City of 7 Seraphs (Patreon Request)
City of 7 Seraphs (Patreon Request)
So, this massive hardcover clocks in at 609 pages. Yes, 609 pages of content – this is already minus the usual editorial, ToC, SRD, etc. And there is a LOT of text on each page. This is literally one of the most densely-packed books I’ve read in a long while.
Why did I not call this “campaign setting”? Because there is more to this.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. The first thing you have to know, is that I have contributed to this tome – I’ve written a race and an archetype for this massive book, the Rhyzala and the Mycorrhizal Networker radiant archetype , to be more precise. As such, this discussion of the book will NOT have a traditional final rating.
At the same time, I genuinely feel that I have to talk about this – and supporters of my patreon asked me to discuss this tome. Why did this take so long? Well, I print out most pdfs I cover, and reading a book of this size on screen? Just not gonna happen. So yeah, this review is based primary on the massive hardcover.
Considering the vast scope of this massive tome, there are quite a few things to cover, and as such, I will diverge from my usual reviewing template. It should be noted that this can be approached as either a crunch book, or a campaign setting – or as it is intended, as both.
The first thing I noticed when this book arrived, was its bulk, quality and size. Offset printing, glossy pages, and then you flip it open, and your jaw pretty much hits the floor: This book is CHOCK-FULL with phenomenal, high-quality original artwork that manages to adhere to a concise aesthetic. Liz Courts’ layout is also just stunning, using icons for factions and generating a book that is truly impressive to just show off. I maintain that this book looks better than a lot of official 1st party products, and if you’re interested and can find a copy of it, I’d strongly suggest getting this massive beast in print. The book also came with a special card that unearths secrets of the city – check twitter, hashtag #SecretsofCo7S for more of those – love that! I should also mention that the book, so far, has withstood rather well my habit of dragging it around. So yeah: Physical copy? Highly recommended.
Anyhow, you’re more interested in the content. In the most simplistic of terms, this is a planar metropolis setting somewhat akin to Planescape’s Sigil in function, in that it can act as a meta-setting to transition into. It’s also a massive book of rules-relevant material, of crunch. Both of these summaries, however, are woefully inadequate in describing this book properly. It’s very hard to summarize this tome in a satisfying manner, so let me frame a couple of basic questions for you:
- How hardcore a Pathfinder 1st edition fan are you? And how permissive are in your game?
If you’re like me and have literally dozens of folders of printed pdfs, whole shelves devoted to 3pp material, if several, perhaps all of your players use 3pp material, then you’ll ADORE this book. Because it is a love-letter to some of the best third party offerings out there. The book contains, among other things, material that works for Drop Dead Studios’ Spheres of Power, Spheres of Might and Champions of the Lost Spheres. There is Kobold Press’ theurge class and much-beloved shadow fey race herein; there is the aegis by Dreamscarred Press (classes used with permission); there is material for Rogue Genius Games’ classic time thief and time warden; there is material for Purple Duck games’ phenomenal Ultimate Covenant Magic system, and for the amazing Lost Spheres classes Echo and Shadow Weaver. There even is material for Purple Duck Games’ criminally-underrated Illuminatus chaos mage, for Aethera’s cantor, for the amazing Skinchanger by Legendary Games…and so on. Even in the instance of reprints, we have modifications and refinements to classes, making e.g. the echo work much more smoothly. This massive book offers a metric ton of supplemental material for some of the best 3pp materials produced for Pathfinder – and yes, these include Ultimate Psionics and Path of War. HOWEVER, do not think that you need to own all of those – even if you e.g. dislike a given subsystem or use it only for a narrow set of stories, this book works perfectly on its own. If you’re like me and generally tend to e.g. use Path of War only sparingly, you won’t have to fear that this book will force any of those subsystems down your throat.
There is one exception to this, and that would be akasha, which is a crucial component of the book – if you ignore akasha, you are missing out on quite a lot of content. Michael Sayre’s revision of the Incarnum rules is perhaps one of the most mathematically-impressive sub-system I’ve seen for Pathfinder, and it checks out VERY well and is finely-tuned. Akashic Mysteries may well be my favorite book from Dreamscarred Press, on par with the all but required Ultimate Psionics. That being said, this book is essentially Akashic Mysteries II – we have the new base-classes from Akashic Trinity included herein – and, unlike the teaser-standalone release of those, we have plenty of complex archetypes that change how they play. I LOVE akasha, and I hated Incarnum with a fiery passion. And honestly? I consider the akashic material herein to be even better than the first Akashic Mysteries release.
Of course, as any GM with a long-term experience with permissive GMing can attest to, there is the question of internal balancing to contend with in the face of so many different options. And interestingly, this book, in spite of its massive scope, manages to generally find a pretty concise line regarding a high power-level that remains still within the frame that makes the math not crumble to bits. I’ll return to the grand balancing question later.
For now, let us take a look at the list of authors. Beyond Christen N. Sowards, we have Kate Baker, Wolfgang Baur, Clinton Boomer, Savannah Broadway, Robert Brookes, Tytiana Browne, Matt Daley, Scott Gladstein, Sasha Laranoa Harving, N. Jolly, Michael Lefavor, Colin McComb, Ron Lundeen, Richard Moore, Andrew Mullen, Jessica Redekop, David N. Ross, Michael Sayre, Jaye Sonia, Todd Stewart, Brian Suskind, George “Loki” Williams, and last and probably least, ole’ me.
If you know about Pathfinder, you’ll recognize a lot, perhaps all of these names, and you’ll notice that they have one thing in common: High concepts. All of these authors are, in some way or another, known for not settling on the mundane, and this shows, big time. If you know about pathfinder, you’ll also note, though, that there are some people here, which I’d consider to be primarily designers, while others, I’d think of more as authors. This does show in the crunch of this book, and it might be more evident than in comparable tomes, because this has a seriously wicked amount of top-tier rules. As noted, thinking of this as Akashic Mysteries II is a way to appreciate the book for that aspect – and frankly, it might be even better than the first akasha tome – and that one made my top ten list. You just have to start reading N. Jolly’s kyton-spawned, somewhat inevitable-like judow race to start salivating, and same goes for genuinely cool concepts like the mirrorkin, a race that pushes the boundaries of the engine; I obviously hope my own rhyzala also inspire folks out there. For example, Oathbound 7 (Kudos if you own that obscure book!) had introduced the brilliant psychic, telekinetic jellyfish race Ceptu, which is part of the City. However, if you’re familiar with Oathbound 7, you’ll know that rules aren’t exactly the strong suit of the authors of that tome, and thus, the ceptu will require some GM calls to use in a concise manner. I *think* the original verbiage was maintained for the purpose of faithfulness, but the race imho needs clarification of how e.g. its telekinetic fighting ability precisely operates. This is NOT a dealbreaker, but there are a few instances where a dip in rules-integrity is evident, particularly since the book otherwise delivers top-tier echelon material.
That being said, even if you take those, and the inevitable formatting oversights here, the missing bonus type there into account, you’ll still be left with a book that has a far above-average quality of rules, concepts and designs – and EVERYBODY will find something to their tastes. The tome is littered with archetypes, prestige classes, occult rituals, mythic support (with warning caveats and GM guidance), feats that feel like a loveletter to Rite Publishing’s Martial Arts Guidebook, psionic powers, veils – there is just so much amazing stuff here, and the vast majority of the material is meticulously precise. What about e.g. feats that are activated as a free action on your turn, as an immediate action when it’s not your turn? You know you want to take a feat that’s called “Soul of the Stormbolt, Flesh of the Thunderstroke”, right? I know I do! In short: Unlike many massive crunch-books I’ve reviews (and I genuinely think I haven’t covered a crunch-book of this size before), both editing and formatting are much better than anticipated; indeed, some might say than what an indie production like this, with some many different authors would make you hope for.
So yeah, while in some sections uneven, this book breathes the tradition of Lost Spheres Publishing, in that it does not settle for bland – the ambition regarding the rules is evident throughout. This may not be perfect, but even when divorced from its setting, I consider this book to be well worth its asking price – it is one of the most ambitious rules books I have ever read, and contains a lot of top-tier material.
This is NOT the entire mechanical/permissive appeal; there is more to this book in that regard, but to understand the imho biggest achievement of this tome, you will need to take the campaign setting into account as well, and that’s what we’ll do.
The second grand question this poses would be:
- Do you want something genuinely new?
I have seen comparisons with the obvious grandmother of planar metropolises, Planescape’s Sigil. I’d genuinely argue in favor that these comparisons, while apt, might be considered to be a disservice to just how incredibly SMART this book is. I will need to embark on a few digressions, so please bear with me – I promise all my rambling will have a point in the end.
Start of academic digressions here!
If you do have the book in front of you, I’d suggest that you read the creation myth of the city, the start of the book, first – and then flip to the end and read the GM advice that explains leitmotifs etc., for the creation myth is indeed a mythology; it is deliberately couched in terms of vagueness and speculation, and it feels like a narrative of a place that never was; unlike many a book or setting, it does not borrow from real-world mythology in the strictest sense, though it does intersect with it.
What do I mean by this? Well, the City of 7 Seraphs is defined by a form of duality, between the Radia, a massive planar storm of luminal (ethereal, astral, dream, etc.) planes crashing in a vast, pulsing blaze, and the Occlusion, the plane of shadow’s quasi immune-response – it is literally a city balanced precariously on the tip between light and dark, and either of these extremes threaten to annihilate the place. This is a HUGE simplification, but it is a crucial component of the book, so until you read the whole myth, let’s just operate on this simplification.
I won’t surprise anyone when I’m stating that light tends to be connotated and conflated with good, darkness with evil, right? As Jacques Derrida famously observed, Western thinking tends to operate in dichotomies that value presence over absence; this is, in part, obviously due to the influence of the Abrahamic religions, gender-roles, power-structure, etc. – once you’ve understood this, you’ll see it everywhere, in all those little micro-appraisals and judgments we engage in on a daily basis, many firmly rooted in our language’s conventions. I don’t have to explain to you that the fact that we tend to value one part of the dichotomy over the other is problematic; moreover, however, the implication is more insidious. The dichotomy implies an either/or state, a simplified Kierkegaardian “enten/eller” that we engage with on a daily basis, when that’s not at all what truly correlates to the complex realities we face in reality.
In a way, gaming might be escapism, but we all know, on a deep level, that extremes of dichotomies are bad writing and gaming. A utopia bereft of threats is boring…and so is a grimdark world, where everything good and pure inevitably turns to shit. It’s why Ravenloft is compelling to me – the deck is stacked against heroes, but even the dark lords of that place suffer; they are not one-dimensional villains, but complex entities condemned to their fates and eternal punishment by character flaws. Almost every GM out there had, at one point, an insufferable paladin whose fanaticism and extreme interpretation of what being good means, required either conforming to rigid and unpleasant simplifications of complex problems, whose commitment to this nebulous notion of “lawful goodness” potentially made them a martyr…or fall from grace, as the line between good and evil, between the extremes, actually is pretty fluid. There is a reason for my well-documented HATE for the alignment system in any game, for the presence of the plethora of lawful stupid memes, for the countless threads of GMs struggling how to negotiate alignments of different characters. On the other hand of the spectrum, a person who is just evil for the sake of being evil…is a Saturday morning cartoon cliché; it does not resonate, and nobody will empathize or consider the like interesting. Engaging in grimdark misery stockpiling just numbs you.
To give you all another well-known example of a mythology that is very much founded on an either/or-scenario: Dark Souls. It’s a “you lose either way”-scenario, a nihilistic catch-22. City of the 7 Seraphs, with its light/dark-theme could have easily ripped off the Dark Souls franchise’s mythology, but elected to go another route with this leitmotif, and one that is EXTREMELY relevant for us all, even beyond the gaming sphere.
You see, the City needs to balance its position in order to thrive – there can’t even be just light, there can’t ever be just dark; it is a city of twilight, of dark, of light, and all the shades in-between. Both Occlusion and Radia, ultimately, promise annihilation; the city can only thrive while these two forces are in balance; they are extremes, absolutes – and they exist as demarcation lines for concepts – but life? Life thrives between. Why is this relevant? I am, as you probably all know, from the United States, and when I see how the political system is geared towards enforcing a dichotomy, it breaks my heart; over the last couple of years, I’ve seen an increase in hostility, an increase in communication breakdowns for not being on the “right” side of the political spectrum; I’ve witnessed a radicalization of per se important concepts. And I think that this deep division, this wound, is the result of dichotomous thinking. I, for example, do not believe that most Republicans are Nazis, even though I’ve seen this sentiment echoed time and again. Nor do I think that most Democrats are hippies. But that’s the level of discussion we can witness, time and again on social media. That, and guilty by association – not blocking the “right” people on social media can already be construed as an attack on a given person’s entire being.
I don’t think that most people would disagree with the notion that extremism, regardless of the precise kind, tends to be hurtful. But I can’t help but consider a lot of the current discourse to be mired in a premise that is inherently destructive and flawed, namely on one of dichotomies. We apply “good” to our side, “bad” to the other. Light and dark. Because it is easy, because we are, to a degree, hardwired to do so by culture, language, etc.
I adore Dark Souls, because it does tend to underline my worldview in my more depressed or fatalistic moments, and I’ll be writing a text on that sooner, rather than later. However, in a cooperative, social game, does this work? Does it really? Gaming is inherently a bonding, social experience. You can have fun with someone who does not share your culture, beliefs, who might not even have the same native tongue, provided you share a lingua franca. Heck, I certainly have played plenty of games with native speakers of other languages, in their respective languages. And this experience? Regardless of your own political views and beliefs? They can build bridges. They can eliminate prejudice. They can soften hardliner stances for all but the most fanatic of persons. Picture a person you’ve played with since your early teens coming out as queer. Would that invalidate your friendship, all those good times shared in your games? Of course not. Even if you hold very strong beliefs on that matter, there’s a good chance you might at least pause and consider.
Roleplaying games in general are a form of communication, and one that, when all are having fun, is anathema to extremism. Because it becomes really hard to hold on to prejudices when playing with people; it’s hard to condemn someone for how they vote when you share so many fond memories. And it is a space that allows us to explore dicey themes in a controlled environment; heck, I bet there are plenty people out there who’ve had their ideologies or certain beliefs at least modified after encountering a particularly thought-provoking plot, right?
Anyways, my contention is this: City of 7 Seraphs, in all of its details, embraces this permissive notion of co-existence not only on a meta-level, but also on both a leitmotif level, and on that of individual characters. The motivation of the party is not to tilt the scales of balance towards good or evil, light or dark – it’s not to subscribe to one extreme or another. Instead, the setting, the city, demands the fact that both characters and players acknowledge the subjectivity of the extremes implicit in alignments systems, and thus, by extension, dichotomous thinking in general.
…or, on a gaming level: The city has plenty of factions – the-so-called parities, of which there are 14. These factions probably elicited a lot of the comparisons with Sigil, but a) are unique and b) are paired in ones aligned with light and dark. And here’s the kicker: They must work together to maintain the spiritual balance of the city. This means that paladins have a good reason to have to work with e.g. vampires or similar undead (like the ones from e.g. Rite Publishing’s In the Company of Vampires or Dreamscarred Press’ Lords of the Night), that there is a good reason for chaotic, leftwing anarchists to work together with Judge Dredd-like super-lawful clerics. Much like real life society, the City of 7 Seraphs doesn’t operate on absolutes – it embraces the need to cooperate, the necessity for both entropy and creation, for all those concepts usually paired off in “vs.” scenarios. It is a more enlightened setting, one obviously built with regards to allowing for sophisticated negotiations of truly complex topics and questions. Or, you know, you could murderhobo in several of its environments just fine, if that floats your boat. 😉 And yes, I am aware of the irony of “enlightened” contained the word “light” and being conflated with good – see what I meant by these concepts being deeply-ingrained in our very language?
This is not the only component of this book’s themes that has deep and intrinsic values, mind you, and you certainly don’t need to subscribe to my reading above. You do have to know, however, that setting provides an intrinsic reason for e.g. chaotic evil and lawful good characters to be forced to work together, should you desire such.
I’ve already touched briefly upon the Sigil comparisons and a few aspects that lead me to think of this book as something utterly distinct, and even superior to the Granddaddy of planar metropolises. Where Sigil enforced pretty directly faction conflict and more extreme ideologies, the City of 7 Seraphs focuses not on their direct clash, but upon the negotiation of philosophies and types of weltanschauung on a grander scheme that might well have immediate and disastrous consequences if not engaged in. It sets up these dichotomies between light and dark as at once oscillating tensions between extremes AND as complimentary sides of the same, grand picture. It engages in a type of synthesis, if you will, once that does not dissolve the respective components.
This is not the story of singular villains and heroes – and in that way, the myth-weaving provided in the beginning of the book does something incredibly smart, or at least I think it does. Joseph Campbell once posited the concept monomyth, a kind of template for the heroic journey that might be applied to most mythologies and tales, and while I do not subscribe to the validity of its universal application, I do consider it helpful as a concept – in many ways, gaming could be pictured, on an individual level, as embarking on a variant of such a journey with your character. However, on a meta-level, on the level of the table, City of 7 Seraphs, in both its myth-weaving and foundation upon aforementioned non-dichotomous concepts, it is not set up for a hero’s journey – it is set up for a table’s journey. It, in a thoroughly clever way, at once reinforces the need for the heroic and its balancing; it emphasizes the validity of the concept and subverts it. It is the journey of not a single main character or party, it is the story of individuals, working together. Its basic set-up is that of a truly democratic myth-weaving that emphasizes what a good RPG should deliver: A compelling story for every PC, one that might be part of the header of the party’s name, but which is nonetheless founded upon the individuals constituting the whole. In a way, its very structure is infused with the notion of shared mythweaving and communication, of the act of roleplaying as a meditation and mediation; it could be likened to the structure facilitating a kind of collective engaging in a collective kata – it CENTERS those engaged in it, both in-and out-game, at least when implemented properly.
/End of academic digressions.
Indeed, the whole set-up of the city in districts and the notion parities and balance have an impact that you can notice, even if my observations above mean nothing to you; there is one aspect that is very clever, almost unnoticeable. These notions? They are used for balancing. And I don’t mean soft balancing. I mean hard balancing. It’s something that many people might not notice, but when you take a close look at how this book is structured, how it spreads its veils, feats, class options and archetypes, you *will* quickly realize that there is an intrinsic and surprisingly tight internal method at work that you might miss otherwise: PCs generally don’t have access to the options of more than one district, of more than one parity.
This is not, however, where the appeal of this book ends, perish the thought. Beyond sheer rules and amount of content, I should also emphasize the sheer depth of imaginative content. The vast wealth of ideas. In a way, this book almost feels like something Like Numénara or some of the better OSR campaign settings, where a more rules-lite system is used, but where the narrative obviously is at least, if not more important than the rules. The sheer density of unconventional concepts is staggering. For the purpose of this review, I randomly flipped open the book three times, because I just couldn’t decide on what to talk about, so here is what I got:
-An infectious personality imprint.
-A pair of fully statted serial killers, with one being a shopkeep…and the second being the very shop, putting a dark spin on Terry Pratchett (R.I.P.)’s notion of the wandering shop.
-Two high-CR, lavishly-illustrated and statted Kyton Exarchs with custom abilities. Both make Hellraiser’s Pinhead look positively cuddly.
There is something interesting on literally every damn page, to the point where one could attempt to explain the book like reading a more cerebral, more metal and China Miéville/Clive Barker-esque take on the planar metropolis. But that once again would be a simplification.
As you could probably glean from mentioning some of the playable races herein, there is another leitmotif at work here, namely “Otherness.” And yes, I said that I was done with academic digressions, but bear with me for just a second.
You see, any group of people, society, etc., tends to define themselves by, bingo, dichotomies – “us” vs “them”, “poor” vs ”rich”, “black” vs. “white”, “capitalists” vs. “communists” – because it is easy; because it lends a sense of cohesion to a social unit that might otherwise not exist. The “other”, the “them”, then, would be the unfamiliar, what we consider to be not-“us.” Perhaps that’s my background speaking, but I’ve always held a deep fascination with experiencing the “other” – both in real life, and in gaming, and it might stem from being incapable of feeling like I truly belong anywhere. I’ve always identified more as the “other” to the dominant leading culture. No matter how you stand on that subject matter in real life, in the context of gaming, we, more often than not, seek the “other” – sure, it’s nice to play a classic, old-school setting; it’s familiar, and we know what orcs are, what ogres are, etc. But we also crave something else, something we haven’t seen or engaged with before. That’s the reason so many people love Planescape. Because it established a fantasy that went far beyond the familiar, that was thoroughly distinct in themes, tropes, etc. It’s why e.g. the Bas-Lag novels’ cactus people and sexually-dimorphic scarab-folk tend to resonate with many people. Because they’re the stark, radical OTHER. It’s also the reason why rehashing Planescape can’t ever feel like reading it for the first time.
City of 7 Seraphs does not attempt to rehash Planescape; while they share a planar focus, it acts less as a hub, and instead focuses on being closer to its own thing that can be used to connect whatever narratives you desire. This is also mirrored in the presence of proper ships to navigate the void/aether, and in the races. Yes, I’m calling them races, not “species”, as this book does. Because that’s the game term. In the spirit of discussion: I totally get why the book calls them “species” instead; it’s probably the better term. But, on an emotional level, it’s utterly *WRONG* to me; the fixed game term is called “race.” It’s also a “racial bonus”, not a “species bonus.” I am fully cognizant of the fact that I am very petty here; I am also very much aware of the difference of this term’s meaning in real life, particularly in a US-context, and in the context of a gaming supplement. I get that it is a very loaded term in real life, but why concede its innocent use in the context of elfgames, why concede the ground, when tons of years of supplements did a VERY good job highlighting that they mean different things? It’s not an inherently bad term. Then again, I won’t fault the book for it. I get the intentions and can get behind them. But rules-relevant terms are technical language. And if you really set out to be offended by something, like so many people nowadays seem to enjoy doing, you’ll find something to be offended, regardless of intentions. I guess, this bothered me to no extent primarily because I am so OCD when it comes to the integrity of the semantics and syntax of roleplaying games rules language, and this, to me, represents a thoroughly unnecessary incision. To be frank, I really hated that decision on an emotional level, even while understanding the reasoning behind it. If you think I’m a horribly person for that, then I am sorry – I get your prioritizations, but I have mine, and for me, formal integrity in this regards trumps potentially using a loaded term in an innocent context.
Anyhow, I was discussing the races herein: We have, for example, spider-like symbiotic entities, fungus-beings sent back in time from the future, fey, telepathic jellyfish and more – the focus, more than it ever was in Sigil, is that of an experience of truly fantastic Otherness; not of experiencing JUST a planar melting pot (though this function is still very much here), but of experiencing a fantasy that embraces the thoroughly novel aspects, that are not a rehash or a blending of disparate planar concepts. In short: Even before you add all the aspects from various worlds and games, before you add the planar angles and stuff like that, you have a vision that embraces the entirety of the vast canon of Pathfinder materials, and, with panache aplomb, manages to expand it in a way that reminded me of reading some of the more groundbreaking OSR-settings in terms of sheer novelty and jamais-vu.
And yet, it remains grounded in something relatable. An issue often encountered with particularly experimental settings and the more far-out options, is that they tend to stray so far as to become impossible to relate to – and the City of 7 Seraphs avoids this in a variety of ways: From mythology featuring several instances of obvious adventuring parties and their impact on the city’s destiny to the grand concept, it provides a unifying framework that is exceedingly smart, and once more underlines the notions or the core leitmotifs: The model of the planar geography assumed here is supremely smart, in that it assumes sources of energy/power and the so-called lattice as connecting tissue – which would be, as some sages assume, the shadow of Yggdrasil’s branches. This is clever in many ways – for once, the tree resonates with fans of Norse mythology; it also features prominently in setting-lore, from Midgard to Rhûne. And the shadow-angle means that the presence of the lattice? It does not contradict your own model of the cosmos. In a way, you can use the planar model presented herein as an ersatz-great wheel, sure – or, you could use it as an extension, as a connecting tissue that lets you blend the disparate cosmologies of different campaign settings seamlessly. This might not matter as much to you as it does to me, but these small components, these precise and well-considered observations – they elevate this for me.
In many ways, reading this book felt like that magical moment when I was first confronted with Planescape once more, only to surpass it. In many ways, this book surpassed that moment, as I’m now much older, jaded, cynical, and I’ve literally read a library’s worth of roleplaying games material, and fantasy. And scifi. And other literature. You get the drift.
This book feels almost like it has been written for *me*, for people exactly like me. It’s a feeling I rarely encounter. I’ve had it when I read Faust I; when I read Gödel Escher Bach; when I read House of Leaves; when I read Lord Jim; when I read The Conspiracy against the Human Race; when I read the first book of Bleak House: The Death of Dr. Rudolph Van Richten…you get the idea. Sometimes, you find a book that feels like it has been tailor-made for your interests, that hits this perfect sweet spot of yours.
City of 7 Seraphs does that for me. It is an incredibly densely-packed, vast achievement. It is certainly not a perfect book, but it delivers more creativity in even a third of its pages than some entire publisher’s catalogs. No, that is not hyperbole. I am dead serious.
This book is immensely smart, immensely inspired, immediately gameable, it brims with inspiring ideas, and its production values put many comparable books to shame. It’s over 600 pages of premium content, with less overall glitches and certainly more imaginative content than many “big” books of half that size, and it is paired with a decadent layout, decadent amounts or original artwork…heck, there is one IN THE BACKER LIST PAGES. There is a fantastic piece of artwork in the backer list. I am not kidding. It is evident that this book is a passion project in the best sense of the word; it is the brainchild of deeply intelligent and creative persons. It is a vision of remarkable ambition, and one that actually manages to live up to it.
There is one instance, where half a sentence is hidden behind a visual element; there are a couple of glitches here, and the book assumes that you know Pathfinder’s first edition, that you can judge what works for you and what doesn’t. Regarding formal criteria, a tighter reins on rules in some instances could have made this even better.
But I seriously don’t care. This book does so much right. This is the new fantasy we need. This is bold, unflinching, and even when I disagree with individual design decisions, when an untyped damage type or bonus type makes me flinch and grit my teeth, it always has something up its sleeve that makes me forgive such lapses immediately. For every such minor snafu, there are 10 great artworks, rules operations, novel concepts, far-out and exciting narratives, smart and thought-provoking concepts.
How structured and smart is this book? It even has a frickin’ numerology! It has its glossary at the end of the mythological background, neatly recapping everything. It does not rehash. It expands. If you’ve left Pathfinder behind, I maintain that this STILL is worth the price for the hardcover by the virtue of its writing alone, even if you disregard every single rule herein.
I genuinely LOVE this book, and I have no idea how I managed to be even considered to contribute my measly contributions, when all those top-tier authors obviously gave their all here. It may not always be perfect, but it is always interesting. And that’s worth more to me.
From drugs to haunts to items to vessels to monsters and NPCs to maps – this book has it all. Did I mention the multi-page spanning, thoroughly delightfully wicked effects of the Radia and Occlusion, and that they’re so deadly and versatile, even high-level mythic characters won’t want to dawdle?
If you think that fantasy is dead, doomed to rehashing the same old concepts for new editions…think again.
There is no book, no setting, like this.
Now, as per my policy, I can’t rate this. However, as far as my personal preferences are concerned, I can include it on my personal top ten list, for that is what this book, to me, represents. And I can tell you that you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better city for your adventures. The only book I’m aware of that might yet achieve this level of awesomeness would be “The Blight”, and I’m not reading that monster on screen, so until I can afford the print copy of The Blight and had a chance to digest it and compare it to City of 7 Seraphs, this will not only rank as the single most awesome planar metropolis book for me, but also as the single best city setting I own.
Do yourself a favor and get it while you can. Even if you only extract 10% of its ideas for your games, you’ll have gotten more out of these 10% than out of many, many 300-page snorefests.
You can get this massive gem of a book here in pdf-form on OBS!!
Want some free teasers? You can find them here, and here!
Want the massive hardcover? You’re in luck, for there still seem to be copies available – you can get it here on Lost Spheres Publishing’s shop!
The combo of the hardcover and pdf can be found on the Lost Spheres Publishing shop here!
Missed Akashic Mysteries? You can find it here on OBS!
The epic Ultimate Covenant Magic may be found here!
Spheres of Power can be found here, Spheres of Might here, and Champions of the Spheres here!
The inspired Illuminatus chaos mage class can be found here!
The awesome Skinchager class can be found here!
The Time Thief class may be found here, the Time Warden here, and if you want more, the expansion for the classes is right here!
Ultimate Psionics can be found here!
The Grimoire of Lost Souls may be found here!
The Book of the Beyond can be found here!
The Aethera setting, which play rather well with this, can be found here!
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I was absolutely enthralled by this book, just about every page dripping with theme, I’m not really as much of a crunch expert, but even if I didn’t know pathfinder at all, the sheer density of ideas in this book entices me.
I thought the Rhyzala were pretty interesting, my first thoughts when reading them was the idea of hyperstition, at least what little of the idea I can wrap my head around.
I love the wide range of wild ideas that can be explored in game worlds, and this book provides plenty of room to explore philosophical questions within a narrative.
Thank you so much for your comment! I agree, the C7S is perhaps one of the most radically-creative settings we’ve had in YEARS. Truly an inspiring gem.
And it makes me VERY happy that you enjoyed my temporarily-challenged fungus-people. ^^ I am even more thrilled that you actually got that,y es indeed, they are an example of a flipped hyperstition; I had wanted to write something influenced by the concept for a while, but figured that the world was grim enough, so I wanted essentially a quasi-benevolent twist on a concept that is usually negative in its applied and connotative usage.
You really made my day! Thank you!