Pathfinder Chronicles – Greatest Hits

Let’s face it: the best and the worst part about Pathfinder is that Paizo made it subscription based. While we get monthly book updates, keeping up with them is a real pain in the ass, especially when there’s so much good material out there. The Pathfinder market is flooded with official product, and I have to wonder about reprints or collections once existing stocks disappear.

The 3.5 run of Pathfinder Chronicles supplements—the ones in the drab tan and brown covers, starting with Classic Monsters Revisited—were very slick, though there were a few stinkers. (The Gazetteer was just a cheaper, shortened version of the Inner Sea Campaign Setting, and Dragons Revisited did nothing for me.)  Somehow Paizo managed to outdo themselves. With the changeover from 3.5, the books have really taken off; their full-cover art is mindblowing, and their sixty-four pages have been crammed with awesome. The Pathfinder line has continued to pick up steam, with a few bumps here and there (cough NPC Guide cough), and Paizo shows no sign of slowing down.

Note that all the Pathfinder Chronicles books are 64-page softcovers, and cost $19.99 for hard copies and $13.99 for a .pdf download.

Seekers of Secrets

Seekers, the first book devoted exclusively to the line’s titular Pathfinder Society, Seekers offers a wealth of information. The book is packed with fluff, helping to shape the Pathfinders… many pages have short bios of known Pathfinders in bottom-page sidebars (bottombars?). That’s just one example of how the book fleshes out the Pathfinders as a living society.

Chapter One gives a broad yet interesting look at the Society, including goals, handling a party of Pathfinders, and a list of Pathfinder lodges around the Inner Sea. (This was where I first noticed Paizo’s weird continuity; in my Legacy of Fire game, we looked up the lodges in Katapesh in the various supplements, only to find the ones listed elsewhere weren’t even mentioned in Seekers of Secrets.) The hints for GMs is helpful, the catalog of lodges moreso; it adds some good flavor to games. The rules and duties make the Pathfinders feel more like a real guild, with a sense of boundaries; at the same time, the book spends a little time (not probably enough) on groups of rogue Pathfinders abusing their privileges in their relic-hunting. On top of that, there’s a few feats and spells, all fairly specialized; the best is the feat Boon Companion, which factors your animal companion/familiar as if you were four character levels higher.

Chapter Two goes over the “best-known lodges” in Golarion; needless to say the Grand Lodge in Absalom gets prime real-estate here, along with a hot map. The other mapped lodge is Heidmarch Manor in Varisia, probably less interesting than the Grand Lodge but with its own share of adventure hooks resting in its layout. (Case in point: the Thassilionian House.) The rest of the lodges, of which there are about a dozen, get a paragraph or two each. Much like the list of lodges and regional leaders in Chapter One, it does a good job laying the groundwork and adding flavor to a game. The level of detail on Heidmarch Manor and the Grand Lodge is impressive, given that they have about three pages apiece.

The book so far has been mostly fluff; Chapter Three changes all that. There’s a short list of common issues of the Pathfinder Chronicles, giving a good feel for them by including quick summaries of the contents. They’re a cross between pulp adventure novels and travel fiction, which is pretty interesting. After that, there’s a short selection of alchemical devices and equipment of the utilitarian variety, which would be a little underwhelming except for one factor: Ioun stones. There’s a huge selection on Ioun stones, the various types, how they interact with Wayfinders, details for creating them ala magic items, and the bonuses they provide when slotted in a Wayfinder. There’s even three new Wayfinder types, which are interesting, but trade off the slotted Ioun stone’s power for another set.

After some artifact/relic-esque items, we’re into the three 10-level prestige classes. Paizo has been cutting down on the prestige class bandwagon, and like most of their entries, these are heavy on flavor. The Delver is like Indiana Jones in Raiders, getting Bardic Knowledge, trap disabling/avoidance abilities, and a nice class ability, “Thrilling Escape,” to replicate the boulder-trap opening of Raiders (traps delay for a bit after being triggered). The Savant is an arcane spellcaster good at using unknown magic devices, understanding glyphs and sigils, can silently use command words and spell triggers, and ends up able to spontaneously cast dispel magic. Last is the Student of War, who gets their choice of minor bonuses for analyzing enemies, which grows during advancement to 10th level, when the Student can make the analysis check to ignore DR and immunities, including immunities to criticals and sneak attacks.

For anyone running a game using the Pathfinder Society, or playing a Pathfinder PC, this book is necessary; the crunch is solid, if razor-focused, but there’s enough material in here to make it work. If you’re not dealing with the Pathfinders, or even Eberron’s Wayfinders, the book has sadly little to offer other than the amazing section on Ioun stones. But seriously now: who’s running a Pathfinder game without Pathfinders? This book is loving necessary.

Cities of Golarion

I’m a huge fan of city systems and city books, so this was a no-brainer for me to pick up. I can see why people might balk at it, though: besides Ilizmagorti, the haven of the Red Mantis, none of the cities in here are particularly famous yet. I bought it anyways, (and besides, always liked the Red Mantis material,) and was pleasantly surprised.

The cities themselves are great examples of “the Golarion street,” as it were, showing the broad feel about life in Golarion through six major cities. Each of them has a distinctive feel, and would make for fascinating places to set adventures, especially as they’ve been avoided in adventures and adventure paths. These would be as follows.

  • Cassomir, the port nucleus of Taldor’s navy.
  • Corentyn, in Cheliax, famous for its Nine Forts, built on the ruins of war and on the backs of the slave trade.
  • Ilizmagorti, pirate haven and base of the Red Mantis. Think Mos Eisley turned to eleven.
  • Nisroch, gloomy port city of shadow and bone, ruled by the priests of Zon-Kuthon.
  • Vigil, bastion of hope and joy, manning the Last Wall to defend the world from the tomb of an ancient and evil lich.
  • Whitethrone, in the snow-swept north, built by the descendants of Baba Yaga and home to many frozen monsters like ice trolls and winter wolves.

Let’s be clear about this: Cities of Golarion isn’t Ptolus. (Then again, Ptolus itself didn’t exactly turn out to have the “history of Bob the beggar on the corner of Alewife and Cutter streets” that my friends mocked it as.) There’s a limited amount of material you can cram into a 64-page book, so it mostly gives broad overviews of city sections and single paragraphs about city landmarks like temples, pubs, castles, and other adventurer locales. There’s also a section on internal and foreign relations, a brief section on the city’s appearance, and a short history section. It’s also worth noting that all the cities are located on large bodies of water, either as ports or on rivers, which is a nice realistic note: major cities spring up along good transportation lines, and in a fantasy age, oceans and waterways are the superhighways of the day.

All of the towns feel well rounded: they’re natural, developed, and full of adventure potential. They contain just the right balance of detail to allow a GM to add things in, giving the framework and some starter freebies to help flesh the cities out. Plus, each city comes with another of Rob Lazzaretti’s awesome maps. It’s easy to imagine PCs resting in the inns and taverns mentioned to deal with threats just outside these city walls. While not a critical buy, Cities of Golarion is a solid book, great for generating adventure settings and ideas. I highly recommended it.

Faction Guide

Of the 3.5 material Wizards put out that isn’t in Pathfinder, our group bemoaned the lack of only two. The first was psionics. The second was the affiliation rules from the PHBII, offering benefits from sticking in an organization and gaining rank. When I saw the Faction Guide announced on Paizo’s website, my hope was that it would do something along the lines of what the PHBII did. Instead, it blew it out of the water, offering a slickly cut-down set of rules for rewards and benefits from organizations.

The Faction Guide introduces Prestige Awards (PA), points characters can gain from fulfilling duties, following an agenda, or simply paralleling the goals of an organization. PA comes in two forms, Total PA (TPA) and Current PA (CPA), the first reflecting your overall status in the group, while the second equates the favors and influence you can currently muster. It works much like hit points, TPA is the total gained during a character’s lifetime, a benchmark of sorts, while CPA is the currently-available “resource pool” of faction-supplied assets the character can spend from.

PA awards vary by group; in some cases, you can get a rank or title based on your TPA, while in most cases you spend your CPA to get various bonuses. In general, you can spend CPA for things like potions, +1 weapons, travel fares, groups of henchmen such as mounts or craftsmen or bodyguards, and spells cast on your character. Each of the twenty-four factions in the book offers a number of resources related to the group; for example, a Hellknight PC with 5 TPA can spend 1 CPA to gain the rank of Armiger, while an Eagle Knight PC with 5 TPA can spend 5 CPA to get diplomatic privileges, giving +2 bonuses with various skill checks. The costs continue to rise, offering the characters more resources or favors as they rise in rank, to True Resurrection at 77 CPA.

And the twenty-four factions are all amazingly useful. Obvious choices include the aforementioned Hellknights and Eagle Knights, but also the Pathfinders, Red Mantis, Aspis Consortium, and Shackles Pirates. Other groups mentioned infrequently also appear, such as the Bellflower Network, the Mendev Crusaders, the Varisian Wanderers, and the Green Faith. Some of the entries were a surprise: take the Lovecraftian-esque Old Cults, devoted to rising ancient and terrible creatures from beyond time and space. The Kusuri-Gama martial-arts group of warrior-monks is a nice Tian Xia touch. And there’s a nice catch-all “Religious Factions” since there’s insufficient space for each deity to have a group. All of them come with roleplaying notes, as well as agendas, to give ideas on what goals and actions would raise influence (e.g. PA) with the group. Quite a few new feats and spells are introduced in the appendix, most of them closely related to a single faction.

All in all, the book is amazing. The PA system is clear and simple, and fairly easy to understand, while offering PCs a nice assortment of benefits. The benefits are actually damn helpful at points, even at low levels… at 1 TPA the Arcanamirium gives you a circumstance bonus to researching spells, and the ability to record any “common” spell, when working in the Arcanamirium library. And it’s not just the big name organizations which rock out, they all do. Because of its sheer range of utility, the Faction Guide is one of the most necessary books in the Pathfinder library to date.

Heart of the Jungle

All of the Pathfinder location books are great resources, but this is one of the best. Heart of the Jungle, dealing with the Mwangi Expanse, is very well rounded despite covering a lot of ideas, as well as ground.

Chapter One starts us off on hazards, and includes a ton of them. There’s a new poison, as well as a veritable host of diseases, and natural hazards such as heat exhaustion, flash-floods, lack of potable water, and quicksand. The diseases are solid, including some fantasy ones in with malaria and dysentery; my only problem is since remove disease is such a low-level spell, disease isn’t much of a threat after fifth level. The rest of the chapter deals with the many indigenous races, from the many human (and humanoid) tribes down to vegepygmies; each tribe or race gets a paragraph or so, and gives a good overview of how these denizens life in the Expanse. There’s a page about village life with a sample village map, and a section about the various religions of the primitive natives; both these sections are small, but give a good general idea about native life in the region.

Chapter Two details running a game in the jungle. Early sections include the now-standard “type of game” list of adventure archetypes. Most of Chapter Two goes deeper into the geography of the region, and Chapter Three details the ruins and lost kingdoms of the Expanse. There are twenty or so locales listed here, including cities, ruins, and other points of interest spread throughout the Expanse. All of them do what locales do best: they’re great ideas for a GM to mull over until they become a game. Take the Aerie of Bloodletting Songs, a burial-ground plateau used by long-gone demon worshippers, which warped and scarred both landscape and the wildlife. And how about the Doorway to the Red Star, a strange link to the Red Planet Akiton, known as a means of communication and rumored to be a doorway to the planet. The adventure locations are amazing, and like always, Paizo paints the world in broad strokes, making it easy for a GM to adapt, integrate, or modify setting material into their own campaign.

Oddly, this is the only book in the list here with a Bestiary section, and it’s kind of skimpy. The high girallon is an advanced girallon shaman, with spellcasting. Awesome, but I don’t remember Mighty Joe Young casting Dimension Door, or King Kong dropping a Dominate spell (other way around really). The botfly and botfly swarm are kinda cool, if you can get over being disgusted by them; these insects plant larvae in victims, which acts like disease, upping the disease count of the book again. There’s a Mwangi treant that doesn’t get a description since its page is filled by crunch. And while I know hippos are deadlier than most African carnivores combined, it’s not exactly what people plan on dropping Fireballs on. While the monsters are mostly underwhelming, there’s also an extensive random encounters section with two pages of charts, including plenty of dinosaurs and shoggoths as the high-end 100 on most of the lists.

Despite the bestiary feeling tepid, the rest of the book is more amazing than I can describe it. The Mwangi Expanse is a strange and alien land to most on Golarion, full of lost empires and ruined civilizations, making it a perfect target for a Pathfinder game. Some of the best GameMastery adventures were set in Mwangi: River Into Darkness and Crucible of Chaos. Heart of the Jungle gives plenty of environmental hazards for braving the jungle, as well as plenty of reasons to do so with its extensive geography and adventure locales.

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