Pathfinder's Dark Archive Preview: A Deeper Look Into Cults and the Weird Side of Fantasy TTRPGs

Paizo's next Pathfinder rulebook is a delightful smorgasbord of rules, rituals, spells, and more that not only provides players with more depth to customize their characters but also sprinkles a ton of inspiration for Game Masters who are trying to plan out their next campaign. Dark Archive is a new rulebook for Pathfinder 2E that focuses on the paranormal corners of the fantasy-themed roleplaying game. In a world filled with time-traveling wizards, undead ghost kings, and a meteor that can turn mortals into gods, Dark Archive quickly sets out to define what separates the "paranormal" in the fantasy realm of Golarion from all the other weird bits of lore floating around in that world, mostly by focusing on the strange and secretive. Perhaps this is why the Psychic and Thurmaturge, the two new classes that headline the book, seem like such a natural fit for the overall theme of the new book. 

Pathfinder publisher Paizo provided with an extended preview of the "Cults" chapter of Dark Archive, which includes both lore on some of the many, many cults found in Golarion as well as new rituals, spells, and a new archetype for players to use in character building. The Cults chapter also contains one of the seven mini-adventures found in the book, with "The Verdure of Iblydos" pitting players against one of the esoteric cults found on the Greece-inspired island of Iblydos. 

(Photo: Paizo)

One of the first things that readers of Dark Archive will notice is that it's not like other Pathfinder rulebooks. Since the launch of Pathfinder 2E in 2019, Paizo has released two parallel lines of hardcover books for Pathfinder. There are the standard rulebooks such as the Bestiary or this year's Book of the Dead, which are mostly focused on rules expansions and additions, and the
Lost Omens line, which is more lore-focused in nature with only a smattering of lore-focused rules. While Dark Archive is considered a rulebook, it strikes more of a balance between lore and rules. For instance, the Cult chapter contains four pages of lore about Golarion's cults and eight pages of actual character-building rules that players can use if they want their character to have ties to a cult.

The chapter itself also highlights how cults can be used in different ways in fantasy beyond the standard "evil god worshippers" found in almost all low-level adventurers. In Dark Archive, players will learn about the Silent Sect of the Black Butterfly, a cult dedicated to wiping out Elder God cults in the hopes that it will empower their goddess to fight back against the Elder Mythos, and mystery cults who use roads, caves, or the act of intoxication in worship. Cults are explicitly defined as being neither good nor bad in Dark Archive. Instead, they are simply defined as lesser-known faiths or faiths that run counter to the surrounding culture. 

(Photo: Paizo)

As for the rules themselves, the most notable addition is the Living Vessel archetype, which adds an option (and associated feats) for a player's character to serve as a vessel for an otherworldly being. While the Living Vessel archetype comes with some severe drawbacks, such as the need to assuage your body's otherworldly passenger on a daily basis, the feats grant players access to bonus hit points, extra limbs, and eventually a hybrid form that represents a full merging between you and the entity. 

The rituals found in the Cults chapter are a bit more specialized, but also provide some unique benefits. The "Vital Singularity" ritual allows players to form a bond with three other people, allowing them to collectively split any damage taken over the next several hours if successful. The Bacchanalia ritual causes a party to spontaneously break out in a settlement, providing a possible distraction or simply a fun respite for a weary town. The "Recall Past Life" allows a caster to temporarily revive one of their past incarnations, allowing them to recall critical details of their past life. Each ritual is a bit niche but can be a powerful tool if used properly. 

(Photo: Paizo)

Overall, Dark Archive is a fun book that provides a lot of additional benefits for Pathfinder players while also being a good read. It's an experimental format for an unusual topic, but players should be able to get a lot out of Dark Archive, providing they're willing to get a little weird. 

Dark Archive will be released on July 27t. You can check out all of our previous coverage of Pathfinder Second Edition right here.