Thursday, April 20, 2017

Monster Codex [RPG]

Monster Codex is a fantastic 256-page hardcover collection of new rules, variants, and background on twenty classic monstrous races for Pathfinder.  The full-colour artwork inside is excellent and the book is laid out quite well.  I'm not a particularly big "monster guy", but I found this book quite interesting and readable, and enjoyed finishing an entry every night before bed, often drifting off to sleep with fun (and nefarious) new ideas.

Each entry is twelve pages long and includes a half-page picture and a half-page of in-universe flavour text, followed by a really well-written page of description and background that goes far beyond what's available in a Bestiary.  Each monster then receives about two pages of new rules, the exact content of which varies--it could be new archetypes, magic items, spells, feats, favored class options, and more.  Some of these options could be taken by anyone, but most are limited to members of the particular race.  Next, each entry has six pages of full stat-blocks for variant or specialized members of the race, many of which span a range of Challenge Ratings (CRs) (often through the addition of class levels) so that particular monstrous races don't become obsolete once the PCs reach a certain level.  GMs might be surprised how useful this is in expanding the options they have when designing storylines, and the entries include a good mix of martial and caster variants.  After that, a new creature associated with the race is presented in a one-page stat block--these are often some sort of animal (or animal-like) companion or pet often present.  Last, there's a one-page summary of a few different types of encounters (of varying CRs) in which the PCs might come into conflict with the race--note that these are not true encounters detailed in the sense of maps, terrain, etc., but more like common ways the monsters might be encountered and the number and types that they'll bring to the occasion.

Since there's twenty entries, I can't go into full detail on each, so what follows is more like a list with some very brief comments of things that caught my particular attention added in.

1.  Boggards.  It was interesting to learn that they have a much more complex society than they might seem to at first glance. [3 new alternate racial traits, 4 new favored class options, 5 new feats, one new spell, 2 new magic items.]

2.  Bugbears.  The flavour text for this is fantastic (and chilling!).  I've always thought of Bugbears and just larger orcs before, but this really helps to distinguish them (and make them scary).  There's a really clever spell introduced (Isolate) that renders a creature invisible and silent, but only to their own allies!  The artwork for the Bugbear Tyrant (a CR 13 antipaladin) is simply fantastic!  [1 new Antipaladin archetype, 7 new feats, 1 new spell, 2 new magic items]

3.  Drow.  [2 new alchemist discoveries, 3 new feats, 2 new pieces of equipment, 2 new magic items]

4.  Duergar.  The picture of the Duergar Monk makes me laugh because of that huge pot belly! [2 new alternate racial traits, 3 new feats, 2 new weapons, 3 new spells, 1 new magic item]

5.  Fire Giants.  There's a new Oracle Mystery introduced here (Apocalypse) that one of the PCs in my Rise of the Runelords game has taken.  So you never know what will prove useful in a game. I also like the new creature, a Steam Hog--a huge, tusked boar; a mounted Fire Giant cavalier would be terrifying!  [1 new Oracle mystery, 1 new feat, 2 new spells]

6.  Frost Giants.  [7 new feats, 2 new spells, 4 new magic items]

7.  Ghouls.  I've been reading Classic Horrors Revisited at the same time as this book, so I was mildly surprised to see the race again here.  But I like ghouls, so that's okay.  The artwork here is great, and I really like the variant ghoul--the Masked Marauder (a CR 8 ghoul bard), who would be a great mastermind villain for an urban campaign. [1 new sorcerer bloodline, 5 new feats, 2 new spells]

8.  Gnolls.  [1 new Witch archetype, 1 new Barbarian archetype, 5 new feats (4 of them Teamwork, which makes perfect sense for hyena-like Gnolls), 1 new weapon, and 3 new magic items]

9.  Goblins.  I *really* want to play a Goblin Winged Marauder!  I also liked (and was mildly disgusted by) the explanation of what a Goblin Alchemist formula book looks like.  [1 new Alchemist archetype, 1 new Oracle curse, 1 new Witch hex, 1 new piece of equipment, and 2 new spells]

10.  Hobgoblins.  Perfect for anyone planning to run the Ironfang Invasion adventure path.  The Hobgoblin Commander (a CR 12 Samurai) is really cool.  [1 new Alchemist archetype, 6 new feats, 4 new pieces of equipment]

11.  Kobolds.  I liked the Dragon Yapper archetype for bards--instead of inspiring your allies, you annoy and distract your enemies!  [1 new Alchemist archetype, 1 new Bard archetype, 2 new animal companions, 7 new traps, 2 new feats]

12.  Lizardfolk.  I have a new appreciation for lizardfolk after reading this entry, which means the writers did their job well.  [1 new Druid archetype, 1 new Oracle curse, 3 new feats, 3 new spells]

13.  Ogres.  The focus here is on the degenerations and mutations that plague the race.  The artwork is a bit tame considering how much fun the artist could have had.  [4 new templates; 8 new feats]

14.  Orcs.  This entry would be particularly useful to players since Half-Orc is a Core race.  [4 new feats, 2 new pieces of equipment, 6 new magic items]

15.  Ratfolk.  They seem like a lot of fun, and I'll have to make time to play one.  The Cheek Pouch alternate racial trait is a classic.  [4 new alternate racial traits, 4 new feats, 1 new piece of equipment, 1 new animal companion, 2 new magic items]

16.  Sahuagin.  [6 new mutant variants, 3 new feats, 3 new spells]

17.  Serpentfolk.  Such a fascinating race and mysterious race! [5 new feats, 2 new spells, 3 new magic items]

18.  Troglodytes.  I still find the race rather bland and forgettable after reading this entry--one of the book's only failures in that department.  [3 new variants, 3 new spells, 2 new magic items]

19.  Trolls.  The Troll Fury archetype (for druids) presents an interesting take on trolls.  I love (and fear) the Cooperative Rend teamwork feat--if a troll and its ally have the feat and are threatening the same creature, only one claw attack has to land for rend to kick in!  I'm not a big fan, however, of Paizo's artistic take on trolls.  The new monster, a CR 2 Sewer Troll, is a great way to help low-level PCs get acquainted with the regeneration monster ability before they fight the real thing.  [1 new Druid archetype, 6 new feats, 1 new piece of equipment, 2 new spells, 2 new magic items]

20.  Vampires.  A GM will appreciate the new templates for creatures that have been repeatedly drained or dominated by vampires.  Alchemical Blood is a logical thing to introduce in the game as well.  [3 new templates, 2 new simple templates for minions, 2 new feats, 1 new piece of equipment, 2 new magic items]

An appendix introduces the concept of "Simple Class Templates".  The idea here is to allow a GM to quickly modify a monster by adding class levels without having to laboriously rebuild a stat block from the ground up.  Thus, each of the Core Rulebook classes are given quick template rules and simplified spellcasting.  I haven't tried this method out, so I don't know how well it works.

As I said, I'm not a monster guy, so the fact that I enjoyed this book so much is telling.  It really does freshen up monsters with the options presented.  Long-time players, even those that do their very best not to metagame, may not be able to avoid sighing when yet another orc or troll appears in a game--but with the material presented here, the GM can add a surprising twist to every encounter.  In addition, the stat blocks for higher CR versions of every monster makes many of these monsters viable opponents throughout a campaign instead of the old "goblins at Level 1, trolls at Level 5, and neither ever seen again afterwards" problem. I also liked how the addition of class levels can help turn common PC strengths against themselves--an alchemist monster hurling touch-attack area of effect bombs definitely changes up the battlefield!  Although this book isn't literally indispensable for GMs, it would be among the first recommendations I would make.  And, perhaps surprisingly, there's enough race-neutral options here that players will surely find something useful for their PCs as well (if they're cheeky enough to buy a copy).  And you gotta love that cover!

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