Tuesday 10 December 2013

Bestiary 4

Monsters are a dime a dozen. Or so it can sometimes seem in fantasy roleplaying games like Pathfinder. That’s not to say that new monsters aren’t fun. I absolutely enjoy opening up a new book of monsters and looking through at the new and interesting options. I know full well that I’ll never use most of them, but they’re fun to read about and a few of them will be interesting enough that they’ll show up in some of my actual games from time to time. Some I might even like enough to use multiple times or even frequently. It can also be nice to throw something brand new at the players (as opposed to the characters) from time to time. And that, I suppose, is what makes new monster books worth it in the end.

Nevertheless, I was actually quite happy that, last year, Paizo broke with the pattern of releasing a new Bestiary every fall by releasing the NPC Codex instead. It was a welcome change from the usual and fulfilled a need that the game has too often ignored. Still, it was inevitable that Bestiary 4 would show up eventually, and show up it has. So the question becomes, is it worth it? And that’s a hard question to answer because it really depends on how much you like or want new monsters (as nobody really needs new monsters). However, regardless of the answer to this question, it’s still a good book.

Bestiary 4 contains over 300 new monsters. All the monster types are represented, although some more than others. There are many of the standards found in every Bestiarynew dinosaurs, devils, dragons—but also many unusual and bizarre creatures. Perhaps the most notable new monsters, however, are the mythic monsters. This year’s release of Mythic Adventures has created a completely new category for monsters—one that needs filling up. As I said in my review of Mythic Adventures, I was actually rather disappointed in the monsters introduced in the book. All of them were simply mythic versions of already-existing monsters. While necessary, I was hoping to see some unique mythic creatures as well, and Mythic Adventures failed to deliver on that. Not so Bestiary 4. None of the mythic monsters in this book are mythic versions of non-mythic monsters (either new or old).

Admittedly, the very nature of the mechanics for mythic monsters requires that there be a non-mythic version to overlay the mythic mechanics on. However, it’s still quite possible to say that the creature only actually exists in its mythic version and that’s essentially the way Bestiary 4 handles it. At no point are we ever presented with non-mythic stats for any of the mythic creatures within. They are simply presented as monsters that happen to have mythic ranks and abilities, and I like this a great deal.

The book also takes full advantage of the wide range of power possible with mythic creatures. There are extremely powerful mythic creatures—such as the drakainia, which is CR 25/MR 10—but there are also weaker mythic creatures that lower-level parties can easily deal with. The chaneque is a CR 1 creature (with a mythic rank of 1). While the majority of mythic monsters in the book have CRs over 10, there is enough range and variance that GMs can easily find mythic monsters to challenge just about any group of adventurers.

The best part about the mythic monsters in Bestiary 4, however, is that they’re imaginative and can be used to create some extremely memorable encounters or villains. The aforementioned chaneque is a fey that collects skulls and turns them into weapons that steal souls. The colossi are like giant golems that literally stand 60 to 80 feet tall and can level the countryside beneath their massive feet. Elohim are strange outsiders who create and populate miniature worlds.

While they aren’t technically mythic creatures themselves, demon lords and empyreal lords make their first appearance with stats in a Pathfinder RPG rulebook, and their immense power requires the mythic rules (and both demon and empyreal lords gain mythic abilities on their home planes). The demon lords include Dagon, Kostchtchie, and Pazuzu, while the empyreal lords include Cernunnos, Korada, and Vildeis. Unfortunately, there are no archdevils or daemon horsemen in the book (there’s only so much space, I suppose, and something needs to be left over for Bestiary 5). Along with these, there are also three Great Old Ones from the stories of H. P. Lovecraft: Bokrug, Cthulhu, and Hastur. Cthulhu is CR 30 and is utterly terrifying! Even a party of 20th-level/10th-tier characters will have their work cut out for them defeating him.

Bestiary 4 is not all mythic monsters though, and I don’t want to give the impression that it’s only useful for people who use Mythic Adventures. There’s a lot more in this book. There are new familiars, giants, outer dragons (dragons from outer space), various clockwork constructs, new lycanthropes, and more. There are a few creatures that are reprinted from other sources (such as the huldra which appeared in Lands of the Linnorm Kings), but most are new. There are some old favourites that show up as well. I was very excited to see the juggernaut (a vehicle-like construct that originally appeared decades ago in the Dungeons and Dragons module X4: Master of the Desert Nomads) making its first appearance with Pathfinder stats.

Overall, Bestiary 4 provides a wealth of new monsters for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, and there’s enough variety to suit many people’s needs. Of course, there are a lot of monsters already out there and some people may just not feel the desire for any more. I sometimes feel myself reaching that point and I know that one day I probably will. However, a slower release rate will likely stave that off somewhat (my enjoyment of Bestiary 4 definitely benefited from the extra year’s wait), and I hope that Paizo adopts an alternating schedule for fall rulebook releases so that next years sees NPC Codex 2 and Bestiary 5 doesn’t show up until 2015. Whatever the case, Bestiary 4 has provided me with lots of new options to throw at my players, and that’s always a good thing.

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