Paizo's Book of the Dead is a source book about both the dead and the undead, describing the ecology, lifecycle, ethics, advantages, and dangers of time spent after all your time is spent. I picked up a copy at my game store, and I'm going to review it chapter by chapter. This post covers chapter 3, "The Grim Crypt."
It somehow never occurred to me that The Book of the Dead would include a bestiary. I should have known better. This is a Paizo product, after all. But actually even if I'd anticipated a bestiary, I wouldn't have guessed it would have been quite as good as it, in fact, is.
Chapter 3 is 100 pages of monsters, making it nearly half the book, so to say that this book "includes" a bestiary undersells it. This book is arguably a bestiary, with some player options and lore added on.
Bestiaries feature monsters, and that's what you get in this chapter. That's the obvious part. Rather than going on and on about the obvious, I'll provide some of my thoughts as I was reading the chapter.
Once you've seen one zombie, you've seen 'em all. Never has a player been more wrong.
There's nothing more satisfying as a Game Master than watching the faces of your players when a monster they think they know does something they don't expect. There are several sections in chapter 3 that present some pretty standard monsters that you already have in your Pathfinder Bestiary, but with a twist. This isn't that ghoul, this is a Priest of Kabriri. This isn't that skeleton, this is a Gallowdead, or a Gashadokuro, or Cadaverous Rake. And so on.
There's lots of variety provided in this chapter, so surprise your players.
In addition to offering new varieties of old familiars (both literally and figuratively), there are several modular options for customizing the standard variety of existing Bestiary monsters.
For instance, suppose you don't want to use a variant Lich from this book. You want to use the standard Lich, because it fits the game and party level, but you want to change it up a little without effecting the power level. This chapter provides swappable abilities.
It seems to happen with each chapter, but the more time I spent in chapter 3 the more I realised that there was some seriously disturbing stuff here. Maybe I have a medium or high tolerance for horror, because it does creep up on me, building and strengthening only after pages and pages of reading. It might affect other readers earlier. Whatever your comfort level, be warned: The Book of the Dead contains horror. Many of the monsters in this chapter began as evil beings who carried their malice into undeath. Others were innocent, and have been unjustly cursed with undeath and corrupted by negative energy.
It can be disturbing. If you avoid horror movies, approach this book with caution. If you can sit through and enjoy a typical horror movie then this is a book that will satisfy.
As with any good source book, this one is full of inspiration. If you can make it through this chapter without gaining at least 50 new adventure ideas, then you may well be an undead yourself.
If anything, the monsters in this chapter feel like they lean toward high level play. I didn't count or gather statistics, but my feeling as I read the chapter was generally happy that I was seeing so many high level challenge ratings, because normally I'm grumpy about not having enough high level challenges. It's not that I play high level games that often, it's just that eventually games do tend to wander into high levels. That's the inevitable destination, by design. So I want my game system to support that. And this book does.
However, it also has a good number of low and mid level monsters, so you have material for when you want to throw in a few surprises early in a campaign.
I was already happy with Book of the Dead but after this chapter I feel like this is almost indispensable.
It definitely is essential for any gaming group that feels uneasy about killing living beings. There are no living creatures in this chapter. Everything is undead. Everything in this is immune to death because it's already dead.
If you want a game where you get to go into combat, bash things over the head without so much as a how-do-you-do, and in fact by destroying the creature you actually liberate its soul, then this should be your primary bestiary. Buy it, use it, free enslaved souls by destroying their tortured manifestation. Pharasma, Desna, Sarenrae, Iomedae, and several other gods will thank you.
There are things in this chapter that I didn't even know could be undead. There are monsters here from regions I hardly ever think about, or want to think about more often but am rarely given a reason to. This chapter fulfills the promise of the book's title.
Next, I'll continue on to chapter 4, "Lands of the dead."