I have been tremendously excited for Pathfinder 2nd Edition, and much of my time since its release has been spent with the core rule-book. We covered our top 5 changes in Pathfinder 2nd Edition on this site, and will share our full review of the system soon. One thing I hadn’t anticipated, was my desire to cover the latest bestiary before anything else. The primary reason for this being just how much this monster book gets right. Obviously, being the first entry in this new edition, the bestiary covers classic monsters that one would expect. From ancient dragons to your more common undead skeletons, however, the creatures themselves isn’t what sets this inaugural book apart. It’s how well the book is designed. With multiple stat blocks, informative sidebars, and unique creature abilities, this book had me looking at monsters I have seen a dozen times in new and interesting ways. So let’s see how the team at Paizo made a book so good, that even the full page entry on Dogs was worth the read.
Multiple Stat Blocks:
Multiple stat blocks per creature entry is becoming more widely utilized by game designers, however, I still feel that many role-playing games only employ this technique for rare or unique creatures. It’s not uncommon to see statistics for a young red dragon and an ancient red dragon in the same entry. This way, parties of varied levels can face off against this iconic foe. While this offers the DM options, it rarely translates to other more common monsters. Many low level games use orcs or gnolls, which can challenge a party between levels 1-4, however, as soon as the party advances past that point, these monsters become obsolete. The latest Pathfinder Bestiary has an entry for orcs that contains three different stat blocks; Orc Brutes, Orc Warriors, and an Orc Warchief. In addition, this section advises DMs on other creatures that may accompany an orc war-band, such as dire wolf mounts or manticores. Right off the bat, a GM can create several different encounters for a variety of levels utilizing orcs. This is just one example of a common creature, and this design philosophy is employed throughout the book. I counted over 30 stat blocks for dragons alone. Of course this encompasses different color and variation of dragons, but you get my point. Hell, the entry for “Dog” has two different stat blocks. This is a trend that I want to see continued in future releases. Don’t just show me one monster with one stat block. Provide choices for the creature at multiple levels and power ranges. In addition to level variation, use different combat styles, such as, magic casters and marshal fighters. These different options will be enough for the GM to vary combat in dynamic ways. Pathfinder ups the tabletop RPG standard in this regard.
After the first few creature entries, I found my eyes drawn to the sidebars included on each page. These sidebars are comprised of things like GM advice, lore, locations, and treasure. Did you know that hide recovered from an eel can be used to craft armor that can provide protection from electricity? This is just one example of additional tidbits that are included in the Pathfinder 2e Bestiary. Along with full art for each monster, the art direction and layout of this book makes each page a treat for the eye. Though the pages are pretty, at the same time, the team packs each monster entry with useful information that is easy to follow. There are often times in game when the players take a hard left turn and the GM has to create a combat encounter on the fly. Looking at a monster entry in the moment, one would be hard pressed to read an entire page or 2 on a given creature, however, providing small flavor text in regard to the bloodthirsty habits of gnolls to engage in slave trade, a GM can more effectively set the scene for the players at a glance. These sidebars are a small bonus, but I found that I never skipped them when reading this book, and was always rewarded for it.
For veteran players, we have seen many stat blocks that simply say “Claw: +6”. Now, there is nothing wrong with a wild beast tearing at the wizard with its claws, but when this description is used for all animals… well, it can be repetitive. This is why I was excited to see the Pathfinder Bestiary step away from this standardization, and not just a small step, the team at Paizo turned and leaped the other direction. It honestly feels like each monster has its own customer abilities. My favorite coming from the common skeleton, who can now remove its own head and throw it at you.. making a bite attack. Game changer. Just for the record, all of my skeletons will be doing that from now on. Going even further, the team came up with four different abilities for skeletons to provide the GM options to flavor them differently depending on their needs. The skull throwing is clearly the best, but by adding these unique abilities, the GM can apply them to the four different stat blocks listed in the book. By switching out these abilities and stat blocks, the GM now has dozens of options to flavor their undead horde. This guarantees the GM will get a ton of value out of your standard run-of-the-grave skeleton and this bestiary in general.
The team at Paizo put out 6 different Bestiary books for Pathfinder 1st Edition, and it’s obvious that the team has tremendous experience crafting monsters. Given a fresh start with 2nd Edition, you can see the team filling each monster entry with important information, various stat blocks, and GM advise that reflects this experience. This is a fantastic book, and I enjoyed every minute reading entries on monsters I have seen dozens of times, because these tabletop veterans bring their full imagination to bear when re-creating these classic creatures. Honestly, why didn’t I think of skeletons that throw their own head… what else can throw its head? Or the creative equivalent. Even if you are not actively running a Pathfinder 2e game, I recommend checking out this book as it is packed with fresh ideas that can translate to any tabletop RPG game.