After a hiatus of far too long, I’m finally returning to the original series of articles that debuted on this blog – our spotlight on each and every monster in the Pathfinder Bestiary! Today, we begin to make our headway into the B’s. And opening that letter, we have the
There’s a minor bit of the ubiquitous “it’s pronounced how?” problem with the barghest’s name, but not so much as to really be worth mentioning. I’ve always held that the “gh” is vocalized as a hard “g” sound; hence the monster is a “bar-guest.” A fitting name, given the monster’s ravenous nature.
The barghest is one of those monsters that’s been around for a while, through multiple editions, and its age is starting to show. For example, it’s described as being a possible fiendish relation to the various goblinoid races. Now, given its Lawful Evil nature, that made sense back in the day when most goblinoid races were Lawful Evil, and included things like kobolds and orcs (who were Lawful Evil back then).
Now, however, that doesn’t quite seem to hold up. There are only three goblinoid races in the Bestiary – the Chaotic Evil bugbears, the Neutral Evil goblins, and the Lawful Evil hobgoblins. So why is it that the Lawful Evil barghest can take the form of a goblin, rather than, say, a hobgoblin? For that matter, why is its other form that of a wolf? Goblins hate dogs, and I’d guess that hatred extends to wolves as well; wouldn’t a worg or goblin dog be a much better choice?
I’m all for “legacy” parts of the game – the things that are holdovers from earlier editions. I like how they represent a clear connection to the game’s history and traditions, things I think are important. However, when those don’t make sense unto themselves anymore, they go from being valuable mementos to being baggage, and baggage just weighs things down. The barghest’s nature should have gotten a makeover here – nothing too radical, but at least a few cosmetic changes to smooth over the aforementioned rough spots. Make it Neutral Evil and polymorph into a worg instead of a wolf, and you have a winner.
Of course, all of that’s really window dressing for the creature’s most central power: its ability to gain strength by devouring creatures. Wisely, Paizo limited this to non-evil creatures, otherwise these things would quickly start munching on the goblins it says they like to lord over.
Given the hands-off nature of monster advancement that Pathfinder has adopted, the barghest’s ability to grow stronger by eating creatures is handled fairly elegantly. In fact, it’s now so simple that it’s almost a different power altogether. Any non-evil humanoid that a barghest eat grants a “growth point” and when it gains 4 such points, it becomes a greater barghest. The only limit to this is that it can only gain 1 point per month.
Compare this to 3.5, where the barghest’s feeding power had no time limit, but worked on any humanoid that had a number of Hit Dice/levels equal to the barhgest’s HD. It required a total of nine such creatures to become a greater barghest – more than twice its Pathfinder counterpart – and being devoured like this made it seriously difficult for resurrection magic to bring you back.
What’s my point with all this? So glad you asked – this is the flip-side to updating monsters from earlier editions of the game. Some legacy aspects are kept when they should be removed, while others are removed when they should be kept. Adding the non-evil and once-per-month stipulations to the barghest’s feed power was a cool move on Paizo’s part, but lowering the number of people it needed to eat, making them viable targets for feeding even with low Hit Dice, and entirely removing the effect this had on trying to resurrect such a victim, were all things I’d like to have seen retained.
Like moving into a new house, moving to a new edition requires carefully checking what should be kept, what should be thrown out, and most importantly, why. Failing to do that can result in making a new game that feels so utterly divorced from its roots that it alienates longtime players, driving them away from your new creation instead of having them embrace it as early-adopters who help bring in new players.
Of course, I’m sure no company would ever do something like that.