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Sunken Empires $9.99 $7.49
Average Rating:4.5 / 5
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Sunken Empires
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Sunken Empires
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Brian F. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/22/2013 11:38:22

Ever since college when I actually started having the extra money to do so, I’ve been drawn to game stores and hunting for unique supplements. Adventures, gazettes, simple collections of maps – each has its own attraction for me. As such, I have ended up with a wide variety of books, pamphlets, and PDFs that each holds a particular fascination.

Open Design’s recent release of Sunken Empires: Treasures and Terrors of the Deep encompasses the perfect storm of history, art, and implementation that makes a supplement not only a useful tool for gamemasters to terrorize their players from time to time but a great read as well. From the forward by David “Zeb” Cook to the chapters on dealing with the deep and its denizens held my attention to the very end, which is a rarity in any supplement.

Beginning with Cook’s introduction – “A History of the Aboleth” – I felt I was being let into a tomb of previously unknown horrors. I honestly can’t recall if I’d heard of the Aboleth as a creature prior to reading Sunken Empires, but now I know it has a place in the occasional nightmare realms players may find born of my own freakishly random firing neurons. The story of how the creature came about provided crucial clues to crafting hooks and monsters without filling in absolutely all the details – leaving the rest to the players encountering such vile critters.

And Brandon Hodge takes things from there, weaving a storyteller’s spell upon the reader and introducing them to the aspects of Atlantis, Lemuria, and Mu from tales both ancient (Plato’s tales of at Atlantis) and relatively recent (H.P. Lovecraft adapting Mu into the Cthulhu mythos). Hodge then takes it a step further to create the lost city of Ankeshel and the modern cities of Upper and Lower Cassadega now exploring the submerged ruins and learning a few of Ankeshel’s mysteries.

After that, he provides all an enterprising GM would need to torture entertain his or her players with hints of powerful artifacts and spells from the distant past just waiting to be discovered by an enterprising band of adventurers. We have the half-merfolk Maerean peoples working both above and below the waters as well as new paths for other races and classes… I was particularly fascinated by the description of how Monks are entranced by undersea ruins – “drawn by the promise of lost knowledge and paths of enlightenment cultivated by ancient civilizations.” I’d not considered monks in that light before and yet I may start doing so…

Chapter 3 provides not only equipment for adventures daring to explore the sunken ruins, but by what they may find. The lure of lost technology provides not only interesting magic items, but the almost Steampunk-influenced weapons of a much more advanced race. And the weapons don’t disappoint… rifles that fire magically-created ice slivers, methods of crowd control, and even a magical/mechanical method of duplicating a Dispel Magic spell. Very creative items indeed.

Spellcasters aren’t forgotten either, with new spells provided for Bards, Clerics, Druids, Sorcerers, Wizards, and even Rangers. The Druid spells provide water-related magical effects such as Barnacle Armor, Wall of Water, and Calm the Waves. I was a bit disappointed by the small number of Ranger spells (there are only two) and wondered if as a GM I might consider creating additional powers for those adventurers used to prowling the underwater wilderness. Of course the Sorcerer/Wizard list was the most impressive, including more than 30 new spells for those classes.

The list of new magic items was definitely fun to peruse… Though I felt like I needed a much bigger bankroll to be wandering the aisles for many of the items costing 10,000 gold pieces or more. Even so, as a fighter who wouldn’t want a heavy steel shield shaped as a writhing squid that 3x a day could try to disarm your enemies!

If you plan on running any adventures in the split city of Cassadega, Chapter 5 is a must read. It provides much needed guidance on how to handle different levels of parties adventuring in or near the sunken ruins. Though that discussion is little more than a page, it provides answers to many of the problems parties may encounter if they are outmatched by the environment they find themselves in. Hodge goes so far as to provide random encounter tables for the coast and the underdeep that would scare the heck out of me as a player. Everything from plant life trying to kill you to a shoggoth waiting to devour you and your party as an hors d’oeuvre.

Lastly, Chapter 6 provides a description of the many critters you may encounter above or below the waves in these areas. Everything from a Bone Crab to a Wharfling Swarm (described as a huge number of hairless underwater raccoons with needle-like teeth) and aquatic variants of other creatures such as a Needlefish Swarm (a variant of Bat Swarm), a Slick (a Black Pudding variant), or a Giant Trilobite (variant of a Giant Centipede). And then of course there’s the Aboleth… I certainly wouldn’t want to encounter one in a dark, submerged alley.

Honestly, I was very impressed by Sunken Empires. It provides enough “crunch” for an enterprising GM to take it and merge it into his or her own game world quite easily. And if done right, a GM would have potentially years of gaming to explore all the dark corners of the Ankeshel ruins. I did find a few typos here and there, but nothing earth shattering that prevented my understanding of the content. And the artwork for the book was amazing from Malcolm McClinton (awesome cover art), Thomas Cole, Hodge himself, Pat Loboyko, and Hugo Solis.

If you’re looking for a new supplement and you think you want your players to get wet, scared, or both – I’d encourage you to check out Sunken Empires from Open Design and Brandon Hodge. Look for it at Paizo Publishing, RPGNow, and Kobold Quarterly!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here: http://blogcritics.org/rpg-book-review-sunken-empires-by/

[5 of 5 Stars!]
Sunken Empires
Publisher: Kobold Press
by April B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/30/2011 08:23:07

I wasn't sure what to expect from this product in terms of quality. IMO, there are too many publishers out there in the table top market who seem to think short, generic resources are worth as much as some of the meatier products. I'm pleased to say that this is a well rounded product that offers something for everyone interested in adding aquatic elements to a campaign. I recommend it along with Alurria's Cerulean Seas (which has underwater combat rules).

What I liked:

  1. A wide variety of resources that will work in many different types of campaigns; you can get a lot of mileage out of this product.
  2. Being a fan of Oathbound, my Ceptu now have competition from several underwater non-humanoid races. This a good thing.
  3. Hazards and spot checks by depth zones. The Underdeep had officially kicked off some really nasty campaign ideas.

The only criticism I can find with the book is that the city section could have been a lot longer with more history and flavor, but it's pretty difficult to include that kind of information in a book that's going to focus on a lot of different areas.

[4 of 5 Stars!]
Sunken Empires
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Thilo G. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 02/19/2011 07:37:21

This book/pdf is 82 pages, 1 page front cover (in the dead-tree version blank inside), 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page advertisement, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover. That leaves 77 pages of content.

Disclaimer: I was a patron of this project but due to real life, didn't contribute that much to this project.

The pdf is full-color with some b/w artwork here and there, while the dead-tree version is b/w.

The book kicks off with an informative 2-page introduction to the creation of the aboleth as a monster by David "Zeb" Cook, its original creator.

Then, we get a chapter of 8 pages on lost cities in real world myths and legends, namely Atlantis (D'uh), Lemuria and Mu. This chapter also details a sample lost city, Ankeshel and the city of archeaologists, tomb-raiders etc. that spawned from it, Cassadega. 1 page is taken up by an absolutely gorgeous, full-color map of the twin cities. While I didn't care too much for the information on real world empires (most of which I already did know), I loved the Ankeshel-write-up and think that most people may benefit from this chapter.

Chapter 2 deals with pelagic Characters, i.e. characters that are especially competent/adapted to frequent underwater expeditions. (14 pages) Within, we get a new race, the Maerean (Half-Merfolk), who gets +2 to one ability score, low-light vision, multitalented, keen senses, count as both merfolk and human and are capable of living both in water and on land. This race left me under-whelmed, probably because of my utter hatred of "environmental races", I.e. races that negate environmental perils. HOWEVER: This race does not really negate cold or pressure, so it does not wholly fall into this despised category. We are, thankfully, spared aquatic dwarves and gnomes and the like and instead get some cool and useful bits and pieces: All the classes get alternative class features for pelagic characters. Barbarians get rapid swimming as well as 7 new rage powers. Bards get 3 new bardic performances. Clerics get 5 new domains (Deep, Glyph, Fish, Ocean, Sea Monster). Druids get advice on aquatic animal companions and rapid swimming. Fighters get underwater armor training, a bonus to swim checks and aquatic weapon training. Monks get a new ability for their Ki pool, fast swimming, can prevent animals and magical beasts from attacking them, get more breath, gain "Ki swimming", water walk and later can even turn their body to water. Paladins can use lay on hands to replenish breath and grant weapons the "Wavesplitting" quality as well as get an aquatic mount. Rangers get access to the net-and-trident combat style, can move easier through difficult terrain, get better at killing undersea foes and scent. Rogues get 6 new Rogue Talents and 3 new advanced talents. Sorcerors get3 new bloodlines: Aboleth, Vril and Ocean. The Aboleth and Vril bloodlines count amongst the best bloodlines I've read so far. Wizards get two cool new schools, the glyph school and water school. Both arcane casters can profit from the new familiars presented later in the book. We also get a bunch of new feats:

Aboleth Spawn - Use acid splash as a spell-like ability Antiquarian Tinkerer -Use Disable Device to operate ancient technology Aqualung - Hold breath for extended duration Artifact Hunter - +2 bonus on Appraise and Knowledge (history) checks Bioluminescence - Use hypnotism as a spell-like ability Born to the Water - Increased swim speed; +2 to Con checks Call Leviathan - Add template to summoned aquatic creature Castaway - +2 bonus on Knowledge (nature) and Survival checks Cranial Manipulation - Increase number of Hit Dice affected by enchantment spell Deep Diver - Decrease damage from cold and pressure Depth Affinity - Immune to cold/pressure damage Elemental Connection - Spells cast in water are more powerful Fisherman’s Eye - +4 bonus on Perception checks underwater Fish Skin - Heal at double rate when in water Glyph Familiar - Your familiar also benefits from personal spells Glyph Reader - +4 bonus to operate ancient technology and magic Hydromancer - Add water descriptor to prepared spell Improved Net Fighter - Control entangle opponent as a move action Agile Netter - Opponents in net are flat-footed Ioun Stone Bond - choose ioun stone as your bonded item Leviathan Slayer - +2 to attack/damage against Large aquatic creatures Like an Eel — Make Acrobatics checks instead of Swim checks Long Distance Swimmer - +4 bonus to avoid non-lethal damage when swimming Merchant Adventurer - +2 bonus on Appraise, Diplomacy and Linguistics checks Net - +2 to DC of check made while entangled Pattern Glyph - +1 to DC of pattern spells Quick Brace- wielding a Brace weapon as immediate or swift action Quick Fold - net Fold a net as a move action Rebuke Sea Creatures - Channel energy can be used to make aquatic creatures flee Roil -Channel energy can be used to create area of turbulent water Rigging Monkey - +2 bonus on Acrobatics and Climb checks Sea Dog - +2 bonus on Knowledge (geography) and Profession (sailor) checks Strong Swimmer - Bonus to Swim speed. Swim-by Attack - attack while swimming Underwater Caster - +4 on concentration checks to cast spells underwater Unhampered Casting - Bonus to cast spells underwater without components Vril Heritage - Use mage hand as a spell-like ability Water Fighter - No penalty to attack with selected weapon underwater Waterstep - Briefly walk on water Waterwise - +2 bonus to Knowledge (nature) and Perception checks Wave Fighter - Ignore underwater fighting penalties for one weapon group Will to Live - Use Will save instead of Constitution check to avoid drowning Metamagic Englyph Spell - Add glyph spell to other spell Shielded Spell - No concentration check to cast spell underwater

None of these feats felt over-powered and all have their place and contain their own little stories/information on the characters and even better, come with a little bit of cool fluff at the beginning - Nice! Also: I'd probably take Aqualung just because the name is a nice nod to Jethro Tull. ;P I also liked the new ranger fighting style that could also be used in gladiatorial settings. However, several typos and minor editing mistakes (e.g. "Avoiddrowning"[Sic!]) have went by the proofers here, somewhat impeding my enjoyment of the chapter.

Chapter 3 deals with new aquatic equipment and technology of lost cities. (12 pages). Oh boy. THIS CHAPTER ROCKS!! Big time. You get new armor, weapons and equipment, from seashell armors over diving suits to several new weapons. And you get an awesome smattering of new special & alchemical substances like a stick with an explosive coral at the top or shoggoth polyps. Each of these little items spawned some great idea in my mind and made me want to implement them right now. They are gold, pure and simple. We also get Orichalcum as a new material for weapons, armor, etc. and new lost technology in the form of Ankeshelian Vril weapons and associated equipment. Oh boy do they succeed at making far-out weapons feeling both like technology and yet utterly alien. Their firearms rocks and don't feel at all like gun-powder weapons and for all of you who don't like rifles and the like: They are powered via special vril batteries and you can easily restrict/ ban access to these in your home-game. This is one of the most concisely-written equipment chapters I've ever read. My only gripe here is: I want more! The next chapter gives us the obligatory new spells and magic items. (16 pages) While I am usually skeptical towards new spells as a result of 3.5-glut, this chapter manages both to introduce cool new spells that e.g. enable you to cry at lower levels with the risk of losing your sight as well as spells that might fuel adventure plots or flat-out help you survive in the water, even at lower levels. Then came the magic items. People who frequently read my reviews know that I'm quite fiercely opposed to magic item-glut, too, and that I abhor the fact that too many generic magic items detract from the wonder one is supposed to feel when encountering them. I' happy to report that these items all have this quality of inventiveness, of sheer coolness, that makes you actually want to introduce them to your campaign, and not only to give your PCs another bonus. One of my favorites is e.g. a dried-up blowfish that circles adventurers and hurts attacks. How cool is that?

The penultimate chapter details the sunken environment (7 pages). It begins with an introduction and advice for GMs to plan underwater campaigns according to level. This section unfortunately features a piece of stock art that feels just out of place. This chapter also details new environmental zones that include information on natural hazards, how e.g. dunes affect movement, the tides, algae etc. - it is guaranteed to enrich your campaigns for years to come and another prime example of extremely concise writing. The hazards alone are plain awesomeness.

The final chapter details new creatures of the deep (17 pages). Unfortunately, this chapter does not kick of with the usual kick-ass full-color artwork, but it does feature original b/w artworks for most monsters. The artworks were ok, but didn't absolutely wow me. The monsters are: -Bone Crab (CR 2): Aggressive crabs with hive-mind -Bore Worm (CR 7): Killer Barnacle-like creature, include a variant -Cnidari (CR 4): Jelly-fish-like abberration: Disturbing, cool race. -Coral Drake (CR 8): Chameleon dragon-like creature, has a very cool breath weapon. -Doldrum (CR 8): Evil Elemental. Felt rather bland to me, as the type of creature has been done x times in Ravenloft -Drowned Maiden (CR 7): A classic trope in a very nice incarnation. -3 new Statblocks for new familiars (Cr 1/3): Only one piece of artwork is given. Anthropod familiar stat-block gets 4 alternate creatures, Cephalopod also gets 4 and Fish gets 5. You can now have a squid familiar. How cool is that? -Fish, Dunkleosteus (CR 7) and Giant Angler Fish (CR 5) share a page and get only one piece of artwork. -Goblin Shark (CR 3): This shape-changer brings the goblin-brand havoc beneath the waves. And is kinda creepy in the awkward, cute goblin way. -Isonade (CR 16): A legendary monster that unfortunately only features its fin in the artwork. I would have loved to see the whole creature. -Wharfling (CR 1/2) and Wharfling Swarm (CR 4): Pilfering, diseased, hairless rats. I like them. We also get a page of aquatic variants of known monsters, which is a nice way to make the familiar new. The final pages of the book are taken up with an ecology of the Aboleth, complete with a b/w artwork and 4 Aboleth variants. While I liked the prose and the rules and this definitely is one of the better ecologies, I have to say that this ecology suffers from my frame of reference: "Lords of Madness" and "Secrets of the Mimic" have spoiled me so much with regards to these critters, that I didn't get that much out of this article.


Sunken Empires is an awesome resource, there is no way around it. If you are even remotely contemplating on adding aquatic elements to your campaign, this is the place to go. It is densely and concisely written, there is a huge wealth of information contained herein. However, the book is not perfect: While the artwork is mostly awesome, there are some stock-art pictures that just feel utterly out of place. Some of the monster-artwork didn't impress me either. Layout is just plain beautiful and serves to enhance the sense of wonder one should feel for the new environment and items. Editing, though, is below the high standard of this book - there are several typos and some other editing glitches that irked me, doubly so due to the quality of the information contained herein. While some of the chapters rank among the best I've ever read, I could have e.g. done without the recap of Atlantis, Mu, Lemuria etc., but I recognize that for some DMs these chapters might be useful. What I don't understand is this, though: If there is such a beautiful pdf, why is there no option to buy a more expensive copy of this book in full-color? Bringing this to the table and showing of some of the amazing chapter lead-in artworks would certainly enhance the overall experience. My final complain is, that I would have loved to see more, which is more of a compliment than anything else. While I love the mundane and Ankeshelian equipment as well as the hazards, spells and magic items, some of the other components of the book felt slightly short of this status of genius. Due to the fact that there are some minor issues with editing and some variations in quality with regards to the information presented herein, I'll settle for a solid 4-star-score and heartily recommend you purchase this very good, but not quite perfect book. Chances are, you won't regret it.

[4 of 5 Stars!]
Sunken Empires
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/13/2010 07:46:57

The work opens with a foreword by David 'Zeb' Cook in which he muses on the durability of his invention, the arboleth - a monster with an almost-thirty year history and which features large in this book. A fascinating muse on how the arboleth came to be later, Chapter 1: Lost Cities of Myth and Legend explores the inspirations for this setting. Legends of fantastic civilisations lost to the deeps provide plenty of ideas, after all, as well as a compelling lure for characters looking for somewhere to explore. For that's the intent of this setting: exploration, rather than somewhere to actually live as a denizen of the deeps.

The legendary civilisations of Atlantis, Lemuria and Mu are detailed, along with thought-provoking ideas on how to use them as inspiration for your own sunken empire, before the text launches into the design of a new lost city called Ankeshel for your charaters to research and explore. Ankeshel draws on both real-world myths and the Pathfinder setting, with some Theosophist theories mixed in for good measure, including the concept of vril. The original human inhabitants were taught magic and mathematics by a strange tentacled, 3-eyed amphibious race. Needless to say, it all ended in tears and the city was lost... until recent discoveries began to bring tantalising glimpses of what once was back into general knowledge. Meanwhile a modern settlement has arisen on top of the ruins to provide a base for adventures.

Chapter 2: Pelagic Characters starts with a new race, the Meareans or half-merfolk, ideally suited to underwater exploration and with a few other ideas to make maerean characters predisposed to wish to explore! The discussion moves on to adapting existing classes to better suit such exploits, basing the adaptations on such concepts as modifications due to being raised or living in coastal areas where great familiarity with the sea would be an advantage. There are new clerical domains, for example, and plenty of water-oriented class skills and new underwater feats.

Next, Chapter 3: Aquatic Equipment and Lost Technology is a heady mix of gear you might use exploring under water and goodies that you might find there. Delightful ideas abound: such as using an unseen servant to pump air to your diving suit whilst underwater! The 'ancient technology' is even more fascinating, and the rationale used in its design is discussed, empowering you to come up with more along the same lines. When you are playing a fantasy game anyway, to come up with concepts that will be 'fantastic' to the CHARACTERS rather than the PLAYERS can be quite a challenge, but one that is well met here. This is followed by Chapter 4: Spells and Magic Items. Most of the spells have some aquatic connection, some are to do with glyphs - wound into the ancient writing of the original denizens of Ankeshel is a system of magic glyphs and some astute spell casters may learn the art of their manipulation. The magic items section concentrates on those which survived the fall of the ancient civilisation, with many suggestions as to how to make these as wondrously strange as the lost technology described earlier. How about a shield with magic tentacles mounted on it that reach out to disarm your opponent?

Chapter 5: The Sunken Environment looks beyond the specific challenges to the sheer wonder and strangeness of adventuring underwater. While players might watch the Discovery channel or be SCUBA divers themselves, it is a wholly new environment to their characters. Likely resources available to adventurers are discussed by level, a handy approach both in planning adventures or when planning to undertake them. This moves on to a look at the various environments from coastal zones to deep depths, detailing precisely what you'll find there, challenges and opportunities alike. Next, Chapter 6: Creatures of the Deep provides some interesting new beasties to populate the depths... and a full-blown ecology of arboleths to complete the chapter, and the book.

More than merely presenting a novel adventure setting, this book sets out to equip the GM with the tools to set his own stamp on what could well become memorable adventures, demonstrating how to create a feeling of wonder even amidst what is already a fantastical alternate reality.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
Sunken Empires
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Michael W. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/09/2010 05:40:10

Sunken Empires is one of Open Design’s latest Pathfinder compatible products. On 82 pages you get in my opinion the definite works on underwater adventuring for Paizo’s Pathfinder RPG and much, much more. I don’t exaggerate when I tell you that this book is packed! It’s amazing how many stuff you can squeeze into a 82-pages softcover book. The softcover book sets you back $18.95, or $9.95 if you get the digital version here . But let’s get into the details now. The book consists of six chapters: Lost Cities of Myth & Legend, Pelagic Characters, Aquatic Equipment & Lost Technology, Spells & Magic Items, The Sunken Enviroment and Creatures of the Deep. The introduction is done by David “Zeb” Cook and he writes about the history of the aboleth, one of the weirder monsters in fantasy roleplaying. Before I provide you with some information on the various chapters I have to talk about the artwork. Although the cover artwork is definitely good, it’s not really spectacular. But the interior art is top notch. While it’s black and white only, especially the chapter headers are very nicely done.

The first chapter, called “Lost Cities of Myth & Legend” gives the reader a good overview over the legendary cities of Atlantis, Lemuria and Mu. This approach did actually surprise me, but in a good way. The book also gives some examples on how to use ideas from these cities of myth in your own game. But if you don’t want to come up with your own fantasy version of Atlantis or Lemuria, a completely fleshed out lost city is included in this chapter: Ankeshel.

Lost Ankeshel and the more recent cities of Lower and Upper Cassadega provide GMs with the perfect playground for underwater campaigns. Ankeshel was full of powerful artifacts, lost technologies and dreadful secrets that wait to be uncovered by a fearless band of adventurers. The Twin Cities of Cassadega which have been built upon the ruins of Ankeshel are the perfect starting place and home base for a campaign.

Chapter 2, “Pelagic Characters”, introduces a new race, the Maerean which are basically half-human and half-merfolk. The chapter also list some changes or additions to existing classes that makes sense in an underwater enviroment. Some of the listed additions are the Deep, Glyph, Fish, Ocean and Sea Monster domains for clerics, Underwater Armor Training for fighters and Oceanic bloodlines for Sorcerers. There’s also an extensive list of feats which give players and GMs more options to create characters with an affinity for water and underwater exploration.

The third chapter contains a plethora of equipment from simple harpoons, cruel sawfish swords and diving suits (complete with heavy iron boots and a copper helmet) to ancient Ankeshellan weapons and armor. My favorites are the Cassadegan firearms like the Coil Rifle or the Rail Revolver, which are extremely rare and expensive, but add some steampunkish elements to the setting.

Chapter 4 adds over 35 spells to the Pathfinder game. While you might expect that most of the spells are water-related, this isn’t the case. The Glyph school of magic allows wizards to tap into the power of runes and sigils and grants the abilities to inscribe small tiles with magic glyphs and increase the duration of certain spells (even make them permanent). Especially the glyph school can definitely used in other settings as well, but it perfectly fits the Lost City background presented in “Sunken Empires”. The chapter concludes with a section on magic items. Especially the “named items” are very creative and cool. My favorite item is the tentacled shield which looks like you’re using Cthulhu’s head to defend yourself. Yuck! And yes, the tentacles are not there for show.

Chapter 6, “The Sunken Enviroment”, provides game masters with a complete guide on how to run adventures in an underwater enviroment. It starts with details on what adventures to run in certain level rangers. While low-level games should be confined to the relative safety of the shallow waters, the sky (or rather the ocean floor) is the limit at level 13 and beyond. On several pages the different environmental zones are explained and specific rules are given.

The last chapter is called “Creatures of the Deep” and provides game masters with new monsters (even containing a new type of aquatic dragon) to add to any campaign. My favorite creature in this section is the Cnidari, a highly advanced jellyfish with all kinds of nasty special abilities. This creature acts and looks like it escaped directly from the mind of H.P. Lovecraft! The book concludes with aquatic variants of known creatures and the ecology of the aboleth.

Wow! As with the last product by Open Design I reviewed, I didn’t actually know what to expect. I was pretty surprised by the large amount of content crammed into just 82 pages. I am currently not running a Pathfinder campaign, but after reading “Sunken Empires” I might be tempted to do so. The setting presented in the book is actually a good basis for an extensive campaign. If you don’t fear to get your feet wet, you definitely should check out “Sunken Empires”.

This review is based on a read through of the softcover version of the book which has been provided by Open Design LLC for reviewing purposes.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
Sunken Empires
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Tom A. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 05/26/2010 20:31:52

One of the coolest things about being an RPG’er is the ability to take a quirky idea and build a world around it. Before I received my review copy of Open Designs “Sunken Empires” I thought it might be just that. Or at worst it was some cool gear to change my sword and board fighter into Aquaman. I was way off. If you’d like to drop your campaign into Atlantis or Mu you should get this book. You get new Pathfinder monsters like the Coral Drake and the Goblin Shark. New spells like Barnacle Armor and Sea Legs (which would have come in handy when I was in the Navy). Sweet watery weapons like the sawfish sword and the Orca Suit Armor crafted by merfolk. Add some excellent maps and you’ve got an extremely useful campaign tool. And yes there are Aboleths! This book not only lends itself to high fantasy but to a Jules Verne kind of pulp vibe. It’s easily as good if not better than anything the Big RPG Dogs produce.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
Sunken Empires
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Benjamin M. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 05/26/2010 11:18:56

This product was provided for review purposes-- though I was a patron, I had little input on this project, other than doing some magic item review on about a half dozen items. This was the first time I truly saw the material.

The book is broken into 6 chapters:

Lost Cities of Myth and Legend Pelagic Characters Aquatic Equipment and Lost Tech Spells and Magic Items The Sunken Environment Creatures of the Deep

The intro is done by Zeb Cook, giving us the old school origins of the Aboleth. He was one of my favorites (Go "Earthshaker!") and how can you not enjoy this sort of look into the murky past of a monster? Cook is engaging and does a great job of firing me up to continue.

The artwork and cartography is great. Hugo Solis has some excellent action pieces, the chapter headers are nicely detailed, and the city map is gorgeous. Almost every piece is black and white in the PDF, with one color 1/3-page illustration in the Sunken Environment chapter.

This book is packed. The first chapter talks to the gamemaster, discussing the legends of sunken cities, how to incorporate them, what to consider when making them a part of your game, and real world myths that might provide additional inspiration. It's a great starting chapter, because it doesn't give anything away-- a player might flip through these first 10 pages and a GM doesn't need to worry.

Chapter 2 gets into the real meat for players, providing a half-merman race, modifications for the core classes, six domains, 3 bloodlines, 2 schools of magic, and a moray in a coral tree. To top it off, there are more underwater feats than you can shake a gaff hook at.

Salvage and equipment junkies are going to love chapter 3. Brandon and the patrons went overboard here, giving us normal equipment, special materials, relics, NPC briefs, and a variety of strange oddities. Who hasn't wanted to buy a shoggoth polyp? Then the treasure chest is thrown open, and we're given a score of "lost technologies" you can work into a game, showing barnacle encrusted loot sold in the shadows of the docks.

Spells! And Items! Wow! Ordinarily, you might get what? 10 spells? Maybe 20? The same with items? Yeah, not today. Today, we dumped the whole net for you. You've got 39 spells and more than 40 items in here...I'm honestly blown away at the amount of material in this Gazetteer, even for just tossing out some one shot items you can later destroy or offer as the gear an NPC might lend. Combine that with the fourteen monsters with unique statblocks and you're literally swamped with goodies. Hodge doesn't stop there, he also gives you ways to convert monsters in the Bestiary to undersea variants and a full-fledged aboleth ecology.

Finally, there's the section on sunken adventures, which discusses hazards, poisons, and considerations for heroes of various levels in this underwater environment. I like that Hodge has broken things down by level bands, taking into account what groups at different levels will worry about or have available.

Overall, this is a great book because it's so chock full of material. This has the right amount of stuff that allows you to build a long arc, slowly dolling out the weirdness, the magic, and monsters over the course of several sessions, building up to a deep-sea finale against whatever bubbling foe you desire.

What would I have liked more of? Color art-- but I know that's a limitation on a patron project. Really, a little more color art and a few sample, color maps would have put this over the top. When you combine this with the material from KQ13, the week of bonus material from the website and bundle it with Shore to Sea? Yeah, we're easily at 10+.

If you're looking for a definitive water-breathing, coastal mayhem supplement that's sure to put the salt in the air and the brine in your clothes, then look no further. Sunken Empires is a solid win!

[5 of 5 Stars!]
Sunken Empires
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Malcolm M. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 05/24/2010 19:51:34

Sunken Empires is well-written, as with all Open Design products, but it's of limited use unless you're a 3E D&D or Pathfinder player.

There's one beautiful, full-color overview map on page 10 -- showing an example fantasy city built upon the remains of a sunken city beneath -- but other than this, the rest of the book is primarily descriptive text and stats/magic/creatures/class revisions for the 3E/Pathfinder system.

Open Design has clearly marked the product as a Pathfinder supplement, but I confess I was shocked by how little of this book is generally useful if you don't play Pathfinder or D&D 3E. I expected there would be a little more to scavenge, and to discover only a single 8x10 map within was also genuinely disappointing.

It's hard for me to score this one. As above, it definitely carries the Open Design quality, but the narrow focus of the game mechanics (and the lack of maps, and other broadly useful "setting elements") will limit the product's appeal for many prospective buyers.

I'll split the difference and call it a 3 out of 5, which basically translates as: "I've told you what I can, the final decision's up to you."

[3 of 5 Stars!]
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