Review – Monster Codex (Pathfinder)

            The Pathfinder Monster Codex is a less common take on the bestiary/monster manual format – instead of presenting lots of different monsters, it presents more in-depth information on a small number of foes (Pathfinder has some existing supplements like this, the “X Revisited” series, but they’re much slimmer than this book). Although, like most bestiary-style books, it is of much more use to a gamemaster than other players, it executes what it aims to do very well. Checking in at a 253-page full-color hardcover, the Monster Codex retails for about $40.

Contents

The Monster Codex gives identically formatted 12-page entries to each of 20 types of creature – a one page art/flavor intro, one page on the society and ecology of the creature, two pages of new rules (some combination of archetypes, feats, spells, magic items, etc.), six pages of leveled versions of the creature (usually some more generic options like a level 6 ranger version of the creature, and then something more exotic, with many of the new rules being used across the NPC entries – one or two stat blocks per page, 10+ per monster type), a one-page entry for a new creature related to the main one, and then one page of sample encounters built with the leveled monsters.

The twenty monsters covered are: boggards, bugbears, drow, duergar, fire giants, frost giants, ghouls, gnolls, goblins, hobgoblins, kobolds, lizardfolk, ogres, orcs, ratfolk, sahuagin, serpentfolk, troglodytes, trolls, and vampires. The new creatures are usually something like a mutated version of the main creature, some sort of mount, or an associated pet-like critter (this includes things like animal-intelligence half-troll/half-ogres, so take the word “pet” broadly).

In addition to the main entries, there is an appendix of simple templates to give monsters something like character classes.

Three indices are included – one listing the leveled monsters by challenge rating, one listing all of the new rules grouped by type (archetypes, class features, equipment, feats, items, spells) then alphabetically, and one listing all of the cross-references from the Monster Codex to existing Pathfinder books.

Is It Good At What It Does, and Do I Want What It Does?

The Monster Codex delivers its intended content very well. The ecology/society sections were pretty fantastic, and a lot of the new rules were pretty cool, although mostly limited only to that one type of creature. Here are some of the rules I found particularly nifty:

  • Feats for boggards that let them really go to town with their croaks;
  • The duergar’s Headband of Vermin Control – because who doesn’t want to see what happens if the PCs try to ride a Giant Beetle into town?
  • The Ghoul Bloodline option for Sorcerors;
  • The gnoll-centric (but usable for any barbarian) Pack Rager archetype, who collects bonus Teamwork feats and then shares them with allies when raging;
  • The Infested Oracle curse (in the goblin section);
  • The kobold Dragon Yapper Bard archetype;
  • The ogre’s Fetid Breath feat;
  • An orcish magic item that you have to literally nail to your face to use;
  • An amplify stench spell;

Also, while I personally am not much of a fan of the Alchemist class, let me note that the Monster Codex could be pretty handy if you are, because it turns out a lot of these guys have their own specialist sorts of alchemists.

The gamer who would get the most use out of the Monster Codex is, I think, defined by who will get use out of those levelled monster stat blocks and pre-built encounters (they are over half of the page count in the book, after all). Even a GM that has the time and inclination to really personalize enemies probably doesn’t want to hand-build an entire hobgoblin war party, and that’s where the levelled monsters can come in. With nine or so options per monster type, the Monster Codex will allow that GM to deliver a longer-term story against a particular set of adversaries, with a variety of related opponents across several levels of play. The leveled monsters (possibly along with the pre-built encounters) can also just let a GM get more mileage out of her favorite monsters without a lot of extra work. Find goblins really entertaining? Now you’ve got an easy way to keep them relevant in your campaign for a few more levels.

What if you’re not a GM? Then this is, like most bestiary products, probably going to be a lower priority item for you. The first two pages of each entry are really well done, and quite interesting just to read (the society/ecology page is really great). The new rules are interesting too – even the new monsters are OK, if nothing terribly exciting. But that’s less than half of the content in the book – there’s just no getting around how pages of stat blocks with little or no “reading” material are not going to be a draw for the non-GM.

Ultimately, I think Monster Codex is a pretty cool effort to explore new ground in GM-targeted books. Instead of running the PCs up a chain of (for example) different sorts of goblinoids as the PCs level up, the Monster Codex provides an easy way to just focus on one more coherent group of enemies and keep them interesting and viable for longer, without sinking a bunch of extra time into custom-crafting your own advanced monsters.

Promotional consideration was provided in the form of a review copy.

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