Kobold Press, you did it again. By now, backers for the Creature Codex have the publishers’ follow-up to the much-loved Tome of Beasts in their hands, and what a follow-up it is! Over 400 5E-compatible new monsters lurk within, ready to burst from the pages and inspire your own fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons adventures and campaigns. Designed by an impressive host of designers including Kobold-in-chief Wolfgang Baur along with personal favorite Dan Dillon joined by a warren of others — plus creatures commissioned by monster patrons — Creature Codex has a lot to love. And with art direction and design by KP mainstay Marc Radle guiding a team of incredible artists like frequent collaborators Bryan Syme and Marcel Mercado along with a whole bunch of others, discovering each page of this massive tome is a visual joy. So let’s get to it.
Before the first monster entry, I’m already stoked to see the sidebar about Umbral and Void Speech. These two languages come from the Kobold Press Midgard campaign setting, deepening the lore and flavor of their world. But they’re very easily transported into your own created worlds. Umbral is the language of shadow elves, a branch of the fey family tree with a throughline in many KP products. Likewise, Void Speech is a language tethered to a vast universe of aberrant creatures, a facet of KP work I’ve drawn heavily on in my own home 5E D&D campaign set amid the crystal sphereverse. Right off the bat, I know I’m in for a treat if there’s new creatures of the void to play with inside Creature Codex.
Throughout the book, there are tons of sidebars like this, providing an additional value level to the monsters. Some contain variant rules for the creatures, explain their potential to become familiars, describe new magic items, provide roleplaying tips and more. This is a great example of the power of not only playtesting, but also the strength of building on their own campaign setting. You don’t have to run games set in Midgard for these sidebars or any of the information in Creature Codex to be useful. It’s a great help to Game Masters to have these little extras that can help you develop and expand your own setting and add cool embellishments to encounters.
In the back of Creature Codex, a series of appendices are incredibly useful, too. Listing the creatures inside in a variety of ways is super useful when you’re looking for the perfect monster to fit your needs. Creatures are listed by terrain, which includes a planar creatures category as well as a farmland category for when you need to be super specific about an endangered farm. There’s also a badlands category, similar to farmland in the sense it’s a pretty specific sort of terrain. The rest of the categories are standard fare like desert, forest and arctic environments. In the future, I would be happy to see the more specialized terrain categories expanded. But this isn’t a complaint by any means. Kobold Press did a great job here of looking beyond the usual terrain types and I’d love to see what else they could do with this idea.
Of course, creatures are listed by challenge rating in one appendix, and type in another, both very useful for GMs. Looking over the creatures by type, Creature Codex is well-balanced in terms of variety. No creature type gets the short shrift here. Giants and oozes are the smallest category of creature types, with 11 of each, with the rest having at least twice that many. As an ooze enthusiast, I’m more than content with nearly a dozen new goopy creatures to slime adventurers with. I’m very excited to see a whole bunch of new aberrations, plants and monstrosities too. These four types are my favorites, as players in my D&D games could certainly attest.
The other appendix is an NPC Codex with 15 new NPC stat blocks complete with art for each one. These are just as valuable for GMs as any of the amazing creatures in the main part of the book. Again drawing on the strength of the robust Midgard campaign setting, any of these NPCs are more than easily adaptable for any setting. Your campaign doesn’t need to include the Blood Kingdom of Morgau to find a place for a blood mage to antagonize adventurers. Kobold Press always does a great job of designing fun, unique traits and actions for their creatures and NPCs, a design philosophy we admire and strive to achieve in our own Nerdarchy creations too. I don’t think anyone who knows me would be surprised the void cultist, void speaker and voidwracked mage are my favorites in the NPC Codex. In my group’s game just last night they reached a major turning point in their own story of a universe-threatening danger from the void, so Creature Codex arrived just in time to make things even more challenging for the heroes. (Looking at you too, Whisperer in Darkness.)
Now that we’ve covered the bookends of Creature Codex, what about the juicy center? Flip open to any page and you’re sure to find something amazing. Let me demonstrate. I closed my eyes, thumbed through the pages and landed on the enchanter elf. Mechanically, I’m impressed with this Beguiling Parry ability. It’s a reaction, which is always nice to see in a stat block. When a creature within 30 feet attacks this fey, it can stop the aggression with a look that requires a successful Charisma saving throw or the attack stops and the attacker can’t attack the enchanter again until the start of its next turn. Very cool and thematic. On the flavor side, the bit about their diplomatic endeavors gives GMs insight into specific creatures they associate with too, a major plus in the encounter building department.
There’s simply no way to cover all the creatures in Creature Codex, but I can put the spotlight on a few of my favorites that’ll certainly find their way into my adventures.
Let’s begin peeling back the layers with the alliumite. This small plant creature is essentially a sentient onion humanoid wielding a blade of grass. If this little fella takes damage, creatures within 5 feet must succeed on a Constitution saving throw or be blinded by its Tearful Stench. This is awesome. On one hand, it’s a little silly. But that’s perfectly fine by me. On the other hand, as a fan of animism it’s totally awesome to have onion spirits in the world. And on the other hand (it’s a fantasy game — there can be three hands) I’m also a huge Final Fantasy fan, and I’m reminded of the onion theme in those games. Perhaps an order of alliumite knights is on the menu.
How many times have adventurers in your games gotten into or started a tavern fight? For this staple of countless D&D games, Creature Codex brings a new combatant to the fray — a huge swarm of unaligned medium humanoids called the bar brawl. This is a marvelous creation! Instead of managing a horde of belligerent NPCs, a GM only needs to run a single creature essentially. Wielding barstools, broken bottles and darts, the bar brawl can chug nearby alcohol to gain the benefits of Liquid Courage as a bonus action, gaining temporary hit points. Bravo, Kobold Press.
In another appear to my Final Fantasy adoration, carbuncle adds the mythical beast with the jewel in its forehead to the D&D world, complete with the legendary light beam attack. And for those adventurers who love vivisecting creatures after their defeat, the garnet is a usable magic item. Usually not my bag because it’s kind of gross, I’m sure many, many adventurers will love to discover this facet of the carbuncle’s garnet.
Undead rarely make an appearance in my regular campaign. Nevertheless, the dark father is a fantastic addition to the undead family. This lawful neutral embodiment of death is attracted to those soon to die. With a variety of unique new abilities like Death Waits, None May Stop Death, Final Curtain, and Banish Hope (another reaction woo hoo!), a dark father can show up anywhere. Hospitals, battlefields, among the poor and diseased and so forth are all places one of these shades might manifest to balance the scales of death.
I’m going to have to take a step back here. Flipping through Creature Codex, I’m not even through the first 100 pages and there’s so much wonderful content in here. So before we wrap things up, there’s one more creature to share my excitement about and one more GM tip to drop.
If I only mention one more Creature Codex entry, it’s gotta be the void giant. This huge giant is a corrupted cloud giant, stolen as a child and imbued with dark magic. Their bodies are covered in writhing arcane tattoos by their void dragon masters, granting them not only impressive spellcasting abilities (watch out for that disintegrate!) but also a special reaction to absorb spell effects and use that energy to expand the scope of their Void Casting bonus action, potentially stunning every creature affected by one of their spells instead of a single one. Spoiler for the players in my home game: there is a nonzero chance you will encounter void giants.
The last thing I want to mention about Creature Codex is the large number of creatures a GM could use to design a truly magnificent wizard’s tower dungeon. There are so
many magical constructs, oozes and other creatures masquerading as mundane implements, along with various other arcane critters, that a wizard’s tower could be filled with hazards, traps and monsters baked into the nature of the setting itself. These could be the wizard’s own implements come to life, wards and traps on their stuff and failed experiments. And the wizard in charge could certainly have an arcamag symbiote/parasite on themselves too.
Bookkeepers, cauldronborn, paper golems, inklings, iron sphere, mytholabes, alchemical apprentice oozes, ink guardian oozes, ruby oozes, philosopher’s ghosts, ring servants, sigilians, thread-bound constrictor snakes, and weirding scrolls can all make traversing this wizard’s tower an adventure of magical mayhem, and why not place a Pillar of the Lost Magocracy at the pinnacle?
Maybe for good measure, the wizard’s tower is built over the ruins of a defeated dragon’s lair, with a ghost dragon down there too?
PS Oh, and there’s an aberrant race of oozing humanoids from outside the known planes called the Shoth in Creature Codex too. You have my deepest thanks, Kobold Press. The characters in our gonzo spelljammer void-threatening-the-universe campaign, probably not so much.
If you missed the Kickstarter, no worries! You can preorder the book of incredible new monsters and the Creature Codex pawns, scheduled for release on Oct. 9, 2018 on Amazon right now. (And support Nerdarchy while doing so. Thanks, you.)
If you already have your own copy of Creature Codex from Kobold Press, what do you think? Which of these new monsters is your favorite? Have you used any of them in your games yet? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences with the book and any adventure ideas some of the creatures inside have given you. Sound off in the comments below!
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Nerditor-in-Chief Doug Vehovec is a proud native of Cleveland, Ohio, with D&D in his blood since the early 80s. Fast forward to today and he’s still rolling those polyhedral dice. When he’s not DMing, world building, or working on endeavors for Nerdarchy or his own blog The Long Shot, he’s a newspaper designer, copy editor and journalist. He loves advocating the RPG hobby and connecting with other nerds and gamers on social media and his site thelongshotist.com.