This is a review of The Malady Codex: The Guide to Diseases by Jason Bakos & Themis Paraskevas. In this instance, the title says it all! This product, which was published on October 27 2018, is a guide to using diseases in a more narrative way in your campaign. It also presents a range of new diseases which can be implemented into your games and range from wizard created biological weapons to beholder infused fungus. Currently the product sells for $2.95 and is a platinum best seller, thanks in part to a Comicbook article.
Design – 4/5
The design of these diseases is good. Each has a clear method of diagnosis and cure, and a well presented list of effects. Some of these effects are progressive and interactive, but the authors have done a good job ensuring that their design intent is clear when communicating these. In some instances, they have included separate tables to streamline this process even more.
My only hangup in terms of design is the ease with which some of these diseases can be cured. This is one of the major issues with using diseases in a D&D campaign; restoration, Lay on Hands and similar effects are available to low level characters, and can easily remove most diseases. While this has been removed as an option for some of the diseases, the alternatives provided are not always more interesting (requiring a higher level spell or example). Instances where the authors have addressed this for the better are where narrative cures must be sought out.
Overall, the mechanical design of the diseases is interesting. There are new mechanics which are based on the diseases in a narrative way, which should keep your players interested in them, and allow them to be a story line rather than an annoyance.
Writing – 5/5
The majority of this supplement is extremely well written. There is a good balanced between lore and descriptive text as well as mechanical text, and we even get some read aloud and first person descriptions. This changing of style is easy to follow, and makes reading the supplement interesting, even if you don’t think you’ll find use for it in your games.
Where the writing is let down is simply in some sentence structuring. I am a stickler for mimicking the mechanical language of WotC publications and in some instances the authors deviate from this style.
Despite this minor discrepancy, the writing is both easy to understand and evocative. You should have absolutely no trouble understanding the authors intentions from their text, and reading the unique origins for the diseases is great fun, and will fill your head with plot ideas!
Production – 4/5
The layout and use of artwork in the supplement is superb. The style is somewhat similar to that of published WotC products, and makes good use of the free colour stock art provided by the DMsGuild. The cover is unique and eye-catching, and is the work of Anthony DePietro.
Use of headings, sidebars and read aloud boxes help to split up large portions of text, although it is not always clear what information a box will contain based solely upon its appearance and colour. This and the lack of custom, commissioned artwork (which is becoming more and more popular on the DMsGuild) is the only thing holding the supplement back from a 5/5 score.
Overall – 4.5/5
If you’re thinking about using diseases in your campaign, or if the idea even mildly interests you, then I would highly recommend this supplement. The authors have done a superb job of putting together and interesting and useful product which should help you use disease in a narrative and challenging way. They have expanded on the somewhat lacklustre WotC rules for diseases to make some truly lethal maladies that are sure to be memorable at your table!
(NOTE: The ISTD (interspecies sexually transmitted disease) is not suitable for all tables, and not something I would use at my own. I have chosen not to count this against the rating of the product, as it might appeal to some tables, but I would have chosen to omit it.)