Every good story needs an antagonist. Beowulf isn’t epic without Grendel; Harry Potter doesn’t become the Boy Who Lived without Voldemort; and without Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker is still toiling as an anonymous farmboy on Tatooine.
It's a superior villain makes a plot memorable.
The Villain Codex I: Foes for Fledgling Heroes presents 12 exciting, memorable NPCs for players, complete with stat blocks across a range of challenge ratings (3-8) to provide GMs with combat challenges their players won’t see coming.
Developed by Swords for Hire Development
Written by Authors: Andres Bermudez, Matthew Browett, Nik Geier, Scott Janke, Mikko Kallio, Luis Loza, J.T. McRoberts, Jacob W. Michaels, Michael Riter, Andrew Umphrey, and Christopher Wasko.
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This collection of adversaries clocks in at 16 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page introduction, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 11 pages of content, so let's take a look!
A brief history lesson first: This book is the result of an open contest to design adversaries for the PCs. Each of the foes comes with a statblock, a brief history as well as suggested goals and plots, making the respective villain come alive. Sergeant Maybn Blaine would be the first character herein, and the powerful female urban ranger actually has a cool modification: Her favored enemy would be half-bloods! This makes sense and for an adversary your players will love to despise!
Ayenna Gilfen, a half-elven arcanist would be up next and she is a poor soul: Her soulmate, Nessa Highmoon died and, grief-stricken, she has freed a very unpleasant ghost from his forbidden tome...who has since convinced her to murder on his behalf, all to regain her lost love. Fester Grizzlestix would be a shaman that is less tragic: The self-appointed fungus lord lords oer leshy and is just as nasty as you'd expect him to be.
More interesting from a build-perspective would be Hadin the Painless, an unchained monk/ninja multiclass with grand plans of creating his own dominion. His build is pretty nice, The middle-ages animal speaker Friedrich Wildheart is a nice twist on the trope of the "hermit kills anyone who ventures into the forest" -after all, you'd expect a druid...only to meet a bard! Wolton "Wolly" Venuti is a gnomish sorceror and a charismatic one at that; seemingly an idiot, he is a dangerous individual nonetheless - his tawdry robes concealing ambitions to create a deadly army of constructs....but whether due to being basically an imbecile or due to true darkness in his heart - that's up for the GM to decide.
Heffreck Threecasks would be an unconventional druidess - in fact, you'd consider her a highborn lady who has grown wealthy via the unique vintages she offers. Have I mentioned that her vintages are made from assassin vine-stock and thus...well...require nourishment? Theme-wise certainly the coolest here. Brynnhildr Sigurinn (should be -in, if you adhere to quasi-Norse nomenclature for females, but that only as an aside) is a fighter/musket master multiclass, which would be interesting. Unfortunately, however, her statblock lacks a ranged-line, which is annoying considering her musket expertise.
Voska Freehand would be a daring infiltrator swashbuckler; the halfling has shed her erstwhile slave-status and turned outlaw, but her fear of becoming penniless still remains. Jenrak, Master of Serpents would be a cool unchained summoner whose eidolon takes the form of a nasty serpent, making him a perfect foe when used in conjunction with quasi-Egyptian lands like Osirion or as an unconventional high-priest. Salduin the Black Wolf is a magus/inspired blade swashbuckler multiclass and seeks to unite several barbaric clans to take the civilized lands.
Editing and formatting are generally very good on a formal level, though the missing ranged-line is a pretty nasty hiccup. Layout adheres to a nice, printer-friendly two-column standard and the pdf comes with neat b/w-artworks for each of the villains (big plus!). The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.
Authors Andres Bermudez, Matthew Browett, Nik Geier, Scott Janke, Mikko Kallio, Luis Loza, J.T. MCroberts, Jacob W. Michaels, Michael Riter, Andrew Umphrey, Christopher Wasko, with development by Mikko Kalio and Jacob W. Michaels, have provided some nice and creative builds and characters - if one of the villains is not 100% brilliant in the build, it does feature some cool and unique angles for the respective adversary.
The characters herein are generally creative in concept, with a certain vintner-druidess being my favorite in concepts. That being said, build-wise, I wasn't absolutely blown away by the villains presented herein -they are good and creative, but do not reach the level that would have blown jaded ole' me away. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded down to 4 for the purpose of this platform.
I'm very satisfied with the quality of this product. It delivers just what it promises—foes for fledgling heroes—and goes beyond that in the degree to which each NPC is interesting and engaging.
Every one of the 12 unique villains it contains includes a well-written and creative background—the characters really come to life. Each NPC includes a goal and plot section, which makes it easy to drop any one of them into your campaign with minimal effort. And, since they each include a tactics section, they're easy to run once combat starts, too.
The background profile in soft blue on the cover is very attractive, and the style of the interior art is great. Those of you that favor an old-school style will particularly like the character drawings.
The layout is slick, and understated, and nothing jumps out me as difficult to find or read (the NPCs appear in the order of their CR). One benefit of the slick layout is that each page looks good when printed—without consuming a lot of ink.
The attention to detail is quite good throughout. After reading through the whole PDF, I only noticed only one minor error in a statblock (an omitted line entry), and that's not enough for it to lose a star.
Thanks for the review, EZG! Wolly was actually even dumber in the original submission, incidentally—his tactics were deemed too terrible even for him, though, so he gets to actually use his buffs sensibly instead of forgetting to use half of them until combat has actually started. ;D
Salduin is an interesting idea as a nonconventional emergent leader, but I felt that his build and the story provided didn't fit together perfectly; the "unite savages"-angle in combination with him lacking something truly extraordinary that would allow him to do so. A 5th level barbarian, moderately optimized, could tear him pretty much to shreds, with invisibility and mirror image being his only defensive angles that give him a viable fighting chance. Considering his lack of a spirit angle, he could have either used a stronger story-angle, a better movement-angle or a more optimized build. I actually pitted him against my PCs a couple of months ago and he was pretty much 1-round-killed by a level 6 character.
Yeah, I noticed that; from an in-game logic perspective, I had a bit trouble picturing *how* he actually got the barbarians/into a position where he could strive to unify the tribes, lacking a spiritual tradition/component, massive power and a melee prowess. He's basically a good fifth man/cohort type of adversary, but as a BBEG-villain, he could use more oomph. Not trying to tear your creation down, mind you - just trying to provide more detailed feedback and help you! :)