05 April 2022
Explore the big smoke
One of the greatest lures of the Pathfinder RPG has always been its setting. Golarion is a complex kitchen-sink of tropes and cliches that gleefully rip off everything from Conan the Barbarian to Les Miserables, and at the heart of everything stands the metropolis of Absalom.
As befits a world built on adventure, this vast and storied city is packed with countless ideas for games and quests. You could easily guide a party of heroes from their first brush with danger through to their ascension to legends without ever crossing the walls. Every corner seems to be alive with intrigue and crime, and every park is a potential battleground.
Conveying an appropriate feeling of both scale and depth for a city as dense as Absalom is no easy feat. It’s not the kind of thing you can cover in a single spread, or even a single chapter of a wider book. It requires something chunky, stuffed with enough information to fill an encyclopaedia.
Enter Absalom: City of Lost Omens.
The latest edition to Pathfinder 2E’s array of sourcebooks, it’s a huge and occasionally unwieldy love-letter to one of the most fascinating cities found in fantasy gaming. Where other books have been keen to embrace the game’s rules-heavy, option-dense style of play, City of Lost Omens revels in its role as a guide.
Perhaps the simplest way to illustrate this is to simply glance at the breakdown of its contents. As a whole, the book extends to very nearly 400 pages. Of these, only a scanty seven are given over to new feats, gear and other crunchy bits of rules text. The remainder is almost entirely devoted to pure worldbuilding.
This is, honestly, a lot to take in. The text is densely packed with names, dates and locations. Any serious attempt to get a handle on the book requires extensive use of the - fortunately well-constructed - index. If anyone can claim to have an absolute understanding of everything in City of Lost Omens they are either a genius or one of the editors.
There are hundreds of shops, streets and temples laid out for gamers to explore, and dozens and dozens of NPCs given potted biographies. Everything from the famous Starstone Cathedral, where the fatally self-assured can attempt to brave a deadly dungeon for a shot at godhood, to the dankest and darkest streets of The Puddles is touched upon with a careful eye and a quick pen.
Despite this devotion to drawing out the complex world, however, City of Lost Omens makes sure to keep at least one eye on the fact that it isn’t simply a gazetteer. Many of the pages are dotted with invitations to adventure; small, sketched-out hooks that GMs can use to entice players. Some of these are linked to the more powerful, obvious locations, but many are sparked from small and intimate locations.
A neat side-bar alongside the description of a famous restaurant, for example, includes a potential quest from the head chef. He is being hounded by a mysterious customer demanding that he prepare and serve an angelic - and thoroughly sentient - aasimar, with the lives of his family under threat if he doesn’t comply. There isn’t all that much for GMs to go on, but just the hint of adventure could easily spiral into several sessions of satisfying gaming.
Still, though, the sheer quantity of lore on hand can be hard to digest. It’s well-written and solidly presented, but it’s hard to imagine how much of it the average gaming group will use. Especially when you consider that much of the more fundamental stuff has already been chronicled in fan-made wikis and websites online.
The book only really falls into must-buy territory for two groups of customers. The first are those who are certain that they’re going to run a campaign set in Absalom’s twisting streets within the next couple of years. The second are the die-hard Pathfinder fans who simply want to know more about a world than you can scrape from a wiki page.
Absalom: City of Lost Omens is an incredible guide to one of fantasy gaming’s most complex and convoluted capitals. It really has no interest in offering anything beyond that and does not pretend to serve any other goal. This won’t be for everyone, but if the idea of 400 pages of raw lore is an exciting prospect, it’ll be a fine addition to your library.
PLAY IT? YES
A thick, detailed guide to one of gaming’s greatest cities
TRY THIS IF YOU LIKED Pathfinder: Lost Omens World Guide
If you were into the lore-heavy world guide for second edition, this might be another book to add to your collection