mordicai caeli (mordicai) wrote,
mordicai caeli
mordicai

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Return of the Space Gods! (5)

Pathfinder Bestiary Three by Paizo.

Izanami-no...
Yomi. Kami. Mikoto.
Grasscutter's true queen.

We are in a fellowship, we gamers, that share lots of overlapping mythologies. Personal mythologies, historical mythologies, religious mythologies, cultural mythologies. Monsters provide an interesting entry point to those; they are a window into the inner workings of the hobby, they are a barometer of how things stand. Pathfinder has always kicked ass in that arena-- remember all the Classics Revisited series?-- & this book isn't an exception. Reading it on the train last night, there were moments where I literally pumped my fist in the air out of excitement. Some of that exuberance you can chalk up to the martinis Pierce fed me, but the rest is pure teratology. On a side tangent-- one thing Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition did well was monsters. Having a number of powers for each critter makes them far more engaging than just a mess of hit points. Bestiary Three has learned that lesson well; you don't see a lot of stat blocks unadorned with bells & whistles. Special powers make monsters cool, in a way that having a high AC or doing lots of damage doesn't. Oh & the art? I can't see its praises enough. Take a look at the cover-- an undead knight, a cyclops & a bunch of kappa? Awesome. So awesome. Well done, Mister Reynolds.

Bestiary Three draws from a wealth of sources, & not all of them are the typical sort that you'd expect. Take the asuras & the rakshasas-- gosh, I wish I'd had these back in the last Third Edition campaign I was in, Mike's Oisos game. I played a Zoroastrian inspired astral deva, & these would have sure come in hand. I gotta tell you, I'd much rather see a maharaja rakshasa or a asurendra asura than a pit fiend or balor-- they have oodles more character than some generic hulking demon. Same thing goes for the Miyazaki-like kami & the oni; I really like seeing non-Western cosmologies well supported. Having kappa, baku, tanuki (minus any anatomical...er...emphasis), jurogumo & a shinigami (with face-meltingly good art) is fun, but the spiritual angle is more essential. It could support a non-Western setting. & when I say non-Western, I mean non-European...if you were running a game with elements of the Weird West in it, there is stuff for you, too! The Pale Stranger, &...a cannon golem?! Oh hell yeah...& then the next entry after "golem, cannon" is a fossil golem with Tyrannosaurus rex skulls for hands! That is what I'm talking about.

The first few monsters in the book aren't that great-- animals with shark fins, & such fodder-- but as soon as you get to the archons, it gets banging. An angel that is just an...orrery? & I was just talking about how I like my angels to be creatures of blood & iron & fire. There is the thalassic behemoth, which is just Moby Dick with lobster claws. A vulnudaemon looks like a creepy little Samara with a slit throat...& the bleeding gash has teeth! What. The contract devil is the above mentioned stereotypical diabolic figure...with really long horns all over his body, draped with Faustian paperwork. Pathfinder does good with fiends. Another pool, another legendarium that we gamers share is...well, the game itself. Some of these things can be...silly, but Paizo has done a good turn & made them a little less goofy. Two of the redeemed misfits are here: the flumph & the wolf-in-sheep's-clothing. If you want to get a little more Bas-Lag in flavor, there is the octo-merman caecalia & the garuda. & the lunar naga, for that matter-- it doesn't have a Bas-Lag connection but it sure seems like China Miéville could have invented it.

An unofficial tradition in gaming has been to take individual monsters from myth & make them into an entire species. Thus you get plurals of formerly proper nouns, like "medusas" & "hydras." Bestiary Three give a clever turn to this in a few entries, most notably norns-- they'll cut your thread!-- & humbabas. I really like Humbaba, & after rereading Gilgamesh I have thought about Humbaba's "aura" a lot-- & making it a Prismatic Aura is a wonderful touch. On a related note, I like having a section for sphinxes-- my biggest phobia, actually-- but I with the shedu & the lammasu were in that section. Come on, they are basically the same thing. My brain's fear center says so, anyhow. & the book finishes up strong. Bee people-- I remember rubbing my gums with bee people honey in kingtycoon's game! Hektonchire! Oh, my favorite! & the jotund troll! Like a perfect little hektonchire sidekick, monstrously wrong in head-count & proportions. Of course there is a penanggalen, of course there is. Porcupines & pukwudgies make me think of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles & Other Strangeness, in a good way. In the best way. As if there was a bad way to think of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. There is the obligatory Lovecraftian horror, the Great Race of Yith. Plenty of Lewis Carrol references, too, from toothsome bandersnatches to scaly jubjub birds. & of course, tzitzimitl, portrayed here as fifty foot tall Aztec robot skeletons that travel through space to "shut down worlds," & crackle with kirby dots & negative energy. They shoot lasers from their eyes & can cause an eclipse.

Tags: books, dnd, haiku, paizo, pathfinder
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