If you’ve played fantasy roleplaying games for any length of time, you’ve no doubt fought your fair share of goblins, orcs, and trolls. They can certainly begin to blend together. If you’ve fought one, you’ve fought them all, right? One of the jobs of the Dungeon Master is to find ways to keep things interesting. As I said in a post last week, “A fantasy roleplaying game is defined as much by the caliber of the villains and monsters as it is by the caliber of the players and heroes.”
One way to mix things up is to introduce more monsters, and certainly fantasy roleplaying games have no shortage of supplements that outline new and varied types of monsters.
But another way to keep things interesting is by varying up the existing pool of common monsters, giving them rich backstories and cultures, motivations and plots. In short, finding ways to really make what should be a common monster into something completely new. If you take a basic goblin template and add on 12 levels of barbarian, you have something decidedly more challenging to face!
Of course, creating all of this variability takes time and planning, which seems to be in ever-shorter supply these days. And this brings us to the Pathfinder RPG‘s newest solution: Monster Codex (Paizo, Amazon)
Deep Diving into Pathfinder’s Monsters
Rather than introducing a bunch of new monsters, the Monster Codex goes into detail on 20 of the most common and popular monster races within the game setting:
- Fire Giants
- Frost Giants
Each chapter has 12 pages on each species, providing great information for diving deeply into the monster races. If you’re already familiar with the Pathfinder RPG, you’ll know that one of the nice things they’ve done with the system is make it so that everything is highly customizable. There are a plethora of class variant archetypes and racial trait options spread throughout their various sourcebooks, and they include options here for the monster races as well. The new twists available are a lot of fun and will throw even experienced players for a loop.
The chapters all start off with a 1-page “Ecology and Society” section that breaks down the basics on the creatures, with more detail about their organization and habits than in their standard entries in the Pathfinder Bestiary. The next two pages is a “New Rules” section that includes race-specific class archetypes, new racial feats and traits, magical items and spells, and so on. Then there 6 pages of NPC stat blocks, which are arranged from lowest to highest difficulty. And there’s a new monster associated with each race as well, such as the Suathurim (basically Frost Giant centaurs) and the Kirrix (large, alchemically-created, 6-legged rodents that spew pathogens, which live in Ratfolk warrens). The final page of each chapter is devoted to an encounter table for the race.
Some of the variants that most appealed to me are:
- Bugbear Ambusher – a ranger trapper archetype
- Duergar Anvil & Duergar Hammer – two different Duergar monk variants
- Masked Marauder – a ghoul dirge bard variant that infiltrates human society to hunt prey
- Gnoll Ravager – an antipaladin of Lamashtu, the goddess of monsters
- Goblin Vulture Pilot – a “winged marauder” alchemist variant, these goblins rain fire from above
- Kobold Yapper – a kobold bard
- Lizardfolk Clutch Mother – a druid who oversees the Lizardfolk clutch of eggs and hatchlings
- Ogre Destroyer – an antipaladin who rides a fiendish rhinoceros mount
- Ratfolk Bravo – my NPC in a recent Pathfinder campaign was a Ratfolk gunslinger, so glad to see one made it into the Codex
- Enlightened Vampire – a monk vampire that strives (though often fails) not to kill unless it must
There’s also an appendix with templates to quickly add a class to any existing creature from another source, so if you wanted to create a satyr ranger or berserker, for example, you could quickly create these variants without going through the full process of adding class levels to the character and then creating statistics the traditional way.
Overall, the book is a lot of fun. Anyone who’s run a game has found themselves in the situation where they suddenly need a group of monsters, and being able to easily reach for this book to pull up variants quickly can help make things go much more smoothly than trying to make things interesting by throwing a horde of cookie-cutter orcs at the group. I don’t know if I’d call it a “must have” supplement, but it’s definitely a worthy addition to a Dungeon Master’s resources.
You can pre-order the hardcover Monster Codex directly from the Paizo.com website, including through the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game subscription plan, which should have the physical book shipping about … well, today, it seems. And you get a free PDF copy using the subscription plan. Alternately, if you can stand to wait a few weeks–until about October 22, according to Paizo’s press release–you can also pre-order the hardcover through Amazon.com. Or you can support your local gaming store by contacting them to pre-order your copy. (If you don’t know where your local game store is, you can check out Paizo’s Retail Locator.)
Other Pathfinder Monster Supplements
While Pathfinder has released a ton of supplements that expand on the monster options for Dungeon Masters. First, at least one of the Bestiary books (Paizo, Amazon) is pretty much required to run a Pathfinder game. You can do without it, but I wouldn’t want to. Pathfinder‘s made a number of previous steps to explore these monsters in greater detail beyond the Bestiary itself.
Their “Revisited” line of supplements focuses on 10 monsters per supplement. In many ways, these are like shorter versions of the Monster Codex, with an emphasis on the ecology and society aspect of the creatures and ways to incorporate them into the game in new and different ways. Here are the Revisited supplements, along with the creatures covered in them:
- Fey Revisited (Paizo, Amazon) – Dryad, gremlin, leprechaun, norn, nuckelavee, nymph, redcap, rusalka, satyr, and sprite
- Dragons Revisited (Paizo, Amazon) – Covers the main chromatic and metallic dragons
- Giants Revisited (Paizo, Amazon) – Cloud giant, marsh giant, cyclops, rune giant, fire giant, stone giant, frost giant, storm giant, hill giant, and taiga giant
- Undead Revisited (Paizo, Amazon) – Bodak, nightshade, devourer, ravener, graveknight, shadow, lich, spectral dead, mohrg, and wight
- Demons Revisited (Paizo, Amazon) – Balors, invidiaks, mariliths, succubi, vrocks, babaus, glabrezus, hezrous, nabasus, and nalfeshnees
- Dungeon Denizens Revisited (Paizo, Amazon) – Bulette, cloaker, gelatinous cube, mimic, otyugh, owlbear, purple worm, roper, rust monster, and shambling mound
- Mystery Monsters Revisited (Paizo, Amazon) – Bunyips, death worms, mokele-mbembe, mothmen, The Sandpoint Devil, water orms, yetis, sasquatch, sea serpent, and chupacabra
- Mythical Monsters Revisited (Paizo, Amazon) – Chimera, kraken, couatl, medusa, griffon, phoenix, harpy, sphinx, hydra, and wendigo
- Classic Horrors Revisited (Paizo, Amazon) – Derro, hag, flesh golem, mummy, gargoyle, vampire, ghost, walking dead, ghoul, and werewolf
The “Unleashed” line of books has only two volumes so far, but they give a great, broad-reaching approach for getting new story hooks. Instead of describing a bunch of general creature variants, the Unleashed books focus on 15 specific creatures of that type, spread across the Pathfinder world of Golarion. If you want to interact with the fey silver dragon from the River Kingdoms or the graveknight spymaster of the undead nation of Geb, these books contain the statistics you’re looking for, as well as their detailed backstory and information on their lairs:
I’ve found the Unleashed supplements to be among some of the best out there for generating adventure and story ideas. The monsters included in the books are not one-shot enemies, but more often the subtle manipulators who are at the center of an web of intrigue that can drive an entire campaign, making it possible to begin planting leads for the players in different ways that they can either choose to follow or not.
Related Black Gate Articles:
- New D&D Monster Manual Unleashed on the World
- GenCon 2014 – Part 3: Pathfinder, Pathfinder, and More Pathfinder
- Pathfinder RPG: Fey Revisited
- Pathfinder’s Ultimate Campaign Boosts Gaming Options
Disclaimer: Review copy of Monster Codex was provided by the publisher.
Andrew Zimmerman Jones is a writer of fiction and non-fiction. He has been a finalist in the Writers of the Future contest and received Honorable Mention in the 2011 Writer’s Digest Science Fiction/Fantasy Competition. In addition to being a contributing editor to Black Gate magazine, Andrew is the About.com Physics Expert and author of String Theory For Dummies. You can follow his exploits on Facebook, Twitter, and even Google+.