Tuesday, October 4, 2022

[REVIEW] PF2e NPC Index - Spellcasters / Warriors (Pathfinder 2e 3rd-party supplements)

TL;DR - This post starts off with some general chitchat about my move into running Pathfinder, 2nd edition. I then review a handy pair of third-party resources, the NPC Index: Warriors and NPC Index: Spellcasters supplements for PF2e. For disclosure, I purchased the Warriors Index, but then received a free copy of the Spellcasters volume in exchange for a fair and honest review (I decided to address both supplements here). In short, I think these are both great resources that will offer a lot of utility for any PF2e GM's repertoire - and will save lots of time, too. That being said, I also offer a few critiques about some ease-of-use features. Links to the products are OneBookShelf/DTRPG/Pathfinder Infinite affiliate links, which help support this blog's activities at no added cost to you. Thanks for reading! 

Purchase (affiliate) links:




Historically, at my own table I've mostly run rules-light games without a lot of crunch. Long-time readers  may be surprised to learn that my home campaign is currently running in Pathfinder, 2nd edition (PF2e). I chose PF2e partly to give players more customization (that I didn't have to homebrew constantly...), partly to re-invigorate my monsters (no more 'bags of hit points'! Everything has thematic tricks in combat!), and partly to run a more tactical system in which I don't have to pull my punches, but also don't have to worry much about balance. PF2e certainly allows as much square-counting and board-gamey action as you might want (or not...), but I find that it also works quite well for more flexible, less detailed combats. Our most recent fight was great fun, but our 'battle map' was just a vertical, side-profile building diagram from a Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay adventure. I simply gauged movement by zones and made rulings on the fly whenever something was unclear, and we had a great time in a fight against undead shadows hunting the PCs up rotting staircases in an abandoned slum building (yes, PCs could and did fall through broken steps to the landings below!).  

Having said all that, Pathfinder wouldn't be Pathfinder without some measure of crunchy mechanics. As an experienced GM but someone quite new to running PF2e, I've had a lot to wrap my head around. So far, the experiment is working well, though I've had my work cut out for me by insisting on running a sandbox campaign. First, I converted the tail end of a contemporary OSR standout campaign, The Evils of Illmire, to PF2e. My players just finished with that converted content and are now at work in a new region of my own creation.  Although many GMs grab a pre-made 'adventure path' that fills in the blanks for you, our current adventures exist on a map that I drew, onto which I placed about fifteen different factions with competing goals and assets (I wanted an intrigue-heavy, social-relationship-emphasizing campaign, albeit with some cool dungeons waiting out there). 

But this leads quickly to a problem: how to stat up all the NPCs running those factions? 


One of the great features of PF2e is that the rules and bestiary entries are free to read online. This includes the NPC statblocks published (in an "NPC Gallery") in the PF2e Gamemastery Guide (the online versions are here). That collection is very useful, but it isn't terribly flexible. If you run PF2e using the standard rules, there's a tight math loop that makes creatures or NPCs within about 3-4 levels up or down from your party fair game for a fight (outside this range, mathematical probabilities will make most fights too one-sided to be interesting; inside the range, fights can be great). The rules do provide "Weak" and "Elite" adjustments that bump a critter's level up or down by 1...but that's a pretty minor adjustment for a game built to span 20 levels. 

In my case, this posed some problems. The NPC gang leader looked cool, but the NPC Gallery profile Gang Leader is level 7. Hmmm. That's several levels higher than what I was looking for. Keep the cool thematic abilities but stay overpowered? Settle for a less thematically suitable but lower-level Ruffian? I wanted a Necromancer, but the GM Guide NPC Gallery Necromancer is Level 5...just a bit higher than what I had in mind for this role...oh, and it has a special ability with a hideous stench aura. Ok, but I wanted a necromancer who is just getting into the dark arts and is still connected to polite society, so that tell-tale stench just won't work. Can I just hand-wave these things away? Yes, of course I can - but then I'll be monkeying with the balanced math loops, etc. Not ideal.

Now, PF2e - in the Gamemastery Guide, again - does include a guide to building your own creatures and NPCs. But ... it's about 18 pages long. The 'building NPCs' section is just a few pages, but it refers to and builds upon the whole section. I am a busy person with a life and a lot to do, and ... I am not going to work through ten pages to prepare every NPC I need for this campaign. Nor am I willing to build each NPC as a proper character using the PC class rules. 

Crumbs. What's a GM to do? 


Rejoice, for my problem has a solution! 

Jamie Trollope and Paul J. Steen are co-authors of NPC Index: Warriors and NPC Index: Spellcasters. Oh, and before I forget - each supplement also has a Foundry VTT module sold separately or in bundle form, if you're into that sort of medium). The volumes are sold via OneBookShelf's Pathfinder Infinite, an official community-content marketplace for Pathfinder/Starfinder supplements (I gather this is similar to the Dungeon Master's Guild that WotC has set up through OBS as well). The service is integrated with (my preferred) DriveThruRPG.com, so if you have any store credits burning a hole in your pocket on DTRPG, you should be able to clean them out here! :-) Each volume costs $12.99 for a .pdf. Warriors has 110 pages over 56 .pdf spreads and covers; Spellcasters offers 114 pages over 58 spreads and covers. 

Awright, awright, but what do they do

Put simply, they make class-based NPCs, at many different levels, with a variety of special abilities and ancestry templates, and they do so pretty quickly and easily. To quote the product blurbs: 

Here you'll find 100+ ready-made statblocks for spellcasting NPCs of every level, from a lowly apprentice to the most awe-inspiring archdruid.

Here you'll find 100+ ready-made statblocks for martial NPCs of every level, from a lowly squire to the most terrifying barbarian chieftain.

Spellcasters lets you craft Clerics, Druids, Sorcerers, and Wizards. Warriors contains Barbarians, Rangers, Fighters, and Champions. (I understand that a third and pending volume will cover offer Alchemists, Bards, Monks, and Rogues). The blurbs above suggest that you're grabbing a fresh list of 100+ NPCs, but don't believe the hype - the reality is even better! Because the book uses a modular format - kind of the Build-a-Bear approach to NPCs - you have here the tools to stat up something like 3,100 different NPCs, per book, and that's probably being conservative with the way I run the numbers. Let me explain. 

Each volume offers two different approaches for NPC creation. 

First approach: start with one of 31 (!!!) different ancestry templates (these are things like 'halfling, dwarf, orc, tiefling, poppet'). Then, "you can follow the rules for creating NPCs in the GMG..." and then, finally, select one or more level-appropriate Special Abilities from a list provided here. Uh-oh - my heart sank at first when I read that "use the rules for creating NPCs in the GMG." I thought I was here because I'm weak and foolish and can't handle those rules? Aaaaaah! Not to worry; although this option is available to expand options for GMs with a good handle on creating their own NPCs, it isn't necessary. Instead, we have...

Second approach: use those pre-made statblocks, but tweak them as desired with your chosen ancestry. Tweak the abilities further if you so desire. 

This is where the book really shines, in my opinion. The statblocks are organized by class, but also by level.

There are multiple versions at levels 1, 4, 7, 13, 16, and 19. This is because by applying the Weak or Elite templates, these statblocks cover all 20 levels, so you can prepare encounters with NPCs that range from the lowliest street thugs, all the way up to the mightiest warlords. 

Let's look at how this works in a bit more detail. 

Early in the book come the Ancestry templates. As the book notes, these are deliberately simplified, offering a few key thematic special abilities. Each one follows a "base, bonus at level 7+, bonus at level 13+" format, like this:

What ancestry options are present? Well (deep breath)...Dwarf, Elf, Gnome, Goblin, Halfling, Human, Android, Catfolk, Fetchling, Hobgoblin, Kitsune, Kobold, Leshy, Lizardfolk, Orc, Poppet, Ratfolk, Shoony, Sprite, Tengu, Aasimar, Beastkin, Changeling, Dhampir, Duskwalker, Geniekin (Ifrit, Oread, Suli, Sylph, Undine), Tiefling. Oh, and half-elf and half-orc too. And each one feels just different enough to earn its place: hobgoblins are good at beating down demoralized foes, whereas orcs get a limited reaction that keeps them resilient when they would reach 0 hp, and kobolds can cower to try to dissuade an angry assaulter. The abilities mostly make sense, though this one made me scratch my head a bit:

That Level 13+ Revivification Protocol is a riff on an official Android Ancestry feat in PF2e, so no worries there, but the official version also includes a "once a day" limit, and clarifies that it's triggered as a free action when a PC has the Dying condition and is about to attempt a recovery check (which is why it's described as an action, not a reaction). That context doesn't really work for a PF2e NPC, as I understand it - they're just supposed to drop at 0 hp, and they don't make recovery checks. So this one needs a little tweak; unless I'm missing something, this would be better as a once-per-day Reaction triggered by hitting 0 hp, to put an enemy android back on their feet just as the PCs think they've cut it down. 

Once you've picked your NPC's ancestry template, you move over to the class sections. Each of these opens with a one-page overview of the class, its tactical features, and some general observations on getting the most out of these roles and abilities in play. The advice here won't be revolutionary, but it was helpful to me as someone new to the intricacies of PF2e. 

Then, for each class, you have a list of a FEW free abilities that every NPC of that class should gain (these, again, are simplified when compared to actual PCs of that class), some guidance if you are actually following the procedures to build your own character instead of using statblocks, and then ... a roster of more special abilities that can be chosen for further customization. These are grouped by level-tier, and there are simple guidelines on how many you should select for NPCs of different power levels. The abilities look like this:

There are enough to be interesting, but not enough to get really overwhelming. For spellcasters, the ability lists are followed by domain and sample spell-lists to simplify the options that an NPC caster has prepared. 

And then come those sample statblocks. So many of them! They are laid out just like a regular Bestiary entry, though you'll just need to fill in the few details from whatever ancestry template you also selected - and then you're ready to roll! Notice how (apart from the ancestry details) everything is pre-selected for you - spell selections, stats, attack rolls, abilities, etc. ... all you have to do is meander through the Index, around the level-range that you're looking for, until you see something suitable for whatever you have in mind. Here's one of the Sorcerer options:

By combining the 100+ statblocks in each book with the 31 different ancestry templates, you have the potential of up to 3,100 different, evocative NPCs - even without you tweaking the profiles any further, which you can do. In fact, I quickly ran into situations that did call for tweaking the statblocks provided. This is because -- as rich as this resource already is -- the pre-made statblocks only scratch the surface of the possible combinations one could make with the ancestry and special ability templates provided. Although there are statblocks provided for level 1, 4, 7, 10, 13, 16, and 19 characters (adjustable, again, to any level 1-20), each of those level benchmarks gets about 4 sample characters. That is far too few to exhaust the potential here. Sorcerers, for example, are categorized by 8 different bloodline/spell traditions: draconic, imperial, angelic, demonic, elemental, fey, shadow, or aberrant. Thus, the sample level 1 Sorcerer statblocks are: Draconic Novice, Angelic Novice, Elemental Novice, and Shadowy Novice. 

Notice that this leaves half of the 8 available bloodlines unused for the Level 1 Sorcerer statblocks; the rest of them do get used, but across later levels. This is not necessarily a problem, but it did raise two issues of note.  First, it sometimes took me longer than I'd like to figure out just which options a given level range was presenting. For the sorcerers, the use of named bloodlines made things pretty clear, pretty quickly. That's not so for all of the classes. Here are the four Level 1 wizard statblock options: Curious Apprentice, Incompetent Apprentice, Astute Apprentice, and Capable Apprentice. Why? Well, a closer look reveals that these four are also practitioners of, in order, Abjuration, Conjuration, Divination, and Enchantment. Great ... so why is the Conjurer incompetent, and the Enchanter capable? I have no idea.  Apart from the different pre-selected spell selections, their statblocks are almost identical; "Mr. Incompetent" actually has a slightly higher AC, whereas "Mr. Capable" has +2 more points on his Reflex save. There seems to be a serious misfit between some of the names chosen for statblocks and the actual content of those statblocks. This problem plagued me elsewhere, too. The Cleric statblocks are distinguished mechanically by their Doctrines (Cloistered vs. Warpriest Clerics), Fonts (Harm vs. Heal), and various Domains. Their statblocks are named, however, after the various deities of Golarion, PF2e's official setting. Thus, at Level 1, we have Acolytes of Nethys, Urgathoa, Chamidu, and Calistria. Sweet. Except ... I don't use most of those figures in my homebrew setting, and I'm not very familiar with the canonical gods of PF2e's setting - making these titles a little bit of a roadblock for me (I recognize that many PF2e fans won't have this hindrance). My point, though, is that some kind of naming convention that pointed more quickly to the actual mechanical differences would help. The issue is present in the Warriors volume, as well. Quick, can anyone tell me about the expected mechanical differences among the Mean Thug, Spiteful Thug, Heaving Thug, and Irate Thug? (These Level 1 Barbarians can all Rage, of course). In actual practice, it just takes a moment to glance through a statblock to see which domain, bloodline, school of magic, or mix of special abilities has been assigned to it - but saving me that extra moment with more communicative titles would have been even better! 

The other issue with the mix of statblocks is that - as noted above - there will be cases when you want (say) a Level 5 Draconic Sorcerer, but the pre-made statblocks of the appropriate level (4, with an Elite adjustment) only offer Imperial, Demonic, Feylike, or Aberrant Sorcerers. In these cases, you're going to need to do a little reverse-engineering to get what you want. The good news is that -- as far as I can tell -- this works pretty well. So long as you understand the basic logic of each class statblock (such as whether a cleric is a Cloistered or Warpriest NPC, for example) then you should be able to grab a suitable statblock of the appropriate level, remove the non-standard special abilities and/or spell-list that you don't want, and just plug in the details from the sub-class you were looking for. I'll give you an actual example from my own prep. I needed to stat up a significantly higher-level, ambiguous patron-and-possible-enemy-someday magic user to interact with my Level 5 PCs. I figured that around Level 12 would be appropriate for now (they'll need a few levels if they want to dream of 'solving' him in combat). One simple option = take the Level 13 "Astute Highmage" statblock (a Diviner), add Human ancestry features, and then apply a Weak template to reduce the NPC from 13 to Level 12. Done, and quickly! But I sort of had my eye set on the Imperial Sorcerer bloodline, which would fit this character's background well. But the Level 13s didn't offer me an Imperial. To handle this, I could instead: 

Pick (say) the "Angelic Theurgist" Level 13 Sorcerer...
Add Human ancestry template features...
Swap out the statblock's spell-list for the spells and cantrips provided on p. 70, describing the Imperial bloodline spells...
and, finally, use the Weak adjustments to drop my man down to Level 12. Done!

So this is not so bad! But it took me a little bit of working with the NPC Index to realize that I had this option at my fingertips. It's particularly important to take each class on its own terms, get to know how it's working in this supplement, and then proceed accordingly. At first, I got kind of confused and worried, but playing around with different options for NPCs turns out to be really feasible here. 

This is nice. 


On the whole, these supplements are visually appealing. There's often a lot of content crammed onto each page, but this is a utility tool to support play, not armchair reading. The .pdfs use spreads and are well-bookmarked. In general, the layout of the pages keeps things together, but you do occasionally have to flip over to a new spread to finish reading something. One unfortunate layout bug caused problems for me. The abilities for the Catfolk Ancestry Template are spread across pages 7-8, but in such a way - due to placement of art, columns, and section breaks -- that the Catfolk entry appears just to end prematurely before "Halfling" starts on the next column (when, in fact, "Halfling" and "Human" are part of the previous section. The rest of "Catfolk" is a page-flip over, on the next spread, but two times so far I've missed this and wondered whether the Level 13+ ability was missing. I think that flipping the position of the art on this page, so that the broken text in "Catfolk" would occur right at the end of the spread in the bottom-right corner, would have been much more intuitive for readers to follow. 

As this image shows, the pages in the indices can be very colorful and, well, characterful! The art throughout is a mix of what I believe are stock Pathfinder character and monster portraits. I think these 'come with the territory' for Pathfinder Infinite productions, but they look fine and tie the product visually into the overall PF2e product line. But, additionally, each class section opens with a full-page, full-color portrait in a different style. Here's one: 

I'm not certain, but I think these may be AI-produced art (they're certainly computer-something-or-other art), but I have to say that I really like most of them! They add a certain vibrancy, whimsy, and mystery to the presentation. For a third-party supplement meant to improve play, then, I think these products look great overall. 

The text ... did distract me with a number of typos. These generally do not hinder comprehension, but they occurred juuuuust often enough to be a little distracting. Some examples: 

"TIELFING" instead of Tiefling
"Warpriests can mnake"
"Gnomes and Spites are very strongly tied to Fey" (Sprites...)
BESERKER (instead of Berserker)

Not the end of the world! But if there's ever an update or follow-up on these - and/or before going to POD, which I think fully deserves to happen - it would be good to clean this stuff up. 


Overall, then, NPC Index: Warriors and NPC Index: Spellcasters are two very useful resources for anyone who wants to run PF2e, without relying entirely on the pre-made characters in Adventure Paths. If you want to convert something else to PF2e, or come up with your own content (so long as it involves NPCs, and not just monsters!), then these guides should prove quite helpful. They make it easy to grab thousands of possible NPCs, with a wide range of possible ancestry backgrounds and distinct, meaningful mechanical differentiation. 

The books could be a little bit cleaner and tighter here or there, and it took me a little time for orientation before I realized how to get the most of the resources here. But that time was well-spent. Last weekend, my party had a near-confrontation with a troublesome barbarian prince who -- although low-level -- thinks the local community needs him and his drunken men around for protection. A fight almost broke out. If blows had been traded and initiative rolled, I would have been ready - because NPC Index: Warriors lets me grab one statblock from p. 41, add a Human Ancestry template - and start fighting. That's helpful.