Sunken Empires is an Open Design sourcebook for Pathfinder devoted to “treasures and terrors of the deep”. The theme is old, but eternally appealing to me. Actually, even after reading tons of RPG material about ancient empires, I’m still a total sucker for the subject.
Sunken Empires is a 79-page softcover, with a stunning color cover by Malcom McClinton. The interior of the supplement is B&W, albeit with good art and a beautiful layout.
The book opens with an introduction by none other than David “Zeb” Cook, talking about one of his most famous creations: aboleths. It’s a little piece of hobby history that most will find very entertaining (and useful).
The first chapter is a nice rundown by the author about the three most famous “sunken empires” myths of our world: Atlantis, Lemuria and Mu. Each mythic location gets approximately one page of text and is explained in a very clear and direct way – definitely a bonus, because readers with a deeper interest for the topic can search more specialized books (like GURPS Atlantis or Altantis: The Second Age).
At the chapter’s end we’re finally introduced to the lost civilization of Ankeshel, created by an eldritch advanced human race (or half-human, the legend is unclear) with the help of strange “masters” from the depths (guess who?).
The second chapter is mechanical, about “pelagic characters” (ocean-themed PCs). We have a new race (half-merfolk), alternate class features, new feats, cleric domains, rogue talents, sorcerer bloodlines (vril sorcerers!) and even a new wizard school.
The third chapter is one of my favorite parts – items and lost technology. The “items” part is what you would usually expect: weapons and armor for underwater combat, diving equipment etc. Of course, we also have our quota of strange stuff: skum essence, vril cream and shoggoth polyps are good examples. Now, the meaty part: technology from ancient and advanced civilizations. Here we have firearms (with some new rules options), cryothermic weapons, charged armors, vril batteries (and vril coils), arc lights, dimensional disruptors… this part practically sold Sunken Empires for me, with is excellent blend of Stargate-like tech and magic. We also have a new material: orichalcum; with some suggestion of how to use it in your campaign.
The next chapter is your usual section about new spells and magic items.
Chapter five details environmental rules for the underwater adventures and gives new encounter tables.
Chapter six is a bestiary with all kinds of critters, including coral drakes, the cnidari (the evil invader race from below), goblin sharks, isonade (your classical kraken/leviathan) and aquatic variants for other creatures. The chapter concludes with an “ecology of the aboleth” article.
The use of the aboleth and the book’s thematic connection with the Atlantis mythos led me to believe at first that Sunken Empires was an official product for the Pathfinder setting of Golarion – where also have a sunken empire created (and destroyed) by aboleths, Azlant. This initial confusion may lessen Sunken Empires in terms of originality, but in no way is a negative point of the product. Quite the contrary, the lost civilization of Ankeshel can be easily adapted to Golarion’s Azlant or it can be used in other settings (like Open Design’s Midgard).
Sunken Empires in an outstanding supplement and I can hardly wait for Northern Empíres, the next book in the series.