Places of Power: Forgotten Athenaeum (5e)
This installment of the Places of Power-series clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
So, what is the forgotten athenaeum? It is a lost place of research, of knowledge – when the peaceful kingdom of Tirinos was besieged by the Venovian empire, this massive library was secluded in the astral plane to hide it from the fanatic assailants, who seemed to be following the old adage of every few centuries requiring the burning of Alexandria’s library. (Metaphorically speaking – the supplement does not presume a pseudo-historical background.)
An interesting facet of this exile is obvious to anyone who starts to think about it: The place makes for a great place to store heretical texts, forbidden and obscure knowledge and the like – whatever the powers-that-be want purged from records, Erasmus the bibliognost may intervene to procure and conserve the knowledge. This, obviously, means that this place makes for an excellent destination for PCs, are we all know how likely it is that they will need notes on unintentionally unleashed doomsday devices, magical diseases, planar configurations, etc.
As such, the knowledge pertaining the place is relatively obscure, particularly in 5e – the lore-DCs are pretty damn high, which, in this case, is a good thing as far as I’m concerned. The librarians that maintain the place are a relatively eclectic lot, unified by dressing habits and appearances, in spite of their diverse worlds and planes of origin. The supplement details the daily proceedings in the athenaeum, painting a concise picture of daily life and circumstances, as well as on how to get PCs actually to it, how these beings are introduced to the place, etc.
As always with Raging Swan Press’ supplements, the pdf does contain 6 whispers and rumors and 6 sample events to kick off adventuring, though it should be noted that, in this instance, they are applied globally to the athenaeum, not to the individual keyed locations, of which there are 12, many of which provide their own angles as well, though they are not explicitly noted as hooks. The respective keyed locales do not have read-aloud text provided for them. The place btw. also includes a rather impressive, eternal garden…which is a fragile treasure, since the plane’s timelessness does prevent regrowth of new plants, fruits, flowers, etc. As an aside, this, to me, makes the garden utterly creepy.
The astute reader will notice a few peculiarities here: One, the existence of the two cultures is thankfully, courtesy of the planar angle, not required to use this pdf. This is SMART, since jamming two cultures into the lore of a given campaign setting, just so the background checks out, is something I hate. The astute reader will also have noticed that the Astral Plane chosen as the location is timeless – and indeed, the pdf actually integrates this component into lore and structure of the place of power, which is a pretty big plus – so far, so nice!
In the 5e-version, the research bonuses conveyed by the library are translated into Intelligence checks made at advantage, with +2 to the check if the knowledge sought is banned/heretical. I’m good with that, though I wished that the rules specified how this interacts with features that already net a character advantage on such a check. References to NPCs have been redesigned properly to point towards the respective default NPC-stats 5e employs.
Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no serious hiccups. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ printer-friendly two-column b/w-standard and the pdf sports a few neat b/w-artworks. The cartography by Dyson Logos is nice and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. It also comes in 2 versions, with one optimized for screen-use and one optimized for the printing process. Kudos!
Richard Green makes clever use of the planar properties of the astral plane for this refuge of uncomfortable truths and heresies. The place is clever, easy to integrate into a given campaign, and while I slightly bemoan how much text is spent on its genesis, I can see the necessity. This place, in short, is a really cool sidetrek/goal-destination that can make PCs enter an otherwise unrelated dungeon: There’s an entry there, go! Easy angle to implement. So yeah, this aspect is rather cool. The 5e version of this supplement works smoother than the PFRPG-iteration, courtesy of the lack of a unified research rules-array in 5e. That being said, if you’re REALLY stingy about 5e’s peculiarities, you may object to a druid having an owl animal companion, for example – this is only mentioned in the flavor text, but yeah. Some of you may object to that. All in all, I consider the 5e-version to be slightly stronger than the PFRPG version, which is why my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform.
You can get this library here on OBS!
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