clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The new Bestiary Battle Cards for Pathfinder are brilliant, but flawed

Paizo’s newest gaming aid is just short of perfect

If you buy something from a Polygon link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

A golem attacks a downed spellcaster while a fighter leaps in to defend them. In the foreground a goblin readies an alchemical attack. From Paizo Pathfinder Second Edition’s Core Rulebook Image: Paizo
Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

As the Dungeon Master for a few local Dungeons & Dragons group I often find myself in an awkward situation. My players will come upon a mysterious new creature, and it’s my job as the DM to describe what they see. It’s a task that would be an awful lot easier, honestly, if I was playing Pathfinder. Paizo’s new Bestiary Battle Cards are exactly what I’ve been looking for — a way to share the game’s excellent art quickly and easily at the table.

The trouble with tabletop role-playing games is that what the player characters do and don’t know about a given monster is a fundamental gameplay mechanic. If your adventuring party has never seen a gelatinous cube before, it’s time to roll some dice to test their knowledge. With a good roll, a savvy DM might share just enough information to give adventurers a slight advantage. But, if they roll poorly, they’ll be going in blind.

To set the mood, publishers like Paizo and Wizards of The Coast commission tons of art. Books like Monster Manual and the Bestiary are filled with dozens of excellent pieces. But showing them at the table is extremely awkward, since the name of the monster and all of its special abilities are always printed on the same page. In my games there’s always this awkward moment as I hoist the book up from behind my screen, doing my best to cover up some key bits of information with my hand. Players catch a glimpse of the monster in question, and then it’s back behind the screen it goes.

With the new Bestiary Battle Cards all I have to do is lay one of the Tarot card-sized items on the table. Players can pick it up, admire the details, and it’s on with the show.

A handful of Bestiary Battle Cards showing full-page art from the Paizo Bestiary. Photo: Charlie Hall

But these new gaming aids aren’t perfect. For one, there’s virtually no organizational system inside the box. You’ll need to riffle through all 450 reference cards to find the one that you’re looking for. They’re all numbered to match up with the Bestiary itself, but getting things out of order is bound to be a hassle.

Paizo has thoughtfully printed everything you need to run a given monster onto the back of these cards. But, given the complexity of modern stat blocks, that means the details can run across multiple cards. That’s why there’s 450 of them in the box, while the Bestiary itself has far fewer monsters overall.

If you’re running a Pathfinder campaign, it’s hard not to recommend the Bestiary Battle Cards. At $59.99 retail price, they could even make a decent substitute for the book itself which runs $39.99.

Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. For more information, see our ethics policy.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Patch Notes

A weekly roundup of the best things from Polygon