Before I say a single word in opposition to the NPC Codex, I will say this: I love it! I believe it’s the finest GM assistant since the first Monster Manual. But you don’t want to hear about that. You want to know to what degree it sucks monkey balls. So, without further ado…
Okay, so before the whole sucking thing…the art is fantastic. The cover art alone is enough to put it among the most beautiful things Paizo has on the market. And then you open it…and it gets better. It is, in a word, beautiful! There were few pictures I didn’t like and those mostly consisted of one particular artist (I assume it’s just one artist) who managed to make some of the gnomes and halflings look like Big-Head mode from the 1997 Goldeneye game.
The only other problem I had (not so much a problem, really, as an observation) is that the artists took liberties representing the character as they wanted, never letting a pesky thing like armor get in the way of…well exactly what armor gets in the way of.
Overall, the artwork in the NPC Codex is phenomenal and I find it as appealing, if not more appealing, than any of the Bestiaries Paizo has put out.
The Codex is built around the concept of accessibility. First come the core classes, then the prestige classes, the NPC classes, and finally the iconic builds. Since the Codex has a range of CRs it’s simple to flip to the class you want, pick a CR rating, and have a unique character ready to liven up an ad hoc gaming event. I can’t remember the number of times I’ve needed a character on the fly and had only a class and a power level in mind, but the Codex seems built exactly for moments like that.
Each character in the Codex has a name that’s more a description than anything else, which I find works especially well in the NPC section as it has characters you commonly see in every campaign world. Need a king…there’s a build for that. Need an heir apparent…there’s a build for that. Need a mayor…there’s a build for that. Need a brothel madam…there’s not a build for that, sorry, but there really is a nice collection of NPCs one commonly finds in a campaign world.
The first sucking of the aforementioned balls comes when you realize the NPC Codex only works off of classes, races, powers, feats, and gear available in the Pathfinder Core Rulebook, so if you’re using supplementary materials it may be a little bit of a disappointment for you. I imagine this is because Paizo is planning to produce an NPC Codex for the supplementary material in the near future.
You have a wide range of villainous individuals in this book…and not much else. Good characters are few and far between; in fact, only thirty one characters in the entire book have a G in their alignment and of those twenty are paladins (all the paladins in the book are good, go figure), one eldritch knight, two mystic theurges, one adept, two aristocrats, and four of the iconic characters. I don’t hold much stock in the alignment system to begin with, but seriously, the NPC Codex makes Golarion look like a breeding ground for schmucks. Now, it’s not all that difficult for a DM to ignore the alignment and use the characters anyways, but I really do wonder if the creation of so few good characters was intentional, or just an interesting view into the psyches of the Paizo staff.
It’s clear that the NPC Codex is meant to be versatile and unique, but in some ways I think this limits its scope. Once a DM accounts for specific campaign settings, the environmental restraints, and your PC’s respective levels it only leaves you with a few viable NPCs within the codex. The uniqueness of the individual codex characters is both a strength and weakness in this respect.
And as a final note for this section: while I find the addition of the iconic classes interesting and understand the need for fan service, I also find it completely unnecessary.
If I’m honest (and why would I lie to you lot) the NPC Codex isn’t a necessary buy. If you own the Pathfinder Core Rulebook you have the tool to build any of the NPCs in the Codex. I do have one question for you though: do you have the time? That’s really what it boils down to; the NPC Codex is a time saver on a monumental scale. I would argue its worth every penny Paizo charges for no other reason than you’ll likely make money in the time it saves you.
Thoughts of the Crab
I like the NPC Codex for many reasons. Mohr has covered most of those reasons above; I’m not really planning to rehash them. Sure, any decent GM can build out as many situational or generic NPCs ahead of time; but it is nice to have someone else do it for you. Mohr feels that Paizo has made a mistake by only using Core material; I have a qualified disagreement. Clearly Paizo is trying to make the book as accessible as possible, so by not requiring or using non-Core material they open the book up to a wider audience, including groups not using the Pathfinder RPG. I do wish that they had included a small section of non-Core material, or perhaps a web enhancement, but then again, I can always do that myself.
What bothers me about the NPC Codex has also been touched on by Mohr: it’s the art. I don’t know if the art was produced specifically with this book in mind, or if the art came first and efforts were made to match the crunch to the art, but I can’t possibly be the only person in the world tired of seeing half-naked woman warriors who theoretically wade into battle with only a claymore and a bikini.
Bear in mind that the art is good; it just doesn’t match what the book says. This also includes some of the male characters. Like, say, the guy on page 49. I know exactly which half of the half-plate armor he’s wearing, and I can also see that he shaves his chest. Or perhaps I should reference the lady ranger on page 139. Where’s the chain shirt she’s supposed to be wearing? Is it underneath that strange top-down brassiere and beltkini she’s wearing? What’s the point of wearing armor everywhere except where enemies will actually try to stab you (and why are these from the top brassieres so popular with artists, despite the ridiculousness of them)?
Look, I get it, really I do. There’s a reason that Boris Vallejo can make a living with his art. People like to look at cheesecake (and beefcake). That being said, I’ve seen my fill. The internets are full of free porn; I don’t need it in my NPC Codex. It’s fine if Seoni dresses to accentuate her beauty; it fits the character. It’s not cool when people who are supposed to be wearing full plate look like they’re coming out of a BDSM nightclub (except for priests of Zon-Kuthon). Just my 2 cents, and it’s not like others haven’t said it better.