Saturday 4 January 2014

Inner Sea NPC Codex

A little over a year ago, in the slot that had previously always gone to Bestiary releases, Paizo released the NPC Codex, a hardcover tome with hundreds of ready-to-use NPCs, one for each core class at every level, plus numerous examples of prestige classes and NPC classes. Around the same time, they also released the Inner Sea Bestiary in the Campaign Setting line. While smaller than a hardcover Bestiary, this product helped satisfy the urge many people might have had for a new Bestiary that year while also providing the Golarion setting with a host of monsters unique to it, full of the setting’s flavour.

This past fall returned to the pattern of previous years with the arrival of the hardcover Bestiary 4. However, for people who may have been hoping for an NPC Codex 2, there is instead the Inner Sea NPC Codex, full of generic NPCs from all across the Inner Sea region of Golarion. All of these contain full stats and can be slipped into an ongoing campaign at a moment’s notice, just like using a monster straight out of a Bestiary. I was ecstatic at the release of the NPC Codex, which I felt was a product long overdue in the game. I’m similarly happy about the release of the Inner Sea NPC Codex.

To be fair, this is not the first book of NPCs for the campaign setting. There was previously the NPC Guide, which contained a selection of NPCs arranged by geographical area. There is also the Rival Guide, which contains several NPC adventuring parties that can work as rivals or even villains for the PCs. While I’ve gotten a fair amount of use out of the Rival Guide, the NPC Guide is a book that has gone mostly unused in my games. This may seem a bit odd considering how useful I declared the NPC Codex to be in my review of it. However, the NPCs in the NPC Guide consist primarily of specific characters with individual histories and personalities, and it takes some advance planning to use them in campaigns. They can’t simply be dropped in at a moment’s notice. While the second chapter does have generic NPCs, the organization and rather abrupt stats and descriptions make them difficult to find and use easily. However, the NPC Codex organizes things more like a Bestiary, with each character getting a separate page (or half a page in some cases), making it much easier to quickly find the type of NPC needed. The Inner Sea NPC Codex follows the organization style of the NPC Codex. Similarly, it’s a book of entirely generic NPCs, making it far easier to grab one for use with little to no advance notice.

But while these are generic NPCs, they are also NPCs designed to fit seamlessly into the Golarion setting, either in specific geographic regions or as members of specific groups and organizations. There are sample Hellknights in here, as well as Red Mantis assassins and Knights of Ozem. There are also mammoth riders from the Realm of the Mammoth Lords, Chelish opera singers from Cheliax, and Sczarni thieves from Varisia. As such, these characters represent a wide variety of classes and levels, with many of them being multiclass characters. Unlike the NPC Codex, this book doesn’t contain an example of every class at every level. Instead, classes and levels are based on what makes thematic sense for the setting. Besides, there wouldn’t be enough room for one of every level anyway! This is a much smaller book than the NPC Codex.

Similarly, in order for things to fit thematically, the classes appearing are not limited to just the Core Rulebook classes the way the NPC Codex characters are. As such, there are examples of classes from numerous different books, including the Advanced Player’s Guide, Ultimate Magic, and Paths of Prestige (there are actually quite a few NPCs with prestige classes from this last book). There is even a summoner (the god caller), which is one of the least represented classes in the Golarion setting (the lack of summoners has never actually bothered me, personally, as it’s my least favourite class; however, it has its fans and those people will no doubt be pleased to see a summoner in this book).

In a book devoted to generic NPCs, one might be surprised to find a lot of background information about the setting. However, that is, in fact, one of the best things about the Inner Sea NPC Codex. All the NPCs have detailed descriptions with their stats; however, since these are generic characters, the descriptions aren’t of physical details or specific histories and exploits. Instead, the descriptions illustrate how these characters fit into the world, providing a lot of information about the setting in the process. Of course, the length of the stat block dictates how much space is left for description, so some characters get less than others, but nevertheless, there is a wealth of background information here. Due to a particularly long stat block, the Arclord of Nex gets two pages in the book and thus gets one of the longest descriptions in the book. This description contains some of the most detailed information on Nex yet published. The god caller and mammoth rider also each receive two pages and so also have a lot of detail about their respective regions.

Like a Bestiary or the NPC Codex, every NPC in the Inner Sea NPC Codex has a full-colour sample illustration to accompany it. For the most part, the artwork is of high quality and quite reasonable. The Red Mantis assassin is a bit absurd (although there are certainly worse examples in other books), showing a highly sexualized female character. However, the Red Mantis initiate offers an amusing balance, presenting a male character in a pose usually reserved for female characters—that of the twisting side view that shows off both the breasts and butt.

My only criticism of the Inner Sea NPC Codex is a relatively small one, but one that does impact the ease of finding appropriate characters a little. Since this book doesn’t contain an example of every class at every level, the characters aren’t arranged by classes. Instead, they appear in alphabetical order by “name”. The names are descriptive and generally include the region or organization to which the characters belong. While the region or organization usually comes first, this isn’t universally the case. Thus, it’s not always clear where to look in the book to find a particular NPC. GMs looking for sample Hellknights need merely flip alphabetically to the letter h to find the Hellknight, Hellknight armiger, and Hellknight signifer. However, GMs looking for NPCs from Absalom may not immediately realize that the Absalom wave rider is not the only one in the book and that they need to flip to the f’s to find the First Guard of Absalom. There is a table on the inside front cover which lists all the NPCs in the book along with quick details like CR, alignment, race, and class. This table also contains the suggested location. Unfortunately, the table is also arranged alphabetically by NPC name. So, while it can help speed things up a little, GMs still need to do a bit of searching to find characters from particular locations, and there is still the possibility of missing one. I think the organization would have worked much better if the first part of every NPC’s name specified either the region or organization of the character.

That one niggle aside, the Inner Sea NPC Codex is a magnificent work and makes a worthy setting-specific companion to the NPC Codex. I strongly suspect it will start to see a lot of use in my games in the future.

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