Pathfinder’s Book of the Dead Brings the Undead to Life

The newest Pathfinder rulebook provides a plethora of rules, options, lore, and monsters, all of which are linked by a connection to the afterlife. In 2020 and 2021, Paizo’s first large rulebook release for its popular Pathfinder roleplaying game was a Bestiary, providing Game Masters with dozens of new monsters to use in their campaigns. This year, Paizo has opted for a more refined approach with Book of the Dead, a rulebook that contains dozens of new undead monsters as well as character options for players who want to create an undead character. While not as robust as the previous two Bestiary releases, Book of the Dead is still a solid addition for Pathfinder faithful, especially those who are looking to either battle zombies and ghouls or perhaps are looking to become one themselves.

Book of the Dead is framed as a collection of tomes written by Geb, the ghostly wizard-king ruler of the nation that bears his name. Geb’s musings are scattered throughout the rulebook with any inconsistencies in tone explained away as being written by Geb during different points in his lengthy (and mostly undead) reign. While previous Pathfinder rulebooks are about 80/20 straight rules to lore, Book of the Dead is closer to a 70/30 split. While not as lore-driven as Paizo’s Lost Omens series, Book of the Dead digs a little deeper into Golarion’s history with sections explaining Necril, the language spoken by all undead creatures or the history of Urgathoa the Pallid Princess, the first undead creature and goddess of the undead.

My only disappointment with how the lore is presented in Book of the Dead is that it barely scratches the surface of Pathfinder lore. Given that much of Paizo’s older Pathfinder material is out of print (although still available in PDF form), I wanted a bit more context and history to help bring newer Pathfinder players up to speed with Golarion’s rich history. It feels odd to me that a book written by Geb would only have four pages about his country. Likewise, the Whispering Tyrant, the undead lich whose return served as a climax of sorts for Pathfinder 1E, only gets a pair of pages and a handful of mentions.

Minor gripes about what’s not in Book of the Dead aside, the actual content of Book of the Dead is largely fantastic. The book is divided into five distinct parts, each of which is named after a different Geb-authored tome. The first section, “Prayers for the Living,” provides players with a variety of tools to use when fighting the undead, including some new backgrounds and a handful of magic items. This includes a handful of archetypes that comes with various feats designed to help build an exorcist-type character or a slayer of undead foes. The next section, “Hymns for the Dead,” provides options for players who want to go the opposite directions with archetypes and directions on how to build an undead character. Some of these archetypes seem to have limited uses, but playing as a Skeleton character does seem awfully fun and unique.

(Photo: Paizo)

The third and longest section of Book of the Dead is “The Grim Crypt,” which acts as a bestiary containing dozens of different undead creatures including variants of existing monsters like liches, mummies, and zombies. There are a few creatures in here with very niche abilities such as the Fiddling Bones (a skeleton with bard-esque abilities) or the Grappling Spirit (a wrestling ghost), but Pathfinder has always delighted in providing players with monsters to fill even very specific circumstances.

The fourth section of Book of the Dead is “Lands of the Dead,” a brief gazetteer of the surprisingly numerous locales where the undead walk within Golarion. This section is the one that would have benefited most from an expansion, as it simply felt too short to be much use for players. The final section was “March of the Dead,” an adventure for 3rd level characters that pits players against a horde of zombies in a small village outside the Gravelands.

Overall, Book of the Dead is a fun tome that sets the bar for the upcoming year of Pathfinder rulebook releases. With the core rulebooks for Pathfinder Second Edition now out of the way, I like Paizo’s plan of releasing more specific rulebooks built around a single theme. Pathfinder 1E suffered from some bloat due to how much new material Paizo provided players with every new rulebook release, so I like the idea of ​​digging a bit deeper into a specific area (whether that’s the undead with Book of the Dead or the strange phenomena in the upcoming Dark Archive release). All in all, I enjoyed reading through this book much more than I did Secrets of Magic which was filled with great spells for players but did not have much for those who actually enjoy reading rulebooks. Book of the Dead is a fun book filled with useful tools and rules for any Pathfinder player. It’s a must-have for Pathfinder GMs or for those looking for some inspiration in any fantasy-themed roleplaying game.

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