Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 vs. D&D 3.5 Monster Manual V: A Tournament for the Ages

It's at five minutes to midnight, the last few drops of gas, when every step could be your last, that truly heroic acts make themselves know.

After four big books of monsters, the crews for Pathfinder & D&D - the heartbreaker & the heartbroken - must have both been scraping up dregs for the fifth.

Time for the showdown nobody's been waiting for. We're gonna see who's wrung the best of the things that go bump in the night out of their blood, sweat, and tears - Pathfinder Bestiary 5 vs. Monster Manual V:

Category 1: Covers

Winner: Monster Manual V - no contest. That's a tome that could exist as an in-game artifact, and be used to bludgeon someone's head in. The grim reaper, an alien, and a fish-man with cataracts can hang out all they want - they're never going to top that.

Category 2: Dragons & Dragonoids


Monster Manual V has got "Xorvintaal dragons", who join a dragon chess club - except that the chess is played with people as pieces and the board is the world. They get telepathy and the ability to empower their chosen "exarchs". I like the word exarch, got a good sound to it.

It's also got Greenspawn Zealots, who are just dragonborn but evil I guess. Could've done without these guys.


Bestiary 5 has got: astral dragons, dream dragons, dragonkin, etheric dragons, nightmare dragons, occult dragons, amphipteres, cetuses, ether drakes, jungle drakes, khalas, peuchens, pyraustas, scitalises, shens, uraeuses, vishaps, water leapers, wyrmwraiths, and FUCKING ROPE DRAGONS. That makes for a very crowded idea-space.

I like that the cetuses (these guys):

Are mechanically bad omens for sailors. That should be more common - monsters that are dangerous for their ambience & symbolic meaning.

Winner: No one. Too many goddamn kinds of dragons. Why does everything have to be a distinct kind? Bestiaries should have more unique monsters instead of a bloating of kinds, each with their own particular situations & scenarios. A whole species of nightmare dragons doing evil dragon stuff in the land of dreams? Yawn. A single dragon heralded by people dreaming of a time when mammals were just tree-shrews in a world ruled by reptiles, waking up with nasty raptor-bites? That's starting to get somewhere.

Category 3: Cutie Patooties



It's a slime that wants to be a person but its transformations revert in sunlight and then nobody wants to be its friend.


It's a nice little magic dude who makes crops grow better. You could have a situation where a village is dependent on a fastachee's help to not starve, but they've offended it somehow and it's hidden itself away, but beyond that I don't know how interesting these guys could be. Cute though.


It's a Hopkinsville Goblin. It tries to trick people into throwing their things at it so they break. There's a pokemon based on the Hopkinsville Goblin too I think.


Could be the cutest of the whole bunch, but it's trying too hard with that fireball. You're not going to be cool ovinnik - stick with being cute. These guys live in granaries and grant good luck or bad luck depending on how they're treated. Soft-ass D&D social situations.


I can imagine the sound these guys make: "mehmehmehmehmeh". They make pocket dimensions in homes (would be neat to expand on) and make nuisances of themselves unless flattered. Sworn enemies of brownies - brownies sound lame. You need to find something in a run-down house, but the resident kikimora has hidden it under an illusion unless you solve its riddles/give it cookies. Imagine it stomping its feet and shaking its broom in tiny impotent rage.


Good monkey :^).


It'll cut you up with bones or something. Don't care, I'd still give it a hug.


Taunting Haunt

Horrid little man. Ghosts who just want to play pranks & make fun of the targets of their spectral ire. Can only be defeating in a battle of wits - lamely abstracted in the book but could be made good.


Kuo-toa don't need bulging bicep veins, they don't need to look physically threatening - let them be funny little fish-frogs. There's enough veiny bicep monsters, there's room for ridiculousness. Anything kuo-toa worship becomes a god is the lore I think. That's good, stick with that. Mad little dudes making mad little gods.

Winner: Pathfinder. Bestiary 5's got an avalanche of cutie patooties, but it'd take some work to make a few of them gameable.

Category B: Undead


Animate Hair

The non-wasteful necromancer uses every part of the corpse. These guys can make themselves into a wig and manipulate the mind of whoever wears them - first to vanity, then to prideful murder. Fun.

Bone Boat

It's a boat, crewed by the drowned dead and made of reanimated whale-bone. What's not to like?

Death Coach

Ghost-coach, steals souls. Folkloric.


Good art. You can really feel the torment. These things are like ultra-specific genies - spirits of murderers trapped in bottles, released only to kill, their murderous fixation can lead them to turn on the unwary summoner. Can imagine some good mysteries with a polong as the murder weapon.


Deadborn Vulture

A big bird hatched by necromancers. Not undead to start with, but rises as a zombie once it dies. Not a bad gimmick. I like to imagine the necromancers sitting on a clutch of eggs to make them.


Big stack of murder-bones. Can apparently turn into a rhino-form too. I like big skeletons made of smaller skeletons.

Skull Lord

Unique set of monsters - twelve of them in the entire world, seeking artifacts to raise their master / their whole self? It's ambiguous, and that's appealing. Have three skulls, each with their own power - videogamey fun.

Winner: Almost a tie, with Pathfinder pulling ahead by a(n animate) hair.

Category X: Flora & Fungi



Giant psychic fungus that traps people nearby in a hallucinatory world indistinguishable from the real one, so it can eat them.


A plant/fungus symbiote that mistakenly and usually futilely attempts to infest people, causing them to experience bizarre symptoms and delusions as it integrates into their bodies. A plethora of mind-altering drugs can be harvested from it - it's likely the groups harvesting these drugs will be of more danger to you than the creature itself - secret police with truth serums and so on.


Parasitic, emotion-draining plant. Grows out of its hosts as tendrils and flower-crowns.


Verdant Ravager

What happens to someone charmed by a dryad when their meat-body can't withstand living unsheltered in the wilderness anymore. Some decent body horror in its description. Art could be spookier.

Fetid Fungus

Your typical flesh-eating slime, except it's a fungus, and it smells really bad. Mediocre.


Unexceptional, except in that it's yet another parasitic plant. Implants a vine down your throat then beats you into unconsciousness until its spawn's parasitized your body. Yuck!

Winner: Pathfinder by a wide margin. Why are there so many parasitic plant/fungal monsters though? Odd to me.

Here's a youtube channel I've been watching lately - it's a microbiologist or something of that sort analyzing parasites and viruses and so on in movies & other media and attempting to explain how they might work biologically: https://www.youtube.com/c/RoanokeGaming/videos

Category Y: Weirdoes & Spookums



I guess this is Pathfinder's version of the su-monster? Those things on its back are its babies, and they're intelligent & psychic. The thing isn't and is quite upset about that. The image of those basically-humanoid babies growing into the shrinkwrapped wolf-things is a good one.


Nice alien anatomy. Doesn't have much else going for it.


Hell yeah samurai crab.


Chariots of the Gods-style shapeshifting, civilization-sculpting ancient aliens. Some of their abilities are based on high-tech devices you can steal from them - that's neat.


They're nightmare-monsters that feed on fear. The art for all these guys is great - maximalist Silent Hill-type stuff.


Mockery Bug

Look at that picture. That's a great picture. Artist is "Daarken". These guys have a queen that eats people and poops out drones that look like those people, except very stupid, who goof about until they burst out as centipede-things with those people's faces.

Thoon Guys

Mind flayers, but even spookier. Also got great art. Wouldn't want to run into one of these guys.


They've got knives for fingers, and need to steal the organs of others to put inside themselves. Definitely spooky.


I hate these tornado-nipple bastards so goddamn much.

Winner: D&D, but seriously I hate shaedlings. Pathfinder has a lot of stuff that's too close to its source inspiration, if not ripped entirely like the Lovecraft stuff. This I do not like. Get a little crazy with it, I can adapt the King in Yellow or whatever on my own.

Category !: Elementals & Golems


Wood Colossus

Dope art. Art by Tomasz Chistowski. Big ol' houseman.


Ruin Elemental

Winner: I want to wrap this post up, so it's down to just these too. Pathfinder wins on the strength of its art.

Category Z: Vapourblobs



AAHH!! That cloud's gonna punch me!!

These guys have it out for "unnatural sources of light or darkness". Pretty lame.

Aerial Servant

Like a polong but lamer.

Caller in Darkness

Eats minds. Okay as far as vapourblobs go.


Don't think this one's got any.

Winner: Nobody, I don't particularly like this sort of monster.

Category ?: Monster Women



Oh no no no no no no no no no no no.

Shadow Collector

Looks like a dang Zelda.


Bee-women. Do not think about the belly-holes.


Arcadian Avenger

Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion-ass swords.

Frostwind Virago


Winner: D&D.

Special Category: Twinks


Choral Angel


Water Veela



Possible twink? - Consultants report hint of a breast - Boymoding?


Nothing. Not a single one.

Winner: Pathfinder by a landslide.

Special Category: Silly Names

Pathfinder: Chuspiki, Exscinder, Tsaalgrend, Somalcygot, Rhu-Chalik

D&D: Draudnu, Garngrath, Guulvorg, Rylkar, Spirrax

Winner: D&D

Special Category: Pagecount

Pathfinder: 322

D&D: 226

Winner: D&D. Yeah, having fewer pages means you win this one. More pages = more monsters = more potential for good monsters. Gotta balance it out somehow.

The Verdict:

D&D Wins: IIII

Pathfinder Wins: IIII

Ultimate Winner: What's this..? It's a tie?!

That's crazy. That's almost unbelievable. I was sure Pathfinder was going to win - maybe they would if there had been more categories.

What have we learned? Maybe that art can make a monster concept. Maybe that it's not enough to just have a monster be threatening, it has to be distinct and have hooks & mechanics that distinguish it from the undifferentiated mob of shovelware monsters. Draw your own conclusions.

Bonus: Look at this Artorius from Dark Souls-looking ass:


  1. River dolphin mermaid was certainly a series of choices that was made.

    Excellent post, always a fan of the weird monster books.

  2. I really enjoyed this tournament. :) Do you have any other post like this (I haven't found any), or do you plan to do more tournaments? ;)

    1. Don't have any more posts like this, but might do another if I find another good pair.