Finally continuing on with the commentary on the Pathfinder Bestiary.
The solars sit at the top of the angelic hierarchy, and indeed, almost at the top of the hierarchy of monsters in the Bestiary, standing at CR 23. Back in 3.5, these guys were the toughest characters in the Monster Manual; here, they’re eclipsed only by the Tarrasque.
The solar is also the first monster to get a two-page spread, giving ample room not only for its stat block and the illustration seen at left, but also for quite a bit of flavor text. And I have to admit, I’m quite impressed with the way Paizo has written these heavenly do-gooders. The text about them being responsible for mortals with celestial bloodlines or powers is a nice backstory just waiting to happen.
Of course, the Theosophic roots of the angels is maintained with the solar, as it was with the previous angels, but doesn’t serve to define what solars are all about. The flavor text maintains that some solars patrol the sun for attempts to darken it, for example (how they do this I don’t know, since they have no innate immunity to fire), while others may perform any number of other tasks.
Personally, I like to see the nomenclature behind the different strata of angels as being indicative of the area they protect. While astral devas are hard to define under this system (perhaps it’s exclusively astral travelers?), planetars are the protectors of entire planets (e.g. just one is responsible for an entire world), while a single solar is tasked with watching over an entire solar system.
That strikes me as a rather cool way of looking at angels in Pathfinder, particularly since it alludes back to the idea that angels are tasked with protecting mortals, if not on an individual scale (there are no “guardian angels” who watch over an individual their entire life, for instance) then at least on grand one. Of course, planetars being mere CR 14 creatures hardly makes them able to handle truly world-threatening events, but the solar seems tough enough that, if you’re not venturing into the realm of epic levels, it really could stand against truly apocalyptic threats.
Of course, if you are playing at epic levels, you’ll need a much tougher solar.
Beyond that though, it seems like you’ll rarely get to use a solar in your game. Even beyond the standard problems that come from using a good monster, the sheer power of a solar makes it too much of a game-changer in a game where the PCs are supposed to be the stars of the show. One way I didn’t mention before of using a good monster in game is, if they’re weaker than the PCs, they can be the person who needs to be rescued…but it’s hard to see that with a solar, since it’s stronger than even the top-tier demons and devils.
The best-case scenario for using a solar in-game is that the PCs use a gate spell, or similar ability, to bring one in to fight for them. Even this can get tiresome, since it’s essentially them calling in a ringer (not that they really need it by the time they’re that level).
Ultimately, the solar works best as a backdrop that helps drive the narrative, rather than taking part in it. Having one be the great-great-great-grandfather of your sorcerer with the celestial bloodline, or single-handedly holding off a horde of demons while the PCs race to slay the demon king, is what they’re best used for. The solar exemplifies why angels are best used as window dressing for the larger universe, letting the PCs be the movers and shakers.