There can be no heroes without villains. No light without dark. No Player’s Guide without a Bestiary. As a part of the RPG revolution that has been ongoing for the past few years, Paizo Publishing has gone to efforts to make its products more accessible. One aspect of this effort has been the release of smaller, more affordable versions of its content in the Pocket Editions. This Bestiary has all the same content as its hardcover counterpart, but at half the price, half the weight, and approximately two thirds the size.
Surprisingly little gets lost in this transition. The text is smaller but no more difficult to read because of it. The layout remains clean and intuitive. Despite having to wrap text around depictions of creatures, which are at times oddly proportioned or in active poses, it remains comprehensible. (The many tentacles and eyestalks of the mighty Froghemoth do no harm to its imposing statblock. No I’m not making that one up.) This is also a step above a true soft-cover. The pages and cover can stand up to some punishment, and Paizo put special care into the binding to keep it stable. Of course, not being a hardcover, the cover does show small marks quickly. While I have no doubts that this book will last a long time, it will come with the drawback of accepting that it will lose aesthetic quality through use.
The content of the Bestiary is exactly what you want it to be: monsters! Monsters as far as the eye can see! The variety of creatures is what makes the book, from old mainstays to new creations. I always smile when I see a familiar Gelatinous Cube, but some of the unique enemies in this book feel particularly inspired. Not all of them are enemies, necessarily, but the vast majority are intended as antagonists rather than potential allies. Each monster comes with a series of small symbols with its name that denote type, subtype, and favored terrain or climate. They also all have short descriptions you can use to describe them to your players to set the mood. (Saying “you see a small bent creature with jagged teeth and fierce, hungry eyes” works much better than “hey, there’s a goblin in the room.”)
The statblocks have a lot of material to track between special abilities, basic attributes, ecology and other factors. However they are set out logically between attack, defense, and ancillary matters, so you only have to take in so much information at a time. Unfortunately these expansive pieces of text do not leave much room for descriptions in many cases. Some monsters have flowing descriptions of their history while others get a quick few sentences. The book works as a source of enemy statistics, but you are sometimes left wanting more, especially because of the quality of the art.
Speaking of which, the art is excellent, though not entirely consistent. Each of the pieces give off an antagonistic air that makes you want to spring into action as soon as you notice them. However it seemed the art team struggled with the line between realism and the Pathfinder art style of comic-style exaggeration to create iconic imagery. The skeleton, for example, is a chilling depiction of a cancerous body that looks as if it had moments ago pulled itself from the earth. The zombie, on the other hand, is a hilariously overwrought ghoul that just stepped out of the Thriller video, bulging eyes and flailing arms included. There are also points where monsters a page away from one another shift styles. While none of the pictures are bad, the shift is jarring at points.
The Bestiary finishes up with an array of Appendices, some of which are significantly more interesting than others. The uninteresting ones are still useful however, mostly consisting of lists of monsters by Challenge Rating, type, terrain, et cetera. The other Appendices involve teaching you how to make your own monsters or changing the levels of the monsters in the book. The math breakdown here is very much appreciated. It gives anyone who wants to put in the effort the tools to completely understand how monsters work mechanically. I expect other people to get lost, though. These processes are multi-step and involve a few tables, and requires enough effort that I am sure some people will be confused.
Lastly there is a section devoted to player characters playing as monsters, if they so choose. The Bestiary recommends against this, but flipping through the book with this possibility in mind gives it an entirely new dimension. You will be giving yourself some extra complications if you do so, but looking at these beasts as potential player characters gives you feelings of glee at the possibilities.
Published by: Paizo Publishing