Bestiary 5 is … wait for it … the fifth bestiary book for the Pathfinder RPG. Weighing in at over 300 pages, Bestiary 5 provides another giant helping of foes, allies, enemies, options, and opponents for your Pathfinder campaign. This full-color hardcover retails for around $45.
In standard fashion for a Pathfinder Bestiary, most creatures here get one page, with as much as necessary taken up by the stat block and the art, and the rest devoted to descriptive text. A few monsters get double-booked on a page (or more over two pages) if they’re closely related, such as a queen and swarm version of the same monster. And some, like the five new true dragons or some of the manasaputras, get two pages for one. The back of Bestiary 5 advertises over 300 new monsters; the count is probably more like 275 or 280 if you don’t count multiple closely related creatures (such as four or five elemental versions of one basic concept).
In addition to creatures, there are a few additional character options, and also some templates to apply. Potential player-character races include androids, astomoi (faceless, mouthless humanoids who experience and interact with the world rather differently), caligni dark folk, deep one hybrid (half deep one, half normal humanoid), ghoran (humanoid plants), orang-pendak (simian), retpoids (reptilian shapechangers … stage your own Skrull invasion), liberated shabti (originally Egyptian-style copies of the rich, designed to take the spiritual punishment in the afterlife, but now freed of that connection), and skinwalkers (not-quite-lycanthropes).
Spellcasters get six new standard familiar options (chicken, flying fox, penguin, red panda, seal, trilobite), as well as more options for use with the Improved Familiar feat: chuspiki (a gliding mouse), clockwork familiar (pretty nifty and exactly what it sounds like), liminial sprites (tiny fey with moth wings), and xiao (think the winged monkeys from Wizard of Oz). Characters with the Leadership feat can potentially access another 21 possible cohorts. Characters looking for animal companions will find 13 options.
New templates include the mummy lord, mutant, plagued beast, taxidermic creature, tulpa, and vahana. Additionally, one of the appendices repeats another eight basic templates for nudging monsters up and down in CR.
Bestiary 5 also includes a number of tie-ins to other recent Pathfinder products. The afore-mentioned ghorans, androids, and skinwalkers are discussed in Inner Sea Races. A number of creatures have an occult flavor as presented in Occult Adventures, including the Occult Dragon (one of the five true dragons), the unfettered phantom (which is the kind of phantom that merges with a spiritualist), and the egregore (a psychic hivemind that looks like a clump of brains, and that gets bonus points for another phrenology reference, which apparently continues to amuse me). And a couple dozen creatures use the rules from Mythic Adventures.
The appendices, in addition to a slew of indexes sorting the monsters by CR, habitat and so forth, include reprints of material like templates, universal monster rules, and creature types, so you’ll never have to jump to another book to see what everything in this book does.
I’m not going to do some sort of search-and-analysis on the existing Pathfinder monster spread, but Bestiary 5 feels like it has an emphasis on the planar front, including some high-end concepts – the four manasaputras guide the enlightenment of souls, two aeons promote balance, two agathion’s defend Nirvana, anemoi represent the cardinal winds, anunnaki shape civilizations, apkallu protect lawful civilizations, hundun trying to unmake the universe, four sahkil (rebellious psychopomps) who seek to corrupt, and titans to hold up the multiverse. Plus there are three kinds of angels, two archons, two azata, two demodands, three demons, three devils, five esoteric dragons (astral, dream, etheric, nightmare, and occult). And that’s not counting the random outsiders who don’t really involve themselves in politics.
There is still a wide spread of creature types and challenge ratings represented, and even though the higher-CR monsters may stick in my memory more, at least 2/3 come in the 1-10 CR that I think is mostly commonly useful (in my experience a lot more time is spent playing Pathfinder in those levels than in the teens). In addition to a CR spread, the creatures in Bestiary 5 represent a lot of different aspects of the Pathfinder-verse, including chthonic horrors, aliens and technology (including the grays, who are indeed aliens who abduct and can probe people), Asian-inspired (such as a magical version of heikegani), and (of course) classic sword and sorcery. This variety also extends to non-“monsters,” including some of those planar good guys (such as moon dogs), the potential familiars, and several lower-CR creatures (such as the lotus leshy or a muse) that are designed to provide advice or social encounters, not a bout of hack and slash.
I’ve noted in many reviews that I, like a lot of roleplaying folk, will acquire many more RPG books than we can ever use on a regular basis. Some books make great reads even if you never get around to using much, if any, of the mechanics. For example, I liked reading Pathfinder Unchained, regardless of whether I’d use the material in a game (P.S. I would use the material in a game). But a bestiary-style product has a much harder time with that, especially for something like Pathfinder where so much of the content is stat blocks. So I couldn’t give Bestiary 5 a thumbs up for pure reading purposes.
Of course, if you’re actually running a Pathfinder campaign, a giant stack of new options is probably welcome, and Bestiary 5 does not disappoint on that front. In addition to some of the things I’ve already mentioned, some of the options that piqued my interest included:
- the akaname, also known as filth lickers, 1CR opponents who could be useful as a change of pace at low levels, minions for otyughs at somewhat higher levels, or just a random scare for any PC who goes to use the restroom in the middle of the night;
- Apallie are delusional little oozes who, each night, take on humanoid form, truly believing that they are humanoid;
- The Bone Ship presents a mighty challenge to all but the highest-level characters, firing cannons of bone and spectral energy while consuming souls and bodies (OK, I’ll admit, this one doesn’t really piqué my interest, but I know a lot of folks have a lot more interest than I do in pirates and/or ghost pirates, so I’ll mention it here);
- The corpse lotus, a fairly straightforward CR13 plant that can ambush those who wander into battlefields, dungeons, or anywhere else that those before have come to die;
- House spirits, who protect the families inhabiting their home;
- Liminal sprites and clockwork familiars, because not everyone can have a pseudodragon. The liminal sprites are my favorite, but will be tough to care for;
- Ostovites, tiny Abyssal residents who can turn skeletons into animate “bone chariots” to ride around in;
- Plankta, a colossal creature formed from the ruins of dead island civilizations;
- Pyrausta, diminutive dragons whose fiery hearts can be snuffed out by the cold and restarted with a spark;
- The rope dragon, because it lets you both surprise the PCs when one of their pieces of equipment turns out to be a monster in disguise, but without feeling like a jerk because this one will help them (once, at least);
- Liberated shabti, my favorite playable race, lack many proactive abilities, but they’ve got a some passive immunities, and I’m drawn to that sort of thing – plus they’ve got such a great built-in story hook;
- Su, a CR-8 magical dog-looking creature, carries it’s tiny psychic offspring on its back;
- Trench mist, for those who want to call out the more human horrors of WWI, is a poisonous cloud creature who rolls across battlefields in the wake of wholesale slaughter caused by acid fog or cloudkill spells;
- Undigested, a low-CR undead formed of the remains of smaller creatures contained in the gut of a larger creature that becomes undead.
All told, the only real weakness of Bestiary 5 amount to whether you’re in the market for this sort of book in the first place. Just looking for reading material or think there are just too many options already? Then it’s probably not for you. But if you want more options, especially as a GM, Bestiary 5 has a lot to offer.
Promotional consideration was provided in the form of a review copy.