What Do I Know About First Impressions? Pathfinder 2nd Edition Bestiary
I wasn’t really planning on doing a dive into the Pathfinder 2nd Edition Bestiary, but when I was flipping through to satisfy my curiosity, I started taking notes. So now I’m summarizing some notes of what jumped out at me. A few disclaimers as I write this up.
1. This isn’t a review.
2. This is really based on what jumped out at me, so it’s not really based on any particular rhyme or reason, just “things that lodged in my brain as I’m looking through it.”
Some overall things I noticed that apply across the book.
Unlike the 1st edition Bestiary, that was very focused on adding in a lot of iconic D&D monsters, this book has a pretty solid mix of traditional D&D monsters and monsters that are either new, or have shown up in Pathfinder products over the last decade or so.
There is a lot more monster text that directly references Golarion and how the monsters fit into the setting and the cosmology established for that world.
For the female coded monsters, there isn’t much artwork that shows a lot of skin or that is intentionally titillating. Even the succubus, while attractive, is wearing a long dress.
Monster Entries, A
In the Aeon entry, which is the overall “lawful neutral outsider” heading, the Kolyarut entry mentions that Inevitables, the sub-category of lawful neutral outsiders that came over from the D&D OGL, are seen less and less in the universe. It’s almost a direct reference that some D&D-isms are being phased out to move towards the Pathfinder specific monsters created for the setting.
Alghollthu are a monster type given an entry—skum and faceless stalkers are thrown under this heading, as are aboleth and veiled master (more powerful aboleth). They all have their own in-setting technical names (ulat-kini, ugothol, vidileth), and are mentioned as answering to a greater power over them. It’s not so much removing aboleth as it is encasing them in a lot of specific lore for Pathfinder.
Ankhrav are literally ankhegs with a new name. It’s kind of weird, given that a lot of monsters either kept their names or were given a new name in addition to their colloquial name. Not sure why big acid bugs that prey on farms get a whole new name.
Arboreals are the name given to treants, which was the D&D-ism created when the Tolkien estate reminded TSR that “ent” isn’t in the public domain. Arboreals are split into arboreal wardens, animated trees, and arboreal regents. I completely understand this one, because I’ve never really been a huge fan of the term treant, and walking, talking trees are very much a folklore/fairy tale element.
Monster Entries, B
The beetles entry includes the flash beetle, which is literally a fire beetle. It’s not as ubiquitous now, but at one point in time, fire beetles were a dungeon staple in D&D, and changing these to flash beetles feels almost as random as the ankhrav entry above.
Blood seekers are stirges. Stirge still exists as a colloquial term for the creatures, and the art is pretty standard stirge.
Monster Entries, C
Caligni are monsters divided into dancers, creepers, and stalkers. This is the new, setting specific term for dark folk, which is mentioned in the entry as not being a term liked by the caligni, because neither they, nor their disposition, is dark, and they just live in dark places.
Cave Worms are a general entry that includes purple worms, azure worms, and crimson worms. Azure worms like flooded caverns, and crimson worms have a breath weapon. This makes the D&D favorite purple worm part of a wider family, and aligns the worms with earth, water, and fire.
Monster Entries, D
Pathfinder already changed drow coloration to blue or purple, and previous lore mentioned that a whole race of elves wasn’t cursed, that evil elves were cursed and eventually ended up together and formed a society, etc. This felt like a partial reaction to the “born evil” idea of drow, except that most drow, now, are literally born to other drow. Back when they were introduced in Second Darkness, there was a pointed sidebar that mentioned that if a good drow were born to drow society, they would be noticed and killed quickly. The drow entry backpedals from this, allowing for the existence of good drow born to previous generations. Its kind of like they know there are still some issues, and trying to fix it is a moving target, especially if you are married to the idea of keeping drow in the game as villains.
Monster Entries, E
Elementals from previous editions were sometimes used as a template, so you could have elemental animals, or elementals of different sizes were given the appearance of different animals. This time, there are elemental creatures like zephyr hawks, sod hounds, cinder rats, and brine sharks, in addition to living whirlwinds, living landslides, etc. It seems like, in addition to hit points and damage, the different forms have some slightly different traits based on the form of the elemental.
Ether spiders are literally phase spiders. Unlike some of the other “renamed” entries, there isn’t really a mention of phase spiders as a name. Just an observation, in that the renaming doesn’t seem to be based on a set, guiding principle of how to do that renaming.
Monster Entries, F
Fleshwarps are creatures created by drow experimentation, and driders and grothluts (creatures made from humans) are included in this entry. Drider artwork is very different than previous artwork, with a lot more spider features being utilized, moving them a little further away from the more general “spider centaur” look they had in other products.
Monster Entries, G
I’m only mentioning this because so many other monsters were “bundled” under new monster families—gibbering mouthers have their own entries, when it seems like they could really easily be tied to shoggoths, which also appear in the bestiary. Ah well.
Gnolls have entries for standard gnolls and cultists, but the actual entry for gnolls isn’t as absolute as the entries for other “evil” humanoids, mentioning that the degree of actual malevolent activity varies based on individual tribes.
Goblins get a similar disclaimer, although it’s interesting to note that “civilized” is synonymously used for “not evil or destructive” when mentioning discussing goblins in this entry.
Monster Entries, H
The harpy art never mentions gender, and the artwork for the harpy is coded as male, which is an interesting choice.
Hobgoblin artwork looks much more like bigger goblins that the artwork in previous Pathfinder books, where they were kind of nondescript burly grey humanoids. The descriptions of hobgoblin society are much more absolute than the gnoll and goblin entries, with a lot of “warlike” and “militaristic.” As an aside, finding a niche for hobgoblins to be a separate humanoid now that 1 hit die and 1+1 hit die don’t matter as much as they did in AD&D is part of what keeps both hobgoblins and orcs pigeonholed into a very limited range, or at least that’s my take on it.
Monster Entries, K
Kobolds actually get some softer language, with the explanation that their propensity for working for powerful evil creatures as minions and their seeming cowardice coming from a very pragmatic nature. They are also cited as being hard-working and industrious. Appearance-wise, they look even less like dog-lizards, and more like small humanoids with oversized dragon heads on their shoulders.
Monster Entries, L
The main thing I wanted to note about the lich entry isn’t that it does anything different, but I wanted to note that the term “phylactery” is contentious, and this entry still uses it, rather than something less loaded, like amulet or soul object.
Four linnorm species make it into the book, and I have to call that out, because I love linnorm, and really wish more serpent-like, creepy, curse adjacent Norse dragons would translate into more fantasy RPGs.
Lizardfolk are given a proper name as Iruxi, but the overall heading for the species is still lizardfolk. Interestingly, there is some text discussing how a lot of the commonly understood information about lizardfolk is filtered by the limited perspective of humans, but that’s totally valid for a lot of other cultures detailed in the book. By putting that expressly in the lizardfolk entry, it almost implies that humans got all that stuff about hobgoblins and orcs right, which wouldn’t be my preference.
Monster Entries, N
Nightmares get artwork that makes them look way more undead than fiendish. There have always been varying depictions that made them look more or less like different degrees of ominous black horses with some traits that were off, but these are definitely not just ominous horses with flaming hooves.
Nymphs are a broader entry under which naiad and dryads are organized. While the text doesn’t mention gender, the artwork for both species is female coded.
The Remorhaz keeps its name, but gains a breath weapon. Of all the artwork in this book, the remorhaz looks a lot like what it has been interpreted to look like across various game products from different companies.
Monster Entries, S
Sea Devils are the name given to sahauagin. Unlike a lot of other monsters, the sea devils don’t get a second “real” name, they just have the sahuagin name removed from them.
Monster Entries, W
Wargs are the names used for worgs now, which is interesting, because warg is what Tolkien used, which was derived from vargr. Since I know that Paizo looks into these things pretty closely, and I know that warg was used in Game of Thrones, I’m pretty sure worg was tossed out because it was probably an overcorrection from TSR in the old days when the Tolkien estate gave them a brushback pitch over things like hobbit, ent, and balrog. Although that makes me wonder how we ended up with orcs as well as hobgoblins. Ah well.
Web lurkers are the name given to ettercaps, but the name ettercap still appears in the entry, just not as the header. The artwork is pretty similar to the 3.5 artwork for the creatures.
I’m going to mention the wolf entry mainly because it’s the only place where a “dire” animal is mentioned. Other animals that have bigger forms usually utilize names for prehistoric versions of the creatures. Also, nothing in the description about giant bone spurs or rock-like growths on dire wolves. They are just big. I’m sure giant bone spurs are less of a requirement now that anyone that has watched Game of Thrones gets that “dire wolf” means “big honking wolf.”
Monster Entries, X
Troglodytes are listed under xulgath, and it is mentioned in their entry that troglodyte is a colloquialism used to refer to the species. I totally get this, mainly because as a young tyke, who first saw troglodyte in D&D books, I was surprised that the real-world meaning of the world has nothing to do with smelly lizard creatures.
Monster Entries, Y
Remember, I’m just taking notes on stuff that jumps out at me. The artwork for the yeti looks like that big red hair monster from the Looney Tunes cartoons, except white, and not wearing sneakers. I guess I’m just more partial to “pretty close to a wampa” at this point. Call it cross-media contamination.
Changes from First Edition
First edition Pathfinder did establish some unique looks for monsters when it launched, although some of that was based on the fact that D&D depictions weren’t rooted in any folklore about the creature, and often contained very specific imagery that wasn’t part of the creatures OGL description.
Where a Pathfinder monster had a distinctive look from Pathfinder 1st edition, it often retains that look, if maybe a little more exaggerated, in 2nd edition. An example of this is the troll, which looks pretty much like it did previously, but with slightly different proportions this time around. Most of the dragons retain the look Paizo established for them.
Some monsters, however, definitely got very unique makeovers. Kobolds are a notable example. Hobgoblins and driders are others. “New edition, artwork easily identifiable as part of that edition” is something we’ve seen with D&D before, but this is the first time we’ve seen Paizo utilizing that philosophy.
My personal preference for any of the monsters that got “proper” names would have been to do it consistently. For example, why have troglodytes under xulgath, but lizardfolk, who are properly known as iruxi, under lizardfolk? It feels like, individually, they were making decisions on the degree to which they wanted to make sure something felt more Pathfinder than OGL, but that decision-making process wasn’t standardized for every entry. For what it’s worth, I like having those names that species call themselves in a setting, it’s just I think there were multiple reasons for introducing those at this point in time, and they didn’t feed into each other the same way each time.
There is a definite feeling this time around that these books aren’t to replace your 3.5 books going forward, and yeah, we’ve got a setting you can use them with as well. This feels much more like “we’ve got a setting, and these are the rules to use with that setting,” in a more integrated package. That’s by no means a jab at the direction, just a shift from the clearer line between the game rule line of products and the setting line of products that existed in the past.
As I said up front, this is neither a review nor an article about anything other than what jumped out at me. I noticed that there are about six pages of trait descriptions of various types. If a creature has an ability like Ferocity, it isn’t described in the entry, it’s described here. There are actions, reactions, and traits associated with species, size, and other game rules in these pages.
If something takes an action or a reaction, there is a symbol next to it indicating this, so there isn’t much language to say, “as an action,” you just look at the symbol.
As someone that isn’t used to the stat blocks, there were a few times when I was trying to reference something, and I had no idea where it would go in the stat block, but I’m not sure if that’s an overall issue, or the fact that I dove into this book first, without doing more than skimming the rules, and didn’t spend much time studying the explanation of the stat block at the beginning.
Not having looked in depth at the rules, I do like a few bits that I caught in my quick read through. For example, I like the idea that creatures that petrify you start taking away actions, and once you can’t take actions anymore, you are literally petrified. It’s a nice way to dovetail the action economy with a resolution effect.
I don’t really have a conclusion, other than I was definitely curious, and wanted to take some time to satiate that curiosity. I think there are some D&D legacies that Pathfinder is still struggling with (alignment, and how to deal with those ramifications, is a good example). It’s an ongoing study of how elements of a game and a setting become ingrained, and what can be broken loose.