The Free RPG Day was last Saturday. I live in Finland, so I didn’t get any loot. This is not, technically, because the local stores didn’t take part in the event, though they did not. It’s mostly because the Free RPG Day fell on the Midsummer’s Day, a date when the sovereign state of Finland is closed and everyone buggers off to the deep woods to enact strange pagan rituals with bonfires and intoxicants, culminating in ritual human sacrifice to the lake spirits.
So, in short, no loot for me.
However, there was really only one free product I was really interested in anyway, and Paizo Publishing was considerate enough to make it available as a free PDF a couple of days after the event. It is the Pathfinder RPG Bonus Bestiary, a short booklet containing sixteen monster entries that didn’t make it into the Pathfinder RPG Bestiary coming out in a couple of months.
For some reason, there hasn’t been much noise made about this. While it is true that the offerings are an inherently second-string bunch of beasties, Paizo has time and again showed that they have the ability to breathe new life into the bestiary of D&D (cf. Classic Monsters Revisited, Dragons Revisited, Dungeon Denizens Revisited), and though the page count per monster is rather smaller this time, they’ve done good things.
First up is the allip, a real fuck-you monster back in 3.5. A CR 3 incorporeal monster that inflicts Wisdom drain on a touch attack, no save? A DM had to be a sadist to pit this baby against a level-appropriate group – in fact, back in the Living Greyhawk days, the title of Real Man was bestowed upon those characters who’d started out in ESA3-08 Prisoners of the Calling Mines, a first-level module that started the characters unarmed and unequipped as prisoners in a deep mine, and featured an allip end boss. That module claimed a great many characters.
Now, the allip is a much more bearable opponent, inflicting only Wisdom damage with its touch of insanity. A critical hit no longer doubles it, either, but does one additional point of Wisdom drain. Still dangerous and nobody you want to mess with, but no longer a floating, babbling TPK waiting to happen (okay, technically, an allip cannot actually kill anyone – a character with his Wisdom reduced to 0 is only comatose, not dead, but a comatose character in a dungeon isn’t going to end well).
For those not up on their D&D crunch, the difference between ability damage and ability drain is that ability damage heals normally at one point per day. Ability drain does not, and requires a restoration spell to be healed. Restoration would be available to the party cleric around level seven.
There’s another reason, too, to be happy that the allip is in the Bonus Bestiary – it’s not gonna be in the actual Bestiary, and that one page can be used for something else.
Then we get the giant ant lion, with its evolved form, the giant lacewing. The monster entry also includes stats for the ant lion’s sand trap, which is nice. I suppose it’s also to illustrate Pathfinder RPG’s way of presenting traps. It’s followed by the ascomoid, which is a bigass puffball fungus that will run you down and infect you with spores. It perhaps ought to be noted that the copyright notice in Bonus Bestiary’s Open Gaming Licence mentions Tome of Horrors Revised, a 3E book from Necromancer Games that brought many classic monsters from the olden days that WotC’s guys either didn’t want or hadn’t got around to including in the game yet. The ascomoid is one of the creatures where one is forced to concede that they may have had a point there.
Neither Tome of Horrors or WotC’s 3E offerings ever included the giant space hamster, though, which sorely disappointed me. Unforgivable.
But I digress. Ascomoid is followed by the caryatid column. It used to be a stone golem variant, which it still essentially is. The caryatid column is a support structure in the shape of a sword-wielding woman with an entablature on her head. It’s got a nasty habit of sundering weapons, too, which is rather more bearable in Pathfinder RPG, where a sundered weapon isn’t irrevocably destroyed. Also, the caryatid column is one of the few instances where having a load-bearing villain is justifiable.
After that, there’s the old favourite, faerie dragon. They’re cute and whimsical pranksters, and with the price of just one Improved Familiar feat, they can be yours. It’s followed by the dragonne, a sort of a lion-dragon hybrid with no breath weapon, which can become your mount if you take Leadership, or an animal companion. The monster entry includes animal companion progression for the monster as well.
Then there’s the annis hag, which I’d rather have in the Bestiary, to be honest. The greenhag, the sea hag and the annis belong together so they can form coveys. Sure, there’s always the night hag, but they’ve always had a different niche for me. Hell, in the 3E Monster Manual the night hag was even filed under Night Hag instead of Hag like the others were.
The Bonus Bestiary also features the huecuva, which is finally shedding the typographical error which has haunted it since its first publication (it’s been called “heucuva” for, well, a heucuva long time). Looking at the Bestiary preview, the other famous typo of the Monstrous Manual, the sahuagin, is still untouched.
The huecuva is an undead cleric who renounced his deity before death, but there are also rules for raising one with create undead. This seems to be a common theme throughout the Bonus Bestiary. For nearly every monster there’s an entry for its creation or use as familiar, cohort or animal companion.
Then there’s the lammasu. Nothing really interesting here. Big lawful good winged lion man.
With the water naga, we get the first illustration of the creature that I’ve ever seen – and it looks good. It also has poison. If I’m reading this correctly, PFRPG’s approach to poison is very interesting. One round after you’re bitten, you roll ten Fort saves and take one point of Con damage per failed save. I think this is an example of a very potent venom and most other poisons would have fewer saves, but I can see how that might slow down the game unless the DM tells the DC beforehand.
Edit: and it turns out I wasn’t reading it correctly. Apparently, the way it works is you roll a save every round for the next ten rounds or until you succeed twice and fight it off, and take the listed damage for every failed save. Makes much more sense.
Then we come to the nixie, a water sprite. The creature itself isn’t very interesting, but it’s got a subheader for Nixies in Mythology, with a short description of how the nixie appeared in traditional mythology (a malevolent trickster) and a few modifications you can apply to its stat block to make if fit the mythological version. I like this concept, and hope they put it to good use in the Bestiary. While D&D’s visions of mythological creatures are often classics on their own right, it never harms to go to the source (except maybe with the bonnacon), and running a more mythological campaign might be cool.
The booklet closes with the shadow mastiff, with rules for summoning one.
It’s a nice preview into how things work in Pathfinder RPG, and includes some tantalising hints about the eventual content of the Bestiary. And, well, it’s really hard to argue with the price tag.