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.

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