Oathbound Bestiary

Ever had a purchase vanish in the depths of your book-piles and HD, only to re-emerge one day? And then, when you read it, you start thinking: “Why didn’t I read this earlier?” Yeah. I’m cleaning up my HD and will deliver some reviews that have been long in the making to make a countdown to my 1000th review.

 

Without further ado, here is the

 

Oathbound Bestiary

 

Challenge your PCs!

This massive bestiary is 256 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages introduction/ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with a whopping  251 pages of content, so let’s check this out!

 

So. Oathbound has made the jump to Pathfinder some time ago and I FINALLY got around to reviewing one of my favorite settings of all time – and it inherited its strengths and also suffered from some minor weaknesses. That being said, I was looking quite fondly forward to reading new publications in the setting and thus also got me this massive bestiary. Why? Because traditionally, the monsters and NPCs are one of the definite strengths of the setting – the everything-goes approach to creatures was always coupled with GUTS. The old oathbound adversaries were worthy of the name. Unlike most 3.5-creatures, they didn’t elicit yawns from my players and actually challenged them by virtue of their unique designs and concepts, providing signature abilities galore before they were practically a requirement. David Tomczyk, author of this bestiary thus has big shoes to fill indeed. Mind you, I never used most of the critters in the Forge (Oathbound’s world), but actually used them in my homebrew-version of Ravenloft, mostly as fey, outsiders and creatures encountered in the realm of dreams to provide a contrast of their fantastical nature to the mundane.

That out of the way, let me tell you about some of the layout peculiarities now instead of in my conclusion, since they in part are what sets this bestiary apart from other offerings: This pdf is full color and presented in landscape format, so much, so common. What you’ll notice, though, is that the background-color of the parchment-style background changes – this essentially codifies the monsters according to the respective lands of the Forge in which they dwell, e.g. gold creatures showing up everywhere, red for Arena (or deserts), black for Eclipse (or any lightless place like night, underdark etc.) and green pointing you towards the deep wilds of jungles, woods and in the Forge, the Wildwood. Blue of course, stands for aquatic and the critters of this color should provide Cerulean Seas-DMs with some VERY interesting additions to their setting.

Now another peculiarity of the layout is that the monsters, much like in the stellar Iron Kingdoms Monsteronomicons of old get a representation in small that puts their size and appearance in perspective to a human and, much like Legendary Games’ SUPERB “Construct Codex”, the monsters come with mostly full-color artworks that are ridiculously beautiful – though the style is mostly uncommon and serves to lend a distinct sense of alienness to most of the critters herein. Better yet, each creature comes essentially with a handout-page – their artwork and relative size as well as a short fluffy introduction text are provided for each critter to show to your players without fear of spoiling any statblock information. GLORIOUS and something I honestly wished more publications would do.

That is NOT where the unique benefits of this book stop, though: Each creature herein comes in 3 different versions that can either clock in at the same CR (representing variants of the creature with unique capabilities) or at different ones in the same general level-range, representing slight advancements, alpha-members of packs etc. Furthermore, there are also some that differ wildly in their CRs. Take for example the very first creature, the huge desert-dwelling Athrigyle, a conglomerate of tentacles and a archeopteryx-style, vast skull that can emit clouds of floating eyeballs (!!!!) that  make it unflankable and which can deliver its ranged touch attacks (or see foes for purpose of casting spells on them).  Can you see it? The thing, bursting from the sand in a ruined city/temple, PCs scampering to cover behind vast columns, only to see it emit its grisly scouting eyeballs, homing in on the PC’s various hiding spots? Oh yeah, I can see that! Its juvenile form clocks in at CR 6, while the Paragon of their kind is a CR 23 beast! Or think about your adventurers dealing with clockwork knights at low levels – first with rusted CR 1/2 constructs, later with CR 1 standards (Fans of Zobeck and Steampunk in general – there is ample food in here for you, too!) and then, once they have reached a high level, they meet such a construct again. Something is off, though: It moves more fluidly and once they get close – BAM! The thing blasts forth its own gears in a small area, damaging foes, drawing them closer – and that’s before the second unique signature ability (actually 3 in one!) of the masterwork CR 17 clockwork knight kicks in! It should be noted that means of construction the varying constructs herein have not been omitted and are present for each variant, though, of course, the rusted one shares the regular one’s info and has just been…well. Rusted. It is this variety that offers even more customization-options to the DM, keeps players on their guard and makes the world feel organic, alive, WILD.

Or take Death Moss – tatzlwyrm like logs covered in moss that make for devastating ambush-predators in the wildwood, the jungles of Golarion or punitive forces of the Margreve. But before I go to ramble about the variety of creatures herein, I’d also like to mention that each creature comes with a short fluff-text of an experienced Rasher on the respective creature – and if the Rasher/Cutter-connection did not become readily apparent, by now it should be. These comments are sometimes helpful, often humorous and make what would otherwise be a crunchy read actually enjoyable. And, they take me back to bestiaries I haven’t consulted in a long time – my ancient collection of Planescape materials. And indeed, this should be considered an heir in spirit to these rightfully revered tomes:

Whether it’s a race of tentacled  gelatinous ambush-predators, nods to Dragon magazine’s legendary “Beast of Burden”-module (in which the PCs infiltrate a fortress built on top of a vast mammoth-like creature) with the race of Dune Striders, multi-tailed foxes bred for specific combinations of magical tails, cthulhoid masses of tentacles called Jaggon (with a GORGEOUS artwork), flying leviathans (yes, the whale-like beasts of legend) that make the walking fortress-Dune Stalkers seem small in comparison., mantis-people, winged panthers (including training information, but alas, no animal companion-stats: These would be so cool for cavaliers…) to snakes with buzzsaw-like teeth t the rhino-like mounts called Severn, this book brims with creatures that do something I only very scarcely find in any publication anymore – the fill me with wonder.

I will always remember how often I read the different monster-books in the old editions and how, from ecologies, habitat and societies slowly formed a conglomerate of strange, strange beings in a world that adhered to other rules than mine. This was different from the fantasy I knew and much like these old monster books of Planescape, Ravenloft or even the basic ones, managed to create a panoptical view on something wholly different, so do the creatures in this book evoke a sense of wonder that is unfortunately all too often missing in monster manuals. Mind you, these beings are not necessarily tied to the oathbound setting, but what they do feel like is…fresh. Innovative. Different and strangely modular as well. Apart from the options to use a vast array of templates on the statblocks to further modify them, I’m a big fan of the excellent presentation of this bestiary.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good – I didn’t notice any significant gripes. While I didn’t do the math for all 204 statblocks (I have a life, you know!), I did so for some of them and they were correct. The pdf comes fully bookmarked and in gorgeous full color. I’ve already gushed and blushed about the glorious artworks and the color-coding, but there IS a downside to it: This pdf will extol a brutal drain on your printer and there’s no printer-friendly version included in the deal – at least sans backgrounds would have been nice.

That being said, I didn’t notice any conversion relics to pathfinder and the monster-book is a steal at the low price – the content is top-notch, suitable with minor tweaking for any setting (though your players should be no wusses when dealing with these beings…) and oozes iconicity, glorious variety, signature abilities heaped upon signature abilities the variations of the creatures often come with expanded, unique tricks that go above and beyond slapping a simple template on the base creature.

Now if you’re looking for monsters to share the feeling of wonder of e.g. Kobold Press’ “Dark Roads & Golden Hells” or simply are looking for a monster manual that can hardly be beaten at this price point, then this is definitely your deal – it is also due to the low price I feel I can still justify to rate this the full 5 stars + seal of approval.

One more thing: I write this review with a tear in my eye since I just read that Oathbound will change to the as-of-now in Beta-state OSRS-system by Epidemic Books. I’m not going to learn a new system right now, but hope that the team has more success with this direction than they had with PFRPG. I also hope that some of you reading this will check out this bestiary and join me in the swansong for an extremely promising setting-revival. Oh, and let me voice one more hope: I hope that author David Tomczyk won’t abandon PFRPG and get a chance as a monster-developer/designer/author by some of the 3pps out there. This guy is talented indeed and I’d hate to see this being the only PFRPG-release we see from him.

 

Endzeitgeist out.

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About Endzeitgeist

Reviewer without a cause