|The Ashmole Bestiary (Source: Wikipedia)|
by Jason Bulmahn and F. Wesley SchneiderPaizo released this pamphlet as a preview of the Pathfinder Bestiary on Free RPG Day 2009.
- It's marked "3.5 OGL Compatible" on the back, even though it uses the Pathfinder rules. I guess they're close enough that Paizo was hoping not to scare people.
- At the time of printing, the Bonus Bestiary was monsters that didn't fit in the main book, and so this was the only place for them. Some of them I can imagine were missed (the Allip), and some of them less so (the Ascomid).
- As of the Bestiary 3, I think all of the monsters in this book have appeared in other Pathfinder supplements.
Monster Manual II
by Ed Bonny, Jeff Grub, Rich Redman, et al.A follow-up to the 3.0 Monster Manual. Hereafter referred to as MMII.
- Pages 4-21 explain how to read a monster's write-up, but the information is complete enough that it could probably be used for making monsters too (a laborious task in 3.X).
- The last two monsters (Scorpion Folk and Razor Boar) are designated open game content, which I think makes MMII unique among non-core WotC publications (Technically even including core: IIRC the books themselves are not OGC, only the SRD). I wonder what might have been.
- The MMII is unique among the monster manuals for never getting a 3.5 printing.
- I think the skull on the cover is meant to be that of an ethereal marauder, but I don't know that there's a "canon" solution.
- This book is often remembered for its stupidly high-level monsters, but in fact, they do not comprise the majority of the monsters (see Figure 1). I remember it more for introducing me to many of the more off-beat monsters from older editions, such as myconids and thri-kreen. A lot of the new monsters are pretty uninspired though; it's very hit-or-miss.
|Figure 1: Challenge rating distribution in MMII.|
Legions of Hell
by Chris PramasI think I got this free with a subscription to Dungeon magazine a while back. It's pretty good though.
- The stat blocks are irrelevant, as are the templates and prestige classes. What really makes the book worthwhile is the dozens of detailed devils with their schemes and manoeuvrings through the political structure of hell. Each of them has goals and activities outlined both in hell and in the material plane.
- I appreciate that entries frequently play off of each other. For example there are rival dukes of rhetoric and eloquence (appealing to logic and the psyche, respectively). It gives the book a very complete feeling.
- The book has occasional tie-ins with Hell in Freeport, which I do not own. But I would be interested to see if any of it also appears in the associated "world of Freeport" settings; I seem to recall that Green Ronin had all of their settings in a shared world.
The Ubiquitous SagesAs it was noted in "Let's Read the Monstrous Manual", many monster write-ups refer to "sages" with strangely specific knowledge and theories, implying some sort of twisted academic discourse in the D&D universe. When writing, it's an easy trap to fall into: when I do it it's because sometimes I just don't want to decide how something works, or I think something is a good idea but struggle to make it interesting, or I have multiple conflicting ideas. Basically, it's because I'm lazy (although I do try to catch myself doing it).
This fall-back device has some strange implications though. Take, for example, this passage from the AD&D Monstrous Manual:
Naturally vicious and almost evil at times, displacer beasts harbor an undying hatred of blink dogs. Many theories attempt to account for this enmity. Some sages believe it springs from antipathy in temperaments -- the lawful good blink dog would naturally be the enemy of a creature as savage and destructive as the displacer beast. Others argue that it is the displacement and blink abilities which cause this antipathy -- the two abilities, when in close proximity, somehow stimulate the nervous system and produce hostile reactions. Encounters between the two breeds are rare however, since they do not share the same territory.
AuthorshipThe judgements implicit in "almost evil" and "undying hatred" contrast sharply with the pseudo-scientific prose in the rest of the text. On the other hand, the back-and-forth of competing theories suggests a reliable communication infrastructure, the use of "sages" and "others" plural suggests a community of academics, and the note that natural encounters are rare introduces the possibility of a controlled laboratory environment, complete with technology that can contain an ethereal blink dog.
The contrast of these prose styles might be explained by the method of writing of a real medieval bestiary: Greeks and Romans would hear stories from all over and write them down. Then monks would copy, translate, and illuminate, these manuscripts, and add a layer of Christian allegory. In some cases, these were then later translated again with annotations, like this one, leaving many competing authorial voices. I think this (possibly unintentionally) makes for a somewhat more "realistic" bestiary.
Naming the SagesIf there is an academic community however, these books do a pretty poor job of citing things. Proper citations and references might be a bit much, but let's at least name the sages. Take the above blink-dog passage:
Many theories attempt to account for this enmity. [Nymphitylus believes] it springs from antipathy in temperaments -- the lawful good blink dog would naturally be the enemy of a creature as savage and destructive as the displacer beast. [Marixtus the Optimist argues] that it is the displacement and blink abilities which cause this antipathy -- the two abilities, when in close proximity, somehow stimulate the nervous system and produce hostile reactions.I think the addition of names is a minor change that adds a more academic tone. I can easily imagine several names reappearing throughout a text, alluding to the nature and reliability of different sources.
Of course, names for ancient sages should be Greek. So here is a table to name them:
A half-dozen samples:
- Hegetius of Stratonicia
- Hierocrates the Epicurean
- Porphygias the Cynic
- Alexagnote Mallotes
- Carneacydes of Athens