Review: Creature Codex

Roleplaying game publisher Kobold Press second big book of monsters is the Creature Codex. The book was funded on Kickstarter, with the project launching less than a year ago, in December 2017. The book defied the odds and reached the hands of its backers only a few weeks later than its estimate shipping date of August 2018. And impressive feat for a small publisher.

Prior to the Kickstarter, the book was first mentioned on the official Dungeon & Dragons podcast, DragonTalk where it was teased with the name Tome of Beasts 2: Electric Beastaloo. It didn’t make it as the final name… but it’s funny.

What It Is

A full-colour hardcover, Creature Codex is 429-pages long. It has non-glossy white pages with no overt background, but almost every page has an art piece (as there is a monster on almost every page).

Inside the book are roughly 410 new monsters. Among these new monsters are a couple fey lords, several new animal lords, 4 demon lords, a couple archdevils, and several other tough monsters. There are over 35 legendary monsters, with two-dozen monsters being CR 15 or higher.

The Good

Like their previous efforts, this book was playtested by backers who gave each monster a once-over and some extra attention. Backers could also submit a monster, and a good dozen were included in this book. There’s some really fun and evocative new monsters in the book.

Most of the monsters seem relatively balanced, and most of the traits and powers I read all seemed fairly easy to use at the table. Thankfully, there are few monsters that seemed to be familiar monsters but with a higher CR, effectively using the old statblock with an extra trait and some Hit Dice. (There are a few, though.)

While there are no boxes around monster statblocks, they make use of a sans serif font that makes the rules mechanics stand out from the flavor text. This fluff text is formatted akin to other 5e monsters with in-line headers describing important elements of the monster, such as its ecology.

There are many sidebars in the book. Most of these describe how the monster fits into Kobold Press’ world of Midgard; this also allows the general flavour of monsters to be setting agnostic. Other sidebars include poisons or associated diseases.

Apart from NPCs, the book features scant new humanoids, and the new ones all seem to exist in Midgard already. There’s not a dozen new humanoid species to fill each small valley and island in the campaign setting, which can get increasingly silly.

The back of the book has a few Appendix, with charts for monsters by type, CR, and terrain. Always useful for a quick monster or two.

A lot of monsters are pulled from myth and folklore. Some more familiar names include (in no particular order): Chupacabra, Crimson mist, Carbuncle, Wendigo, Wolpertinger, Pech, Nightgaunt, Mandrake, Werebat, Kitsune, Kappa, Jiangshi, Lamassu, Hungry ghosts Hound of Tindalos, and Grindylow. There are also variant liches based on clerics and warlocks. There’s a wealth of additional folkloric monsters; generally, whenever I googled the name of a somewhat lackluster creature it turned out to be a real world cryptid or mythical beast. In one case, while my wife was reading over my shoulder, she commented that the creature I was reading shared the name with a My Little Pony villain. While not the most interesting or evocative monster ever, I appreciate digging through mythology rather than just building a new monster based on a bad pun or weird visual. Of course… those monsters are in this book as well.

There’s also a few Lovecraftian monsters, some of which were added via a Stretch Goal. Lovecraft continues to have his fans, and he does envision some pretty weird and horrific creatures. In general there’s a lot of horrific monsters that might fit well into a fantasy or cosmic horror themed campaign.

The Bad

The Creature Codex is really just a big book of monsters. There’s no theme or set tone, no underlying concept that differentiates this book from the Tome of Beasts or a Tome of Horrors. It’s just… more. Even Tome of Beasts was almost “Midgard and Southland monsters”, giving it something to distinguish it from other monster books.

Like too many other monster expansions of the past, the book relies on ____ type monsters. Monsters with a lot of subtypes where you can add a new descriptor and create a “new” monster. Giants, hags, golems, dragons, and oozes. There are no shortage of these. Plus the inevitable list of new demons and devils. And the numerous new types of undead, as every conceivable manner of expiration spawns a new type of living dead. This book even adds “angels” to that list, introducing eight new heavenly critters. Eight! A new angel or two might be nice, as they’re usually an underused creature type, but eight?!

There’s also a curious number of book and text related monsters. I counted the Bookkeeper, Paper golem, Inkling, Weirding scroll, Sigilian, and the Ink guardian ooze. So when the party walks into a library and gets their ass kicked by a tome, they can ask “yeah… but what KIND of codex creature was it?”

Like Tome of Beasts, each entry has lore before the monster, but the volume continues the Pathfinder design of starting each entry with a physical description. Given there’s pictures on the page, a line or two of description is more than enough, but some are four or even five lines long, eating into useful text and background material. And sometimes, the monsters could really use that extra line or two.

While most of the monsters fill up the space nicely, there’s a few whose illustration seems a little large, as if padding the entry to avoid requiring extra writing. Like the Ahuizot, whose picture could have been 10-20% smaller without losing any detail and allow an extra paragraph explaining why you should use that monster in your adventure rather than one of the other forty-odd monsters.

The Ugly

There’s a bunch of Lovecraftian monsters here and in the Tome of Foes, but there’s STILL no 5e elder thing! One of the classic beasties, seen in Mountains of Madness, a famous dungeon crawl through a ruined city.

There’s a few monsters I’m not thrilled by, but I’m going to be a dick and single out one. I’m not a fan of the Gulon. It’s based on myth but implementation is so-so. The Gulon’s traits are curious: giving it Amorphous seems like an error that would negate the hook of the creature and how it squeezes between trees.

Also…there’s the fey drake—how is this different from a fairy dragon? What stories and adventurers only work with a fey drake and not a faerie dragon?

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