When we previewed some art from Bestiary 5 a few weeks ago, it merely looked like a cool book of monsters. Now that we’ve got our hands on it, we’re convinced that even the most jaded, been-there-done-that gamer is going to need a copy. This is a killer creature collection.
Let’s just start with the triple-headed threat pictured above, because it’s a great example of what makes Bestiary 5 so great. It’s actually called a Lusca (art by Bryan Sola). It’s a gargantuan beast with a CR of 17 (this equates roughly to the level of party that could be expected to defeat it), so it’s a major monster. It does some cool things with the oft-maligned grapple rules, specifically that it can grapple an entire ship at sea! But most of all, it’s the kind of bonkers, off-the-wall, no-holds-barred monster that first appealed to us when we were 11 or 12 and first getting into RPGs. When you’re thumbing through Bestiary 5 and you see the Lusca, you immediately think, “Holy crap, we have to fight this thing some day. It will be epic!”
Bestiary 5 has a bunch of these “appeal to your inner 12-year-old” monsters. My other favorite is the Fext, which looks like something you might have drawn on the back of your 7th grade social studies notebook, if you were a massively talented artist. It just looks completely awesome and ridiculous at the same time, and it’s also quite an interesting monster—an undead general that is almost impossible to kill. (Art by Ertac Altinoz).
There’s an incredible variety of monsters here, though. The book is over 300 pages long, so there are plenty to choose from. Some are just challenges for the players to overcome, like the Cherufe, or some new demodands. Even these “basic” monsters have interesting abilities that interact with some of the modular rules systems Pathfinder has introduced over the years. Even if you don’t use the gunslinger class in your campaign, the gunpowder ooze is a fascinating creature—the voraciousness of an ooze, but it can effectively shoot you and it might blow up if it gets too close to the campfire. Or the Unfettered Phantom, which is a fairly vanilla incorporeal undead that’s made much more dramatic by some clever backstory (“It is a frantic and shifting thing, a desperate creature of raw emotion and need.”) and unique interactions with the spiritualist character class. The wood colossus, pictured below, not only has wonderful, evocative art (by Tomasz Chistowski), but it can literally transform itself into a manor house.
There’s just some really great monster writing and creature design here.
Beyond that, there are some creatures with entire weird magical ecologies built around them, with enough rich detail and story hooks to build adventures or even entire campaigns around. Take the Thriae dancer pictured below (art by Tyler Walpole)—she comes from a race of philosopher dancers who can sometimes take levels in bard. But they also have a constructor class of massive warrior women who are mindless laborers. That sounds infinitely more interesting for an adventure’s starting point than “The orc tribe has been raiding the village lately.”
Other complex monsters include the inscrutable Lipika Aeon (which kind of reminds me of Marvel’s Living Tribunal), the weirdly technological Annunaki (a nod to the ways Pathfinder can be adapted to science-fantasy), the bizarre Hundun (“the incarnation of the desire to reduce the multiverse to a space filled with randomly fluctuating energy fields and gravitic curvatures”), and the Azata, an extraplanar race born of beauty and poetry (like elves with the elfiness dialed up to 11).
This bestiary also mines the world’s folklore for monster ideas, going way deeper than the usual Western monster traditions. You’ll find about a dozen Asian-influenced undead creatures, each one more unsettling than the last. That’s the Kurobozu below (art by Miguel Regodón Harkness), an undead monk that does terrifying things in combat and seriously hates the living monk in your party.
Other “worldly” creatures include the Veela (Slavic mythology), Turul (a decidedly Aztec flavor), Danava Titan (a mythically poweful Hindu space wizard), and the powerful Manasaputra (also derived from Hindu traditions).
Some of the monsters are just wonderfully original designs. The new esoteric dragons include the nightmare dragon below (art by Christina Yen), which can enter your dreams and take absolute control of them, usually to do something awful to you.
Then there’s the stunning blend of beauty and horror of the Pakalchi Sahkil, a sort of ethereal fear demon. Jose Parodi’s art certainly draws from del Toro and perhaps 2000s Japanese horror, but is its own entity, something I desperately want to make the centerpiece of a campaign.
Even if all the details on the monsters were boring, I would love this purely as an art book. But the monsters aren’t boring. There are horrific nightmare creatures, cute little sentient oozes and mischievous gremlins, godlike cosmic beings, nasty dungeon beasts, entirely new races, and super gross demons. Many of them utilize the mythic rules from Mythic Adventures, and a lot of the combat abilities stretch and adapt the Pathfinder rules in new ways.
The Lipika Aeon is a good example: it adjusts its defenses when it’s hit in combat, giving it an AC bonus to attacks and spells of the same type for one round. Changing up your attacks is the only way to defeat it. But it also displays its weird karmic nature by turning opponents’ aggression against them, forcing them to take half of the damage they inflict on it. That kind of creative game design is evident throughout the book.
TL;DR—Monsters! Tons of them! Awesome ones! Sharkraken! I’m rarely this purely awed by an RPG book. Bestiary 5 is excellent.