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Paizo Roundup: PF Bestiary 2, Bestiary Battle & Chase Cards

Hello again my friends and welcome to another PAIZO PRODUCT REVIEW! The good folks at the Golem were kind enough to pass on a few copies of their newest and shiniest goods so that we can pass along our general thoughts, impressions, and recommendations. In this edition we have: the Pathfinder Bestiary 2, the latest supplement of things to kill and loot; the Pathfinder Bestiary Battle Cards, a handy reference for any GM; and the Pathfinder Chase Cards, for when the best option is running away!
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First and foremost, the big boy in the room: the Pathfinder Bestiary 2. More than 300 new critters to drop into your games are tightly packed into this relatively slim 320-page volume – and that’s including appendices and indices! All the extraplanar and elemental rosters get a decent expansion, but I bet if you lay them all out together it’s the First World that gets the biggest showing here. It’s no surprise that Paizo has a thing for the First World and all its fey denizens given all the love they’ve shown it in recent supplements, but it can start to feel a little one-note at times.

I remain unhappy with the prevailing design decision to limit each monster to one page, although at this point there’s little that can be done about it. To me, the limit forces the developers to have to choose between providing readers with the excellent description, history, and ecology at which they are so skilled in creating, or providing GMs interesting and understandable stat blocks. Keyword soup is only as useful as the memory of the GM running a monster, and becomes counterproductive if it requires pulling out another book to find the rule description.

In short, if you were going to get the Bestiary 2 already, go ahead and get it – there’s loads of new monsters and new ideas to use against your hapless players, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot to make this a must-buy.
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Now, on to the Bestiary Battle Cards! Again, not a lot of surprises here. This is a hefty brick of card packs meant for use at a physical table (oof, the timing) with one side dedicated to the beautiful art from the Bestiary and the other side displaying the stat block of the monster in question. As they’re 3” x 6” cards printed on sturdy, glossy cardstock, they’re definitely well-made and go a long way to explaining the $60 price tag. As far as their actual use goes, though, they seem more designed for a quick flash of “this is what you’re fighting” than for use as a display – there’s no official means of holding them vertically or integrating them with a GM screen, so do your best with paper clips and tape or try not to accidentally flash the stat block when your players ask to see the monster for the fifteenth time.

Fans of Paizo’s Pocket Editions will likely enjoy the Battle Cards a great deal, as they’re the perfect way to bring just what you’ll need for a night’s encounter without lugging around another heavy book. Just be sure you know what your players will get up to!

You can definitely see the utility of the one-page design and keyword soup from the Bestiary paying off here – limiting the amount of explanatory text in a stat block allows it to be printed on a card in a font that’s pretty legible even through the most smudged glasses, and keywords allow Paizo (or an enterprising GM) to put all the important explanatory text on the back of a screen. That said, for the beefier, more unique monsters, even the 3” x 6” space isn’t sufficient, and they require a two-card spread to contain all their abilities. Monsters that require two cards are generally larger and more impressive than your run-of-the-mill goblin, so why can’t their art be a splashy two-page spread? It’s something I hope to see implemented in future Battle Cards, and it’s one of the few missteps in an otherwise lovely product.

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Last, but certainly not least, is the Pathfinder Chase Cards. This 55-card deck is meant to help GMs get a physical grip on the chase rules which can so easily spring up on an unsuspecting session. The GM lays out a random selection of the obstacle cards based on the difficulty they want to set for the chase encounter, and each side (chase-er and chase-ee) work their way through cards by earning Chase Points through skill checks and abilities like spells and class features.

The Chase Cards do a good job of giving a physical and visual way to interact with the rules in a rulebook, but they (like the chase rules in general) are written largely with a low- to medium-level party in mind. A huge percentage of the obstacles presented here can be easily bypassed if the party can fly, and then you’re right back into combat (or right back into exploration or downtime mode).

I applaud the effort of the designers to work skill and ability checks (normally associated with downtime or exploration mode) into encounter mode, but I can’t help but feel like the game’s design approach to chase sequences is fundamentally missing the mark. These cards and rules (and other chase rules in popular TTRPGs) largely focus on environmental hazards and obstacles as a way to introduce conflict and increase tension, but any good chase I can come up with always involves play and counter-play from the quarry and the hunter, and environmental factors are largely a non-issue because they affect both participants equally. That, however, is outside the scope of the Chase Cards, and will require your GM to come up with clever villains to both chase and be chased by your heroes.

That about does it for this edition of your PAIZO PRODUCT REVIEWS! Stay safe out there y’all.
 
Ben Reece

Comments

Jimmy Dick

Explorer
The Battle Cards are really nice. I got to use them a couple times before the pandemic kicked in and we had to cancel our Society events. I have pulled them out to use them when running online though. When players use Recall Knowledge, it is nice to have the information available to me so I can pass pieces along.
 

Nilbog

Snotling Herder
A nice write up

A quick question if I may regarding the new bestiary, how exciting are the monsters mechanically?

I don't mind a lack of fluff as I run a home-brew setting and refluff them anyway, but I'll be disappointed if they are just bags of hitpoints
 

dave2008

Legend
A nice write up

A quick question if I may regarding the new bestiary, how exciting are the monsters mechanically?

I don't mind a lack of fluff as I run a home-brew setting and refluff them anyway, but I'll be disappointed if they are just bags of hitpoints
Generally speaking PF2 monsters are not just bags of hit points. I wouldn't expect that to change now. However, I personally find that concept weak. We are all just bags of hit points. A monster can only come to life in the hands of a good DM, it doesn't matter what it says on the stat block.
 

Nilbog

Snotling Herder
Generally speaking PF2 monsters are not just bags of hit points. I wouldn't expect that to change now. However, I personally find that concept weak. We are all just bags of hit points. A monster can only come to life in the hands of a good DM, it doesn't matter what it says on the stat block.
I never implied they were, I'm sorry if my question was poorly worded, I was just interested as to if they had any new or interesting mechanical abilities.

I'll buy a guide to DM'ing instead.
 

lud

Explorer
To add some precision on the original text:

I remain unhappy with the prevailing design decision to limit each monster to one page
More complex monsters do have more than one page in the book. See the Solar, some Deamons, Devils, Jabberwock, Ravener, etc... But most of them are indeed only on one page.

Personally, I would like to see more treasure entries detailing items that can be obtained from the corpses of the creatures. It would also help to have a monetary value for those items. The less things I have to come up on the fly, the better!

To answer Nilbog question: They are on part with the first bestiary. If you liked those, you should happy with the new managery from Bestiary 2.
 

dave2008

Legend
I never implied they were, I'm sorry if my question was poorly worded, I was just interested as to if they had any new or interesting mechanical abilities.
I don't have the book, so I can't be sure, but I would bet there are some simple monsters and some tricked out with interesting abilities - you need some of both.

I'll buy a guide to DM'ing instead.
Sorry, I didn't mean to insult, I'm just so tired of the "bag of hit points" comment as if that is inherently a bad thing and poor design. IMO, it is not.
 

Nilbog

Snotling Herder
I don't have the book, so I can't be sure, but I would bet there are some simple monsters and some tricked out with interesting abilities - you need some of both.

Sorry, I didn't mean to insult, I'm just so tired of the "bag of hit points" comment as if that is inherently a bad thing and poor design. IMO, it is not.
no insult taken, i get what you mean, anything can be good in the hands of the right DM, I just like Monster manuals to show off what a system can do with a few clever idea
 

The "keyword" soup is the most annoying thing about PF2 to me. A rules misunderstanding last session (requiring research on the Paizo forums after the game to resolve) nearly resulted in a TPK. Something like this comes up nearly every session - and we're already at 7th level. This is a crunchy, rules dense system - but its presentation has not improved that much from PF1.
Whereas DMing 4E was a breeze with few exceptions to the rule, PF2 isn't striking such a balance for me. I'm sure I'll get the hang of it a few years down the road, but it's definitely not newbie friendly. And this is coming from a guy who has DMed since the 1980s, played multiple systems, written and published game products.
A new stat block format (similar to what happened in the last days of 3.5) would be a treat.
 

Nilbog

Snotling Herder
The "keyword" soup is the most annoying thing about PF2 to me. A rules misunderstanding last session (requiring research on the Paizo forums after the game to resolve) nearly resulted in a TPK. Something like this comes up nearly every session - and we're already at 7th level. This is a crunchy, rules dense system - but its presentation has not improved that much from PF1.
Whereas DMing 4E was a breeze with few exceptions to the rule, PF2 isn't striking such a balance for me. I'm sure I'll get the hang of it a few years down the road, but it's definitely not newbie friendly. And this is coming from a guy who has DMed since the 1980s, played multiple systems, written and published game products.
A new stat block format (similar to what happened in the last days of 3.5) would be a treat.
If you don't mind me asking, what was the keyword I'm hoping that I don't hit the same issue in my game should it ever restart
 

If you don't mind me asking, what was the keyword I'm hoping that I don't hit the same issue in my game should it ever restart
The specific issue I had was with Draconic Frenzy (which is Strikes and takes two actions - so an icon and not actually a keyword). In some cases, the multi attack penalty is applied after using an ability that includes several Strikes. Apparently not in the case of Draconic Frenzy. Having that information spelled out for me could have saved a lot of trouble.
 

Staffan

Adventurer
The specific issue I had was with Draconic Frenzy (which is Strikes and takes two actions - so an icon and not actually a keyword). In some cases, the multi attack penalty is applied after using an ability that includes several Strikes. Apparently not in the case of Draconic Frenzy. Having that information spelled out for me could have saved a lot of trouble.
I believe the default is that MAP always applies, and only abilities that specifically say it doesn't allow you to avoid it. On the PC side, you have abilities like Twin Feint and Flurry of Blows that let you make more than one strike but still keep track of MAP.
 

The Battle Cards are really nice. I got to use them a couple times before the pandemic kicked in and we had to cancel our Society events. I have pulled them out to use them when running online though. When players use Recall Knowledge, it is nice to have the information available to me so I can pass pieces along.
Do you have a picture of what they look like?
 

I believe the default is that MAP always applies, and only abilities that specifically say it doesn't allow you to avoid it. On the PC side, you have abilities like Twin Feint and Flurry of Blows that let you make more than one strike but still keep track of MAP.
That's what we thought, until we saw examples both ways where sometimes it lists that they apply, sometimes it lists that they don't. Sometimes nothing is mentioned. I get it now that I researched it, but the text could be more clear. Just a little help to the GM can go a long way.
 


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