Everybody—or at least, almost everybody—loves a good monster book. Page after page filled with stats, new and interesting villains and thugs to throw at your players… earlier editions of the game were saturated with multiple monster guides per edition, especially 2e, first with its loose-leaf Monstrous Compendiums, then with its multiple softcovers per game world (three for Planescape alone).
I guess monster guides increase exponentially per edition, because for 3.5 edition, the market is swamped with monster books. There are five Monster Manuals, the Fiend Folio, the Monsters of Faerun compendium, three Tomes of Horror, three Creature Collections, two Monsternomicons, and at least one monster book per specific game world, of which I’ll only bother to mention the World of Warcraft Monster Guide, Denizens of Avadnu, Creatures of Rokugan, Ravenloft’s Denizens of Dread, and the Book of Fiends, to get to the magic number of 20. Now we’re getting (at least) two Bestiaries for the Pathfinder game. And that doesn’t count the monsters that appear in adventures, sourcebooks, the d20 Modern Menace Manual, and the like.
So, it says a lot when I say Green Ronin’s Advanced Bestiary is the best 3.5 monster guide out there. Because it’s a book of templates.
And, therefore, makes all those other monster guides that much more useful.
(Read on. I actually posted a creature using a template from the book.)
Let’s roll back to the recent past. For the AD&D editions, monsters were mostly to be used as-is. Upgrading and modifying they wasn’t built into the rules. If you wanted your orc to be a shaman, you made it cast spells as, say, a third-level priest, while if you wanted a fifth-level ranger gnoll, you gave it a few more hit dice and looked up what the THAC0 progression for a fighter was. It was fully possible to modify your monsters for specific encounters, but the game provided very little help or balance guidelines. Heck, the first appendix in the 2e Monstrous Manual was on building your own monsters, which was a page, and started with the amazing insight of “avoid extremes.”
Third and subsequent editions spoiled GMs in how you could manipulate your monsters, and encounters in general. Now, it’s a major part of the monster rules. Want to have an entire campaign revolve around orcs? Give them character levels and your players will always be challenged. Want to throw in a Gelatinous Cube, but your players have advanced to the point where it’s easily wasted? Give it some Hit Die advances, which upgrades all of its stats, gives it more skills and feats, and might even advance it a size category.
Templates are the third flavor of upgrading monsters, by making it otherwise different from the norm. In the Monster Manual, there are only a handful of them, and they show the early intended uses: Zombie and Skeleton allow for custom-built undead, the various half-something templates give an NPC a monstrous background, and Celestial/Fiendish are simply there for the Summon Monster outsiders… though, it is a bit weird to think of the holy badger realm, or a plane of evil bugs. While the Monster Manual was a bit sparse on templates, every third-party publisher out there went gonzo over them. Even WotC caught the bug, filling up a lot of pages in MM4 and MM5 with leveled and templated monsters.
Now, with the “bending over backwards wanking about how awesome templates are” out of the way. The Advanced Bestiary.
The first of Green Ronin’s “advanced core three” series, the Bestiary took the idea of templates to the illogical extreme; wholly comprised of templates, the Bestiary is like a shopping cart of upgrading monsters. In its pages are over a hundred new templates, and an example monster for all of them, giving near-endless possibilities in creature design and a base idea to start off of. Many of the templates in the book are easily recyclable, either because they are generic enough to fit a wide range of creatures, or because they are damn awesome.
Forty pages or so are taken up with the Dread Undead, a Dread version of all the major undead featured in the Monster Manual, from Dread Allips to Dread Zombies. Some of the examples are pretty hot, such as the Dread Mohrg Cyrohydra, and the Dread Lacedon Cachalot Whale, essentially Moby Dick, though the Dread Skeleton Blink Dog was a bit odd. As a bonus, most of the Dread Undead entries have sidebars for making non-Dread template versions, by cutting out or limiting some of the abilities gained through the Dread template.
Quite a number of the other templates rock. Feral Dragon makes a dragon a bit fiercer and dumber. Saurian makes a creature fit into a Yuan-Ti heavy game, and the example, a Saurian Centaur, is kinda cool. Manimal allows you to make any creature an anthropomorphized race; generally I’m not huge on the idea—never could get into Arcana Evolved—but the example, a Manimal Triceratops eating up a pumpkin vendor’s wagon, is pretty awesome. Dust Creature is a nice idea for desert flavor. There’s also Flesh Plant, which makes a Ravenloft-esque meat tree, and Element Infused, which could make for some interesting planar encounters: the example is a fire-infused troll, not what you’d expect to show up on the elemental plane of fire. And Gigantean, which makes any creature a kaiju.
A number of templates, like Unholy, Holy, Celestial Blessed, Genie-Bound, and Devil-Bound, are great for adding some flavorful NPCs to encounters: wish-hunting rogues tricked by efreeti, and the bound paladins who made a deal with devils, for example. Unholy is a bit more generic, and fits any kind of blasphemous evil creature you can apply it to. And straight from Norse myth is Jotunblood, a template for giants, which makes giants larger and far more powerful with the addition of more hit dice and a special attack dependent on giant type.
My favorite, however, is the Amalgam template. My first reaction was pretty negative: the idea is just to smash two random creatures together and see what happens. There’s art for a gnoll displacer beast samurai, and the example is an arrowhawk/minotaur hybrid. But it sounded too janky to work right. Eventually, I statted up the first example I’d thought up for as a “terrible” idea, the Gelatinous Cube Beholder, when we realized it could be truly, awesomely, horrific. Think of a nearly mindless floating blue cube, with curved corners, in which floats a central antimagic eye and the seven eye-stalks. (Mostly, I think Reuben wanted to see the other players squirm when I walked in with a jello mold and told them the pineapple chunk was the anti-magic eye, while the cherries were the eye-stalks…)
Sadly, since the beholder isn’t OGC, I can’t do much with it (damn you, Wizards’ IP!), though I could make it even more horrific by Amalgam’ing the Cube and the Eye of the Deep from TOHR…
Many of the templates are along the lines of Paizo’s quick templates: Cave, Icy, Nocturnal, Amphibious, Poisonous, Primitive. I can get behind all of them, except perhaps Nocturnal, which is a bit scant; it gives Light Sensitivity for Low-Light Vision and a few +4/-4 racial modifiers, and the example is a Nocturnal Brown Bear. In general, though, templates like these are great: fast and easy to do, giving some aesthetic changes in game terms.
Quite a few of the templates can work in a steampunk setting, such as Clockwork Creature, with one of my favorite examples, the Clockwork Choker. There’s also the Lifespark Construct, which makes golems spontaneously sentient, Metal Clad, which encases creatures in metal (good for a Mirroden game?), Transforming Construct, which I liked a lot better than DragonMech. Lastly, you get the Iron Kingdons-esque Warforged Creature, a mechanical version made of boilers and gears; check out the Warforged Ankheg. In general, Warforged are still a better idea for mechanical characters, but the templates are pretty slick.
It’s also worth noting that a lot of the templates can be used in a d20 Modern or sf game. Something like DragonStar or Gamma World (yeah, I know nobody else likes those) could easily use many of the templates. A “hard” modern game could take some work, but a lot of the templates, such as Amalgam, Primitive, Muck, Element-Infused, Ooze, Psychic, and even the weirdo Bipedal, could be used to make mutants or aliens out of core creatures.
In any monster book, there are a few stinkers. Advanced Bestiary is no exception, but its stinkers are still pretty interesting… good to build an encounter around, once, but not exactly recyclable material. Id Ooze, for example, makes an ooze smarter, so you find it scuttling around wielding a giant’s tower shield as cover. Bipedal just makes creatures too weird for me, but it YMMV. The Fortune Blessed/Spurned templates were interesting, but hardly universally useful. Likewise, the Four Horsemen templates are an interesting idea, but I can’t see using them often… plus the idea of an Ice Mephit of Famine and Bipedal Winter Wolf of War are just too odd for my groups.
I have a lot of the aforementioned monster guides, and while most of them are pretty awesome, the Advanced Bestiary is required. At this point, I consider it the fifth core rulebook, behind the Expanded Psionics Guide. It’s also worth noting that after we used it a few times, we began seeing it pop up in Paizo material, which amused the hell out of us: even when we’re running pre-published adventures, we’re using the Advanced Bestiary.
By accident, we ended up with two extras of these during the great Paizo Green Ronin Clearance Sale (cheers to their customer service in replacing the two missing Advanced Player’s Handbooks for free), so our entire group ended up with these. So far, besides the aforementioned Gelatinous Cube Beholder, we’ve used the book to make an Unholy Creature (crocodile god of an evil lizardfolk tribe) and a Seavern (Amphibious Wyvern). Since I don’t have the original Unholy Gator, and the Beholdercube isn’t OGC, I took the time to update the Amphibious Wyvern/Seavern into Pathfinder stats, as per the Bestiary.
Keving originally came up with the Aquatic Wyvern idea during our round-table game, which was essentially Serpent Skull, only years earlier in 3.5, trading off GM duties each week. His lizardfolk tribe used it as a kind of mount/hound when they were investigating our shipwreck. Mad props to him, even though it plays right into his dragon fetish.
Seavern / Amphibious Wyvern / CR 7XP 3,200
N Large dragon [aquatic]
Init +4; Senses darkvision 60 ft., low-light vision, scent; Perception +18AC 16, touch 10, flat-footed 15 (+7 natural, –1 size)
hp 80 (7d12+36)
Fort +10, Ref +6, Will +8
Immune sleep, paralysisSpeed 10 ft., swim 60 ft., fly 50 ft. (poor)
Melee sting +10 melee (1d6+4 plus poison), bite +10 melee (2d6+4 plus grab), 2 wings +5 (1d6+2)
Space 10 ft.; Reach 5 ft.
Special Attack rake (2 talons +10, 1d6+4)Str 19, Dex 10, Con 20, Int 7, Wis 12, Cha 9
Base Atk +7; CMB +12 (+16 grapple); CMD 23
Feats Flyby Attack, Improved Initiative, Iron Will, Skill Focus (Perception)
Skills Fly +5, Perception +18, Sense Motive +11, Stealth +7, Swim +12; Racial Modifier +4 Perception, +8 Swim
Languages Aquan, DraconicAmphibious (Ex) An amphibious creature can breathe both air and water with equal ease. The Seavern has a +8 Racial bonus to Swim checks, and can always choose to take 10 on a Swim check. Breathing Skin (Ex) Because an amphibious creature’s skin aids in its breathing, it takes a -2 penalty on Fortitude saving throws against gases, contact poisons, and inhaled poisons and effects. Poison (Ex) Sting—injury; save DC 19; frequency 1/round for 6 rounds; effect 1d4 Constitution damage; cure 2 consecutive saves. The save DC is Constitution-based.
The Seavern takes a major hit to defense with its -2 Dex, -2 Natural Armor, and Breathing Skin abilities. However, the fact that its poison is Constitution based works out well with its +2 Con modifier, also giving it another 7 hit points (one per hit die). All its speeds drop by 10 ft., but it gains a swim speed equal to its old fly speed, and a +8 racial bonus to swim checks, making it an interesting aquatic hunter.
Advanced Bestiary copyright Green Ronin. Pathfinder Bestiary copyright Paizo. Both the template and creature are designated Open Game Content.