Bestiaries. Books of monsters that are available for most game lines are among my favorite RPG products. I enjoy reading adventures more than bestiaries, but bestiaries are a close second. A good bestiary sparks my imagination and provides me with hours of enjoyment from behind the screen. And, enjoyable is the word I would use to describe the 13th Age Bestiary. The pure fun of this book is evident on every page and can be seen in the design of the creatures in this book. The authors clearly had fun as they created this book and had fun as a goal. They succeeded, and for me, have raised the bar on what I consider a great bestiary.
The 13th Age Bestiary
This bestiary is a gorgeous 240 page book with 202 monsters for use in your game. You can snag a PDF preview here. I would recommend purchasing the hardcopy (which you can buy through your FLGS or here).
The book begins with a brief introduction on what you will find within. Then we are presented with a unique set of encounter lists. Rather than giving us lists by environment, the 13th Age authors give us lists of monsters who might negotiate, ransom you, lay eggs, etc. My favorite list is ‘Monsters Voted Mostly Likely to have Slain an Icon’. The introduction wraps up with some advice on building interesting and unique encounters.
Like the Numenera Bestiary review, I will be focused more on presentation than statistics. This goes beyond just not wanting to spoil the monster line up for the readers. Some of these monsters, the ones that really capture my imagination, have mechanics whose fun could be ruined if revealed. In 13th Age, the designers have given us beasts that are as fun to run for the GM as the classes are to play for the characters. So make sure you read through the mechanics as you are skimming the book; there is a lot of humor and cleverness buried within this book.
Each entry has a brief introduction of what a campaign’s take on this monster could be. You are actively encouraged to make each monster’s story your own for your campaign. Monster stats then follow in typical 13th Age format. Included with some monsters are nastier specials, which really turns their difficulty up.
Advice is given on how to build battles with the creature. This includes where they are found and what other creatures they would work with. With the importance of Icons in 13th Age, it is no surprise that typical Icon relationships for the creature are touched on. Some monsters have a section on what players might find on the bodies, which is usually humorous. The monster entries wrap up with adventure hook ideas.
The monster mechanics bear mentioning. We find typical RPG fare coupled with 13th Age-specific mechanics (using natural d20 rolls to trigger powers). There are, however, some great mechanics that break the rules of the game. Whether the breakage is of a specific rule found in a 13th Age book or the implied rules of how RPGs work, you will find some unique monsters that play with players’ preconceived notions (check out the Redcap). They also simplified some standard fantasy tropes, making them easier and more enjoyable for the GM to keep track of. Kobolds, known for their penchant for trap creation, are just one of the creatures that spring to mind that received this treatment.
Monster Creation & Appendices
The Bestiary wraps up with advice on monster creation, everything from tweaking existing monsters to building them from scratch. The authors give some advice (as well as design insight) to the use of abilities that key off of natural d20 rolls and the escalation die. It is a nice peak behind the curtain to view the design ideology behind these mechanics.
The appendices collate the random ability rules for demons, dragons, and dire creatures as well as an unified monster table. This is already obsolete with the release of 13 True Ways, but Pelgrane provides an updated monster table on their website.
If you are running a 13th Age game, go get this book. Beyond the ready to use monsters, the book contains a lot of abilities and design methodology that you can steal for use in creating your own beasts. The 13th Age crew did a fantastic job expanding the creatures found in the basic book into realms both familiar and strange.