NPC Codex—The GM’s Best Friend

npc codex picPhil Glotfelty over at Gamemasters (Pittsburgh’s best, newly-remodeled hobby shop!) has been on to me for a few weeks about writing something for his re-vamped website. After thinking about it for a bit, I’ve decided that I owe more than just him a proper review—Paizo is due some love for the NPC Codex as well.

When I first heard about this book, I wasn’t impressed—that was a mistake on my part.

This is easily the best thing I got at Gencon last year and has paid for itself several times over at this point. The fact that it’s open content shouldn’t deter you either; what’s the random shopkeeper the PCs have decided to stiff have for attack options? Now those are at hand (not on a website, though that’s certainly good for preparing the game). Maybe this is their retirement from adventuring and they have class levels?

Heck, let’s say they’re a fence and some brutes are waiting across the street for just such an occasion. Now you’ve got the tools as GM to truly flesh out the world in an instant.
No excessive math, no questioning about the legitimacy of a random NPC’s skill bonus, no fuss.

This is something Paizo was smart to expand on from the (difficult to keep in stock) Gamemastery Guide and its uses go much farther than that.

Another way I utilize this as a GM (other than to quickly find basic stats for an NPC that’ll get a proper write-up later) is for character creation. As a veteran player I know exactly what I want my 1st level bard to have, but most people new to the game have enough of a time getting their head around all the numbers for attack, skill ranks, and the like already. So I hand them my NPC Codex and say, “look through these characters in the back of the book, this section here—if you don’t want to play one that’s fine, but just copy their gear until we have a chance to get you properly equipped between sessions.”
That single step has greased the wheels for new players at my table several times already and I cannot thank Paizo enough for it.

Then there’s the third reason I bought the NPC Codex; as OGL material, you can freely reference and site NPCs in the book just as you would a monster from one of the Bestiaries. It’s rare for me not to include one or two entries from the NPC Codex as functionaries from a given settlement in an adventure and on more than one occasion I’ve made the book a central part of my design for a module, fleshing out the cities within (or in one case, a single extremely detailed city) by referencing a dozen entries—giving me time and most importantly space.

I prefer to get paid by the word for my work—a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, as they say, and bill collectors are rarely encouraged by the promise of royalties. It cannot be stressed enough how valuable this book has been to me; it has literally paid for itself several times over and definitely been a deciding factor in certain contracts.

For instance, last week I wrote a module with multiple distinct settlements and an epic scale in the endgame for a publisher new to me—a very large project. We’re talking tens of thousands of words to establish a sense of completion once you factor in all the nobility (king, high mage, other town’s nobles, and a few other pertinent characters). Using the NPC Codex (retired adventurers to lord over the lesser towns and fill in the ruling class of the main city), I managed to (brilliantly) fit it just inside of 17,000 words.

Don’t get me wrong—I also did not have to create another dozen high-level stat blocks and that was a huge time saver, but the space issue easily outweighs it.

All in all, the NPC Codex is a smart buy and still one of my most valued purchases. If you don’t have it already, go buy a copy from Phil down at Gamemasters or if you don’t live near Pittsburgh, your local gaming haven—you’ll be happy you did. 

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