Seekers of Secrets Print E-mail
Written by Ryan. Costello, Jr   
Wednesday, 24 February 2010 12:22

In Golarion, the Pathfinder Society is an organization of adventurers. The Society isn’t out for the betterment of the world or even for personal gain. Collectively, they are want answers, knowledge, a complete history of the known world. Seekers of Secrets contains the answers, knowledge, and complete history required to run the Pathfinder Society in your game.


Expectations

As my campaigns flirt with Golarion, I have been most interested in incorporating the Pathfinder Society. I want a world spanning order that the PCs can turn to when the story loses momentum.

At a Glance

Steve Prescott’s cover piece leaves me wanting more. A rogue appraises a gem she has pried loose while her disapproving partymates spot an ambushing naga. The piece is nice, with a more realistic style than Pathfinder standby Wayne Reynolds. The colours are earthy and subtle, with my only complaint being the chalk-like reflection of the gem in the rogue’s eye. The big issue is that the cover does not convey the book’s theme. This scene says “looters”, not archeologists. The Indiana Jones “it belongs in a museum” message associated with the Pathfinder Society is absent, meaning it is a nice piece of art but an inappropriate cover.

The interior artwork falls into one of two categories: scenes and portraits. The scenes are mostly chapter headers, like a piece on page two that succeeds where the cover fails. A trio of dungeon-crawling adventurers are faced with a mystical obstacle. A caster and possibly a rogue patiently consult a book to determine how to bypass the trap while a fighter takes a more hands on approach.

The portraits are headshots for NPC snippets. More on these later.

Highlights

Engaging History

The writing in a book about archeologists in a fantasy world needs to balance dry details with exotic elements. Too much emphasis in either direction, taking itself too seriously, or not taking itself seriously enough could absolutely ruin a book like this. Fortunately, the writing is strong, interesting, and well-balanced. Not surprising considering it is written by prolific Paizo freelancer Tim Hitchcock, RPG Superstar 2008 Top 6 contestant Russ Taylor, editor James L. Sutter, and and publisher Erik Mona.

Additionally, the Pathfinder Society’s characterization is nicely evolved. Heretofore, it has been represented as trustworthy and straight forward. Seekers of Secrets reveals a suspicious side of the organization, with unreleased volumes, a checkered past, and an anonymous cabal of masked overseers known as the Decemvirate. Nothing previously known about the Pathfinder Society is  contradicted, thankfully, and the new information is ripe to be explored. This is the bar for which all fluff books should aim.

NPC Snippets

In the space it would take for four or five mid- to high-level NPC stat blocks, Seekers of Secrets outlines the backstories and personalities of fifteen NPCs related to the Pathfinder Society. The expressive portraits included fill in blanks about these characters and how a GM should handle them. Although there would have been value in having every feat, skill, and spell these characters possess presented, it is unlikely any of these NPCs will ever see combat. Names, races, and levels are given as a guideline for a GM that needs to stat these characters out. Less time efficient but more page efficient. Given the needs of this book, I accent this compromise.

Fluffy Crunch

Once upon a time, a Pathfinder RPG gamer could skip Pathfinder Chronicles and Pathfinder Companion with no fear of missing valuable crunch. The reason for this was that Paizo did not want to publish extensive 3.5 rules with the Pathfinder RPG on the horizon. Now that Paizo knows the current rules of the game their campaign setting supports, they are being more liberal with the options they include. This may seem like a low-point, and in many ways it is. However, there is a flavour to most of the new options that justifies their inclusion here rather than in a Pathfinder RPG sourcebook.

An item called a Wayfinder was introduced in the Pathfinder Chronicles Campaign Setting as an item Pathfinder Society members use liberally. It only makes sense to expand upon this, the one item exclusive to the subject of this book. The Campaign Setting suggested that Wayfinders have unique relationships with ioun stones, but no rules were outlined. Seekers of Secrets outlines those rules, and includes a number of new ioun stones. There are three prestige classes introduced. All three are directly tied to the Pathfinder Society. So yes, there is more crunch now than in the Pathfinder Chronicles books released under 3.5 rules. But the crunch and fluff are tied together tightly, with each enhancing the other.

Low Points

Meta-Name Confusion

The Pathfinder Society is an organization that writes journals of their adventures called Pathfinder Chronicles, and uses compasses called Wayfinders. The Pathfinder Society is also Paizo’s organized play program. Pathfinder Chronicles is also the name of Paizo’s campaign setting. Wayfinder is also the name of a magazine for Paizo fans by Paizo fans. That last one is less Paizo’s fault but no less true.

This is a broader problem than just Seekers of Secrets, but if I am new to the game and just played a Pathfinder Society scenario at a gaming convention, I might feel betrayed by this book, assuming I was getting a book about the real world Pathfinder Society.

I get that branding is important, that when people say “Pathfinder” Paizo wants them to think of them before they think of the car, the GI Joe, or the movie. The problem is that there is still confusion just saying Pathfinder among gamers. Are they talking the game or the campaign setting? Are they talking about something internal or something external? The ad for the Pathfinder Society in the book and on the back cover adds to the problem, and making the rules in this book legal in Pathfinder Society organize play whereas the majority of Pathfinder Chronicles material is illegal adds a whole new layer of confusion.

Ioun Madness

Let it be clear that I have nothing against ioun stones. In fact, if you can forgive a little on-topic self-promotion, there is an ioun stone specialist prestige class in Strategists & Tacticians, my upcoming sourcebook from 4 Winds Fantasy Gaming, called Ioun Angel. Let it also be clear that I do not think the new ioun stones included or the rules for cursed and flawed ioun stones included are broken or uninteresting. I just feel dedicating twelve pages of a sixty-five page book to ioun stones excessive. It feels like so much more could have been done with this space. Bizarre.

Unbreakable Ties to Absalom

This is barely a low point. To officially join the Pathfinder Society, characters must apply at the grand lodge in Absalom. So if your campaign takes place nowhere near Absalom, technically your characters need to leave your campaign, your plot, your important NPCs to trek to Absalom or they can not join the Pathfinder Society. It is one of those situations that is easy to house rule, but why do I have to?

Juicy Bits

The outline and map of the Grand Lodge is quite useful, with a few unexpected adventure hooks built in.

All three prestige classes are fun, but the Student of War stands out. It has a lot of ranger elements without making ranger a prerequisite, giving non-rangers access to some ranger abilities or turning a ranger into a specialist.

Revelation is a spell that helps parties without skill monkeys overcome traps and puzzles.

Overall

This book met my expectations, which were high. Although I have several other books and products cued for review, I had to read Seekers of Secrets as soon as I got it and started using it immediately.

Even if you do not run a Golarion game, the Pathfinder Society as outlined fits into any campaign.

Date Released: November 2009
Date Reviewed: February 2010