Fri
Nov 15 2013 4:00pm

Pathfinder: Bestiary 4 Delivers on the Promise of its Cover

Listen, this is a book with Cthulhu, Grendel and a bunch of nosferatus on the cover; you tell me whether or not you think this book is going to be awesome.

Okay, okay, since I can’t really just write a one-sentence-with-a-semi-colon as a review, I guess I will tell you: Pathfinder Bestiary 4 is in fact as awesome as you would guess that a book with a Lovecraftian horror, an Old English poetry reference and nod to German Expressionist films on the cover would be. I’ve seen what Pathfinder can do with its Bestiaries a few times before, and this keeps of the tradition of delivering diverse concepts, interesting mechanics, and enough art and fluff to give even the system neutral reader enough bang for their buck just shopping for inspiration.

Pipefox Pathfinder

One of the things I appreciate about these Bestiaries is there is a always a nice chunk of giving us what we want. Pandering to the cheap seats. The chances are high that a tabletop gamer is also a fan of Godzilla and company, so go ahead and stick a section on Kaiju in there. They make no bones about it; they call ‘em Kaiju and there is a big reptilian one that they call the King of the Kaiju…but it isn’t just a straight knock-off of Godzilla. Rodan Agyra is a two-headed pterodactyl that is lives at the eye of a Hurricane and sure, Mogaru has a fiery breath weapon, but he’s also susceptible to music, giving him a bit of a Pied Piper or Mothra twist.

The twists are what make the Kaiju fun, but in another display of delivering what the reader wants, Bestiary 4 has more than a smattering of Lovecraftian monsters, and or them, it is a matter of translation, of convincing us that yes, this really is the star-thing described by H.P Lovecraft or one of his inheritors. Take the Mi-Go, one of my favorites, whose Evisceration (Ex) power gives them a in-play mechanic to evoke their brain stealing. Or the Nightguants Faceless (Ex) and Tickle (Ex) turned from descriptive traits into descriptive mechanics.

Cthulhu is the big icon in the book, listed under Great Old One, Cthulhu. He weighs in at CR 30, with powers like the nightmare telepathy of Dreams of Madness (Su), Non-Euclidian (Ex) and an Immortality (Ex) power that mimics the gross oil-slick popped balloon Cthulhu from the end of the eponymous story. Oh and of course, you know, Teantacles (Ex).

When Wizards of the Coast gave us Cthulhu’s stats in the d20 Call of Cthulhu there was the anecdote floating around that Monte Cooke’s group use a group of 20th level Iconics—Lidda, Krusk, Ember, etc—to fight him. If one died, they just brought in a fresh 20th level character. In the end, Cthulhu ate thirteen of them before someone managed to imprison him with magic, trapped in hibernation underground. I want to get a bunch of 20th level Pathfinder Iconics—Imrijka, Seelah, Lirianne, etc—and do the same thing with old squiddy here, see what happens.

pathfinder nosoi

One thing I enjoy about all creature collections is when they pull from a diverse body of mythology and pop culture; heck, this has been true from the very earliest days of Dungeons and Dragons. Bestiary 4 keeps up the tradition. I remember a friend of mine from Barbados explaining the Soucouyant to me, the vampire witch that takes off her skin and bursts into flame, so it’s nice to see her show up under Hag, Blood. Xenopterids…isn’t that what the monster movie Jeepers Creepers was about? Mieville’s cactus people show up, and so do horse-monsters from Philippine legends. Qallupilluk come from Inuit folklore but their child-snatching ways now seem…well, aboleth-y. Sure the terror bunny that is Almiraj might cause you to shout “run away!” but its pedigree goes past Python and into Islamic poetry. Sugar skull Psychopomps based on La Calavera Catrina, Japanese ghost stories, cenobite Kytons; Bestiary 4 pulls from all over.

Pathfinder ArcheoptrexThen there is just the miscellaneous odds and ends. A wizard with an Archaeopteryx? That is exactly what I’m into! Space dragons, gremlins—I don’t “get” gremlins—a mythic monster called Drakainia that is like a cross between Zuggtmoy and the xenomorph hive queen, a gearghost that doubles as a way to explain why all the traps in the dungeon are set and kept up, it goes on and on. Speaking of mythic monsters, there are a few here; “mythic” being Pathfinder’s new “epic at any level” expansion, but it seems to me that if you wanted to ignore that angle entirely, it would be easy to take them out. The Rube Goldberg machine that is cascading monster mechanics would still work.

I mentioned system neutral readers; heck, I’m one myself, as I currently use the World of Darkness. I always find books of beasts to be of great use, even if I’m not actually using the system in question at the moment. Interesting art and monster background alone can provide you with enough of a hook to build anything from a room to an adventure to an entire campaign. Not to mention there are true “wtf” monsters like the Vouivre, which is a…dragon with a mermaid for a tail…or the Galvo, which is a…roughly humanoid swarm of electric eels?

Tooth Fairy PathfinderBeyond that though, I always scan down to the Special Abilities part of each entry; the ad hoc nature of Special Abilities means they are usually a bit of a mini-game, just the sort of kick an encounter needs. The evil tree Jinmenju will enchant you into eating its poisonous fruit, and has an unsettling drone; the tooth fairy does attribute damage—Charisma by tearing out your teeth, Dexterity by pulling out your fingernails—and it explodes into glittering tear gas when you kill it. You don’t need to play Pathfinder to use those rules or some loose adaptation of them in your campaign.

 

Pathfinder Bestiary 4 is available now from Paizo


You can find Mordicai Knode on Tumblr and Twitter.

11 comments
jere7my
2. jere7my
The vouivre (or guivre) comes from mythology as well, though it's just French for wyvern.
Mordicai Knode
3. mordicai
2. jere7my

Do they have a weird lady body instead of a tail? So weird. Good job Pathfinders!
jere7my
4. jere7my
Nah, as far as I know they just have the regular tail.
jere7my
5. Hedgehog Dan
BTW, the guivre also appeared in Kate Elliott's King's Dragon.
David Thomson
6. ZetaStriker
I wish my group could still play Pathfinder, but we seem to have forgotten how to use a 3.5-style system without utterly breaking it. It ruins the fun of all these unique creatures if they die before they do anything interesting.
Mordicai Knode
7. mordicai
6. ZetaStriker

Funny you should mention it; I was just flipping through this book & looking at the "Special Junk" sections to brainstorm neat moves for monsters in my WoD game. It worked out pretty awesome.
jere7my
10. dave2008
I just wanted to offer a differing opinion to the one in this review. I purchased this book via PDF because I just couldn't wait for the hardback to show up in my local store. I really wish I had waited. At only $10 I still think it was a waist of my money. To clarify, the reason I wanted this was for the big baddies like the Old Ones, Demon Lords, and Kaiju. Unfortunately, I found them completely uninteresting and not worth using in my campaigns at all. To be honest I was so disillusioned by those monsters I haven't really looked through the whole book, so maybe there is still some stuff in there making it a worthwhile purchase. However, if you are looking for some exciting ubermonsters, you need to look elsewhere IMHO.
Mordicai Knode
11. mordicai
10. dave2008

Having been on both sides of the table when it comes to epic baddies-- both "why is this book filled with CR 30 monsters, when 90% of campaigns are low or middle level" & "this epic campaign I'm in needs more weird critters to fight!"-- I understand your desire. What didn't you like about them? Or rather, what sort of thing would have worked out for you?
jere7my
12. dave2008
@ 11. mordical: I have several issues, but primarily I was hoping for something different and new. I assumed these iconic high level threats would become exciting "mythic" monsters (I have not fully reviewed the mythic rules, but my in-shop review did prompt me not to buy it). Kaiju should not have a space of 60 ft., but 200 ft. and new rules on how to interact with such an enormous threat would be great. Similarily, doing 4d8+20 claw damage really? These epic threats just seem like more of the same, really wanted something new.
jere7my
13. Danbuda
Xenopterids are not from Jeepers Creepers, but rather from one of my favourite giant insect films Mimic! Sorry for the nitpick.

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