Friday 28 February 2014

Osirion, Legacy of Pharaohs

In northeast Garund lies a country that is one of the oldest still-surviving in the world of Golarion. Based loosely on real-world Egypt, Osirion is a desert land full of ancient tombs and pyramids that hold artifacts and secrets dating back thousands of years into Golarion’s past. Osirion was the setting of a couple of early adventures published by Paizo (Entombed with the Pharaohs and its sequel, The Pact Stone Pyramid) and an early Player Companion supplement, Osirion, Land of Pharaohs, all of which came before the release of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and were thus written for D&D 3.5. There has not been a lot done with the location since then, but the upcoming adventure path Mummy’s Mask (starting next month) is set in Osirion, making now a ripe time to revisit the location. Osirion is one of the three countries looked at in Pathfinder Player Companion: People of the Sands (which I recently reviewed) and it also gets its own dedicated book in the Pathfinder Campaign Setting volume, Osirion, Legacy of Pharaohs.

This is a very informative book. It both updates and expands on the information in Osirion, Land of Pharaohs, going into considerably more detail than the earlier book (which, to be fair, is a much shorter book, so just doesn’t have the space that this one has). One of the most important qualities on which I judge a setting book is how many ideas it starts creating in my head. Legacy has simply flooded my head with ideas, enough to run three or four different campaigns set there, and so passes this criterion with flying colours. It’s densely packed with information on cities, adventure sites, denizens, and more.

The book is arranged similarly to most Pathfinder Campaign Setting books that cover a specific region. It opens with a general overview of Osirion along with its history, and then looks in detail at the specific regions within the country. Osirion is broken up into five regions and each gets six pages of write-up. The capital city of Sothis, while technically within the region called the Sphinx Basin (the River Sphinx being Golarion’s equivalent of the real-world Nile), also gets its own separate six-page write-up. Each region’s write-up begins with an overview of that region, followed by a gazetteer of specific locations within the region. Various sidebars throughout these write-ups provide information on groups like the Pahmet dwarves and the Risen Guard (the Pharaoh’s elite guard, membership in which is restricted to warriors who have died in the service of the Pharaoh and then been resurrected).

The regional write-ups are followed by a chapter on “Plots and Perils”. This section looks at hazards such as mirages and khamsin storms (very nasty sandstorms) and then looks at a number of specific adventure sites. All these sites are mentioned briefly in the earlier regional write-ups, but they receive more detail here. The final chapter of the book is a short Bestiary. As well as some new monsters native to Osirion, the Bestiary also contains several generic NPCs such as an Osirionologist and a Risen Guard.

I often wish that, as well as information on specific locations, Pathfinder Campaign Setting books would have sections dedicated to lifestyle and culture, from religious observations to general day-to-day activities to diet and more. However, when they’re written well, you can often pick up on these kinds of details within the regional gazetteers. They’re scattered about somewhat, but they’re there. Osirion, Legacy of Pharaohs is pretty good in this regard. In particular, it does a very good job of bringing across the tensions between the Garundi and Keleshite peoples. The Garundi are native to Osirion, but the Keleshites ruled over them for several thousand years after the fall of the Ancient Osirion Empire. Now the two groups exist in something of an uneasy peace.

Legacy also does a good job of conveying a sense of just how ancient Osirion is and how that history permeates modern life. The history section of the book has to cover over 8000 years of history in just a couple pages, but further historical details can be found throughout the rest of the book, as all throughout the country, from the cities to the deserts, there are examples of that history. From the giant shell of the slain Spawn of Rovagug, Ulunat, that Sothis was built around to ancient temples and pyramids, every aspect of Osirion is informed in some way by its ancient history and this is reflected in the text.

One area where Legacy doesn’t do so well is with religion. There are many references throughout to gods such as Pharasma or Irori, but other than the fact that followers of Irori tend to go off and found monasteries in the desert, there’s very little to indicate how religion affects the lives of living people. There is the impression that religion is important in Osirion, but few specifics to show in what way.

Some readers may also be disappointed that there is no information on the old gods of Osirion. Past products have provided hints here and there that Ancient Osirions worshipped a different pantheon of gods from modern Osirions (and some are still worshipped to an extent today, as seen by the “River Cleric” in the Bestiary, who is a follower of Wadjet). Given the number of ancient tombs that PCs might adventure in across the land—tombs that were built in times when people worshipped those gods—it certainly would be useful for GMs to have information on the old gods in order to make a more compelling adventuring environment. Empty Graves, the second part of Mummy’s Mask is set to have an article on these gods; however, it does seem a bit unfair that GMs should have to buy a second book just to get this information, particularly if they’re not interested in running the adventure path. Granted, detailed god articles have been the purview of Pathfinder Adventure Path volumes, but a detailed look at each god isn’t really what’s needed in Legacy of Pharaohs. An overview of these gods would suffice here.

On the whole, though, I really like Osirion, Legacy of Pharaohs. It greatly expands on previous information about the country and lays the seeds for countless adventure and campaign ideas. It’s also a very entertaining read. The book is definitely an important part of the expanding library of Golarion material.

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