Along with the Pocket Edition of the Pathfinder Core Rulebook, Paizo has released a Pocket Edition of the original Bestiary. Like the Core Rulebook Pocket Edition, the Bestiary Pocket Edition is exactly the same book as the latest printing of the normal Bestiary (all 328 pages of it), except smaller, softcover, and half the price (there’s even still an advert for the Core Rulebook that makes it sound like D&D 3.5 just wrapped up and Pathfinder just launched this year).
As with the Core Rulebook Pocket Edition review, this review is therefore two reviews – one addressing the Pocket Edition in comparison to the standard Bestiary, and one addressing the Bestiary itself.
Pocket Edition As Alternative or Supplement to Traditional Bestiary
As with the Core Rulebook Pocket Edition, the nature of the pocket edition of the Bestiary is pretty straightforward because it’s the same content, but smaller. There are no omissions or abridgments, all of the art is still present, and it’s still full color. The book still looks great. A traditional hardcover Bestiary is about 8.5” x 10.9” by 0.8.” The pocket edition is about 6.4” x 8.3” x 0.7”. So the pocket edition is about 60% of the size of a standard Bestiary. It’s also half the price, which is a pretty big deal (I know I always like getting games 50% off).
However, I don’t think that the Pocket Edition of the Bestiary has all of the advantages that the Core Rulebook Pocket Edition does. As I noted in my review of the Core Rulebook Pocket Edition, I could see that book serving as a “travel copy” of the rulebook, or something you could more easily double-check in at the gaming table. But in my experience there isn’t the same call for a portable version of a bestiary. Players shouldn’t be looking up monster stats during the game. And, in my opinion, a GM shouldn’t be either – even if the GM isn’t running the adventure off of an electronic copy (I still like physical books, but there are a lot of tablets out there these days), I’d anticipate the GM already having some sort of printout of the mechanics for the monsters that might come up that session. Actually looking those things up mid-adventure really bogs the game down.
So, to me, the Bestiary Pocket Edition doesn’t really have advantages beyond the lower price point. Don’t get me wrong, half the price is a big, big advantage. But it means that, while I could see a Core Rulebook Pocket Edition serving as a supplemental copy, I don’t see much purpose to getting the Bestiary Pocket Edition if you already have a traditional copy. If you don’t have a Bestiary and are deciding between the pocket and traditional versions, I don’t think one is “better,” it’s just a question of how much value you place on the nicer cover and the easier readability (same content + smaller page = smaller font; so the pocket editions might be rough on someone who is visually impaired) as compared to saving money on the pocket edition.
Bestiary as Bestiary
You know what I think about the pocket edition versus traditional Bestiary, but what if you’re new to this Bestiary thing at all? How good is it as an RPG book? Well, the short answer to that is “excellent.”
The Bestiary contains about 280 pages of monster entries, a few pages of explanation of how to read an entry, and then various appendices and indices. There are lists of monsters alphabetically, by challenge rating, and by type, although the list by CR is a list, not an index – you can get the name off of the list, then have to go the alphabetical index to get the page number. The typical entry is a single page, including a full stat block and (excellent) art, with whatever space is left dedicated to a narrative description. There are also a significant number of monsters with two-page spreads, most often because a variety of iterations of the monster are presented (such four ages of each kind of dragon or six sizes for each kind of elemental). In some cases related monsters share a page (with only one piece of art), such as the dire rat and rat swarm. There are extra pages for broader types, such as an introduction to the common features of dragons or devils. The statistics blocks are dense, with a significant amount of rules baggage condensed in a glossary that contains the full significance of things like creature types (such as outsider or construct) or abilities (such as rend or blindsight). Some outside GM knowledge is also required (for example, what certain Feats do). In my experience, this density is far preferable to the alternative, which is longer entries for monsters, and thus far fewer options presented. The narrative writing is solid, if constrained by space limitations. Appendices cover how to build custom monsters, or how to advance existing monsters to make more challenging versions for particular party levels.
All told, the Bestiary does its job, and does it well. A wide range of opponents across a wide range of challenge ratings are presented, and in a highly usable format. Pathfinder is up to Bestiary 5, but just this one contains enough options for a lot of play.
Promotional consideration was provided in the form of a review copy.