GTM #203 - Tricks of the Game Trade - Tip #10
by Jon Leitheusser

~ There’s Always Room for Monsters ~

We’re taking a break from the “Starting a New Campaign” series of articles to talk a bit more about monsters and their place in fantasy worlds—as well as gamers’ continual desire for more and different adversaries to throw at the player characters. An earlier Tricks of the Game Trade talked about monsters and using them to develop encounters for your games, but recently there have been a number of great monster books released or coming soon, including:

  • Volo’s Guide to Monsters for Dungeons & Dragons, from Wizards of the Coast
  • Bestiary 6 for Pathfinder, from Paizo
  • The Freeport Bestiary for Pathfinder, from Green Ronin

This month, we’ll bring focus to these three sourcebooks, how they differ from one another, and what they offer to players and game masters.

~ The Catalog of Monsters ~

The most traditional of the three books is Bestiary 6 for Pathfinder. Like all of the preceding volumes in the Bestiary series, this tome includes a couple hundred new monsters, either created exclusively for this series or culled from the various sourcebooks and Adventure Paths published by Paizo in the last couple of years. Bestiary 6 features monster entries that present a bit of information about the creature appearing on the page, along with its game write-up, but (in most cases) it doesn’t tie the monster specifically to the setting. That’s because the bestiaries are designed to give game masters monsters they can use in their Pathfinder game, even if they aren’t using Paizo’s official world of Golarian.

The great thing about all of these books is that they provide something for everyone, includes some new races that can be used as player characters, new animal companions, templates to allow you to modify monsters and make them unique or unusual, and new rules to speed up combat. The other nice thing about the Bestiary series is that most of the books have a bit of a theme to them. For example, Bestiary 5 featured Cthulhu and creatures from the associated Mythos, while Bestiary 6 showcases foes from myth and legend, such as the Archdevil Mephistopheles, Charon, and even Krampus!

Bestiary 6 really is a catalog of monsters. It’s filled with interesting and unique beasties that may be unfamiliar to your players—and it’s always nice to surprise the players with a foe they don’t know much about. With Bestiary 6, pick a monster, build an encounter, and go!

~ The Thematic Monster Book ~

The Freeport Bestiary approaches the subject of a monster book in a slightly different way than Bestiary 6. In this case, Green Ronin created this sourcebook specifically for Freeport, which is a fantasy setting with a heavy dose of pirates and horror. As such, the monsters in it are appropriate to a setting filled with sea-going vessels, undead, horrible monsters, and similar conceits. The Freeport Bestiary is Pathfinder-compatible and retains its pirate-inspired theme, and as such they can be used in any campaign using those rules.

~ The Lore Book of Monsters ~

Finally, Volo’s Guide to Monsters for Dungeons &Dragons is written in narrative form, presented by Volothamp Geddarm, a loremaster from the Forgotten Realms setting. He provides information on some classic monsters from the game, expanding on the information about those creatures as they’re originally presented in the Monster Manual. The additional information offers dungeon masters with more story hooks and encounters with these monsters, and also provides guidance on what their lairs are like and even delves into their behavior. The really nice thing is that it’s not just high-level monsters who get expanded treatment—don’t worry, as beholders, giants, hags, mind flayers, and the yuan-ti get some love—but races like orcs, gnolls, goblinoids, and kobolds benefit from the expanded entries, which make the book useful across a broad range of levels. As an added bonus, a number of the races that gain the additional lore also come with a sample lair or other sort of community. Having these maps handy when you need to come up with quick encounter can be a lifesaver and expands the utility of the book quite a bit.

Another aspect of Volo’s Guide to Monsters is that makes it useful to more than just the dungeon master, as it introduces seven new races as player character options. Those races may not fit into every game, but if the dungeon master is looking for a way to customize the campaign, adding a new and unique race to the mix can be a lot of fun. The seven new options include aasimar, firbolg, goliath, kenku, lizardfolk, tabaxi, and triton. Even incorporating one or two of those races to your world could be very interesting and change the flavor of the entire campaign. Plus, players love having new options.

Finally, the book includes about 100 monsters with descriptions and game stats. There are some classic adversaries like hags, cave fishers, barghests, leucrotta, meenlocks, slithering trackers, vargouilles, and more dinosaurs, as well as some of the strangest monsters ever to appear in D&D, including the flail snail, froghemoth, stench kow, and vegepygmy! There’s even a selection of new animals and a variety of humanoid foes such as a bard, martial arts adept, necromancer, and illusionist.

Take It To the Tabletop!

When you’re selecting a monster tome, or more importantly, when you’re building your game world, think about the monsters and denizens you have available to you, and how they may change the flavor of the world. Most game masters take an “everything but the kitchen sink” approach to the monsters that lurk about their campaign world. But, how would things be different if you only included a fraction of the monsters from any given bestiary? What if there were no giants, or demons, or devils? Or, what if you added (or removed) some character races, entirely? Adjustments like that might be fun to think about and could energize a player who wants to try out one of the new races—and if you’re lucky, maybe they’ll be interested in expanding some of that race’s role in the world. You really never know what might get the creative juices flowing.

Jon Leitheusser is a writer, editor, and game developer. He published the Dork Tower comic book, was the HeroClix game designer for years, was a content designer for Champions Online and Neverwinter, has been the Mutants & Masterminds game developer for Green Ronin since 2008, and freelances for a number of different companies. He cut his gaming teeth on Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and still games twice a week with his friends online or in person. He’s attended about 30 Gen Cons and he lives in Renton, Washington with his wife and a mean cat.