First we got a book on the famous market of Absalom with Lost Omens: The Grand Bazaar for Pathfinder Second Edition (PF2). Now, Paizo has released Lost Omens: Absalom, City of Lost Omens which features the ENTIRE CITY.
This book is absolutely massive, clocking in at nearly 400 pages, which makes it a tome worthy of Golarion’s crown jewel city. While I can’t possibly touch on everything that the book has to offer, I will do my best to highlight my favorite parts. I also want to provide enough detail about Lost Omens: Absalom so that you can make a good judgment on whether or not you should pick this up for your Pathfinder shelf.
Absalom, City of Lost Omens is a definitive example of a city-specific book for tabletop roleplaying games. When people pick up a book like this, there is a wide variety of what they might be looking for. For example, some people might want a bunch of plug-and-play pieces that they can drop into their home campaigns. Others might want lore and history to enrich their version of Absalom. And still others might want inspiration for their characters.
Paizo has given us all of the above, and more. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised at the sheer number of detailed NPCs that were in the book. But, more on that to come.
I also mentioned it at the top, but if you want to get even more out of the Coins District section of the book, then you should definitely pick up Lost Omens: The Grand Bazaar. The actual bazaar is mentioned in minor detail, because I’m assuming that Paizo was all bazaar’d out after putting out that book. No need to reinvent the wheel, right?
Let’s dive into Absalom, City of Lost Omens!
Lost Omens Absalom, City of Lost Omens: Who It’s For
Normally when we’re talking about the Lost Omens line, we see that they’re typically designed for Gamemasters first and players second. With Lost Omens: Absalom, City of Lost Omens, it feels like it’s more of the same. Gamemasters are going to get the most back for their buck here, because it’s a book designed to enrich a city campaign.
If your players are just going to be passing through Absalom, I don’t really think that this book would be required. However, you can draw a ton of inspiration from Absalom when building your own cities, populating towns with vivid NPCs, preparing shops, and more. Urban campaign planners will find a lot a love here.
Over the course of Pathfinder’s lifespan, there have been a few city-centric adventure paths released. Curse of the Crimson Throne is probably the most notable Pathfinder First Edition AP set in a city (Korvosa), and I haven’t completely read through Agents of Edgewatch for PF2, but if I’m not mistaken that one also at least starts within city walls.
The sheer volume of content in the book is staggering. Here are a few highlights that might appeal to you:
- For the NPC-Lover – There are over 100 pages of NPCs. Yes, 100. That’s not a typo. Each one has a few paragraphs, alignment, ancestry, background, and level so that you can drop them in wherever it makes the most sense for your campaign.
- For Character-Creators – There’s one new ancestry in the Adventure Toolbox: the Azarketi. These are aquatic humanoids that have ties to the Azlanti empire. An excellent addition to any water-based adventure or nautical campaign.
- For Lore-Masters – The history of Absalom is extensive, filled with sieges, political power struggles, and – of course – the Starstone. With over 60 pages of content on the details of Absalom, this book will inspire you to new heights.
- For Urban Planners – Almost half of the book is dedicated to the various districts in Absalom. This includes points of interest, history, rumors, important NPCs, and the beautiful art that goes along with it. You’ll also get an amazing map of the entire city!
There is a distinct lack of player options in the book, but again, that’s not really the point of this Lost Omens entry. Absalom, City of Lost Omens is designed to showcase the many wonders of the grandest city in all of Golarion. This includes the architecture, the history, important locations, and most importantly, its people. PCs are not the focus here; it’s the community at-large.
Lost Omens Absalom, City of Lost Omens: The Best Parts
Now let’s take a look at my top three takeaways from Lost Omens: Absalom, City of Lost Omens. These are things that caught my eye when reading through the book, and the things I’m most excited to bring to the table.
The Ascendant Court
I’ve always been fascinated by the Starstone and Aroden’s rise to divinity. It’s a feat that only three others have successfully completed – Norgorber, Iomedae, and Cayden Cailean – although countless others have tried. The Ascendant Court features the legendary Starstone Cathedral, where hopefuls try their luck at sparking the divinity inside them.
What I was really hoping for in this section was even more detail on the Cathedral and the Test of the Starstone. This has been something that’s really been left up to the creativity of Gamemasters since its inception. And honestly I see Paizo’s intent with this; the second that you define the Test of the Starstone, you’re going to have players crafting PCs specifically to pass the test and ascend to godhood. Instead, our tables can have their own unique challenges to create such a story.
The reason why the Ascendant Court is so intriguing to me is that you have to imagine the adventures that can start or lead to here. Absalom is a city fraught with political intrigue, puppetmasters pulling the strings, and shadowy deals in back-alleys. The Ascendant Court brings all of that front and center.
Think about it – you have the competing ideologies of Aroden, Norgorber, Iomedae, and Cayden Cailean all vying for attention in this same district. There are tons of people flocking here to touch the sacred lands that allowed their deities to rise beyond mortality.
You have shops like The Black Mask, fueling the advent of skinsaws throughout Golarion (Rise of the Runelords fans are familiar with skinsaws). There’s the recreation of the tavern that Cayden Cailean hobbled out of before completing the Test. Within the Seventh Church of Iomedae, followers train and mentors teach the tenets of The Inheritor.
There’s even a Shrine for those who failed their quest to ascend.
In all, there’s so many competing forces in the Ascendant Court that you could have an entire adventure exclusively in this district.
Quests and Plot Hooks
Perhaps my favorite part of Lost Omens: Absalom, City of Lost Omens lies in the margins. All throughout, you’ll notice these blue-ish/teal banners topped with Aroden’s symbol: a pair of wings above an open eye. Paizo always knows how to get the most out of each page, and you don’t want to pass up these banners.
Inside each is a little bit of flavor that can turn into a plot hook for your table. Take a peek at the one to the right. Absalom has a history with minotaurs, and it makes sense that the Eagle Garrison would want to keep tabs on everything happening in the surrounding area. There are several extensions of this plot hook that you could use, depending on the type of quest or adventure that your table is looking for. Here are a couple examples:
- Gather Intel: The Eagle Garrison tasks the party with finding out what the diplomatic talks are all about. Turns out that these talks aren’t anything nefarious; the minotaurs are banding together to form a coalition and are in need of deciding their next ruler. Maybe the Eagle Garrison will provide some exciting transport?
- Necessary Distraction: All of these talks are actually a distraction as the Gorebreathers scout out weak points of entry into the city. Maybe they’re doing some secret excavation below ground? Either way, the Eagle Garrison has their eyes fixed and they’re clearly missing something.
- A Grand Event: The clans are preparing for a one-in-a-lifetime party to coincide with the solstice, but their records of the rituals involved with such an event are buried deep inside a forgotten catacomb. If the party can retrieve these plans, they’d surely get seats of honor at the event.
- Devil in the Walls: The city has failed to recognize attempts at the minotaurs reaching out, but this matter is desperate. They’ve caught wind that there’s a traitor in the court, and they can’t risk this knowledge getting into the wrong hands. The party needs to investigate the social dynamics to find the mole and their motives. The minotaurs should also be compensated, shouldn’t they?
There’s practically one of these banners on every page in the districts section. If you were to use each as a creative exercise for world-building and plot-planning, you will end up with an abundance of plot hooks. This isn’t something I was necessarily expecting from this Absalom book; I thought we’d have to read between the lines. Instead, Paizo has made everything much more accessible for us!
I’m still astounded that there are 100 pages worth of NPCs in Lost Omens: Absalom, City of Lost Omens. Many of them are referenced earlier in the book as prominent figures, shopkeepers, aristocrats, and more. And instead of just being a long list of names with a few tags, these are full-blown entries with lots of detail in each.
I’m sure there were plenty of contributors to these NPC designs, so my hat goes off to the designers for giving us so much content to work with. It actually reminds me a lot of the NPC Codex from first edition, albeit slightly more compact. Again, there is plenty of opportunity for you to supplant these NPCs directly into your home games, or use them in an Absalom setting.
Here are a few of my noteworthy favorites, and just some that caught my eye:
- Jonis Flakfatter – This guy definitely took some heavy inspiration from Doctor Strange. What I like about him is that despite being a high priest of Norgorber, he doesn’t necessarily play the part in public. How does he pull the strings in the many galas and events that he’s invited to?
- Reginald Vancaskerkin – This one gave me pause because the surname looked distinctly familiar to me. Then it dawned on me; Orik Vancaskerkin is featured in Rise of the Runelords! Without access to the Vancaskerkin family tree, I can’t speculate on the relationship between Reginald and Orik, but I love the cross-book connection. Reginald seems like a real schemer!
- Marli – It seems like I’m always pointing out Norgorber ties, but Marli’s story is one of murder and intrigue. As a costumer, she was the prime suspect in a wardrobe mishap. Never found guilty, she flocked to Jonis’ side and currently works in The Black Mask. What is she getting up to?
- Scion Lady Neferpatra of House Akhkamen – I couldn’t mention NPCs without talking about Neferpatra. She is described as someone who “holds more political power than any single figure in Absalom.” At the same time, she’s also a follower, which is an interesting combination for a leader. That means Mother Jackal is really funneling her power through Neferpatra. Absalom: City of Shadows!
Lost Omens Absalom, City of Lost Omens: Parting Thoughts
And there you have it! Overall, I’m really pleased with a book dedicated to Absalom. There’s so much to like in each of the districts, and I feel like I have a much better handle on the city. Whenever you’re dealing with a city of this magnitude, it can be incredibly daunting to try and prepare for your players to visit. Luckily, Lost Omens: Absalom, City of Lost Omens organizes everything in an intuitive way for you to find what you need to keep the action moving. Again, I see this primarily as a Gamemaster’s book.
I said it before, but Lost Omens: Absalom, City of Lost Omens breathes nice life into Golarion’s famous city, while proposing plenty of plot hooks for groups of all kinds. Even though I might not get lost in Absalom, I can certainly get lost within these pages!
[Disclosure: Nerds on Earth was provided a PDF copy of the Lost Omens: Absalom, City of Lost Omens from Paizo in exchange for an honest review.]