Book of the Dead (part 2)

Pathfinder source book review

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Paizo's Book of the Dead is a source book about both the dead and the undead, describing the ecology, lifecycle, ethics, advantages, and dangers of time spent after all your time is spent. I picked up a copy at my game store, and I'm going to review it chapter by chapter. This post covers the chapter 2, "Hymns for the Dead."

Player options

For the most part, this chapter presents options for playing, and playing with, undead. By page count, this is mostly achieved through archetypes. I think that's a great way of handling character customization in general, but especially when it's a change of life status.

Suppose your character dies, and your GM gives you the option of rising again in an undead state. In another game system, you'd have to rip up your character sheet and roll a new character (except, it's meant to be the same character) with a new class or race.

That's not what you want, though. What you really want is to apply an overlay to an existing character. By making undead character options archetypes, Paizo lets you just swap out your page of feats. It's really good design, which is no surprise because Pathfinder 2 has possibly the best and most consistent data schemata of any RPG I've read.

The exception to this is the skeleton, which is its own ancestry. I find this puzzling, and I don't see any reason for it. I haven't tried it, but I don't see any reason you couldn't just treat the Skeleton ancestry feats as archetype feats. Then again, Paizo usually knows what they're doing, so maybe there's a good reason for making the skeleton its own ancestry. It's work, but a player could convert their character (aside from their ancestry) to a skeleton, and maybe Paizo considers the skeleton ancestry unique enough to require a little extra work to acquire.


I love mythology, so the Deities of the Undead section is a nice touch. There are five gods (Urgathoa, Charon, Kabriri, Orcus, Zura) across two pages. There's not a whole lot of lore on each one, but it's enough to go on, should you require a quick basis for a death (on undeath) cult during a game. Of course, once invoking one of these gods, you'd probably have to go hunt down a different source book to find out more information, and I do wish the authors cited some extra resources.

Game mastery

I'm not sure why, but the last section of this chapter is directed solely at the game master. Maybe there was an extra charge for chapter headings at the printer? This is clearly a new chapter. It has nothing to do with player options, and it's not meant for player consumption.

That complaint aside, the Haunts section is excellent. I've always enjoyed haunts in Pathfinder, because they present a kind of a puzzle to players. They give the players and the GM a chance to collaborate. Players have to investigate, and the GM has to work with them to figure out how much information is too much information to give away, and when. It can admittedly be tricky, maybe, for the new GM but once you understand the pacing and flexibility limits of running a game, a haunt can be a nice non-combat confrontation.

Meaty content

There's a lot of great, and frankly important player content in this chapter. I haven't played with this book yet, but I've played with similar options in Pathfinder and D&D, and they're often easy to forget, until you realize you need them. I've had players die in some unusual circumstances (upon unusual circumstances), and sometimes it just makes sense for the character to remain in the control of the player, even after death. These are options that make that possible! It can literally be game changing. The more I reflect upon it, the more I think that this book is maybe essential, at least if you want maximum flexibility in how you handle player death.

Next, I'll continue on to chapter 3, "The Grim Crypt."

Book of the Dead cover art copyright by Paizo, used under the community use policy.

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