Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A tale of two monster manuals

I have recently acquired two monster books, the Pathfinder Bestiary 2 and the RuneQuest II Monster Coliseum, so it seems like a good opportunity to compare and contrast the products of two mid-sized tabletop rpg publishers, Paizo and Mongoose. Both books are hard-cover and both cost the same at $39.99 US (which given the current exchange rate, works out to pretty close to the same price in Canada). The RQIIMC weighs in at a decent 184 pgs. with an attractive faux-leather cover, while the PRPGB2 is a hefty 320 pgs. with a splashy cover featuring an original work by Wayne Reynolds. Production values clearly favour Paizo, with high-gloss paper and full-colour art work throughout, although my personal taste favours the exterior of the RuneQuest II series of books. I may be a bit old-fashioned, but I've always been partial to musty old leather-bound books. They hold the promise of arcane knowledge that a splashy coffee-table book never could.

As for contents, well, I have to cut Paizo some slack since this is their second bestiary and most the truly iconic monsters were already presented in the first bestiary. I have recently commented on the inclusion of classic Cthulhu Mythos monsters in the Pathfinder bestiaries and I believe this is the best thing about the new release. In the first bestiary, we had the Shoggoth, but in PRPGB2, we have the Shantak, the Leng Spider, the Denizen of Leng, the Gug, the Serpentfolk and the Hound of Tindalos. Beyond that, some of the interesting new addditions include the Chupacabra, the insanely-powerful Jabberwock and Scylla and Carybdis. Of course, with any collection of monsters, there are going to be some you can really do without. For me, the real stinkers are the primal dragons and the new elementals. I never cared much for crystal dragons and para-elementals back in the good old days and I am no more enamoured with them now. Still, there's a lot to like in here, especially if you like to use extraplanar creatures

The RQIIMC is a bit different in that it maintains a theme of gladiatorial combat throughout in addition to the descriptions of the monsters. Each stat block includes advice on how to use each monster in the arena. In some cases, magical control is needed and a few monsters are deemed totally unsuited to blood sports. Another theme of the book is the use of the Glorantha campaign setting with RuneQuest II. Some Gloranthan races, notably elves and dwarves, are significantly different from the Tolkienesque versions we are more familiar with. Gloranthan elves, for instance, more closely resemble treants than humanoids. So, stat blocks are included for both Gloranthan and traditional fantasy versions of some races. Despite its dark fantasy reputation, the Glorantha setting seems to contribute more whimsy than grittiness, from the silliness of the Ducks (and their gladiator hero, Quacktacus...for real!) to the utter ridiculousness of the Jack-O-Bear (yeah, a bear with the head of a jack-o-lantern). Fortunately, such foolishness is not the norm and much of what's presented is quite good.

Overall, I'd have to give the nod to Paizo for value-for-money, but both books are very useful additions to their respective games.



Derobane-bane said...

What would be more silly- The Jack-O-Bear or South Park's Jackoff-O-saurus?

Leather-bound is certainly were its at.

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