What is a hero without monsters to vanquish? This 328-page book presents hundreds of different
creatures for use in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. Within this tome you’ll find
fire-breathing dragons and blood-drinking vampires, vile demons and shapechanging
werewolves, sadistic goblins and lumbering giants, and so much
more! Yet not all the creatures in this book are enemies, for some
can serve lucky heroes as allies or advisors, be they summoned
angels or capricious nymphs. And it doesn’t stop there—with
full rules for advancing monsters, adapting monsters to different
roles, and designing your own unique creations, you’ll never be
without a band of hideous minions again!
The Pathfinder RPG Bestiary is the must-have companion volume
to the Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook. This imaginative tabletop
game builds upon more than 10 years of system development
and an Open Playtest featuring more than 50,000 gamers to
create a cutting-edge RPG experience that brings the all-time
best-selling set of fantasy rules into the new millennium.
The Pathfinder RPG Bestiary includes:
More than 350 different monsters
Dozens of monstrous variants to modify creatures and keep
players on their toes
Numerous lists of monsters to aid in navigation, including lists
by Challenge Rating, monster type, and habitat
Extensive rules for creating effective and balanced monsters
Rules for advancing monsters by hit dice, template, or class level
Universal monster rules to simplify special attacks, defenses, and
qualities like breath weapons, damage reduction, and regeneration
More than a dozen feats tailored especially for monsters
Suggestions for monstrous cohorts
Two dozen additional animal companions
More than a dozen different wandering monster encounter tables
By now, there are several Bestiaries out in print, but when this book first came out you arguably needed to own it to play the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. Was it worth the purchase? Decide for yourself!
When we talk about a book's crunch, we're looking at its game rules, mechanics, and similar stats. As a monster book, the Bestiary is 99% crunch, and for Paizo's first real Bestiary, it is absolutely fantastic. There isn't a whole lot you can really say about monster stat blocks; they work perfectly and there aren't any monsters that feel ridiculous for their challenge rating (CR). The book also includes several new races that are appropriate for player characters; in this book, we have aasimars, the tieflings, and drow, as well as the applicable but seldom appropriate deurgar, drow noble, and svirfneblin. The book stays true to the rules of its predecessors; when you look at a drow, you recognize it as a drow from previous games. Because of the significant power up that the core races received these classically "OP" races aren't very far out of line with your traditional player characrers, and as a result we don't see the Level Adjustment system in Pathfinder. If you're unfamiliar with the term, in older editions of Dungeons and Dragons, some races were deemed so powerful that you had to actually forgo class levels in order to be a member of the race. For example, if you wanted to play a drow, you had a LA of +1, meaning that your race counted as 1 class level when determining your party's level. This either meant you were more powerful than your friends or (and more commonly) your GM had you start at a lower level to compensate. And believe me, it is not fun to be a sorcerer of an LA race because of how far behind your party is! The racial benefits seldom made up for the loss of character levels and it was a pretty terrible mechanic all around, so good riddance.
Although the book's theme is classic monsters, Paizo manages to add its own spin on fantasy games by including weird and amazing monsters. A perfect example is the froghemoth, which is basically a giant aberrant frog-monster. As a huge Lovecraft fan, I was ecstatic to see monsters like the shoggoth creep up in Pathfinder as well. For a first Bestiary, the spread of monsters is well-chosen and you could definitely run a game with only this book if you really wanted to.
What probably amounts to the best change of all, in my opinion, is the changes to the rules for building your own monsters. These rules are difficult to comprehend and enact in other games, but the Paizo team does an excellent job of laying out step-by-step every detail in crafting your own monsters by including handy charts and tables. For a game that knew it wasn't launching with much material and that it wanted to be backwards-compatible with older products, it was a very wise choice to streamline monster-making as much as they did and its probably the best reason to keep a copy of Bestiary I in your library alongside future monster tomes. 5 /5 Stars.
When we talk about a product's flavor, we're talking about its fiction content, its style, and its overall feel. This section is always very opinionated, because even though I whole-heartily enjoy Lovecraft and his works, there are those who don't like their minds thrust into insanity and the mere sight of a shoggoth or whatnot. When you read the Bestiary, the one thing that becomes very clear is that there simply is not much room for flavor. Most monsters get a paragraph and a half of descriptive text and a beautiful picture, but that's about it. Honestly, however, that's all this product needs. The monsters that are detailed are classic monsters, so the information provided about them tends to be enough that classic gamers can recognize the creature for what it is and new players can get a sense of wonder and learn enough about the monster to be on the same page with the veterans. The art is fabulous in this book and supplements the descriptions perfectly, even when the monster concept is weird text-wise a beautiful illustration helps to sell it to you personally.
The elephant in the room is that Pathfinder wants to have its own identity as much as it wants to follow in the footsteps of its predecessors. This means that every so often the Paizo team completely re-imagines and redefines the traits of a specific monster. Usually this happens to a relatively unknown or under used monster (we'll talk more about this in Bestiary III), but there is one monster in particular that is relatively well-known and got the Paizo makeover in a big way. That monster, which has become Paizo's mascot of sorts, is the goblin. To give a little bit of background, traditionally goblins have admittedly lacked character; they were little more than evil halflings in most settings. Paizo's very first adventure path, Rise of the Runelords, shook this up by drastically changing the image of the goblin; they were now psychotic savages who were obsessed with fire and scared of dogs and horses. They sang Children of the Corn style songs about death and murder and often filled a role as comic relief in many of the adventures they have been featured in while simultaneously managing to inspire fear and terror in many a party. In my experience, you either love or you hate the new look of goblins. Many classic gamers that I've played with deplore the "new" goblin if only for the art design; big heads, small bodies. Honestly, however, it doesn't bother me much; my gaming generation includes Warcraft's techno-suicidal goblins and Warhammer's hordes of insane, suicidal goblins; next to those, Paizo's take on the goblin fits in rather nicely.
For being limited to several paragraphs of text per monster, the Bestiary gives you everything you'd expect and more flavor-wised. Its a book of monsters that feel threatening and believable; there's nothing too dumb or too far out there unless you're a hard-core medieval traditionalist. 5 /5 Stars.
When we talk about a book's texture, we're talking about its grammar and layout, among other things. As someone who has actually sat down to try and write a bestiary, let's be clear that if there's one thing I get, its that stat blocks are HARD. They're hard to format, they're hard to standardize, they're even hard to spell check because of the sheer amount of text that a book like the Bestiary has. All of its complex jargon, half of it made of surreal naming conventions. With all this mind, if there's one place that the Bestiary is amazing, its the texture. There is almost no errors of any kind in this document. Perfect grammar. Perfect spelling conventions. Perfect formatting. Everything is perfect.
As you can see in the picture I included, the Bestiary breaks from traditional monster books in that it limits one monster page, with only a few exceptions (mostly animals and familiars). There is extreme attention to detail in the text placement, and its very impressive that the book manages to be as descriptive as it is with as little space as it has; almost every monster is illustrated, after all, so not only are you juggling stat blocks, but you're also juggling them with text descriptions and illustrations. This book is a marvel of editing and layout and nothing less. 5 /5 Stars.
This book does everything right. It is the shining star by which all monster-based products should be judged. For a first attempt, Paizo smashes their monster book out of the park, past all expectations. It makes me excited to start looking at the future Bestiary products.