An Endzeitgeist.com review
This massive bestiary clocks in at 148 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 143 pages of content, one of which is devoted to the cover artist Raven Mimura's biography as well as the story behind the cover.
This book, just so you know it, is dedicated to Joshua Gullion, KTFish7, fellow reviewer, colleague and friend - he always did champion a bestiary for AAW Games' Aventyr setting and I does warm my heart to see this dream realized. In particularly since Aventyr's critters, from humble A03 onwards, have been a defining staple of the setting. The crab-like Kra'tah that haunted the Vikmordere burial ground is but one of the creatures found within this book alongside new variants of the evocative monstrosity.
So yes, beyond simply being a massive collection of monsters can also be seen as a kind of "best of" of what has come out of creature-design for the Aventyr-setting - the evocative underworld races introduced under their own product line have representations here, from the crystalline colliatur to the alien funglets and the related creatures, they find their representations within this book. We can find deep badgers with the respective animal companion stats and classics like the delightfully disturbing NITNAM from classic A09, a gigantic blob of flesh, a parasite-like infection of flesh on a wizard's tower, can be found herein as well.
Each of the monsters is codified via an easy to use monster icon key that depicts the climate in which the monster can be found as well as types and subtypes via pretty self-explanatory glyphs - though, as one nitpick pertaining the layout, the borders of these icons could be cleaner/sharper in the pdf-version.
So, this would cover the basics - but what beyond them? Well, there is a certain truth in the old saying that a campaign setting's monsters somewhat define a given world and system. One of the reasons that drew me to Pathfinder back when I bought #1 of RotRL was the take on goblins - the fact that they were evocative and different. The themes evoked in the book, from the Jersey devil-like Sandpoint Devil to some encounters all provided a mature theme I preferred to that of almost all official WotC-modules and inclusion of themes from the Dark Tapestry and ever more twists on the familiar tropes ultimately did their fair share in ensuring I'd stay with Pathfinder as my default system.
A world's monsters very much define its tone, a crucial component for any fantasy gaming setting: Introduce enough goofy creatures and the whole setting feels lighthearted; introduce enough grimdark elements and it similarly becomes rather dark. But beyond that, creature-design for setting bestiaries very much requires, at least in my book, a feeling of cohesion. Ultimately, my main measure for setting based bestiaries would be the fact that a bestiary like this needs to evoke a cohesive identity via its creatures between the lines - to succeed here, we require a sense of the down-to-earth baseline for a given world in the animals and plants. The aventyr bestiary does provide the like, with subterranean boars called vvors, svirfneblin riding slugs (!!!)...and then there would be skildpadders. Scandinavians may already glean at what these creatures precisely are, the name translating to tortoise - but the creature itself is massive. Skildpadders in the context of Aventyr are giant bulette-tortoises, used as elephant-on-speed-like beasts of burden by the dwarves, with howdahs and the like...and yes, they are damn dangerous and ravenous...but mere words do an insufficient job in describing the impact this creature had on my. Build-wise, it may not be the most evocative one, but the almost two-page-filling, massive artwork of this beast and the iconic nature of the concept adds a whole level of ideas to the game: I can see these titans making their way through the gigantic subterranean landscapes of the underworld, with their crews defending caravans of the gigantic beasts against the numerous threats below the surface. Images like this are truly fantastic in the best of ways and provide a unique sense of consistency to the world.
Another of my favorites would be the Szaboan: Think of a colossal crab with mantis-shrimp-like, scintillating coloring and two surprisingly cute rabbity-looking "ears" as feeler and red eyes...above a gigantic, all-consuming lamprey-like mouth, large enough to swallow whole houses, with rows upon rows of churning teeth? Yeah...at once cute and creepy...I love it.
Similarly, no (A)D&D/d20-based bestiary would truly be complete without an odd hybrid creature and this bestiary does offer such beings; as an example, I'd like to mention the Stegaloviper - at CR 7, this Huge foe is a disturbing cross of viper and centipede, with a massive, stegalodon-like club as its tail - think of a titanic rattle-snake that can bludgeon you to death with her rattle, while also have Alien-like mandibles in the gaping maw and insectoid legs on the underside of its belly. I almost expected this creature to feature in one of the classic, beloved Chronicles/Savage Sword of Conan-comics. Speaking of which - the builds of such fantastic creatures that breathe a certain sense of the unique can also be seen in the variants of fantastic spiders, with the CR 11 sloth spider and its lethargic aura and slime coating rendering it pretty powerful - but its stone carapace does render it staggered...until it erupts in devastating bursts of speed. Finally, the alien and tentacled Veinar, somewhere between Lovecraftian horror and plant-like aberration certainly should make fans of sword & sorcery tropes grin with glee.
Rust mites would also be pretty cool and certainly a creature PCs and players alike will come to hate: After all, how do you make rust monsters novel and nastier? Bingo. Make them a swarm. Speaking of magical vermin - chikfari would be grasshopper-like predators with devastating kicks. One of my own favorites, though, would be the dread karz - carnivorous slugs with bony protrusions , the ability to psionically lure in foes and a coating of poisonous, paranoia-inducing slime. And yes, before you ask: Salt does help. One component of this bestiary I personally very much enjoy is that the creatures herein often feature reward-mechanisms for smart groups to exploit, emphasizing creativity over just rolling the dice and comparing math.
There are also some truly weird monsters in this book that very much feel like they could have been picked from the pages of the mythology of our very own world: Take the Sigbin, for example: The winged predator with its black/red-striped fur, claws and goat's head, it has sleep-toxin coated spines, is infused with the essence of shadow and can grapple and pin shadows of those that run afoul of it. The three variants of the shield warden, spanning CRs from 7 to 18 would be the creatures featured on the cover - and they are similarly feeling like they belong, though here, the analogue one can find would be with the tropes and concepts of the magical guard, the superb security and guardian. What about constructs that resemble weird crosses between chickens and houses?
Speaking of constructs: What about sentient, psionic asteroids with gravity fields? And yes, the book also features golems galore - Two variants of book golems, the lavishly-rendered totem golem (one of the coolest creatures in the book with a ton of unique tricks), mosaic tile golems or spells/power points-leeching constructs...and more. On a less positive note, there is a rendition for a mob as aswarm herein - when that one was originally released, there was not yet a troop subtype, but conversion into it wouldn't have hurt the mob. Still, that issue extends to only one adversary herein.
However, as any good setting-specific bestiary acknowledges, there are also some threats that are, well, pretty much unique threats; bosses. This book also features those - a force of nature, the feral titan called Mortdravva (CR 22), for example. Noght Ma'klurl'uth the Madness Slug; or the insectoid, devilish titan called Naghith, the many-winged father, worshipped and feared by primitive tribes. The artworks for some of the adversaries herein are simply stunning, with the latter being a prime example for pure greatness. What about the Rellum, a gargantuan CR 24 ooze and incarnation of pure, destructive chaos?
The book also features no less than 6 templates, from the gorgeously rendered Colliatur monstrosity to the HEL-creature to making titanic versions of standard critters, the templates offer for neat customization options.
Editing and formatting are very good, particularly for a book of this size. Layout adheres to a gorgeous two-column full-color standard, though, at least in the pdf, it could be a bit sharper. The book sports a huge array of artwork: Avid fans of 3pp-supplements may recognize a few of the artworks from previous releases, but the new ones truly shine, with several absolutely superb pieces that immediately grab your attention. The book also features several really big, one-page renditions...in short: This is a beautiful book. A very beautiful book. The pdf-version comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. Now I don't (yet) own the print of this book, but I am sure as HEL going to get it - my print copies of Snow-White and Rise of the Drow are simply gorgeous and the smaller AAW Games-releases similarly are aesthetically pleasing....so yeah. If you can and prefer print, go for the premium paper-version. Worth it.
Mike Myler, Jonathan G. Nelson, Michael Allen, Curtis Baum, Wolfgang Baur, Brian Berg, Adam Daigle, Jeff Gomez, Joshua Gullion, Jacob Kellog, Jared Jeanquart, Juan Lucha, Justin Andrew Mason, Jonathan McAnulty, Michael McCarthy, Raven Mimura, Brian Wiborg Mønster, Will Myers, Jason Nelson, Owen K.C. Stephens, Colin Stricklin, Cory Wickruck, Stephen Yeardley - notice something in this list of authors? Yep, this is a veritable who is who of not only the gifted authors in the cadre of AAW Games, it also features some of the biggest names in third party publishing - and it shows.
The Aventyr Bestiary is a great book brimming with imagination and truly unique ideas - whether you want a fix of sword-and-sorcery-esque themes, strange horrors or simply cool animal-like creatures, the book breathes a sense of the fantastic. More surprising, though, is that it retains, in spite of the breadth it covers, in spite of the various voices of designers herein, a sense of cohesion and consistency. Reading this book, you can't help but slowly get a feeling for the world of Aventyr, one that extends beyond the confines of individual monster entries. It's subtle; it's, in fact, almost imperceptible...but it's here. A feeling of everything coming together, of a fantastic world that feels different from others; by virtue of its creatures and the themes they provide. The presence of what one could consider "puzzle foes" in the book similarly is something I cherish and quite a few creatures in this book made me go "Damn, this one could carry a whole adventure!" and then start brainstorming.
This, to me, is testament of the quality and imaginative potential this offers. At the same time, though, you should be aware of the fact that rabid fans of Aventyr will see some old acquaintances here: If you, like me, own a majority of AAW Games' output, you'll encounter quite a few of the best-of critters featured in the respective modules. These tend to be winners and evocative indeed, mind you, but it is still something to bear in mind. Format-wise, this book very much adheres to the bestiary-formula championed by Paizo, which means that this book is mainly crunch - so, if you want extensive background information beyond a few paragraphs, you may gnash your teeth a little. Then again, I'd truly love to see extensive and detailed ecologies and modules depicting a lot of these creatures, so consider me wanting to know more about them testament of how damn evocative they ultimately are.
How to rate this...see, this is where it becomes a bit difficult for me. As a person, I absolutely adore this book. It features some of my favorite non-mythic critters in ages. As a reviewer, I had to nitpick a bit, as you've read above...but honestly, it's been a while since I've read a bestiary of this size with this much soul, a book of monsters that made me envision a fantasy world that, by virtue of their very existence, behaves differently from other fantasy settings...and this is a huge deal for me. If you already own the majority of AAW Games' catalogue, you'll get a bit less mileage out of this book, but the vast majority of the new critters more than makes up for this...and hence, after long and careful deliberation, I will ward this book the full five stars + seal of approval. There is simply too much awesomeness in these pages. If you thought even once "Heck yes!" regarding the monster-concepts I mentioned above, you'll probably sit before this book with a broad grin on your face. I know I am.