There’s an unspoken understanding when designing a monster for Pathfinder. While it’s rarely spoken, it’s understood that when gamers expect that new monsters will have new abilities. Usually one is sufficient, though the stronger the monster the more likely it is that they’ll need more than one new power to really satisfy the readers.
Why is that, you ask? Well, because unique powers make for unique monsters – only X monster has X power, after all, so it really sets them apart from all of the other monsters. Bear in mind that I’m not advocating this particular design philosophy; I’m simply pointing out that, for better or for worse, it exists.
Of course, this rule isn’t universal. Between a suite of standard monster abilities (see Appendix 3 of the Pathfinder Bestiary), and how weaker monsters aren’t expected to have very many powers (the inverse of what was mentioned above about stronger monsters having more), you can sometimes have weaker monsters who don’t need mechanics to differentiate them. After all, if you only look at the numbers, there’s very little difference between a goblin and a kobold…it’s the nature of how they appear in the game world that separates them.
Sometimes, however, you end up with a monster that really doesn’t seem like anything more than the sum of its parts. Oftentimes this is a high-level foe that is just a collection of universal abilities (“okay now, poison? Check. Spell-like abilities? Check. Spellcasting? Check. Regeneration? Check.” etc.), but sometimes you’ll find it among weaker creatures too.
Today’s monster examines such a low-level creature. With absolutely nothing to recommend it, coming to you straight from the Bonus Bestiary, it’s the…
Right away, the axe beak fails to live up to its name. See, it’s called what it is because of how its beak is serrated, presumably in a manner similar to an axe – though I’ve yet to see a serrated axehead; I guess the name “saw beak” didn’t work quite as well – but there’s no corresponding mechanic to really drive that point home.
Paizo, was it really so unfathomable to give this creature a heightened critical threat range and/or multiplier, along with maybe a short description noting how that was because of its serrated beak? No, instead we get a short power about how when this thing charges, it can make a trip attempt on a successful attack. Man, nothing says “axe for a beak” like making someone fall on their ass, am I right?
Personally, the way I would have written this monster would have been to treat it as an animal from prehistoric Earth. Now, I’m not sure if a creature like this ever actually existed, but given what we know about the relationship between dinosaurs and birds, I’m betting that there was some very similar creature roaming our world at some point in time. Because really, there just aren’t enough stats for dinosaurs and other prehistoric critters for Pathfinder – this thing could have been one of them, instead of just another monster with very little monstrous identity.
Ultimately, there’s very little to recommend the ostrich’s psychotic cousin here as a threat to most PCs. The one redeeming feature that the axe beak has is that it works best not as a monster, but as a mount. A fair amount of space is given to describing what it takes to train this thing, and its stats as an animal companion. And in all honesty, that’s how this creature works best – trying to act as a substitute for that one player who has chocobo-envy.
I wonder if axe beaks come in bright yellow?