Sunday, 17 August 2014

Review - 13th Age Bestiary

13a_Bestiary_30013th Age Bestiary

Lead Designer and Developer: Rob Heinsoo
Developer: Kenneth Hite, Cal Moore
Art Direction: Rob Heinsoo, Kenneth Hite
Interior Art: Rich Longmore
Monster Tiles: Lee Moyer
Editor: Cal Moore
Authors: Ryven Cedrylle, Rob Heinsoo, Kenneth Hite, Kevin Kulp, ASH LAW, Cal Moore, Steve Townshend, Rob Watkins, Rob Wieland

I’ll admit this up front - the 13th Age roleplaying game gets a lot of love in my house. The game’s clean, simple rules and innovative extras have gone down really well with my D&D group and we’ve already got one great campaign out of it. I managed to get through the entire adventure with just the core rulebook but now that I’ve got my hands on the new 13th Age Bestiary I feel like I can take the adventure further.

The 13th Age Bestiary is a full-colour and beautifully presented 240-page book filled with 52 monsters to throw at your players during their travels across whatever gameworld you’ve decided to run around in. It covers plenty of classic monsters such as the instantly recognisable Dragons, Bugbears and Drow, so veterans of the D&D game will recognise many of the creatures straight away, which also means that the possible campaign worlds that the 13th Age core rulebook can cover is expanded. I ran a successful 13th Age campaign in the Forgotten Realms and now that I have this book, with plenty of recognisable monsters and races, I feel I can expand on that campaign with new creatures and adventure hooks.

The opening of the book gets you instantly geared up and introduces you to other concepts other than simply using the stats within as a combat encounter for adventurers to overcome. There are routes to take with these creatures beyond battles, including reasoning, possible treaties, creatures that might do something other than kill you… the book tries to make sure that the creature serves the story, or at least gives the GM plenty of plot hooks and story choices. There are monster entries that give you enough detail to create three of four entire adventures around, as well as use the manual as a simple grab-a-critter tome. This gives the book plenty of scope.

That’s not to say that the book is just a volume of potential adventure hooks. The book is, at its heart, a tome of monsters to throw against your players and there’s a handy section on how to build battles and encounters to truly test your group. The types of attacks, the dynamic of the gaming group, the nature of the creature itself; all these elements and others are taken into account to help the GM create memorable encounters.

These elements are taken further for each of the creatures in the 13th Age Bestiary. Each entry has plenty of details regarding statistics and what level they are, how to use the monster in independent campaigns, how to build battles around them, their interaction with the 13th Age Icons (although using Icons is not necessary), the nature of the creature and adventure hooks to get the most out of the beast, changing it from a simple stat block into an entire game of its own. With different variants of each creature in each entry this gives a possible 202 unique encounters in the book.

Each entry comes with an excellent illustration of the creature and this is something I like to see in bestiaries of this kind. Instead of going into long-winded descriptions of the creature I like to hold up the book and say ‘there it is’ and then get on with the action. The illustrations are dynamic and evocative and are excellent visual examples of the monsters for any campaign setting.

As well as all this the book also gives you guidelines on how to re-task the creatures, create your own creatures, how to mix them up and, fundamentally, create hybrids – effectively giving GMs the option of creating an endless list of strange unpredictable monsters - and there’s a handy index of all the monsters in this book as well as the 13th Age core rulebook.

All these factors make the book pretty much invaluable as a 13th Age resource. Not only is it expanding on the creatures you can use in the 13th Age world, as well as any other campaign setting of the group’s choice, it’s expanding the scope of the campaign by introducing adventures, story ideas and unpredictable encounters. I’m usually reticent about allowing my gaming group to read bestiaries and manuals of this kind as it may give them an angle on how to defeat the foe, but in this case I don’t think I’d be too bothered if they perused the pages of this book as the variants still make the monsters somewhat unpredictable, both in a combat and a roleplaying sense. I think a player reading this book won’t be fully prepared; I think they’d actually be concerned about what was to come because they could never be sure what was gong to be thrown at them, or in what context.

I can find very little to criticise about the 13th Age Bestiary. It has taken the monster stat book idea and added extra elements such as the nature of encounters and adventure hooks and this means the book is a fantastic resource not just for monsters but for plot, adventure and even campaign ideas. This means the book will stretch out your 13th Age campaigns beyond the simple encounters the book can offer. Of course, GMs who just want a book of stat blocks to put into their own 13th Age campaigns get just that, too, and the details can be used as flavour. I can’t imagine many GMs using the book just for creatures for the party to fight, though; there’s far too much material in here to be left to the wayside.

Well written, well presented and well realised, the 13th Age Bestiary is an invaluable resource for any and all 13th Age GMs. Highly recommended.

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