Monday, August 20, 2012

Blood of Angels and Magnimar, City of Monuments

I finished the last two Paizo books that were part of my Amazon order, the slimmer Blood of Angels, a kind of aasimar counterpart to the Blood of Fiends book I reviewed a couple of weeks ago, and Magnimar, City of Monuments, a sourcebook on the city of the same name that has appeared in numerous adventure paths to date.

These will be shortish reviews; after reading and reviewing several Paizo books in a row, I'm starting to feel like my reviews of them are getting repetitive.  So rather than repeat them, I've lumped the two together, and will not give too many details about each.

Blood of Angels follows much of the same format as Blood of Fiends, and as such is the "definitive" guide to playing aasimars.  It gives a number of alternate and modified ways to construct the race; you can swap out physical descriptions with a d% with physical quirks based on your celestial blood, it has a similarly long chart that gives alternate racial abilities, and it also offers more focused aasimar types which are more closely tied to a specific type of celestial.  As with the other book, the last several pages are pretty specific to their ruleset, and don't work quite as well if you're still playing 3.5, or whatever.  But much of the content will be as useful as Blood of Fiends was, and for the same reason.

In terms of the fluffy stuff, some of it feels kinda obvious, although the book makes an interesting point that aasimars can grow up burdened by expectation, and feel very alone regardless of any other factor in their life.  One thing that occured to me is that how is it that people know a person is an aasimar?  Depending on the physical features such a character develops, it doesn't necessarily resemble an angel exactly; and frankly, with some of those features, why are they not assumed to be tieflings, even?  And at the beginning when it discusses the genesis of aasimar bloodlines, it came with the same kind of feel--I couldn't help but ask how any of this was "good"?  How is it that angels are acting this callously towards mortals, and how is this any better than what fiends supposedly do?  This is where I found the book to be surprisingly inspirational to someone like me who ignores alignment and specifically cultivates a dark fantasy vibe to my homebrew gaming.  First off, what really is the difference between a celestial and a fiend, other than alignment?  There are a number of different fiendish types already, depending on your choice of source material, as well as a number of different types of celestials.  Each "type" has a suite of special abilities.  A number of other outsiders exist with similar suites of abilities--but they are neither fiends nor celestials.  The differences between them start to grow very esoteric and fluffy after a while, though.  Why aren't creatures like efreet or slaads fiends?  What if celestials aren't necessarily any more "good" than fiends, because in a dark fantasy milieu, what is good and evil?  Is the only difference between celestials and fiends who is prettier and has better PR?

If you've ever read Scar Night, you might think that actually that's a pretty compelling scenario.  And even if you don't, the notion of fallen angels is, of course, heavily ingrained in our collective mythological lexicon.  And the notion of pitching aasimar as nephilim appeals to me greatly.  So much so that I might even officially make it a possibility for DARK•HERITAGE.  And when a book makes me consider adding a new, potentially significant element to my setting because it's got something that I like, well, I call that a success.

Magnimar was more overtly successful in that I can more easily see myself using it as is without having to get there through proxies and by making changes to setting assumptions.  Magnimar is a city in the "frontier region" of Golarion, the big Varisian area, which is similar in some respects to the "points of light" setting of 4e, although coincidentally, I'm sure (for one thing, it predates it by at least a little bit, or at best they were coming out at more or less the same time.)  This PoL setting has scattered villages, roving barbarians, and then basically three or four significant population centers.  One of them is a pirate port, one of them is a weird, bohemian crazy place, one of them is a little Chelaxian wannabe, and then there's Magnimar... maybe a glimpse at what Cheliax might have been before the diabolist House of Thrune took over.  In this sense, it's an interesting addition to the setting.

It's also a fairly typical D&Dish place.  It's relatively ordered, and can therefore be a relatively safe "home base" for PCs to strike out from in search of adventure, but it's also got a fair bit of adventuring possibilities right there within city limits, from dealing with cults, shapechangers, corrupt nobles, organized crime, and (yawn!) the ubiquitous "dungeon ruins within the city."  It's a little bit less of a "wretched hive of scum and villainy" and more a place that's hoping to do the right thing, but teetering on the edge of going the wrong way.  If, of course, the PCs aren't there to nudge things along.  To be honest with you, my reading of Magnimar left me a little less impressed than I hoped to be, and even while I was reading it, I was thinking back to passages and places in other books like Freeport or Five Fingers, where I liked what they did better.

One interesting little mechanical addition to the rules was the notion of performing some kind of ritual in front of a monument to get a temporary benefit.  This seemed very similar to the notion of shrines and whatnot in Five Fingers, and I'm pretty sure that the Paizo folks must have gotten the idea there.

After describing the various locations around the city, there were a few pages of plots and secrets and stuff going on around town, and then there are a number of pages of bestiary.  There are only a couple of actual new monsters, though, and quite a few sample NPC stats.  As with Isles of the Shackles which I just reviewed, I'm a little skeptical that this is a good use of pagecount, and if this becomes the modus operandi of Pathfinder setting books, I'm going to knock them down a notch or two in estimation from where they used to be.

But despite that seemingly negative approach, I thought the book was well done, and I think Magnimar is a great resource for anyone running a Golarion game, or even a regular D&D game in another setting.  It's especially nice if you're going to run one of the adventure paths that spend a significant amount of time in the city, like Rise of the Runelords or Shattered Star.

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