06 November 2020
More monsters, more magic, more everything
Varied and exciting monsters have always been the fuel that fires Pathfinder’s combat-heavy gameplay, and the release of the Bestiary 2 certainly lines up an absolute mountain of stat blocks, background notes and slick illustrations to keep both your campaign and imagination burning through the night.
In terms of raw numbers, the thoroughly chunky book promises to bring more than 350 new creatures to your table, spread pretty evenly across the game’s potential levels of play. That’s about it in terms of actual content – don’t expect new rules or character options here – but it’s still rather an impressive feat when you consider the detail of many of its entries, which delve deeply into questions of lore and potential plot hooks.
And for some folks that simple statistic is probably enough to sell them on the book. Adventurers always need more monsters to slay, after all, and the clever designs of creatures like the half-plant, half-draconic Zomok should help to keep combat fresh and exciting. After all, who among us can say they don’t relish the idea of taking on a flying monster that can swallow the party whole and then teleport away at will?
If you’re still on the fence, however, it’s worth taking a look at both the quality of the monsters on offer and how likely you are to actually use them in a game. This is especially important when you’re comparing it to the first Bestiary book released for Pathfinder’s second edition just last year.
The sheer invention on display throughout the book is impressive, and always seems to find a way to make each and every monster feel distinctive from their many rivals and lookalikes. Sometimes this comes through a distinctive move or ability, such as the Twigjack’s ability to spray the woodlands with a shower of splinters, and sometimes it’s through the creature’s entire design.
When you fight a whirring, gyrating Spiral Centurion, for example, their stack of weird rules and complex powers blend to create something much more interesting than simply lining up and rolling dice until something dies. They have a whole suite of abilities aimed at bouncing around the battlefield, meaning that any encounter with them is all-but guaranteed to become a game of positioning yourself to avoid spinning blades and knocking the metallic monsters off their single, corkscrewing leg.
The downside to all of this comes in the form of increased complexity – the special rules for the Spiral Centurion clock in at a wordcount about a third as long as this entire review – but that has always been the price you pay with Pathfinder. There are a few offenders that get genuinely unwieldy to run at the table, but for the most part GM’s who are happy to run the game in the first place shouldn’t struggle too much.
On top of the fair few original foes filling up the pages of Bestiary 2, a solid slice of the book is made up by entries that expand on creatures already found in the first volume. If you’re looking to spice up an encounter with a clan of trolls, for example, there are now four pages of new variations to pick from. This allows you to make some more creative choices, such as dropping in a multi-headed mutant to beef up the clan’s defences or maybe adding a gem-crusted cavern troll to play with the party’s assumptions about their weaknesses.
Where the first Bestiary took a broad-ranging, surface-level skim through many environments and iconic creature types, this time around it takes a much deeper dive past the obvious fantasy monsters and into a more obscure realm. This makes it absolutely ideal for GMs looking to really flesh out their encounters and add variety to certain areas of their campaign, but if all you really want from your game is a reliable list of classic foes you’re likely to find that the latest book spends a lot of time on the shelf.
Ultimately, however, for many committed Pathfinder players, the only really important criteria for whether or not the book is a success is whether there’s a decent variety of monsters and whether they’re well-built. In both cases, the answer is a resounding yes.
It’s hard to turn down the prospect of adding more monsters to a game of Pathfinder. Just beware of some rather complex rules, if that isn’t your thing.
TRY THIS IF YOU LIKED: Pathfinder 2nd Edition Bestiary...
Do you like monsters? Do you want more monsters?
Words by Richard Jansen-Parkes
This review originally appeared in Issue 44 of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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