Pathfinder: Book of the Dead Review

Hello my friends and welcome back to another PAIZO PRODUCT REVIEW! Today we’re taking a look at Pathfinder: Book of the Dead, one of the more interesting supplements to come out recently for Pathfinder second edition. This is a nifty little grimoire for those of y’all just itching to play a shambling undead—or, play undead hunters, I guess, but why do that when you can play a skeleton? Onward!

Book of the Dead Cover.png

One of the more delightful touches I wanted to make sure to appreciate about Book of the Dead is that of its framing conceit—the book presents itself as a manuscript from Geb on undeath and its presentations in Golarion, and the manuscript itself is supposedly stolen by unknown agents and delivered to the reader. Each section is also written by Geb in a different stage of his life (or unlife) as his views and understanding on undeath grows.

I can’t help but love this framing device, even if I would have loved to see a bit more distinction in Geb’s personality and opinions in the various sections. After the introductory chapter, Geb’s narrative voice largely falls away—which is a shame! I’m always down for a bit of characterization, especially for such an influential figure in Golarion geopolitics. In this regard, there are other books in other systems that see more success injecting the narrator’s personality, even if only in the marginalia, and I feel like there’s space for something that with Paizo books.

There only a few notable missed opportunities or disconnects with Geb’s narration—most notably with respect to the other influential undead leader in Golarion, Tar-Baphon. Geb remains curiously quiet on the Whispering Tyrant. I would love to hear what these two undead figures think of each other! That said, it’s odd that a mention of the fall of Lastwall occurs in the section that it does—that particular section is supposedly written millennia before the “current time” in Golarion, and so couldn’t have been referenced by the author at the time. Of course, the book authors need to make mention of it, because it's an incredibly influential event in world—this is just a case for some of that marginalia!

Book of the Dead TarBaphon.png

The real meat and potatoes of the book centers around player options for undead-centered characters. Undead hunters, sure, but also undead characters—the real draw here. Sure, there’s a Van Helsing archetype for those of you in desperate need of wide-brimmed hats and bandoliers of stakes and garlic, but who needs all of THAT when there are rules for playing as a LICH?! Or a VAMPIRE?! Or a ZOMBIE?!

Condolences to all you GMs out there that sign off on … basically anything in this book, because it’s going to be a slippery slope from character-approachable archetypes to your players begging to just play something out of the Bestiary. Most of the archetype feats feel like pale imitations of what the monster gets—ghouls don’t even get ghoul fever, even at levels where the ghoul natural abilities would be overshadowed by character abilities—so there’s a certain point where you should just ... play a monster campaign.

There’s a few other delightful little nuggets—sidebars on roleplaying tips, and a section on how to build and tell a ghost story—all of which combine with the main content here to make for a juicy (if somewhat niche) product perfect for a table and a GM ready for something new.
 

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Ben Reece

Ben Reece

Davies

Legend
I can’t help but love this framing device, even if I would have loved to see a bit more distinction in Geb’s personality and opinions in the various sections. After the introductory chapter, Geb’s narrative voice largely falls away—which is a shame!
This does not match my experience of the rest of this book at all, which is filled with observations from the Ghost King, illustrating his (utterly horrific) perspective on existence quite well.

From Chapter 4, Lands of the Dead:

Geb said:
It is simple to arrive at the conclusion that undeath’s advantages outweigh
those of life. Yet a nation cannot consist of the undead alone. While many
tasks seem better suited to the undead than to the living, it is clear that at a
large scale a nation requires the living to function. This is only in part due to
the needs of many undead to feed upon the living. The viewpoint of the living,
which is short term compared to that of the undead, makes them valuable.
To understand living rulers and neighbors, and to keep on top of day-to-day
tasks, a living advisor or functionary proves essential. The undead have the
perspective for long-term planning beyond short lives, the other half of the
whole. The living can also serve important diplomatic roles, as prejudice
against certain undead prevents them from being accepted in other lands.

And it goes on like for that for quite a ways.

What really disturbed me was his perspective on Tar-Baphon, not finding him any sort of rival or threat, just sort of reacting, "huh, interesting."
 


Ramaster

Explorer
This was an awful review, pardon me saying it.

The 2 longest of the mere 6 paragraphs are weird ramblings about a missed narrative opportunity. The mechanic portion of the review reads like it was written by a person that has only a passing familiarity with the system. There's no scoring nor any real recommendation about who'll benefit from reading this book.

The saddest thing of all is that this review comes just days after a long and detailed series of articles about how to write product reviews. The irony.
 



Lord_Blacksteel

Adventurer
Some additional details are really needed for this to be a useful review. Which options are lineage? Which are classes? Are some of them modifications to existing classes? Are there some feats that stand out? How do these player options compare to or add to what's in the core book? How about the APG? Besides all of the player options what's in it for the DM?
 


JThursby

Adventurer
This was an awful review, pardon me saying it.
I have to agree. This is not a case where the substance of the article is wrong or misleading, it's just a lack of substance at all. It doesn't adequately describe the scope of the contents of the book, or anything relevant to PF2e buyers about that content. It barely touches on the most talked about controversy of the book, the Undead archetypes being relatively weak uses of class feats. This is one of those cases where reading the product description for this book reveals more useful info to a prospective buyer than the review does.

I have already owned the book for a few months now (due to early subscriber copy), so here's my experience with it:
-I have a player using the Skeleton ancestry, and he enjoys it immensely. Healing is more difficult because of the combination of being undead and having the negative healing trait limits early healing options, but with those issues addressed with feats he and his allies have taken full advantage of his state. Immunity to negative damage makes some encounters much easier for him, and overall we find Skeleton to not shake the balance of the game. As long as an ancestry can do that while providing the narrative the player desires it's good in my book.
-The lore is presented well, and is omnipresent throughout the book, despite what the review says. There are sidebars throughout that give world information, sometimes from Geb. There's an entire chapter just focused on Undead nations, writen from the perspective of Geb and a Citizen of Geb when on the topic of the nation of the same name.
-The anti-undead player options are relatively small, with only a few archetypes and a few pages of items. The books is much more about the undead themselves, as either players, npcs to roleplay with, or just straight up enemies. For players there are a few archetypes centered around using undead as a weapon, some undead specific familiars, undead animal companions, an Undead eidolon for Summoners, and the main feature for players are the Skeleton ancestry which I talked about previously and Undead archetypes, which can only be taken after dying in specific ways (with GM permission).
-The Undead archetypes (Ghost, Ghoul, Lich, Mummy, Vampire, Zombie) have been complained about a lot online. There are a few reasons. The first is that investing in them consumes your Class Feats, and aren't any more powerful than any given class feat. The second is that many undead come with a debilitating weakness, ie Vampires die in the sun super fast. This is in line with the setting fiction so frankly I think this is a silly complaint. The third is that the undead benefits don't make you immune to poisons and disease, they give you a +1 (later upgraded to +2) bonus on saves against them. In my opinion this is stupid, a ghost shouldn't be able to get filth fever from a level -1 rat. This is one of the rare times the community generally recommends home brewing on top of Paizo's stock mechanics to fix issues that came with the stock versions, as most people can find at least one problem with the implementation of Undead archetypes they feel is egregious enough to tweak out of existence.
-The Bestiary section comes with 85 new undead, both increasing the breadth of types of undead included as well as deepening the selection of classic undead such as skeletons, zombies, vampires, etc. It also comes with general guidelines for transforming any other creature into an undead version (within reason).
-There's a chapter that reads like an extension of the Gamemastery Guide, containing general advice for undead themed adventures and campaigns, as well as rules for about two dozen new hazards/haunts, and general GM oriented rules and recommendations.

TL;DR version: This book focuses on the topic of Undead and expands those options from a Player and GM perspective, rather than being just for one. For both, the depth of options is impressive and generally of high quality. For players wanting to be an undead, the Skeleton Ancestry is good, the Undead archetypes are questionable in their stock configuration. The lore in the book is well written and engaging.
 



Retreater

Legend
I'm running PF2 more than any other game at the moment, but I can't see this being a product for me. The undead ancestries are something I wouldn't want in my games. I don't especially care about the campaign setting. All the undead-hunting feats and spells are on Archives of Nethys, so it's actually less convenient to use the book for character creation.
 


Xohar17

Explorer
TL;DR version: This book focuses on the topic of Undead and expands those options from a Player and GM perspective, rather than being just for one. For both, the depth of options is impressive and generally of high quality. For players wanting to be an undead, the Skeleton Ancestry is good, the Undead archetypes are questionable in their stock configuration. The lore in the book is well written and engaging.
Now THIS is a review, thanks for taking your time to write it.
 

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