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Reviews - Character Codex
 
by Lee Valentine


Character Codex coverCharacter Codex
Published by Goodman Games
Designed by Harley Stroh
Cover art by William O'Connor
16 page grayscale booklet
$4.99 (print/PDF)

The Character Codex is a new character record and journal published by Goodman Games and compatible with Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition (4E). It is available in both print and PDF formats.

The print product is a 16-page grayscale booklet, saddle-stitched, with a gloss color cover. The attractive cover features a picture of a heavily armed and armored archer shooting at a dragon off in the distance. Reminiscent of the school workbooks of your childhood, there's a place along the bottom of the front cover for you to take a marker and write down your character's name. However, you'll need a Sharpie brand marker for that due to the glossy cover.

Inside the front and back cover are 4E-compatible summary tables of weapons and armor data for quick reference. The body of the booklet features a blank character sheet and a variety of forms that a player can use to jot down quick notes about his adventures.

Character Sheet Comments
The character sheet itself takes up 3.5 pages, so there's a lot of space to note down all the basics. The sheet is mostly simple shapes, boxes, and lines, lacking any fantasy graphics or other ornamentation.

The character sheet seems inspired by the Wizards of the Coast 4E character sheet from the new Player's Handbook. (see my PHB 4e review) As such, it seems to share some of the flaws of that sheet. First, there's no place near the armor class section to note down what type of armor you have and how much your character's shield contributes to his armor class. While there is a so-called "Attack Workspace" to help you calculate your attacks, it's only one line long. There's a lot of space for "Basic Attacks" in spite of the fact that most characters have only 1-2 "Basic Attacks" and everything else is a special attack. There is a lot of space to jot down weapons, but it's largely a blank page with a few columns. I think I would have preferred to see a larger Weapons section in the "Workspace" format to help me double-check my math for all my character's weapons.

I had three more complaints about the character sheet. First, there's no area to help me keep track of my ammunition for ranged weapons. Second, the powers sections were not well thought out, in that some of the powers are on the bottom left of the front of the sheet, and then other powers (like Rituals, Racial Features, and Destinies) are on the bottom of the second sheet. I think I would have liked all the powers on one side of one page so that I can quickly assess all my options at all times for the current scenario. My last complaint is that there was no blank space for new 4th edition power blocks to let me write down summaries for all my powers.

Other Forms
In addition to the three-and-a-half page character sheet, there's a half page dedicated for short summaries of your character's "Comrades-in-Arms" (presumably henchmen, sidekicks, etc.). Even though 4E doesn't currently provide rules for such things, I felt it was a potentially handy place to note down a thumbnail sketch for NPCs in your character's back-story.

Next comes a full page History page. It's a three column layout with places for a year, an event name, and the basic effects of the event. A little freeform, but some players may take advantage of it.

Another page is subdivided into Allies/Contacts, Enemies/Foes, and Family/Clan History. Again, it's just lined off areas with no further details, but I could see players scribbling down names of people they meet or fight. DM's would need much more information than the space provides for their NPC notes, but players often seem to get by with jotting down a name and a location for their contacts. So this seems acceptable, though not particularly ingenious for a player character record.

There is also a full-page form for level-by-level character advancement. Should you either want to plan out your characters advancement or should you want to track it, this would be the place to do it. Overall, I felt this would have been useful in earlier editions that had level drains that could devolve your character. In 4E, however, there's not much reason for this to be immediately available, and it feels like a wasted page.

The Character Codex contains two blank pages for maps. The first is a square grid map for your character's Stronghold/Hideout. The second page is a hex grid map sheet to draw a map of the region your adventurer calls his current home. I like this idea a lot. I think every player should have a map of the countryside his character adventures in most frequently so he's not always asking the DM, "so where are we again?"

A half page of the codex is more scratch space to note down the names of key cities and important NPCs and their locations. I would have liked this facing the regional map page so that the information could be easily cross-referenced, but alas, this is on the back of the regional map. There's another half page with the label "Legends & Lore" that's got a bunch of blank lines to fill out any way you want.

Four pages are dedicated as an adventure journal, with space for notes on 16 separate adventures. This is really aimed at dungeon crawl campaigns. Rather than "People met" and "Things we talked about", this focuses on "Treasure Gained" and "Monsters Defeated". Each adventure journal entry has a small space to scribble down a few notes if you want.

The last page the player has for real annotations is the "House Rules" page. It's merely a page divided into three columns with line guides for handwritten notes. I can't imagine anyone wanting to write out house rules by hand, so again this seemed like a waste of space to me.

The final page of the booklet contains a half a page card to be photocopied onto card stock and turned into a character place card with large spaces for all his key Saves and other values. This is to be aimed toward your GM so that he can glance at the card and quickly find the data he wants without forever asking you what your character's Will Defense is. I'm not certain that the place card is big enough for that purpose, but it's a great idea even if you have to enlarge it on a photocopier.

OGL Not GSL
The last half page of the Character Codex is dedicated to the Open Gaming License (OGL). While Goodman Games intends to support WotC's Game System License (GSL), they wanted to release this product earlier than allowed under the GSL, and so this booklet was designed instead as an OGL product. [For more on the Goodman Games 4e plan, check out this episode of the OgreCave Audio Report]

Annoyingly, Goodman Games put standard legal boilerplate from their adventure modules into the Product Identity and Open Game Content designations of this product. The boilerplate doesn't readily apply to a product like this, making it less than wholly obvious to me which parts of the selection and organization of the document's elements are available for re-use by other publishers.

Conclusions
Overall, I liked this product. I think it's a more useful product than Goodman Games' DM Campaign Record. It has a nice price too: $4.99. The booklet as a whole has gray pages with black print on top of them, and I would have liked black print on white pages, in case I wanted to photocopy a specific page for personal use. Gray pages are also harder to read light pencil writing on.

The lack of space for writing out powers blocks really prevents this product from being a means to carry all your character information between two covers, as it was intended to be. For players who feel they might want to use this product for multiple characters or who feel they might need more space to elaborate than what was provided, the product is also available in PDF format from RPGNow.com at the same price.

While many gamers will continue to be happy with WotC character sheets photocopied from their Player's Handbook and a handful of loose leaf note pages, gamers who don't need or want 4E powers cards of some kind in their character record will probably enjoy the Character Codex.

Still, this is going to be a good, reasonably useful purchase for a lot of D&D players.

For Retailers
Retailers will find that this product is priced right at $4.99 for an impulse buy. Unfortunately, since this product was produced without the branding benefits of the d20 License or the GSL, there's no Dungeons & Dragons logo on the front cover (or anything of the like). There is a note on the back that it is "Compatible with the fourth edition of the world's most popular role playing game", but that won't help quick visual brand recognition among gamers walking through your store. You are best off displaying this face out (spine out the booklet will become invisible on your shelves). Put it right next to your Player's Handbook stack or the next to the Wizards of the Coast 4E Character Sheet package, and you should make some sales of this product (perhaps, though, at the cost of competing directly with the Wizards of the Coast character sheet products). As soon as you try to shelve this product spine out, you'll generally only make sales to people who already know about the product's existence.

Lee's Ratings:

Overall: B
Appearance: B+
Utility: B (maybe higher if you don't need/want power cards)

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