December 2, 2017
Bestiaries of 2017
In the year 2017, the staff of the Poison Pie Publishing House continued their weekly update of A Survey of One Hundred Bestiaries. (The survey has now grown to over 170 entries, although its title has not been updated.) Many of the books about beasts, which were added to the survey, hailed from previous decades, but several were published in 2017. Other newly published bestiaries have yet to appear in the survey but presumably will, if the staff continues their weekly updates in 2018 as anticipated. (There are only 52 weeks in the year and the backlog is substantial.) In any case, the list of bestiaries published in 2017 and investigated by the PPPH staff included
- Pathfinder Bestiary 6 (Paizo Publishing) (entry # 167)
- Numenéra: Ninth World Bestiary 2 (Monte Cook Games) (entry # 174)
- Starfinder Alien Archive (Paizo Publishing) (entry # 177)
- Tome of Aliens (Frog God Games) (entry # 178)
- Wayfinder Bestiary (Paizo Fans United) (forthcoming)
- Tome of Blighted Horrors (Frog God Games) (forthcoming)
The production quality of these books, including the fan-made Wayfinder Bestiary, is exemplary. The creativity that went into imagining these beasts of fantasy and science fiction is on full display in both their textual descriptions and the artists' illustrations. It remains a bibliophile's pleasure to both thumb through the books, taking in one piece of artwork at a time, then later to pore over the text to discover the associated ways of living of each unlikely creature.
In truth the two books with which we spent more time than any other, and to which we will devote the remainder of this review, are not listed above. The first is not listed above because it is a few years old, but somehow escaped our attention until this year. The second was published in 2017 but only a small chapter of the overall book is a bestiary. With these disclaimers behind us, we now proceed to the matter at hand.
Cerulean Seas: Beasts of the Boundless Blue.
We examined a hardcover copy of Cerulean Seas: Beasts of the Boundless Blue, an aquatic themed bestiary, compatible with the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. It was published in 2013 by Alluria Publishing. It runs 292 full-color pages and contains over 250 monsters, including many that were created exclusively for this book. (Inevitably, when authors draw upon existing tradition, there is overlap between one bestiary and another; this one has an unusually high fraction of newly minted beasts.)
Cerulean Seas: Beasts of the Boundless Blue is a thorough bestiary for aquatic adventures. It includes creatures from coasts, swamps and rivers, but focuses the majority of its effort on ocean life. Particular attention is paid to beasts that dwell in the lightless, abyssal depths. The entries for each beast reflect the importance of the aquatic environment. Every creature possess a racial bouyancy, characterizing its density relative to water. Maximum depth tolerances are also provided for each entry. For deep-sea species, mininum depths are also reported.
A squid imp from Cerulean Seas: Beasts of the Boundless Blue.
One of the appeals of this bestiary is that many of the entries have statistics for playable races. Thus the immediate impulse is to roll new characters for each of the races. This was of particular interest in 2017, owing to the publication of the Pathfinder Adventure Path, Ruins of Azlant. It was with great excitement that we tabulated all the playable entries and imagined grouping them into adventuring parties according to one set of shared traits or another. Ultimately, there were too many possibilities and several imagined parties remain unrealized. Still we spent a few months coming up with five aquatic parties with varying underlying themes. In addition to the bestiary, the book contained content such as aquatic equipment and aquatic feats necessary to flesh out the characters. Below we provide links to the character sheets based on races in Cerulean Seas: Beasts of the Boundless Blue.
Underworld Races & Classes
The second book that really captured our attention in 2017 was Underworld Races & Classes, a gaming supplement for subterranean adventures, published by Adventure-A-Week Games in 2017. The primary purpose of the book is to present 14 new character playable races and 25 new classes or class options, appropriate to underground exploration. Our book was compatible with the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and contained 208 full-color pages. (There was also a version of the book compatible with Fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons.)
The book contained two entirely new classes: the stonespeaker and the underterror. The stonespeaker is a geomancer, harnessing the intrinsic magic of stone. The underterror seems modeled not after the Pathfinder summoner class, but rather the eidolon, the extraplanar companion of the summoner class. In the character advancement of the summoner, the eidolon incrementally gains new evolutions, some of which are physical, (wings, tentacles, a slimy hide, a stinger, an increase in size, etc.) and some of which are functional (blindsense, scent, poison, fast healing, spell resistance, etc.). The underterror class makes the character itself the eidolon, pulling mutations from the same evolution pool available to eidolons (with a few exceptions).
If anyone has ever been in a party with a high-level summoner and discovered that the eidolon is more powerful, not only than the character who summoned it, but also over-powered relative to all other members of the party, then one might anticipate this imbalance of power would be exacerbated when the character and the eidolon are combined. We suspect this might be a hint of truth to this, but it did not prevent us from creating a really delightful underterror of our own. Of course, one natural solution to a potential game imbalance is for all members of the party to take several levels in underterror!
As noted above, we immediately imagined a variety of adventuring parties composed of different combinations of races and classes in this book. At the current time, we have completed only one party, composed entirely of the mushroom-based lifeform, the funglet. However, we made the most of this party, exploring the capabilities of the new classes up to 15th level. Other parties remain a distinct possibility, awaiting only the arrival of an idle afternoon.
A funglet from Underworld Races & Classes.