Places of Power: Oleander's Sanctuary (PFRPG) PDF

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A Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Compatible GM’s Resource by Thilo Graf

Deep within a dense forest lies a well-hidden, secret path leading into the wood’s wildest and deepest recesses. The only sign of civilization for miles on end upon the winding path is a distant thin finger of smoke wafting up through the trees. All manner of animals lurk in the surrounds seemingly drawn to the little hut and surrounding buildings hidden deep in the forest. Here dwells the so-called witch Oleander, a mysterious being possessing incredible powers she uses to heal and improve animals seeking her care.

Places of Power are short, richly detailed supplements that each present a flavoursome locale such as a remote temple, borderland fort or reclusive wizard’s demesne. Ready to be plugged into almost any home campaign, each installment can be used as a waystop on the road to adventure, the home of a powerful NPC or even as a mini-adventure site in its own right.

This product is a Dual Format PDF. It comes in two different versions: one optimised for printing and use on a normal computer and one optimised for use on a mobile device such as an iPad.

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For this week’s review, we’re going somewhere different with things, and I’m doing a location book. This time it’s Places of Power: Oleander’s Sanctuary. Rather than my normal fare, this is a location that GMs can insert into their games at a whim, and it starts out with an interesting stat block of one mysterious (?) entity, 1 intelligent bear, 1 intelligent hamster, 1 intelligent owl, and 1 intelligent wolf, making it different than most locational stat blocks you’d see. It’s for the most part good aligned, with resources such as animal healing and transmutation.

Next we get a small description of the area, it’s compact and heavily implies that Oleander and their animal crew are not fans of others just jaunting into the area. With a knowledge check, the PCs can learn a bit about Oleander, which not shockingly at all involves Oleander being a large fan of animals and an adamant opponent of those who would abuse them, often cursing such people.

After this we have rumors, and one thing I particularly like about this section is that these rumors can be gathered from animals, provided you can speak with animals; a nice touch that helps make the area feel more unique. And as appropriate, there’s a few false rumors thrown in for fun. We follow this with a bit about how to keep Oleander vague, as they’re intended to be a very mutable person for the purpose of one’s story. There’s a lot of good advice here to make sure the PCs get the most of of this location, and there’s no wrong way to run Oleander or her sanctuary.

Following this we get a run down of the NPCs and areas involved in the place of power itself, which are later expanded upon in greater detail, as well as a map of the place. Personal preference here, I’d prefer the map to be on its own page rather than sharing it with these details, as it’d make it easier to pull out and use for other things which I’d like to do.

Rather than go through all the locations and such, I can say that each one provides a decent amount of either interaction with the interesting NPCs or the environment, and each of these environments feels unique enough to the point where I could find something to do there. We’re also given some random events which can spice up the visit, further giving the location a ‘living’ feel to it.

There’s also a list of boons the PCs can get through helping out Oleander, so they’re not something that has a normal GP cost. I’m not huge on the 0 point ones, but they’re flavorful regardless. The larger boons are all really cool though, and they’ll almost certainly only be of uses to those with familiars or more likely animal companions. We finish with a more in depth look at the NPCs referenced in the book, and while they are interesting, a lot of them are very ‘out there’, especially the most toyetic of the bunch, Wooly.

Mechanics: 4.5/5

I can’t say there’s anything wrong with the mechanics here, but at the same time, there was nothing that truly wowed me. The formatting is tight, the the rules language is solid, and I doubt GMs will have a hard time incorporating this into their game.

Thematics: 4/5

While I like the off the wall nature of this place, the book itself goes out of its way to tell you “If this doesn’t work, make it a hallucination”, which to me almost undersells the unique nature of Oleander’s Sanctuary. It’s a creative place that won’t fit into your super serious games without some slight modifications, but as a location, I find it very enjoyable, if a bit too wacky at times.

Final Thoughts: 4.5/5

Thilo Graf’s place of power is one that I like on a base level, as the ideas behind it are just very refreshing. It’s not just an animal sanctuary, but also has very real overtones of genetic splicing and other concepts like that, helping to make it stand out from other locations of which I’ve read. While at times it feels like it’s trying too hard to be different, it does always feel like it’s going in a direction players would enjoy, so for the purpose of reviews, I’m going to round up here.


First, a disclaimer as I want to make readers aware of my potential biases: I do a lot of writing for Raging Swan Press, and have had a lot of products reviewed by this author, Thilo Graf (perhaps better known as Endzeitgeist). That said, I felt it was important to give Graf's work a review, as his feedback is often the only comments other 3PP authors receive on their products.

Let's start with a word about the art and maps — by William McAusland and Maciej Zagorski — which are some of my favorite aspects of Raging Swan's projects (they often inspire me as an author). Alone, these components typically justify the price of Raging Swan's PDFs, as even if you didn't want to use a single word of the location, you have enough to come up with your own ideas. Map and artwork are, as usual for the line, well done here and leave me wishing I had such talent.

As for the text, Graf creates an interesting locale, pulling from various tales in ways that are at times very familiar while also offering options for how a GM wants to use it. The remote animal sanctuary known as Oleander's Sanctuary offers healing to familiars and animal companions, but also transformation, making them potentially smarter, deadlier, or more adaptable. One of my favorite parts of this Places of Power is the system Graf wisely offers for PCs who want to alter their own companions, making this a highly usable area for players who would like to upgrade the mechanics of a companion but don't want in-character to swap out a companion as if it were disposable. (Graf discusses that idea in his comments on the product.)

Oleander's Sanctuary offers several other options for how it may be used, with much of it highly adaptable to a GM's purpose. The eponymous Oleander, for example, is never fully statted, leaving what exactly she (or he, as the character is gender fluid) is up to the GM. She's set up to be the classic trope of the mysterious host, who may look and sound different with each appearance, with characters perhaps not realizing they are talking to one and the same person. Graf offers suggestions to even transform this from a more rural/fey-style setting to one of strange alienness. Though it's only referenced briefly in a couple locations, I like the idea that this sanctuary may be opposed by various druids who see it as an abomination, a nice swerve on the traditional linkage with druids that might be expected at such a location.

Now, all of that said, parts of this may not sit well with some gaming styles. The handful of intelligent animals surrounding this location are very well-described and fully fleshed-out (though not gives stat blocks) in ways that for me evoked the animal characters of Lewis Carroll's "Alice" books or C.S. Lewis' "Chronicles of Narnia." Graf includes a good suggestion of how the sanctuary could be used for those playing a game with a more down-to-earth tone, but even then a pince-nez-donning owl could be immersion-breaking for some players. Some won't blink an eye at such a portrayal, but a GM may have to consider if this would work with his or her players.

Finally, to steal Endzeitgeist's format (which seems appropriate for a product he wrote): Editing and formatting are good; I noticed a few minor errors in the text (misplaced commas and the such) but no serious glitches. Layout adheres to raging Swan Press' elegant two-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The pdf comes in two versions, one optimized for screen-use and one optimized to be printed out, as well as alternative versions for 5e and system neutral gamers (though I've not looked at those versions). The cartography is well-made and in b/w. Supporters of Raging Swan Press' patreon can get access to a player-friendly, key-less version of the map, at least to my knowledge. For me, this rates 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5 for purposes of this platform, as Thilo shows he's perfectly capable of designing his own content as well as those he prolifically reviews.

An commentary

Hej everyone!

I got the chance to contribute to Raging Swan Press‘s impressive Places of Power-series and my little installment, “Oleander’s Sanctuary,” has just hit sites!

So, what is this little booklet about? Well, let me ramble a second. Animal companions have been a tried and true tradition in our roleplaying games, but their depiction in game isn’t perfect. Gaming systems tend to depict them as extensions of the character’s performance capabilities and to be fair: That’s pretty much what they are!

However, when compared to the novels etc. set in roleplaying game worlds or when contrasted to how we behave towards our own animals in real life, there is a discrepancy evident in the portrayal of animal companions: Since they are extensions of the character, they can end up as basically living buffs or meat shields.

There’s a system-immanent reason for this – for example, a wolf animal companion stops being useful once the campaign takes a left turn and focuses on aquatic environments…which often ends up with dismissing the companion and getting a new one. Heck, some systems actually have optional means to replace companions with something more potent, encouraging the treating of companions as disposable.

That’s all fine and dandy and most groups have their default mode of operation handling this tendency. However, what about the ROLEplaying aspect? What if a player really plays the dynamic between character and companion well, cares about the companion, but the realities of the campaign don’t work anymore with it? That’s pretty much where this sanctuary comes into place.

The mistress/master of the sanctuary would be the eponymous Oleander, a mysterious entity that looks like a beautiful witch most of the time…but she seems to be able to change her gender and looks like most people change their wardrobe. Oleander can communicate with companions, make them intelligent…and modify them to suit the changing needs of the campaign…but only when the companion consents to it. The mechanics provided for these modifications are wholly tied to roleplaying and thus retain the full GM/referee/judge-control over how/when they are available, so no, you cannot cheese this – Oleander represents, on a meta-angle, a means to reward players for caring.

But perhaps, you are not interested in these meta-considerations and more intrigued by locales and unique characters. Well, Oleander’s entourage would be an intelligent, massive bear, a venerable, spellcasting wolf and an owl spymaster with grand ambitions. …yes, this is deliberately quirky and reminiscent of fairy tale and fable aesthetics.

I took great care to allow the GM control over where and how to play out these characters, though: While it is perfectly possible to play this as a wholesome sidetrek for kids, playing up the Disney-esque component, there is enough of the uncanny here to add a sinister tint to the proceedings, should you desire. Similarly, I provided some ideas for more down to earth campaigns to use a place with talking animals.

Furthermore, there is an ethical dimension as well: Classic druids and champions of the natural order are not necessarily happy about the “unnatural” changes made to the companions…but are they right? Oh, and did I mention that Oleander seems to have no regard for powerful persons abusing their animals? The enigmatic entity seems to have made quite an array of enemies…

So yeah, I really hope you’ll check out Oleander’s Sanctuary. If you do, let me know if and what you liked or disliked about it. If you use it, tell me how it worked at your table!

I hope you’ll enjoy visiting this place as much as I did enjoy writing it!

Endzeitgeist out.

Sovereign Court Raging Swan Press

Is now available at the Paizo store.

You can grab a free sample here!

Wooohooo! My first Place of Power! :D

If you have any questions, feel free to post!

Rating-less commentary/summaries posted everywhere. :)

1 person marked this as a favorite.

Congrats, Endz. Sounds very cool. Looking forward to reading it.

2 people marked this as a favorite.

Review posted.

Thank you so much for reviewing my little, weird place of power! Your criticism is well-articulated and sound! (But then again, awakened animals are a thing in D&D-based systems...)

Not trying to argue here, mind you, just explain my design rationale:

I wanted this supplement to fulfill two basic needs:

1) Offer a place where animal companions are less disposable and can be modified/adapted.
2) Generate a somewhat fairy-tale like environment that can work for kids and adults alike; whether you go full-blown Grimm or Disney (or Narnia) or LoFPish/Psychedelic OSR-style is up to the GM.

Again, thank you so much for the review! I will take it to heart and bear your counsel in mind for future work! :D

Silver Crusade

2 people marked this as a favorite.

Huh, forgot that I didn't crosspost my review here. Did that now.

Thanks, master Jolly! :)

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