PAX Prime '15 Discoveries- Southlands: Adventures Beneath the Pitiless Sun

Thursday, September 3, 2015

I hadn't heard of "Southlands: Adventures Beneath the Pitiless Sun" until I stumbled across it at PAX. I'd somehow completely missed the Kickstarter, hadn't heard it mentioned or seen any reviews, and yet it leapt right off the shelf at me.

The art, obviously, was the first thing to catch my eye. The cover features this kind of fantasy Arabian woman with a huge lion behind her, set against the backdrop of a desert vista with the hint of a magnificent city in the background. The thing that really struck me as I was leafing through the pages, was that every piece of art seems like it could have been drawn by the same hand, or at least by a team of artists who were all working in the same room. It's all high quality, beautiful, on theme, and there is a lot of it. One of my favorite pieces is on page 259, where a trio of priestesses of Bastet, the cat goddess, are routing a group of duergar.  There's a few other pieces that are equally awesome as well, including one that looks a bit like an unfortunate reimagining of what would have happened if the Biblical pharaoh had had a pair of aquamancers on hand when Moses parted the Red Sea.

The fluff and story hooks are excellent as well. You've got a couple rakshasa who are all angling their way towards stealing divinity through one nefarious scheme or another, titanic demigods walking amongst their people and serving as both religious and secular ruler, and tons of other interesting hooks and settings for adventure. One of the new playable races, the kijani, have an interesting backstory where they're fostering the seedlings of their children with human and minotaur hosts in an attempt to become more mammalian, which has lots of interesting story potential all on its own. There's also an expansive description of the various deities that make up the Southlands pantheon, with fairly detailed descriptions of all the interactions and relationships between the various deities.

The crunch, not surprisingly given the quality of the rest of the work, is also excellent. The book is rife with archetypes custom designed for the setting, including a summoner archetype that gets a genie in a magic lamp, gnoll caravan raiders, zebra-mounted cavalry sorcerers, and lots more. The pantheons come with a selection of cool new domains, like Bastet's Cat domain and the new Speed domain, as well as interesting choices for the various deities' favored weapons.

The crunch isn't just for the players either; there are variant mummies (including the mummified monkey swarm, which is either horrifying or hilarious, I can't quite decide), tables of Primal Magic Events that can be triggered by casting spells in certain magically unstable areas of the Southlands, an array of divination spells, new familiars, and an alternate hieroglyphics casting system. There is a lot of meat on these bones.

Southlands is an awesome book, both in quality of production and quality of content. I seriously can't recommend this enough to anyone who may want to add a splash of the exotic to their campaign with story elements and mechanics drawn from India, the Middle East, and north Africa.