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Impossible, Imperfect - but mostly, a lot of great Golarion flavorkeftiu —
It was always going to be tough following up the incredible called shot that was Lost Omens: The Mwangi Expanse, but in continuing 2e's admirable decision of looking beyond faux-Europe for adventuring locales, the Impossible Lands delivers a lot of delicious flavor - marred by a few disorienting hiccups.
I want to be clear: this book has a TON to love. The art is consistently gorgeous, perhaps the best yet in the Lost Omens line, really underscoring the bizarre supernatural and vibrant cultural influences on the regions featured. People consistently look great, even when those people are gnolls, mutants, and bright blue giants. The lore is endlessly evocative, and in a variety you can't find anywhere but Golarion: fleshwarped activists forge solidarity with a living lake of ooze, snake-headed monks seek the counsel of wandering judges and openly-acting fiends, liches work as affable foreign diplomats, massive crystals forge a magical oasis in a blasted wasteland... Tolkien, this certainly isn't, and I'm grateful for it. You can do noir in these settings, or tense Cold War espionage, or Mad Max wasteland gonzo, or a high-flying martial arts fantasy, or a dozen other wild concepts, and it all works! Even Dwarves and Halflings get to be interesting, with unique local ethnicities that have some killer hooks (renegade dwarven necromancer-spies!!) for PCs.
But there's a sense of disunity in places that proves a little frustrating. Nagaji are noted as "overwhelmingly" following Nalinivati, while the Nagaji detailed in Prada Hanam are non-traditional and follow Obari; neither deity makes it into the Religion section, while Ravithra (who the Nagaji section notes they largely believe is above mortal adherents) gets a full-page profile. The Vudrani peoples and their traditional castes are never clearly profiled despite their prominence in Jalmeray, and the Sunghari, their ancient colonial victims, likewise aren't given the tools they need to really be represented as characters. Alkenstar's surrounded by faux-African, Middle Eastern, and South Asian aesthetics, yet everyone's dressed like Victorian attire, and the Mana Wastes host wizard gangs with inexplicably Spanish names. Abraxas, a demon lord who openly operates in Nex, goes surprisingly under-detailed, as does the famous Conservatory (a school for psychic spies in Jalmeray long hinted at across 1e). Shisks and Wyvarans, both noted to live in the Shattered Range in prior books, aren't mentioned. Ysoki are promoted to being a common Ancestry, yet get almost no detail - and the Ancestry Guide doesn't detail the Ysoki of the Impossible Lands! The Introduction mentions connections to other planets, an idea never again touched in the book.
Where the Mwangi book felt deeply cohesive and intentional, this book slightly feels like parts of it were made in isolation. It feels like a clever note when it presents the Rakshasa castes and says they're meant to delegitimize Vudrani castes, except those castes aren't described here. We're told of the apparent hypocrisy of the Curse Shepherds, and the organized resistance that seeks to root out their true nature - the Shepherds themselves don't get enough wordcount, and their alleged true nature goes unsaid, the motivation for their fervent fear of curses unexplained.
I'm very happy to have this book; it's a gorgeous work, full of lore and mechanical options I want! Nagaji have instantly shot to the top 5 of my favorite Ancestries in the game, and I have friends who adore the other options given here. Garund continues to shine as an example of how much more non-European fantasy can be than tired, hateful stereotypes, and only makes me even more eager to see places further afield get their time in the sun. Don't let my nitpicks hold you back from a buy here - blame the standard of incredible work the PF2 team has set for themselves, and know that even their 4/5 work blows the competition's best out of the water.
Pathfinder Society Scenario #4-05: The Arclord Who Never WasPaizo Inc.
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A cute trip around the friendlier side of Quantiumkeftiu —
The Impossible Lands have gone sorely under-utilized across much of Pathfinder's history, but between this scenario and the imminent Lost Omens release, that's finally being fixed. 'The Arclord Who Never Was' features a vision of Nex's capital city that leans much harder on wonder than we've seen before; much existing material would have you believe the entire nation is populated entirely by assassins and cackling warlocks, but that's almost nowhere to be seen here. I love a lot of the local flavor, but the dissonance with what's come before was a little surprising - I'd certainly imagined Nex as being closer to the Cheliax and Nidal end of the scale, but #4-05 makes it seem quite lovely.
In this module, the Pathfinders are dispatched to carry an amnesiac talking skull around Quantium's streets, trying to jog her memory - the Society believes she's an Arclord, but has little else to go off of. Mechanically, this entails hitting six locations and rolling various skills at each one; what precisely you're doing with these skills was a little vague, and I would've appreciated more here. Each locale comes with a joke, pun, or prank that the skull attempts - some might like this, but I found it a little grating.
Following this, there's a narrative fork (you can do both tasks in either order, but one seems much more plausible and basically assumed) involving two potential allies - but befriending the one you're much more likely to meet first makes befriending the one likely to come later harder. I don't really understand this choice, especially when the reasoning (the first group has a very specific bias that isn't elaborated on enough here to make a ton of sense) feels a little shaky.
Simple to run and much more light-hearted than any murderous dungeon-delving, this is a comedic scenario that rewards roleplay and acts as a fun (if all too brief) tour of a place Pathfinder has so far ignored. I think folks will like this one!
brief note on flavor:
The variety of Ancestries on display really helps this one sell the flavor of the Impossible Lands: an Oread with some really striking art appears, as does a friendly Girtablilu musician, and the note that many of Nex's inhabitants are planar beings. I enjoy that we see an Arclord-founded school for students of 'monstrous' peoples, even if a Chaotic Good, diversity-focused Arclord is something I never would've considered before cracking this one open.
Pathfinder Adventure Path #183: Field of Maidens (Blood Lords 3 of 6)Paizo Inc.
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Give me more Holomog!keftiu —
Anything that reaches beyond the borders of the Inner Sea is incredibly exciting to me, and this book gives us fascinating insights into an ancient celestial-backed monarchy where things are not as utopian as they might prefer to be. Super cool stuff supporting a very fun adventure; I can’t wait to see more of Southern Garund!
Absolutely killerkeftiu —
An incredibly well done jaunt into an obscure Tian nation without coming across like a safari. I’m smitten with this adventure, which casts the PCs as kingmakers in a naga gang war over who will rule a small trade town. Both sides are flawed - the traditionalist is young, inexperienced, and one of her few allies is Lawful Evil, while the reformer is openly motivated by naked profit - and each had a cool mercenary champion leading their forces. This scenario is exceptional!
Imperfect, but funkeftiu —
The website ate a much longer review, so to be brief:
This book adds considerable depth to a faction I wasn't originally interested in, enough so that I'd now gladly play a character from them or an AP surrounding the group. The order's allies all beg to be played as, which is a huge success. All of the new deities are great.
But other parts of it are something of a letdown. The art quality is much more variable than I'm used to in PF2, especially in the deities chapter. The queer representation feels a little messy in places, with more attention paid to characters' genders than much else about them and a significant emphasis placed on the Knights as a safe space for queer characters - at least for this trans lesbian, I felt a little frustrated with how shallow and fixated-on this element felt. A deeply compelling plot hook from the Character Guide, the presence of undead within the ranks protected by a divine force who sees their penitence, is utterly missing here.
The book is solid, and made me care enough to welcome a Knights of Lastwall AP some day, but it falls a little short of the other highs in the Lost Omens line for me. YMMV.
One of the best in the cataloguekeftiu —
I finally got around to buying my own copy today, but I've loved this book since release! Giving some oddball Ancestries a chance to shine (my beloved Androids!) with not only interesting rules, but phenomenal writeups of their varied ethnic groups and cultures. I'd gladly buy a second Ancestry Guide if it hit on some of my more esoteric favs - Lashunta, Minotaurs, Wyrwoods - with similar care here.
I can't praise the art enough, either.
Lots of phenomenal stuffkeftiu —
The Psychic was one of two classes I most wanted back in 2e, and so I'm delighted that it's not only here so soon, but that it's far and away my favorite caster class in the game! The amount of room for customization in it (and its fellow, the Thaumaturge) are an absolute blast, showing a clear step forward in class design. I can only hope the eventual Inquisitor and Shaman revisits are similarly excellent.
Everything else is a lot of fun. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention how exciting the Arcadian and Tian casefiles are.
Brilliant - can't wait for more!keftiu —
This scenario is a treat. I love the repeatable elements, and the Arcadian setting comes through in a couple great ways despite the relatively short pagecount. I'd love to play or run this, and eagerly anticipate more adventures in Arcadia to follow!
A surprising treat for lore nerdskeftiu —
Full disclosure: I'm into Pathfinder much more for the lore than I am the mechanics.
That's why this was a book I initially had no interest in; while I like guns in fantasy a great deal, I expected this to mostly be a big bunch of rules and equipment that I wouldn't think twice about, and definitely didn't need to buy myself. Guns & Gears is not this book; flavor is baked into every bit of the text, grounding it firmly in Golarion and making these technologies feel like they demand to be the star of your next story.
The three section format works remarkably well, and I'd love to see it adopted for other releases going forward where applicable. I don't have a ton to say here; the new classes and archetypes are fun, I'm very fond of the new Ancestry and Backgrounds, and nothing seems egregiously broken. Guns are a smidge weaker than I would prefer them, but I trust the mechanical chops of others over my own.
The final chapter, on setting information, is a joy to read. We get a surprisingly international look at the flow of technology across Golarion, and how it's framed varies greatly from region to region, something I enjoyed a great deal. I was pleasantly surprised by how compelling all the weird Ustalav inventions are; the mad science-horror vibe is absolutely nailed.
The star of the show for me is the gazetteer of the Deadshot Lands, our first broad overview of a region in Arcadia larger than a single city or nation, and it shines; I didn't realize how much I wanted an indigenous steampunk western with ancient ruins and a demonic bird-person theocracy, and now I can't get it out of my head. The threat of a posse of outlaws led by a tombstone-toting giant necromancers is a standout here. I'm delighted to finally see a full, partially-labeled map of Arcadia - now give us the details!
Of some small note: there's a pair of pretty egregious art errors in the book at the time of writing. One is a map of international trade routes... except locations are shuffled to the wrong sides of continents and have almost nothing to do with their actual placement, making the map useless, as the routes it depicts are nonsensical and don't touch the places it claims to. Another is in the Ustalav section, where a vessel described as a metal-hulled dirigible is depicted as a magically-flying sailing ship - a pretty significant departure, and a bummer for anyone who would want a visual reference for such a unique craft in their home game.
Pathfinder Adventure Path #172: Secrets of the Temple-City (Strength of Thousands 4 of 6)Paizo Inc.
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The strongest AP volume of 2e so farkeftiu —
This volume is a killer achievement, and a testament to Luis Loza's considerable chops.
Strength of Thousands' particular focus on adventurers who have a gentle touch than the average wandering slayers sees its greatest test yet: a diplomatic mission to Mzali, a xenophobic city-state under the command of a vicious, self-obsessed child-mummy-god and the cruel sycophants who serve him, in an attempt to persuade them to soften their hold on the people who live under them. This might chafe for any group's keen to kick in the doors and kill all these Lawful Evil jerks (and the book does seem to tease such a story will be told someday!), this is instead a mix of social intrigue, trying to impress valuable local leaders into aiding your efforts and prompting variable reforms that represent a significant shift in Mzali for the setting going forward. I love the chance to rub shoulders with contemptible servants of the child-god; each has unique priorities and encounters, and memorable rewards - I'm especially fond of the chance for the heroes to be rewarded with a free assassination attempt on anyone they wish!
The volume has an interesting dungeon crawl that doesn't overstay its welcome, with some neat ties into deeper lore for the region to be discovered and varied encounters inside. There's yet another chance for a peaceful resolution with a group most APs would simply present as monsters to be killed. I won't spoil the ending of this portion, but there's a notable and permanent change to the setting at the end that instantly had me clamoring for future stories and characters centered around it.
The final third of the adventure is a trip to a notable locale from the Mwangi Expanse book, where the players have a chance to do some wondrous research and meet some really special NPCs. This location is then laid siege to by a number of very frightening foes, with the PCs taking the chance to take place in a massive battle in ways that will make them feel like superheroes. Enemies are weird and fascinating, and seem like an absolute blast to DM. There's two particular options in this dramatic climax opened up by possible player choices in the diplomatic portion earlier that had me grinning ear-to-ear; I envy any groups that get to utilize them.
The backmatter gives us teacher profiles in the same style as the students in Book 1, and continue to be evocative, fleshed-out individuals, many of whom are very easy to read as subtle, sincere neurodivergent representation; I adore the entire cast of this AP. It's so refreshing to see so many Black NPCs treated so well in fantasy roleplaying! We also get an expansion to the Bright Lion archetype from LO: Legends and a handful of fun, weird monsters in the bestiary.
Strength of Thousands feels like 2e hitting its stride, and Secrets of the Temple-City is the best it's had to offer yet. Some groups might chafe at the idea of "playing nice" with the villains encountered in part 1, but for those who accept the terms of the adventure, the reward is some of the most unique play Pathfinder has to offer. I can't wait to see if this AP can stick the landing in the final two volumes - it's been a joy so far, the equal of any beloved 1e classic.
...now can we please, /please/ get that Bright Lions AP?
Pathfinder Campaign Setting: Distant Shores (PFRPG)Paizo Inc.
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I'm a simple woman; I'm methodically going through Paizo's back catalog and snapping up everything that takes us beyond the Inner Sea region, especially Arcadia. Diverse fantasy is a joy, and Pathfinder is quite good at it - more, please!
Pathfinder Campaign Setting: Distant Worlds (PFRPG)Paizo Inc.
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More, please!keftiu —
I adore how much sci-fi is in Pathfinder, and the delicious sword-and-planet weirdness is my favorite flavor of that. I’m hoping 2e revisits this material as soon as possible - and with a greater eye towards PCs from these places!
A tough act to follow!keftiu —
A site error wrote my longer review (eight or nine very good paragraphs, I promise!), so I'll be brief instead: this book is a triumph. It's a joy to see an African-inspired fantasy setting be treated not only with care, but with passion and joy so clearly shining through in the text. The new creations pale slightly compared to the brilliant reframings of traditional fantasy ancestries (I normally don't care about elves or dwarves, and I want to play multiple characters from both using the cultures within) due to their lesser wordcount, but they don't disappoint. The art is consistently stunning (the Taralu dwarves are some of the best art I've ever seen in an RPG book, and I have a crush on the Sweetbreath Gnoll), to a standard I hope Paizo can continue to follow.
A brilliant refutation of the Eurocentrism that dominates so much of the fantasy genre, and a shining example of what diverse voices can make together. I can only hope that we see other locales treated with the same regard soon; the Golden Road needs some updates to fraught older content like this offers and could really shine with changes, while the possibilities for Arcadian or Vudran material from designers of those respective real-world backgrounds would be mind-blowing.
A tidy teaserkeftiu —
The adventure does exactly what I want it to, while the setting has me excited for more to come!
Pathfinder Adventure Path #158: Sixty Feet Under (Agents of Edgewatch 2 of 6)Paizo Inc.
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Full disclosure: I don't vibe with Agents of Edgewatch, but wanted to put my money where my mouth is and support content beyond the Inner Sea. Vudra seems great, and I can't wait to see it get more love from diverse voices. (And what's the deal with ratajins, anyway?)
Pathfinder Adventure Path #143: Borne by the Sun's Grace (Tyrant's Grasp 5 of 6)Paizo Inc.
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More Arcadia, please!keftiu —
The Xopatl gazetteer is a joy; it also isn't nearly enough! Love everything we got here, and cannot wait to see more.