Sunday, September 24, 2017

Rise of the Runelords Recap # 27 [RPG]

[7 Neth 4707 continued]

Inside the ominous confines of Foxglove Manor, the adventurers pause to let a disturbing revelation sink in: with the sun setting and thousands of skeletal ravens outside, they may have to spend the night in the house!  Artemis is especially concerned and even raises the idea of mounting the horses and making a run for it.  Bey and Briza, however, are more inclined to risk staying.  The discussion continues for some time, but an even more pressing concern exists: what to do about Arnald, now securely bound, who remains convinced he is Kasandra Foxglove!  After raising and discarding various plans, the adventurers finally settle on trusting in a particular incantation revealed to Bey during her last mystery-trance: a spell to hide the group from undead.  The plan is for Bey to mystically shield the adventurers from the gaze of the undead ravens so that she and Arnald can step outside to see if fulfilling the object of “Kasandra’s” desire ends the spiritual possession.  The group decides, however, that the experiment shouldn’t be made at the front door but at the other entrance noticed on their approach to The Misgivings.

Briza shoulders open a door to a hallway and notices a pile of dead flies in a dusty corner.  As she watches, some of them twitch and then their wings start to move, and they lazily wind their way into the air!  The group is worried enough that Kang decides to deal with the problem in a startling way: he takes a small vial from his belt, shakes it, and hurls it into the hallway.  Suddenly a large blast of green flame shakes the house!  The flies are disintegrated, but the horses, still tethered nearby in the entrance hall, begin to buck and kick.  Fortunately, no one is hurt and the horses are eventually calmed down.

Creepy piano in The Misgivings
A door on the opposite side of the hallway leads to an oak-panelled chamber that, once upon a time, must have been a beautiful oak-panelled parlour for entertaining guests.  But the warped floorboards, mold-covered panelling, and long-dormant grand piano in the corner testify to how difficult it would be to restore Foxglove Manor to its former glories.  The explorers feel a brief, gut-wrenching sensation of impending apocalypse as Bey draws upon her mysterious powers to shield them from the animate dead, and they put their plan into motion.  It works perfectly: the creatures outside see the outer door being opened, but are unable to detect the presence of Arnald and Bey.  Arnald immediately comes to his senses, and, once back safely inside, is set free of his restraints.

With at least that problem solved, the adventurers hurry to continue their explorations before night truly falls.  They continue down the hallway and, behind Briza’s strong shoulder, burst into a simple washroom.  Strange, furtive scratching sounds can be heard coming from an ancient metal washtub in the room, but no one is anxious to see what’s causing it.  The adventurers shut the door and agree to head for the basement since “Kasandra”, while seemingly possessing Arnald, was worried about her husband Vorel’s activities there.  As they cross the entrance hall and check on the mounts, the subject of past encounters with horrific sights arises.  Without hesitation, Kang shares that he once turned someone inside out.  From the looks the others give him, they’re not sure whether or not he’s joking.  The fact that he continually refers to Briza as his “assistant” lends support to the notion that he’s certainly an unusual addition to the group.  For his part, Artemis talks about once seeing someone trapped in a burning building, and how the memory continues to haunt him to this day.

Rats!  Why'd it have to be rats?
The stairs to the basement lead to a large kitchen dominated by a massive oaken table, its surface covered with mold and rat droppings.  An oversized fireplace, cupboards, and shelves line the walls, but Briza notices wide cracks in one wall near the floor.  The adventurers discuss what could have caused the cracks and soon hear the swelling sound of squeaking getting louder and louder.  Suddenly, from out of the cracks, hundreds of oily, diseased looking rats pour out!  Kang reacts instantly, however, tossing another explosive vial that decimates most of the swarm!  Artemis cleans up the few survivors with his archery skills.  Although the air is pungent with the sickening smell of smouldering rat corpses, no one was hurt in the sudden eruption of violence.

The explorations continue.  A room adjacent to the kitchen turns out to be servants’ quarters, while another doorway leads to a long hallway that winds around to stop at a strong, locked iron door.  Artemis tries out a skeleton key he’d brought along for obstacles like this, and finds that it fits the lock perfectly!  The door had barred access to what, in the eyes of anyone with a smattering of training in the area, was obviously once the personal workshop of a devotee of arcane spellcraft.  A row of soggy books sits on one end of a long workbench, while, on the other end, are three iron birdcages each containing a dead, diseased-looking rat.  Two stained-glass windows on one curved wall testify that the house was cleverly built to take advantage of being built on the edge of a cliff.  One of the windows depicts a thin man with gaunt features drinking a foul-looking brew of green fluid, while the other shows the same man but in an advanced state of decay, as if dead for weeks, but also, somehow, simultaneously alive and exuberant in triumph.

Artemis examines the books and can tell they’re all on the forbidden art of necromancy.  Arnald enters and scoops up one of the birdcages.  Out of the corner of their eyes, Artemis and Briza notice that the figures in the glass seem to almost be moving and sneering at them.  Artemis fires an arrow, shattering one of the windows.  Briza runs for the hallway, but suddenly receives an overwhelming urge to examine the books on the workbench and rushes back into the room.  She then freezes in place as visions pour through her mind.  She experiences Vorel Foxglove’s quest to become immortal by existing beyond death in the blasphemous form of a lich.  She witnesses him researching for years before finding a way; hiding his own soul away in a seven-sided box; and finally consuming a final concoction before double over in agony as his body begins to rot away.  But then she experiences his burning rage that he’s been stopped before the ritual could be fully completed!  And then she’s no longer Vorel, but someone who thought she loved him, filled with shame that someone she’s committed herself to could do something so unthinkable to himself.  Briza starts to race out of the room, fully convinced she has to find her child and get out of the house before her husband can stop her!

The others rush out of the room and shut the door behind them, aware that the flapping of thousands of wings means the ghastly ravens have taken flight and are headed towards the broken window.  Kang steps in front of Briza on the staircase to the main floor, intending to try to calm her down, but she thinks he’s Vorel Foxglove and lashes out with her greatsword!  Kang staggers out of her way, bleeding.  Someone shouts to stop Briza before she can hurt herself, so Artemis tries to trip her but fails and narrowly avoids losing his head from the return strike.  Briza is by far the fastest member of the group, and she takes the stairs two at a time until she reaches the main floor, and then she races up to the second floor.  She rounds a corner and chops down the door to a mold-infested bedroom none of the adventurers have been in before. 

For a brief moment, Briza is herself again—she realizes there is no child here, and that she’s been under the effect of some kind of delusion.  But then she hears a child’s voice, quivering with fear, asking her “What’s on your face, mommy?”  Briza can feel her face erupt in a tangled mass of tumours and boils and can’t help but claw at herself.  When the others arrive, they see only the damage that Briza is doing by literally clawing the skin off her own face!  Kang instantly sets to work formulating an alchemical extract to partially repair the damage, while Arnald tries to pin Briza’s arms but is violently repulsed.  Bey and Artemis try to reason with her, and Artemis seems to be getting through, when another sudden fit of hysteria leads to Briza collapsing entirely.  Her face is in utter, disfiguring shambles and her hands are covered in her own blood and bits of flesh.  Kang pours his special concoction down Briza’s throat, and she stirs.  Between his and Bey’s spellcasting, much of the damage Briza has done to herself is repaired and she realizes just how strange she’d been acting.

Just a scant few hours within the walls of Foxglove Manor has brought terror and madness to the would-be saviours of Sandpoint.  Although yet another crisis is over, night has truly fallen.  Will the evils within The Misgivings become even stronger in the darkness?

Another great session inside the very-haunted Foxglove Manor.  I think the bit with the clouds of dead flies reanimating was something I added just for background effect, but seeing them blown up with an alchemist's bomb was fun.  The use of hide from undead in order to get Arnald outside safely was quite clever, and worked perfectly.

The big sequence to end the session, with Briza getting possessed, racing (and fighting) past her allies to run upstairs, and then clawing her face off because it was "covered with mold" was fantastic.  I couldn't have scripted it better, and I think it added to the memorable ghastliness of Foxglove Manor.  Once again, the idea of "haunts" as a game concept were a great way to impart backstory without slowing the session to a crawl of exposition.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

XSE (Marvel) (Ltd. 1996) [COMICS]

Ah, the mid-1990s.  My high school years, when I stepped away from comics for a hiatus and didn't come back until college.  Think of how many convoluted story lines, ridiculously large guns, and skintight suits with pockets everywhere that I missed!  But although I wasn't present for that glorious era in comics, I can revisit it now to see what I missed.

XSE was a four-issue limited series written by John Ostrander that rode the long (and still enduring) popularity of all things X-Men related.  The initials stand for "Xavier's Security Enforcers", which is a group of mutants in a future timeline that help keep the peace in the post-Sentinel world where mutants and humans largely get along.  The series stars Bishop, a mutant capable of absorbing and unleashing energy, and his dead sister Shard who is now a hologram.  Hey, comics!

Issue # 1 starts things off immediately with an appropriately confusing sequence.  Bishop is in the "present-day" Danger Room showing holo-Shard holograms from the future of an evil mutant named Virago fighting XSE.  We then have a sequence of what are best described as "future flashbacks" that provide some backstory to Bishop's and Shard's lives in the future.  It's all a very disjointed and poorly plotted framing story that makes a lot more sense now than it did when I was reading it.  The artwork is classic 1990s terrible, with even the coloring inconsistent.  I really hope something like XSE wasn't someone's first exposure to comics, as that person would have no clue what these strangely distorted, vaguely human-like figures were talking about.

Issue # 2 starts with another "future flashback" to when young Bishop and Shard were cadets at the XSE and attacked by mutant vampires called Emplates.  Shard's mutant powers are triggered and Bishop rallies the other kids until help arrives.  The incident leads to Bishop becoming the youngest XSE officer in (future) history.  We then get a new scene: Bishop's first meeting with other XSE officers, Malcolm and Randall, whom he apparently led into battle where they died.  It's starting to make *slightly* more sense, but it's not more enjoyable.

In Issue # 3, present-day Bishop and holo-Shard watch a hologram of them capturing a dangerous mutant named Mountjoy, and how it led to Shard's promotion.  In the future timeline, she uses the opportunity to develop a hologram-based prototype field agent, but the technology fails and she and Bishop argue about it.  We then have another future flashback to Shard dating someone named Fitzroy.  Again, it's all very disjointed--maybe it's filling in continuity gaps that hardcore X-Men fans would appreciate?  You have to commit to the X-Men like a Talmudic scholar during the late 80s and 90s in order to figure out what's going on, so it's possible.  Anyway, the issue ends with the big explanation of how Shard dies: Fitzroy was evil and betrayed her to the vampiric Emplates.

In Issue # 4, future-flashback Bishop confronts his now dead and now evil sister who has been turned by the Emplates.  He's forced to destroy her, but rushes the body to the lab so he can use the hologram technology she created to replicate her.  The issue then rushes through a bunch of stuff I have no idea about (something about Gambit in the future being "The Witness", and someone called Shackle?).  The mini-series ends with Bishop deciding that Shard should stay with X-Factor instead of joining him on the X-Men.

Wasn't that enlightening for all concerned?

The Buffy Comic Project: "A Stake to the Heart, Act 2" [COMICS]

Buffy the Vampire Slayer # 61
(Dark Horse, Volume 1, 1998-2003)

Creators:  Fabian Nicieza (story); Cliff Richards (pencils); Brian Horton (paints); Will Conrad (inks); Michelle Madsen (colors); Clem Robins (letters)

Setting:  Between Movie & Season 1

T.V./Movie Character Appearances:  Buffy, Angel, Whistler, Joyce, Dawn, Hank Summers, Lilah Morgan, Giles, Principal Flutie, Cordelia, Harmony, Jesse,

Major Original Characters:  Nil.

Summary:  In the aftermath of her parents' split, Dawn tries to cope with feeling that she's blame.  Angel tells Whistler they have to do something to contain the rest of the "malignancy demons", and Whistler says he'll figure something out: which turns out to be making a deal with Lilah Morgan from Wolfram & Hart!  Meanwhile, Giles pulls some strings to land the librarian position at Sunnydale High, Cordelia and Harmony make fun of Jesse for shoplifting (he can't afford a birthday present for his mother), and Buffy overcomes feelings of guilt for not being able to save everyone which leads to the malignancy demon of guilt dissolving into a pool of goo.


The summary doesn't do this issue justice.  It packs a punch--to the gut.  Anyone who's been through a divorce will sympathise with the emotional turbulence in this issue.  I think this is one of the best of the series, and this story arc as a whole is a great way to end the run.  The issue is also chock full of small but effective moments with supporting characters.  It's really good stuff.


* There's a female vampire who uses Darla's shtick from the opening moments of the very first Buffy episode.  I'm tempted to think it is her, but it's just not clear.

*  I like the clever tie-in with Whistler being the one to set Wolfram & Hart on the path to noticing Angelus.

Vehicles (Pathfinder Map Pack) [RPG]

Vehicles is a very different map pack than the norm.  Instead of tiles that fit together to create a landscape suitable for an encounter, the 18 sheets in this pack are designed to be cut apart and placed on top of other flip-mats or map packs.  Everything from beasts of burden to boats to various carts are included.

Two of the sheets are full of mounts: common mounts like horses and ponies, quite unusual mounts like rhinos and giant geckos, and even a full pack of sled dogs.  Four full sheets are of different chariots, so I guess you'd be all set if you need a classic Ben Hur scene.  One sheet has a couple of sleds for the aforementioned sled dogs, another is a couple of hang gliders (!), and three are devoted to a top down view of what the back describes as a "steam giant" (a gearwork construct of some kind?--it's hard to tell with a top-down interior view).  Of
much more mundane origin (but surely more common use) are a rowboat and then two sheets that can be taped together to make a keelboat/river barge.  Last, and best, are three sheets each containing two different types of wagons, carts, and carriages.

It feels really weird cutting up a product like this, but the results look a lot nicer than I could draw or find on the Internet.  Importantly, they're sized appropriately for a 5" grid so character minis match up.  Things like the carts and mounts are perfect for PCs, but they also serve well as added background colour to urban or road encounters.  As a GM, I used the keelboat for several consecutive sessions when the PCs were making a long river voyage and it was great.

If I had complaints, it's that this was one of the map packs that was released before the line started appearing in boxed-form, so once the pieces are cut out, they're harder to store.  A second criticism is that too many sheets are devoted to weird or off-beat things like the "steam giant", hang gliders, etc.

On the whole though, I was surprised by how useful this product was--it's definitely something I've gotten a lot of use out of in the few months I've owned it, and it's made my encounters clearer and more "professional" looking.  I'd grab one before it goes out of print!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Ghosts of Broken Blades [RPG]


Credit has to be given to Monte Cook, writer of The Ghosts of Broken Blades (a four-part series of free web fiction available here), for coming up with an original concept for a protagonist: Roubris Chour wanders old battl
efields and talks to spirits (somehow) trapped in the weapons that have killed them, promising to set them free if they reward him with information about where gold or other valuables are hidden.  But although the main character has a really interesting schtick, the story as a whole is only average and a few elements don't seem to really fit Golarion.


Roubris finds a surprisingly self-aware trapped spirit named Serth that promises him great wealth (hidden in an ancient temple near the Worldwound) if Roubris will set him free.  Although Roubris suspects a trap, the promise of riches is enough to convince him to check it out, and he travels there with his friend Karatha, a cleric of Iomedae.  The temple is devoted to the demon lord Deskari, and there's a weird bit where opening the door to its treasure room also opens a portal to the demonic plane where Serth's body resides--Roubris has to choose between the treasure and stopping Serth from regaining his previous power.  It's all a bit contrived and clunky, and didn't work for me.  I think a harder, darker ending would have fit the whole concept better.  Roubris could be an interesting character (a fundamentally greedy character who helps trapped spirits) but this story didn't make the most of the idea.

Pathfinder Society # 0-03: "Murder on the Silken Caravan" [RPG]


Murder on the Silken Caravan was one of the very first batch of scenarios released for Pathfinder Society.  Although the title may evoke Agatha Christie's classic "Murder on the Orient Express", and there is a murder in this scenario, this is definitely not a "whodunnit" in the sense of expecting PCs to gather clues to figure out who the culprit is.  Instead, it's a very straightforward series of encounters in which the culprit reveals themself quite dramatically.  By their very nature, Pathfinder Society scenarios tend to be somewhat "railroady", but Murder on the Silken Caravan is worse than most.  Encounter design is solid (though one is more dangerous than probably justifiable), but I'd primarily recommend this for players/GMs with a real interest in Qadira and desert-themed adventuring.


The basic idea of the scenario is that a famous Pathfinder Venture-Captain named Targos has died, and the PCs are asked to escort the body across Qadira from the caravan city of Lopul to the major city of Katheer.  Drama happens along the way of course, ranging from classic bandit attacks to diseased cultists to a (quite difficult!) battle against harpies at an ancient shrine.  One of the members of the caravan turns up with a dagger in his back after a sandstorm, but there's no way to interview suspects or canvass the area for clues: the murderer is simply revealed at the beginning of the last encounter.  If there had been a real mystery for the PCs to solve, this would be a much more interesting scenario.  In any event, the scenario is divided into five acts (four of them with combat encounters).

In Act One, the PCs arrive in the caravan city of Lopul to collect Targos' body.  They find a crowd of mourners around his home, and "local priests" ostensibly "preparing the body for transport."  In fact, they're disguised cultists of Lamashtu planning to seize the body and desecrate it!  The PCs should penetrate the ruse and engage in battle.  As an added twists, the cultists are suffering from leprosy!  This put some fear into some of my players, and I quite liked it.  The entire scenario depends on the PCs recovering Targos' body, so even if the PCs fail to penetrate the ruse (and mine almost didn't!), the scenario is very forgiving about allowing them another chance later.  One minor snag is that the players will understandably think this cult of Lamashtu is a major player in the scenario, and may try to interrogate prisoners.  Very little info is provided on exactly what the cult planned, where their base is, why they hate Targos, etc.  I had to do some fast-thinking when my players took this route.

In Act Two, the PCs meet the only caravan in the city that will be travelling the route they need to go.  The caravan mistress is a woman named Jamila, while other NPCs include an aged Taldan knight named Gaspar Du Mer, his Qadiran business partner Mahmoud, a water trader from Osirion named Hokama, and Hokama's slave boy, Atmar.  I'd strongly suggest that the GM find images roughly fitting the descriptions and taping the pictures to note cards with the NPCs' names--players will find such an aid extremely useful.  Anyway, the task facing the PCs in this Act is to persuade Jamila to allow them to come with her in the caravan.  The Diplomacy DCs to persuade Jamila are fairly high for low-level PCs, and there's a good chance they'll make the DCs even higher by failing a check by more than 5.  But the PCs *have* to join the caravan for the rest of the scenario to proceed as intended (there's very vague guidance on what to do if they fail, as my group did, so again I had to do some quick thinking).  The GM knows, although the PCs don't, that Jamila was secretly Targos' lover and that they arranged his death in order to lure out the parties responsible for raiding caravans along the Silken Way.  All of the suspects are part of this caravan, and Jamila expects Pathfinders to show up with Targos' body.

In Act Three, the PCs are with the caravan when a huge sandstorm separates them from most of the other travellers.  Goblin and hobgoblin bandits pounce.  The sheer number of enemies (13 in Tier 1-2) makes this a reasonably challenging encounter and definitely gives every PC something to do.  (GMs should note that although D&D 3.5 hobgoblins and Pathfinder RPG hobgoblins are same CR, the latter have a *lot* more hit points.)  There's nothing fancy with the encounter, but that's okay.  I do like how this Act and a couple of the later ones make some use of the environmental (heat) rules, since characters who take stuff like Endurance or put ranks in Survival will see a benefit.  As the PCs continue travelling, they come across a body (Mahmoud) in the sand, with a dagger stuck in his back!

I have mixed feelings about Act Four.  The premise is really cool: the PCs stumble upon an ancient shrine to Irori that takes the form of a huge figure carved into the side of a cliff, with its eyes serving as caves for a nest of harpies.  The harpies lure the PCs (and the couple of NPCs still with them) to start climbing the cliff, and then swoop down to carry off the NPCs.  The problem is that the DC to resist the song is quite high, and there's a fair chance that all or almost all of the PCs will fail and become entranced.  In my group, only one PC succeeded on the save.  The tactics of the harpies are a little bit confusing, but it's clear that they'll attack if (non-entranced) PCs start climbing the cliff toward their nest.  Low-level PCs fighting while climbing against creatures with Flyby Attack is another recipe for disaster.  One PC and the two NPCs were killed in the group I was running this for, and there are a lot of reports of TPKs in the forums.  Adventuring is supposed to be dangerous, but this encounter is probably unfair (at least at the lower tier).

Act Five has the PCs catching up to the rest of the caravan just as the criminal mastermind and murderer Gaspar Du Mer reveals himself.  Jamila, who is apparently a half-Janni(!), summons a genie to battle Gaspar's bandits, but the PCs have to take care of Gaspar and his bodyguards themselves.  Gaspar's a straightforward fighter and a challenge in head-to-head combat.  After he's defeated, Jamila explains what's been going on and the rest of the voyage to Katheer passes without incident.

There's a lot of little things to criticize about Murder on  the Silken Caravan, including: 1) The geography of the Silken Caravan doesn't fit with existing maps of Qadira; 2) the timeline is quite fuzzy, making it hard to decide how many days/nights should pass for different portions of the trip; 3) the Janni/Genie stuff comes from out of nowhere and doesn't add anything; 4) the Chronicle sheet for Tier 1-2 provides an almost laughably-specific special item (a map of the Zho Mountains that provides a minor bonus to Survival and Tracking checks when in that area) and nothing else besides credits.  More substantial issues include the aforementioned lack of contingency-planning (some "What if?" sidebars would have been fantastic) and the overall railroading in a scenario that, at first glance of the title, might have players thinking they've signed up for a mystery-themed adventure.

Overall, I'd suggest that this one should be pretty far down on the list of scenarios to run.  It's playable and has a couple of interesting elements, but it also contains numerous shortcomings.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Osirion, Legacy of Pharaohs [RPG]

Osirion is Pathfinder's stylized version of Egypt, a nation of endless deserts, market bazaars, treasure (and trap)-filled tombs, and half-hidden pyramids built by generations of now-mummified pharaohs.  It's a classic locale for adventuring, and a good example of how the official campaign setting of Golarion was intentionally designed to have something for everyone.  Osirion, Legacy of Pharaohs is a 64-page source book in the Campaign Setting line.  Overall, I think it's an impressive effort that does a great job providing the back-drop for endless adventures in the Indiana Jones vein.

Have to love the cover, with the Iconic Oracle (Alahazra) battling the guardian of some ancient tomb.  The same image is in the inside back-cover, while the inside front cover is a map of Osirion.  Sometimes when we get maps of fantasy nations, only a few cities and the basic geography is presented--but that's not the case here, as there are *dozens* of pyramids, ruins, monuments, and other adventure sites noted.  The only way it could be improved is if there were also a player-friendly (spoiler-free) version of the same map.

The book starts with a six-page introduction, and the guiding theme of Osirion is clear: the place has a history!  A long time-line of notable events takes up half the section.  Fortunately, the history of Osirion is really interesting and adds enough detail to allow for a more "authentic" experience for PCs with an interest in archaeology and history--different sites to explore are tied to different eras or pharaonic dynasties, and this can give clues to what might be found there.

The rest of the first 2/3 of the book consists of six-page summaries of six different areas of Osirion.  Each area is covered with an overview, a gazetteer of notable locations found within it, and a stat-block and half-page map of a major settlement located there.  I'll spare a few lines for each, but first I'll note that the artwork interspersed throughout is excellent and evocative: just compare it to what was in the early Campaign Setting books and see how far Paizo has come.  In addition, the writers integrated a wealth of material from previous Paizo products, including such things as adventure paths, the Lost Kingdoms book, and even Pathfinder Society scenarios.  I really appreciate the continuity and attention to detail.  Anyway, the six regions covered are:

* The Brazen Frontier:  Pretty much your generic ruin-filled desert full of somewhat-bland gnolls and plenty of places to explore.  I liked the sidebar on the Pahmet Dwarves (one doesn't think about dwarves in the desert!).  The map and stat block is for the small city of Ipeq, a hub of commerce built on the banks of a river.

* The Footprints of Rovagug:  Forbidding volcanic badlands.  There's a lot of good adventuring to be had here, including Aspis Corporation-controlled mines and a red dragon. The map and stat block are for Tar Kuata, a monastery of Irori.

* The Osirion Desert:  Vast and desolate, a classic desert in the popular sense.  Eto, a small city, is featured and depicted as the perfect staging area for explorers and treasure-hunters.

* The Scorpion Coast: Somewhat generic, with ruins and danger everywhere.  One of the things that sets it apart, however, is that clans of various elementals vie for control over the area.  The featured city, El-Shelad, is really interesting with lots for a GM to work with in terms of political undercurrents and intrigue.

* Sothis: The capital of Osirion.  It's hard to cover a metropolis well in just six-pages (other cities, like Magnimar, have had entire sourcebooks devoted to them), but  I thought the writers did a great job packing in a lot detail.  My favorite part was learning about the Risen Guard, an elite group of soldiers who have proven their loyalty by allowing themselves to be put to death and then raised.

* The Sphinx Basin: Like the Nile in Egypt, Osirion features a major river called the Sphinx, around which most commerce and civilization has concentrated.  This is where you want to be to tell stories of riverboat murders, crocodile attacks, and so forth.  The section has a really good discussion of the contested balance of power between the cities in the area.  The port city of Totra is featured, but I loved the paragraphs on the cursed city of Djefet and something called the "Prison Barge of Ap-Tula" (a 3,000 year-old floating fortress built to contain the worst dangers in Osirion).

The next section is "Plots and Perils" (8 pages).  The section starts with rules for two natural hazards found in the deserts of Osirion:  khamsin storms (terrible sand storms) and mirages.  I always like things like this that challenge PCs in a non-combat way and help them to see the value in skills like Survival or feats like Endurance.  One of only two PC options in the book is presented here, in the form of a spell called "Reveal Mirage".  The rest of the section consists of several paragraphs each on the following "adventure sites":  Fort Fang (gnoll slavers base), Gralgor-Ot (ruins filled with undead, but more interesting than I've made it sound), Lamashtu's Flower (secret Lamashtan temple), the Lost Mines of Siwat (very inventive underground "lost village" where the humans have evolved for generations not realizing there's a world above them), Mephit Spring (demons and fire elementals abound), Oszoxon Spire (home to a missing tribe of scorpionfolk), the Pyramid of An-Hepsu Xi (classic lich pharaoh tomb), the Pyramid of Doom (ghost-inhabited tomb that needs a better name), and the Tomb of Statues (home to a mummified medusa!).  The sites are given good, enticing descriptions, but do note that there would still be a lot of work necessary by a GM to build encounters and stat blocks if PCs actually want to adventure there.  This section is a campaign tool-box, not a pre-written adventure.

Last up is a healthy, 12-page bestiary.  Random encounter tables are provided for each region of Osirion, and they've avoided the common mistake of setting a ridiculous range of CRs.  In fact, looking at the tables provides a natural blueprint for when a GM should send PCs to different areas--the "Footprints of Rovagug", for example, range from CR 4 to CR 7, while the Osirion Desert ranges from CR 8 to CR 11.  As for new creatures, the section starts with several new animals: hetkoshu crocodiles, jackals, ostriches (including rules for ostrich animal companions), and asp snakes.  Animals aren't usually exciting additions, but they help make for a well-rounded world.  New monsters include Sphinx Colossi (the first creature I've seen with mythic levels in a regular product), Living Mirages (a great concept for an ooze!), Pharaonic Guardians, and Uraeuses (the creepiest LG beast you'll ever see!).  What I actually find even more valuable are "generic" NPC stat blocks written for "Desert Hermit", "Osirionologist", "Risen Guard" (which references a Pathfinder Tales story I remember reading, Christopher Carey's Dune Runner), and "River Cleric" (a worshipper of Wadjet)--I'm far more likely to need NPC stat blocks on the fly than I am new monsters, and they take a while to custom-build.

The bottom line with a Campaign Setting book is how useful it is in gameplay.  I haven't run any adventures set in Osirion, but if I did, this book would be the first place I'd turn.  That makes it a success as far as I'm concerned.