The second of the massive bestiaries for the Porphyra campaign setting clocks in at a massive 226 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of ToC, 1 page introduction (containing thanks for the contributing authors and contact information for the artists involved – kudos for providing that at such a prominent spot!), 4.5 pages of SRD, 1 page blank/back cover, leaving us with 215.5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
I have received this bestiary as an early access file and have been working on this review ever since; beyond that, this is a prioritized review and was moved up in my review-queue at the request of my patreons.
The first two pages of this bestiary provide an explanation on how to read the statblocks and use the creatures herein. We begin without much fanfare or ado with the very first monster herein, the Absinthian Hardwood – which makes a great example of what to expect in this book…or at least one example that highlights one facet of it: At first glance, we get a tree-like monster…but what does that have to do with one of my favorite alcoholic beverages? Okay, it does have a neat array of SPs, but depicting these trees in actual game is intriguing, since they usually do not fight; they let others do the dirty work. The tree grows sweet, aromatic fruits that are highly addictive and thus generate cultists of addicts pretty quickly; said cults are then tasked to spread the taint of these trees. Horrific in theme, the artwork provided for the tree reflects that nature. Another example for a great idea is the arbogeist – when a treant or similar plant creature perishes in horrific agony, these undead are created. That doesn’t seem too novel to you? Well, the build itself has multiple unique tricks up its sleeve and rewards smart players with an exploitable weakness-section. But yes, there are cool plant creatures herein – one of my favorites being Rotwood: This powerful magical disease warps plants and wood and shapes the components into exceedingly lethal engines of destruction, infecting all it touches – equal parts puzzle boss, endgame adversary and ridiculously powerful agent of destruction, it breathes tons of creativity.
Porphyra, as a patchwork planet, is incredibly diverse and as such, its monsters should reflect some concepts beyond the common – and we do get some ideas here that are evocative enough to make you grin: Picture exploring a dungeon, when you suddenly see a gooey pool of resplendent slime that grows wing-like protrusions, glows and flies around? Yep, that would be Angel Jelly, positively infused and rather kind. We all know the trope of the gigantic intelligent turtle, ancient and benign, right? Well, enter the archaic one. At CR 18, these incredibly long-lived beings are consumed by a crushing ennui, bored literally out of their minds by an existence that has gone on too long, seeping corruption and taint through their very pores. Speaking of such powerful foes – be wary of small islands – there is a very real chance that it may actually be an extremely deadly apex-predator jellyfish that hunts by posing as an islet until creatures step on it…and then the nightmare begins.
Hybrid creatures and internal connections between critters have also been an easy means to generate a sense of cohesion – and this book introduces an intriguing cultural tidbit: Aranea mages, hating to slay their rivals, proceed with the custom of magically rendering them insane; the offspring of aranea thus punished and various spider creatures can be found within these pages. The barzakhi, aka astral masters, would be a new race that is remarkable for several reasons: They are enslaving interlopers from the realms beyond the mortal sphere, yes – so far, so classic…but they a) have significant psionic abilities and b) have heads that are pyramidal with a single eye on each side. What might sound goofy is actually pretty creepy and evokes a ton of the tropes we cherish from conspiracy theories and novels…with homebases of electrified spheres of alien metal, they also quote a classic of literature…so yeah. AWESOME. (As a minor nitpick – one of their abilities refers to an “Astral Noble” instead of an “Astral Overlord” – but this I mention only because it is the one type of glitch you are likely to encounter herein. Oh, have I mentioned that they EAT SPELLS and throw them back as blasts at you? Yeah, pretty awesome!
Now if you’re like me, you’ll enjoy a certain sense of “realism” in your games and, as I’ve come to realize, shortage scenarios, whether due to siege or generally a grim tone can provide some very intriguing results. But what do necromancers do when they run out of material? Well, they create beseiged undead, that’s what. Taking for example a ton of human skin, stitching it together and filling it with sand may create slow undead, but the visuals are great and you still have bones and muscle tissue to make other monstrosities. Love this idea!
I also consider, at least to a significant degree, the type of animal-like beings that populate a world to be a pretty crucial component regarding the generation of immersion and the book does something interesting with those efficient predators: Take the centipede-like centioch – it’s tail has no less than three stingers, each with a different poison. Beyond the mechanics, I certainly know that many a thieves’ guild will try to get one of these…feed one huge vermin and get the chance to milk three poisons? Sounds like a smart deal…that requires capable assistance. Yes, I will have my PCs cart one of these things into a city. The logistics alone should be more than interesting to watch… If you’re looking for a more companion-compatible creature, you may want to look at quillback crocodiles – powerful predators with defensive spines. Among the “should be goofy, but is not” hybrids, the crow-wolf hybrid manages to actually look pretty nasty. Colossal spiders that weave webs of crystal (some played Brütal Legend!) are pretty cool…as are the cricket-like daemons that feast on maximum bloodshed. (On another note – the artwork for these fellows is glorious!)
I am a big believer in the fact that some unique bosses benefit a bestiary – one of these herein would be the fallen demon lord Gu’Dabana the Choker: A 4-armed, white-furred monstrosity, eyeless with a rat’s slavering maw and the ability to possess mortals. Oh, and he actually utilizes the EXCELLENT Assassins of Porphyra material, having his own cult of these professional killers. Since we’re talking creatures of the Abyss right now: Demons fused with the signature porphyrite or bone-club-wielding, massive simian herds of the fallen can be found…but they miss out in levels of WTF when compared to the Carceratos devil: These things decapitate foes rendered helpless and then fuse the head and body with their obese form…both of which, eerily, remain conscious and in agony, only dying once the creature is slain. This damned if you do, damned if you don’t-level of effective despair-generation feels perfectly devilish to me. Two thumbs up! And yes, unique devil included – Kram-Hotep, lord of the twilight pyramid.
If you’re into classic folklore, you may wish to take a close look at the dread devourer worm – at CR 30, it is an incredibly tough, beyond tarrasque-level unstoppable monstrosity well worth of the legend. Regarding humanoids, we do get renditions of the races featured in the Fehr’s Ethnology-series – including one of the six-limbed dhosari. While I am not the biggest fan of the race, the absolutely stunning artwork provided here most definitely deserves recognition. The pdf also features three new classes of elementals – death, metal and wood elementals, all of which do their theme pretty well. Now, if all of this sounds too focused on themes for you, let’s take a look at the emph as a great example for a mechanically unique being: This incorporeal aberration may occupy up to 9 adjacent squares in any configuration; alternatively, these squares may overlap and increase the creature’s density, acting as buffs. Very cool.
For all people with a phobia of clowns, the chaotic evil facada outsiders, themed around the suites of tarot, make for delightfully twisted adversaries. New giants are included in the deal alongside highly conductive cuprum golems or beings crafted from godflesh….wait a second. Yep, in case you were wondering: The good ole’ godflesh golem from one of my favorite 3.X-books has been updated for PFRPG herein. Would you rather fight an animated, malignant gallows that can sense your hatred? And what about that doodle on the wall that just moved? Yes, these would be golems as well and they stretch the term and its meaning, but are distinctly golems still.
Shepherds of all things creepy and crawly will certainly appreciate the significant array of verminhive golems and speaking of creepy -the chorion hag’s artwork gets my award for most disturbing artwork in the book: A corpulent, eel-like undulating form with bony, quasi-insectoid claws, blended faces and the ability to clone creatures in her bloated womb, this thing is a delightfully twisted perversion PCs will love to defeat. Remember when slimes and molds still were dangerous, when they multiplied upon being hit, again and again and again? Enter the hypermiotic template.
The interesting thing, though, is that even when a given creature, like the tired trope of the ice-burrowing worm, is featured, it has something going for it – in that case, no icy breath attack, but rather the option to spit forth highly corrosive salt, generating effects akin to acid pit. Fans of Eastern mythologies will enjoy the inclusion of the Kuchisake-Onna, the vengeful spirit of a mutilated woman. Folklore of only seldom tapped in cultures is used to great effect herein, with e.g. the Nang Tani from Thai culture receiving their own treatment – I wholeheartedly applaud the book for delving into these cultures and bringing some part of their rich heritage to the game. Take the obake; the classic oni was translated into a doddering old man, whose back has fused with a hive of wasps. Yes, that actually is frightening.
Better known tropes also feature herein: The narwhale, for example – ho turns out to be a benevolent, intelligent being herein – with an accompanying masterpiece to call these creatures. Oh…and two-words: Jousting ostriches. Companion stats included. Speaking of whales, one word: Skywhale.
Want something unique and distinctly high fantasy: The qutrub. These guys would be lycanthropes…but instead of gaining an animal-based hybrid form, their alternate form is undead. Come on, you know there is a good story in here! Speaking of stories: This is very much bestiary in the format: Statblocks upon statblocks…but the creatures actually do feature notes on how they behave on Porphyra and more information than usual for this type of book; better yet, once in a while, we get excerpts from folklore, poems or simply legends pertaining the respective monsters, providing additional information for their use.
What’s cooler than a motherf*** pterodactyl (2 cents if you got that obvious reference)? Well, what about one that spews lava and has scales of obsidian? Yes. Did you think the classic chimerae were bad? Mantigorgamera. Lavishly depicted, these deadly things are manticore-gorgon-chimera hybrids…and what sounds ridiculous is actually really, REALLY deadly. Less deadly and actually kind a cute: The Mark 1 Mulitpurpose golem roboter. If you’re like me a fan of proteans, you should know that none other than Todd Stewart has contributed three new ones to this book…and they are awesome. What about aboleth-controlled cephalopods with stingers in their tentacles? Have I mentioned the 4-headed space mosquito swarms? No? Well, now I have. The vorpal vole? The 4 unique and new yaksha that not only provide great takes on their respective roles, but also cool builds?
While we’re at builds – the book does contain monster-building advice and material from the bestiaries, expanded to CR 30, a massive glossary of monster abilities (including formatting notes), summaries of subtypes, uncommon feats used (including ceremonial feats), monster cohorts, familiars and animal companions (with page numbers). The appendix also features monsters listed by type, CR and terrain and role. Unusual spells utilized and taken from 3pps are also found here – all in all, this section makes navigation of the book easy, comfortable and quick.
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no accumulation of significant issues; both on a formal and rules-language level, the book is neat and the statblocks I did reverse-engineer sported no significant issues. Layout adheres to Purple Duck games’ printer-friendly two-column standard with purple highlights. The different artists used this time around work to the book’s advantage: While there is ONE artwork I didn’t care for in the book, from Jacob Blackmon’s signature style to old-school paintings and truly horrific pieces for the nastier critters, the artists complement the creatures in question very well. The pdf comes excessively bookmarked for your convenience.
Main authors Perry Fehr and Mark Gedak, with additional monsters by Russ Brown, August Hahn, Julian Neale and Todd Stewart have crafted one massive book here. But let me take a step back first: Mark Gedak has a patreon that has by now produced this book; the second of the massive Porphyra bestiaries. Book 1 was good; a fun and well-written bestiary and a quality-wise neat tome.
Against the usual trend, Monsters of Porphyra II blows its predecessor clean out of the water. Are you looking for mechanically creative abilities that provide a unique combat experience and tactical challenges? there are creatures for that inside. Want something owlbear-goofy but also cool? Included. Some creatures drawn from more exotic folklore? In here. Utterly unique creatures and cultures, campaign-endbosses, puzzle foes? All inside. No matter what you’re looking for in a bestiary, from the wholesome to the horrific, from the fantastical and purist to the off-the-walls weird, this one delivers.
More importantly: There is no suck inside. I did not find a single creature that felt tired or bland; It’s either the artwork, the unique signature abilities or the combination of both that add a sense of the “want to use” to these critters. I mean, it actually makes one of the most tired concepts ever, the ice worm, feel pretty creative. Similarly, when creatures from obscure 3.X OGL-books were upgraded, the upgrades often include twists and different flavors that render them fresh and distinct. The lore sections, prose and the like help render the back-to-back reading experience more fulfilling as well.
I have no formal complaints. There are some very minor hiccups here and there, but they are so few and far in-between and don’t influence the functionality of the critters. For a book of this size, that is a true feat. Oh, and consider the fact that this one was made sans a huge KS-budget, instead thriving on continuous, dedicated work. It’s one thing to have a burst of inspiration; constantly generating creatures with this level of quality is a feat. Magical beasts feel magical, dragons feel draconic; folklore beasts are close to their source-material or make it cooler than in our mythology. Animals and vermin feel effective and pretty realistic and like they make sense. In short: This is an absolutely stellar bestiary for a more than fair price point.
Personally, I’m not a big fan of the bestiary formula; I prefer my creatures with a ton of back story, ecologies, etc. Blame it on my old-school origins. Most bestiaries I end up liking thus have a lot of flavor text. Monsters of Porphyra II does have a bit of it..but still is a bestiary. And guess what? It’s probably as close to “I love everything” as a monster book of this size is ever bound to get. This is one of the best monster supplements out there in the 3pp circuit, with more inspiring creatures in it than I would have expected. As noted, book 1 was already very good…but it is here that the authors take a huge breadth of themes and topics, mechanics and go full-blown all-out. To me, not a single one of the critters herein felt phoned-in; they all feel like they were made with a passion that translates very well from the pages. After reading this book, I found myself sketching a sequence of adventures featuring a ton of the critters herein – and that is something that only rarely happens as far as bestiary books are concerned.
So yes, get this! Monsters of Porphyra II is a phenomenal resource of creative critters of all types, shapes and forms and deserves the highest accolades. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval and I nominate this as a candidate for my Top Ten of 2016.
You can get this superb, massive book of monsters here on OBS!
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