If Lost Omens: Legends was dedicated, to some extent, to characters who have played prominent roles in Adventure Paths over the years, then Lost Omens: Pathfinder Society Guide is dedicated to the organization and characters who play such a big role in the PFS play (in this review I will use “Pathfinder Society” to refer to the in-game organization, and “PFS” to refer to the real-world organization of players). Quite a lot of my Pathfinder play over the years has been PFS play, and being a Pathfinder was always a big thing to one of those original iconic characters (Ezran) so I was definitely looking forward to this book. The Pathfinder Society Guide is, however, quite a bit more than a love song to the PFS.
History and Current Affairs
There are about 15 pages on history and life in the Society, plus another 40 pages that are divided by factions (that includes the Envoys/Grand Archive/Horizon Hunters/Vigilant Seal divisions and the Scrolls/Swords/Spells). This opens with a about four pages of omniscient narrator presentation (plus sidebars with more dates), then switches to in-character voice for a focus on how the Society has changed in the last ten years. There’s a single sidebar on Pathfinder slang, which I wouldn’t mind more of; I’ve always found it a good way to provide some easy flavor. My favorite D&D setting, Planescape, was just loaded with slang, and I’ve definitely used the sayings of worshippers of various deities from Inner Sea Gods.
It was nice to see background on what it’s like to join the Society and an adventurer’s early years there – PFS play necessarily skips over that to jump to the field missions. It’s one aspect of the Pathfinder Society Guide that can help make it easier to have the Pathfinder Society be a focus outside of PFS play. While I concede that excellent Adventure Paths and PFS scenarios mean that almost all of my Pathfinder play uses pre-written scenarios, if you asked me what setting elements I would want in a homebrew game, the Pathfinder Society would certainly be near the top of the list.
I definitely leave the Pathfinder Society Guide having a better understanding of the factions than I did just from picking something for a PFS character (“let’s see, she’s something of a wanderer, so Horizon Walkers it is”). Like how the Envoy’s Alliance works on outside relationships, but also on how the Society treats its agents. Each faction leader (or, in the case of the Horizon Hunters, Calisro Benarry) also gets a full-page, description with art.
I appreciated the write-up overall, but I do wish there was a bit less self-flagellation about the Pathfinder Society here. I don’t think anybody asserts that the Pathfinder Society is perfect, and light jokes how often Grand Convocations get attacked or the trouble-magnet that is the Blackros Museum are great. But, ultimately, what I want to see out of a book like the Pathfinder Society Guide is a celebration of the organization (both the in- and out-of-game versions) that have brought us so much joy over the years. And I found that undercut by the level of self-recrimination here. Light roasting of Pathfinder agents as tomb raiders is fun; casting the Pathfinder Society as insensitive imperialists looting the cultural history of other peoples isn’t. Somewhat pointed questions about how much the leadership of the Pathfinder Society really cares about rank-and-file agents is one thing; discussions of how the Envoys offer counseling to help agents get over the loss of their friends is just a bummer. I imagine I agree with most of the real-world concerns that I presume are animating this sort of commentary, but I just want to be able to enjoy the Society, you know?
There are also about four pages of write-ups of ‘other NPCs’ plus two pages on lodges not important enough to get full write-ups (including their Venture-Captains), with a short paragraph each, for about eight per page. I appreciate that there’s a tension between quantity and quality in this sort of thing, but I do wish there was a bit more art of these NPCs, even if it meant fewer NPCs were presented. I guess I’ve grown to lean more and more on visual representations in my old age.
The longest chunk of the Pathfinder Society Guide is dedicated to individual lodges. It’s here that one can find the Venture-Captains who have sent launched players on so many PFS scenarios, and also references to some of those scenarios (why, yes, I was on the team of Pathfinder agents who won that cross-country race, to the irritation of some locals). How much of the write-up focuses on the Venture-Captain depends on the lodge, but they are ultimately write-ups of the lodge, not the captain, so there are no full stat blocks or multi-page biographies. Each lodge gets four pages (except for the Grade Lodge, which gets more). Each page has an illustration, usually covering the lodge itself, a full-body illustration of the Venture-Captain, and two other images (a head shot of the V-C, another NPC, an item, etc.) Sidebars present notable NPCs associated with the lodge, and also some local history.
- Grand Lodge (Absalom) (Ambrus Valsin) – As the V-C for the prime lodge, PFS players will surely have run into “Old Mutton Chops” at some point.
- Exalted Lodge (Razmir) (Narsen) – This is a Razmiran lodge, run by a V-C who’s a Razmirian priest. Which, by definition, means that he’s a fraud working for a brutal autocrat. And yet the write-up here makes everything at the Exalted Lodge seem hunky-dory.
- Farseer Tower (Katapesh) (Wulessa Yuul) – There are individual items scattered throughout the book. I was taken with the Diviner’s Nose Chain (a chain connected to a nose piercing and an ear piercing), which grants scent out to 30 feet and a bonus to Sense Motive.
- Grinning Pixie (ship; often found near Cheliax) (Eras the Needle) – Players will likely have had more missions from the prior Venture-Captain, Calisro Benarry, who was handing out missions as recently as PFS Season 10.
- Heidmarch Manor (Magnimar) (Sheila andCanayven Meidmarch) – Probably best known for dealing with the Aspis Consortium and being near Runelord Activity.
- Iceferry Lodge (Land of the Linnorm Kings) (Bjersig Torrsen) – This lodge is also home to Bjersig’s husky, Mahki.
- Lantern Lodge (Goka, Tian Xia) (Amara Li) – The Lantern Lodge is actually a group of a half-dozen lodges scattered throughout Tan Xia, and Venture-Captain Amara Li (who goes way back in PFS scenarios) effectively runs her own Tan Xian affiliate of the Pathfinder Society, potentially wielding far more power than most Venture-Captains.
- Nexus House (Quantium, Nex) (Sebnet Sanserkoht) – The second-oldest Lodge, Nexus House has been around for 400 years. The Society’s preeminent lodge in Garund, Nexus House is (perhaps fittingly for a lodge in Nex) loaded with magical conveniences and adornments (self-cleaning rooms, a waterfall that flows up, etc.), which characters might actually get to take advantage of if they get involved in local political schemes instead of just zooming off on their next adventure.
- Open Road Lodge (in a fey demiplane with its entrance in the Mwangi Expanse) (Sigvard Tornkvist) – This most recently formed (last year recent) Pathfinder lodge was born out of the Open Road Pact and the recent Pathfinder battle against the evil fey Qxal (so a good chunk of the write-up is a recap of the applicable PFS special).
- Starrise Spire (Mendev) (Jorsal of Lauterbury) – Built into the outer walls of Nerosyan, this lodge looks out over what was once the Worldwound, and was traditionally inhabited mostly by members of what once was the Silver Crusade (with barracks capable of holding a thousand field agents, it’s one of the biggest lodges).
- Woodsedge Lodge (Galt) (Armeline Jirneau) – Located in doing-it’s-best-impression-of-the-reign-of-terror Galt, this lodge is the most secretive of the ones detailed in the book, with visiting Pathfinders staying away from the lodge when possible and lodge employees using disguises to conceal their affiliation. Apparently the Galtans feel that the Pathfinder Society isn’t loyal to their blood-soaked revolution.
One thing I hadn’t realized about the Pathfinder lodges was how recently-constructed so many of them are. They’ve only had the one Venture-Captain, and it’s the one who established the place. These include most of the ones in this book – the Exalted Lodge, Heidmarch Manor, Iceferry Lodge, the Lantern Lodge, the Open Road Lodge, and Starrise Spire.
Mechanically, almost all of the character options are based on being a Pathfinder Agent (Lost Omens World Guide) or having one of the follow-on PFS archetype feats (Lost Omens Character Guide). Of course, the new selection of backgrounds and equipment aren’t so limited.
The Scrolls, Swords, and Spells each get a couple of pages of dedication feats. The Scrollmaster has some feats (Magic Finder, Cautious Delver) that allow innate casting of commonly-used spells like detect magic, dispel magic, and knock – although they are only available at levels 8-10. Swordmasters can use a single feat to take Athletics and Acrobatics to master proficiency. For those who like to switch back and forth between weapons (or other hand-held items) instead of just dropping what they’re holding, there’s Quick Stow, which combines stowing and then drawing as a single action. Other feats are based on a particular Society instructor, such as Fane’s Fourberie, Fane’s Escape, and Stella’s Stab and Snag.
A relative lot of mechanics relate to Recall Knowledge, with the most interesting to me being able to use a single action to Recall Knowledge on two different creatures or the meta-named Bestiary Scholar, which allows you to use one chosen skill to Recall Knowledge on any monster. That focus seems appropriate for the Pathfinders.
There are a couple pages of gear perfect for your next mission PFS mission. Several bits of gear relate to underwater adventures (a tool for measuring depth, a waterproof satchel for your familiar). There are a few ways to make copies (of etchings, keys, books, and the like). Personally, I take darkvision a lot and I know there are some relatively cheap magical ways to generate light, but now there’s also a shield that hold a torch, and I know that sort of efficiency will be appreciated. In addition to the mundane gear, there’s a selection of perennial favorites aeon stones and wayfinders. If you’ve got lots of time, the pearly white spindle aeon stone will heal you to full (although PFS teams seem to bring enough healing that it’s probably not necessary). I like the elemental wayfinders – a big spell once per day (e.g., fireball) plus an effect to held survive the elements (e.g., water breathing, feather fall). There’s even a familiar who can hold an aeon stone amongst the new familiar offerings. It’s not a vast array of new equipment, but it packs a lot of utility for the page count, and I think that experienced players will really dig the new options.
Personally, I have two lenses through which I might look at the Pathfinder Society Guide. The first – the one I was mostly thinking about in advance – is viewing the book as an homage to a decade of PFS. The second, which I thought about more as I was reading it, is how one might use the Guide to enhance depiction of the Society in a homebrew campaign. Really, I probably should have been primarily thinking about that second lens in advance – being useful in playing the game is, after all, a rather important part of being a successful RPG supplement. In that regard, I think that the Pathfinder Society Guide wasn’t quite what I was hoping for through the first lens. There isn’t, for example, a more detailed recent chronology that explicitly matches things up with the PFS seasons (not that there aren’t plenty of references, if you know to look for them). But maybe that was an unreasonable hope – it’s not like a lot of us aren’t still playing a lot of the old PFS scenarios. Still, there’s a lot of love for all the PFS we’ve played before. And there’s a lot there for that second lens, including things that just don’t come up in PFS play (training for Society membership, downtime at the lodge, the ability to have real continuity of story within a single character). There, I think that the Pathfinder Society Guide really excels. It not only brings a fully-developed Pathfinder Society out of just PFS scenarios and character creation guidelines, but a Pathfinder Society that can mostly stand on its own even if you’ve never engaged in PFS play.
All together, the Pathfinder Society Guide has a decent helping of love for the enfranchised PFS player and a big array of information for someone who is knew to PFS and/or the Pathfinder Society, greatly advancing the ease with which the Pathfinder Society can be incorporated into casual Pathfinder play.
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