Monday 14 January 2013

Inner Sea Bestiary

Pathfinder is a game with a lot of monsters. There's no doubting that. It’s enough of a truth that I’ve actually used that opening sentence twice in a row now. I don’t have an exact count, but there are around 1000 total in the Bestiary, Bestiary 2, and Bestiary 3, and that doesn’t count the numerous other monsters that have shown up in the Bestiary sections of Pathfinder Adventure Path volumes, various other adventures, Campaign Setting books, and more. This isn’t a bad thing. In many ways, it’s a great thing. It allows for endless variety between different campaigns, and it means that gamemasters can always find something new to spring on their players.

But let’s be honest, there are more monsters in the game than any one gamemaster is ever likely to use in a lifetime. For this reason, I was actually very glad when this past fall, Paizo didn’t release Bestiary 4, but instead released the NPC Codex. As fun as new monsters are, they aren’t really needed, but stats for generic NPCs were. Nonetheless, at the same time they released the NPC Codex, they also released the Inner Sea Bestiary to help sate the appetite of those yearning for more monsters—but more than that, to also provide a resource for Golarion-specific monsters, something not previously available, and thus fulfilling a need after all.

While it’s true that there have been many Golarion-specific monsters already published, these are spread out across a disparate number of resources (such as the Pathfinder Adventure Path volumes, Inner Sea World Guide, and others). It can be difficult to keep track of them all and to remember which book a particular favourite might have appeared in. Unfortunately, the Inner Sea Bestiary won’t help with that problem as the monsters here haven’t appeared in previous sources (not stat write-ups at any rate; many of them have been mentioned in other sources). However, the Inner Sea Bestiary does provide an easily accessible source of Golarion monsters, one that gamemasters can turn to quickly and easily to find monsters for their games. (I should point out that throughout this review, I am using the name Golarion to refer to the entire campaign setting, even though it more properly refers to only one planet within the setting, albeit the planet where most of the action takes place. Some of the monsters in this book come from other planets in the Golarion system or other planes, but they are all part of the Pathfinder campaign setting. I use Golarion more broadly for ease of use and convenience.)

By being world-specific, the Inner Sea Bestiary has a distinct advantage over the generic hardcover bestiaries. It may be considerably shorter and not have as many monsters, but it can add a flavour that the hardcovers can’t. The hardcovers certainly provide lots of interesting monsters and many of them have compelling abilities and personalities, but the books have to leave out how these monsters fit into, and interact with, the world around them. Individual GMs must sort out for themselves how they work in their own game worlds. This is a good thing as not everyone uses Golarion as their setting of choice. But for those who do, it’s nice to know how monsters fit into the world. The monsters within the Inner Sea Bestiary are designed specifically to slot right into Golarion. They are unique to the campaign world and that gives them just a little more flavour.

I use the word unique and the back cover of the book says, “all invented specifically for the Pathfinder campaign setting!” Yet the very first monster in the book is the android. Some people might look at that and think that that’s not very unique. Androids show up in all kinds of places. Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation is probably the most famous, but he is far from unique. However, while the name and a number of superficial qualities may be the same, this android is very much for this specific campaign setting.

The very first thing I noticed about the android is that its type is humanoid. My initial reaction to this was, “Huh?” I had expected it to be a construct with the robot subtype. After all, androids are artificial creatures made of mechanical parts, which is exactly what a construct is. But I was allowing my standard sci fi biases to cloud my judgement. On closer look, the humanoid type starts to make more sense. Although they aren’t flesh and blood, these androids are meant to be the closest something mechanical can get to it. As such, they kind of straddle the line between construct and humanoid. This is reflected in the fact that they have a “constructed” trait that gives them some construct-like qualities. Admittedly, this could have also been achieved by making them constructs with a “humanoid-like” quality, but making them humanoids also allows them to be a playable race without encountering all the mechanical difficulties that construct PC races have (instant immunity to tons of spells, for instance). In the end, while androids remain similar to androids from other worlds, these ones have a uniquely Golarion style to them.

Indeed, this level of originality extends through almost all the monsters in this book. There are creatures whose very existence relies on aspects of the campaign world. Apostasy wraiths, for example, are spirits of former worshippers of Razmir who, upon death, learn that their god is false and now only wish to avenge themselves upon those who fooled them in life. Petrified maidens are the undead remnants of a specific army that tried to invade the nation of Geb. Psychopomps are an entire class of outsiders who serve the goddess Pharasma in the Boneyard. They preside over the flow of life and help to guide the souls of the dead to their final destinations in the planes.

Then, of course, there are the spawn of Rovagug, immense children of the god of destruction. The spawn have been mentioned in many Golarion sources, but only a few have so far had stats. The Inner Sea Bestiary provides complete stats for two more of them: Chemnosit, the Monarch Worm and Volnagur, the End-Singer. These ultra-powerful creatures can form the basis of entire campaigns (much like Xotani, one of the other spawn of Rovagug, forms the basis of the Legacy of Fire adventure path).

The book also contains long-awaited stats for lashunta, one of the native races of the planet Castrovel. The lashunta are discussed a great deal in Distant Worlds, but there are no stats in that book. There are robots from Numeria, several creatures native to the Mana Wastes (such as the Mana Waste mutant template and the spellscar fext), star monarchs (magical emissaries of Desna), and umbral shepherds (entities devoted to Zon-Kuthon). There are also several unique fiends: Lorthact, the Unraveler (a devil); Moxix, the Drinker of Human Hope (a demon); Nightripper (a demon); and Zelishkar of the Bitter Flame (a daemon).

One of my favourite creatures in the book is the termagant, a new kind of kyton. I’ve always liked that the Pathfinder game took kytons (or chain devils) out of the devil category and made them their own class of creature. Bestiary 3 introduced several new types of kytons, and now the Inner Sea Bestiary has added one more. It is one of the more powerful kyton varieties, and a true terror to behold. I’ve already included one in my home game, although the party only learned of it and saw its effects rather than actually encountering it (they’re not high enough level to face such a horror yet).

Of course, not every monster in the book is necessarily going to appeal to everyone. It may not be as long as a hardcover, but it still has a substantial number of creatures in it and some people are going to find some more interesting than others. The giant scarab beetles are much less interesting to me and seem strangely generic for a book that is otherwise so intricately tied to the setting. Osirion is mentioned in the description of the scarab beetles, but there’s nothing that really makes them stand out. I could easily imagine an identical scarab beetle in a generic monster book and that’s a bit of a shame. Still, I’m sure they fill the needs of somebody out there!

For people looking for new player character races, there are several suitable monsters in the book: androids, ghorans (human-shaped, intelligent plants from Geb), monkey goblins, lashunta, and syrinx (owl-like humanoids). Each of these five creatures contain race write-ups, including the number of racial points (RP) needed to design the race for people using the race building rules from the Advanced Race Guide. Even for people not using that book, the number of RP is a useful guide to the relative power of the race. It should be noted that some, like the syrinx, are a little more powerful than standard PC races.

Of course, there are lots of people out there who don’t use the Pathfinder campaign setting and have little interest in Golarion, people who use their own home-brewed settings or other published settings like the Forgotten Realms. Those people may find less of interest in the Inner Sea Bestiary, as it is very clearly part of the Pathfinder Campaign Setting line of books. However, for those who miss the annual hardcover bestiary and long for more monsters in their games, it is still possible to use this book. It is very easy and takes no effort to strip the monsters of their fluff descriptions and use just the base stats as you would a monster from a generic hardcover book.

The Inner Sea Bestiary is really an excellent book, one that manages to add yet more monsters to the game but still fill a niche for the Golarion setting. The monsters are full of a flavour that can’t quite be achieved in a generic monster book. I know that I’m certainly more likely to use monsters from this book in my own games than many of the monsters from the hardcover bestiaries (such as the zoog, an obscure monster from Bestiary 3 that I just chose randomly). I highly recommend it to all GMs who use the Golarion setting, and even to those who don’t, but still want some new and interesting monsters!

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