase decision.


Product Details

Publisher: Paizo Publishing
ISBN: 978-1-60125-792-5
RRP: $44.99 / £29.99

1 - Thanks for that idea, Bestiary 4...
2 - As opposed to the Golarion-specific supplements, which include an Occult Bestiary.
3 - Needs more salt...