I’ve come to consider Pathfinder Bestiaries to be minor miracles. You would think that there’s some sort of limit to how many interesting books for of monsters/antagonists you can make. And yet every Bestiary manages to include an intriguing array of foes both familiar and new (the level of “classic” goes down over time, of course). Not that the plain old Bestiary isn’t still the best, but Pathfinder 1E managed to keep this up through Bestiary 6, so that bodes pretty well for the Pathfinder 2E Bestiary 3. Note that the 320-page Bestiary 3 is being simultaneously released in both the normal hardcover version and the paperback pocket edition (plus the fancier special edition).
So, does Bestiary 3 actually live up to that introduction? Let’s get the basics out of the way. Bestiary 3 is, as always, for a Pathfinder Bestiary, technically well-executed. Fabulous art, and there’s an illustration for every single entry. Every sort of index you might want (challenge level, alphabetical, that sort of thing). Tight mechanical presentation. All of the supplementary information you need included in the book. Standard entries exactly one page, with clusters of entries combined across multiple pages (e.g., three types of div across four pages). The clusters represented in the book (and not otherwise referenced below) include agathions (the furry Neutral Good celestials from Nirvana), animated objects (silverware swarm, furnace, trebuchet, colossus), arboreals (tree-like forest guardians), bore worms, caligni, clockworks, couatl, demon, devil, div, wisp elementals, ennosites (denizens of the Astral Plane), giants, girtabliu (like centaurs, but scorpions), gremlins, grioths, guardian beasts, hags, house spirits, living symbols, mortics, nymphs, owbs, sahkils (rebellious psychopomps), siktemporas (emotion-based beings from the Dimension of Time), skelms, sphinx, spirit guides, titans, werecreatures, and zombies. (Wow, you don’t realize how many there are until you decide to write them all out.)
Speaking of art, maybe it’s entirely subjective, but let me shout out my favorite pieces from the book (in order of appearance): amalgamite, android, azer, clockwork mage, giant hermit crab, doru, locathan hunter, myceloid, and hesperid. This isn’t an art show, so it’s not like you can see them. I’m not equipped to be an art critic. And I don’t have a convenient way to even link you to who the individual artist is for each of those pieces. But I greatly value high-quality and thematic illustrations in my RPGs, so I wanted to in some way call out my favorites here.
On a broad level, the 2E Bestiary 3 is following in the footsteps of the 1E Bestiary 3, because there are a lot of Asian-inspired entries (note that the influences range across East, Southeast, and South Asia – Tian Xia is a big place), which we saw in the 1E Bestiary 3 as Tan Xia was becoming more developed. The PF1 Bestiary 3 came out around the time of the Jade Regent Adventure Path, and just as the PF2 Bestiary 3 is hitting the Ruby Phoenix Tournament Adventure Path is warming up. The Tan Xian and/or Asian-inspired offerings include asura, betobeto-san, imperial dragons, hyakume, jorogumo, kami, kappa, kirin, kitsune, kuchisake-onna, kurobozu, nagaji, penanggalan, rakshasa (yes, I know these appear in fantasy RPGs regardless of Asian influences), rokurokubi, samsarans, terra-cotta warriors, tsukumogami, vanara, vishkanya, and wayangs. And those are just the obvious ones.
There are three other categories of entry that come up repeatedly – normal/giant animals, troops/swarms, and NPC versions of the ancestries/versatile heritages introduced in the Lost Omens Ancestry Guide. The first and the third of these are, to some extent, filling in checkboxes. Got to have enough animal selections for those who want to use them, got to have at least one basic NPC version of each ancestry/versatile heritage. So on the one hand you get bison, camels, crabs, eurypterids, fish, foxes, kangaroos, monkeys, moose, narwhals, opossum, pangolin, porcupine, ram, seahorse, skunks, sloths, snakes, squirrels, vultures, weasels, and on the other you get androids, azarketi, kitsune, several varieties of leshy, aphorites, ganzi, sprites, and strix.
Swarms and troops are, at least to my mind, more interesting, allowing a bunch of smaller things to pose a challenge for a higher-level group. Swarms (the bane of many a PF1 adventuring party) are composed of a mess of tiny critters (insects and the like). The hellwasp swarm (8) sounds particularly menacing, and that illustration of them carrying off an eyeball adds to their menace. Troops, which are being introduced to PF2 for the first time, are gatherings of more ‘normal’ antagonists who might be individual creatures for a lower-level group – cavalry brigades, city guards, nightmarchers, a rancorous priesthood, skeleton infantry, shambler troops (zombies), or a terra-cotta garrison. Each troop has thresholds were it shrinks to a ‘smaller’ enemy (they mostly start as Gargantuan opponents). Other than how many spaces they take up, the stats don’t otherwise change, so they aren’t overly complex (although they tend to have things like weakness to area attacks to keep track of). I really like troops because they allow a different sort of epic confrontation, getting lots and lots of enemies onto the battlefield without having to keep track of everyone.
Beyond those trends, some individual entries I found interesting included:
- I mentioned the artwork for the amalgamite (13) above, and it’s a great concept too – what’s left of a spellcaster after a teleport accident. They’re a mess of misplaced body parts, generate a destabilizing field and can then teleports their destabilized enemies around the battlefield. There’s a lot of potential for a cool set-piece battle here, as the amalgamite can use terrain, traps, and the like to its advantage.
- There are a couple of bizarre treasure-focused offerings with strange eating habits – bauble beasts (6) and blood painters (9). Bauble beasts patches of their own skin and their digestive system turns it into fake jewelry loaded with a suggestion that anyone who dons the fake jewelry go collect their real valuables and bring them to the location where the fake was created. Blood painters, on the other hand, use blood to paint (and one does) and then animate the art and eat it. Also they have arms #5-6 where you’d expect their eyes to be. Maybe neither is the easiest option to work into an adventure, but it could be a cool payoff when you do.
- The crossroads guardian (7) is most likely to come up as a quest-giver, identifying heroes to help the community need that led to its spontaneous creation. But characters might find themselves at odds with one, depending on the need.
- Norse mythology fans get both Valkyries (12) and the einherjar (10) they’ve gathered.
- Festerogs (1) are a nice low-challenge undead option. Their ability to literally eat their foes in combat to get temporary hit points is a great chance to creep out players used to moving down more generic options like zombies.
- A couple of Ultimate Wilderness (PF1) ancestries, the gathlain and the ghoran, make a PF2 appearance (although, because this is a Bestiary, not in a player-playable form).
- Cthulhu mythos fans get Leng ghouls (10) and mi-go (6).
- There are always more golems, and Bestiary 3 is no exception. I particularly like the fossil golem (12), mostly because having T-rex skulls as hands is a great visual.
- House drakes (1) make their return. Thanks to Curse of the Crimson Throne, I’ll always have a soft spot for anything featured in Korvosa.
- Huldra (4) make an interesting test for abrasive player characters. Mostly human-appearing, they have hollow wooden backs and bovine tails. They should be helpful to most parties, but rude and mouthy characters may find themselves with an enemy (especially if they make fun of the huldra’s tail).
- The ever-popular Krampus (21) makes his return, ready to terrorize villages on an annual basis.
- Lovelorn (4) are tiny undead who look like beating hearts with spider legs. The exude a gloom aura and can inflict a cynic’s curse when they succeed at a fang attack.
- In my experience, there’s a limited utility to truly epic monsters – not a lot of games get near level 20, and if they do it in an Adventure Path then there’s usually a unique foe to battle at the end, not something pulled out of a Bestiary. But I guess I’m going to note a second 20+ CR monsters, because I’ve always found the ouroboros (21) to be such an interesting creation. Taking the ‘serpent eating its own tail’ concept to epic levels, the ouroboros is a gargantuan creature that’s technically composed of an infinite number of smaller snakes. It’s existence imposes will saves on those nearby to avoid becoming stunned. Its hefty regeneration can’t be suppressed while its eating its own tail, requiring someone to successfully grapple it, which is a feat in and of itself. Or if it stops devouring its own tail it can just swallow you whole (which begs the question, with a snake made of an indefinite number of smaller snakes, where exactly do you go when it eats you?).
- The slithering pit (7), for when your rogue just notices normal traps too easily.
- The stheno (basically a medusa-like ancestry) appear in NPC version. They are descended from the original Stheno, who rejected Lmashtu for Shelyn. Their hair-snakes are semi-autonomous – they move on their own, but they are affected by the stheno’s mood. I’d like to see a PC-playable ancestry of these (unless there already is one, in which case I will just feel silly), although ideally as a playable ancestry their abilities would be a little less snake-focused.
- The swordkeeper (10) is a treasure guardian built to protect a magic item (in this case, a sword, of course). The swordkeeper functions as a display case, and can use projections of the stored item in combat.
- Tooth faeries (3 for a swarm) are still the creepiest monster ever.
- In a variant on The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, wizard sponges (5) started as someone’s idea of how to keep their tower clean. Of course, that includes the bodies of any pesky adventurers who happen to be intruding …
Overall, I think the PF2 Bestiary 3 lives up to high expectations. Especially if you expected it to have some thematic similarities to the PF1 Bestiary 3. There aren’t a ton of them, but I think they’re a really useful addition to the GM’s toolbox, and I’m glad that appeared sooner in PF2 than they did in PF1. Any GM planning on running campaigns in Tian Xia will be particularly interested in Bestiary 3, given how the book is weighted in that direction.
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