The more Pathfinder Second Edition goodies I get my hands on the more I like the system, and the Bestiary is no exception to that trend. Not only does it improve upon the first edition Bestiary in page and monster count, but the layout is easier to parse, the art is prettier, and there are extra little bits and bobs that make it more fun to simply thumb through than it's much older sibling. Most of the iconic monsters that you would expect to see are here, and those monsters' information is presented in a way that not only allows you to easily pull them from the book to challenge your intrepid players, but it also does a great job of giving you tips and tricks that will help you, as the GM, to play the monsters in a more thematic and believable way.
First thing's first, let's talk about page and body count. While the original Pathfinder Bestiary boasted over 350 monsters the Second Edition Bestiary on-ups its predecessor with over 400 monsters. Initially, I was worried that Paizo, Inc was going to take the same path with the Bestiary that they did with Starfinder, whose Alien Archive books were both a big step down in terms of page count and total content, but I'm quite happy that they released such a beefy book. The Second Edition Bestiary actually beats the page and monster counts of both Alien Archives combined, yet each Alien Archive retails for only $10 less than the Bestiary. In comparison to both the original Bestiary, and the Starfinder books this book feels like a great value.
The art throughout the 2e Bestiary also feels newer and more modern, while still maintaining a familiar Pathfinder essence. The monster art takes up a larger portion of each page. While the older book had illustrations for the baddies as well, the new version of the Bestiary feels like it was designed to really show off the monster art, which makes it feel more like a cohesive whole, rather than simply a page of text and rules followed by an example picture. The art style is more vibrant and expressive in the new book as well, which further helps bring the monsters to life.
Throughout the Pathfinder 2e products I've handled the obvious and intentional interweaving of theme with rules is apparent, and the emphasis on monster art isn't the only way that the Bestiary switches things up to really shine a light on the thematic elements of the book. In the old book, the Stats took priority, and were then followed by the text that explains what the monster is, where it originates from and how it might behave etc, but in this book the thematic elements come first. This format change helps to introduce a monster before throwing a block of rules text at you, and nearly every monster has a short side-bar blurb that further helps give you hooks or information about how the monster might fit into your world, including some ways to incorporate certain monsters into non-combat encounters. Instead of needing to find the break in the rules that transitions into the descriptive text you can now simply open up to the monster you want to read about and start reading from the top of the page. It's a small formatting change, but it makes finding the information more consistent across monsters as you now know that the first thing you will come across with any monster is the fluff and theme.
The Second Edition rules make the stat blocks of monsters easier to read than they were before. A good example of the ease-of-use changes are the way that monsters stats are displayed. Instead of the old way of listing out the stat scores for Strength, Dex, etc. the new book shows the stat modifiers, saving you the hassle of having to translate the modifiers for yourself. Many of the new rules also allow much of the mathy bits to be cut entirely from the monster stat blocks. Fixed experience numbers are a thing of the past, as are some stats that don't really serve a purpose, such as showing the hit dice calculation for any given monster and, although I'm sure there are some people who will bemoan their absence, I certainly don't miss the fact that the new book does away with showing a particular monster's Feats, because that information was never useful to me. For people who like to tinker with monsters, and did so via the Feat system in the first edition, all of the monster Abilities are lined out in the Ability Glossary, with descriptions and Action symbols. Instead of assigning a Feat based on what it does, you can now pick and choose Abilities from the glossary and simply slot them in where you see fit, with a handy visual reference for exactly how and when to use them in combat.
The action economy has changed significantly in Pathfinder Second Edition, so it's easy to tell at a glance exactly what a monster can do in any given round, and the way that information is presented makes it much easier to pick up and play with a monster. The layout really is a marked improvement in monster usability, especially since monster abilities use the same symbols to show how many actions that they take as the players use for their actions. Monsters are beholden to the same 3-actions + 1-reaction/round economy that the players are, so instead of reading about a monster ability and figuring out how and when to use it the GM can simply glance down at the monster's abilities and know instantly what actions can be taken, and when.
All in all I'm impressed and satisfied with the new Bestiary, especially because it makes it easier to grab and use monsters in Pathfinder 2e, but also because it makes it almost seamless for me to pull these monsters into my Starfinder games as well. I actually hope that the formatting changes, especially the fact that the fluff comes first, makes its way into future Starfinder products because it's so easy to use, and satisfies my personal feng shui preferences much better than the stat-block followed by thematic layout that has been used in the past.
If you are going to be investing in and playing Pathfinder Second Edition then the Bestiary is an absolute must-have, but it certainly doesn't hurt that Paizo, Inc has obviously put a lot of thought into usability, readability and into trimming a lot of the unnecessary fat from the original Bestiary. It's also nice that the art feels more alive and fresh, the page count is hefty, and the monster count is increased all of which work toward making this book feel like a great bang-for-your-buck value.
The copy of the Pathfinder Second Edition Bestiary used for this article was provided by Paizo, Inc.