Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Pathfinder Campaign Setting: The Inner Sea World Guide

About a week ago, I picked up Paizo's newest Pathfinder product: The Inner Sea World Guide, a revamped version of their first (and thus far, only) official campaign setting for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. I've spent the last few days reading through it, and I wanted to share my thoughts on it.

The first chapter is entitled Races and, obviously, details the various races available to players in the Inner Sea. Anyone familiar with Pathfinder, or fantasy in general, will recognize them: Dwarves, Elves, Gnomes, Halflings, Half-Elves, Half-Orcs, and Humans. However, the Inner Sea World Guide goes a little bit further than just introducing these basic races; it also details a host of human ethnicities to choose from. A dozen different ethnicities are detailed, each hailing from a different region of the Inner Sea. This is a fantastic addition, as it gives players a wide variety of backgrounds to choose from when creating a character.

Chapter two, The Inner Sea, discusses the various nations in the setting. The chapter is easily the longest in the book, taking up almost two hundred of the three-hundred-and-twenty pages. It starts off with a brief history of the Inner Sea, including details of the major bodies of water in the area, which I found helpful as my group is rather fond of seafaring adventures. Although the seas and lakes aren't given abundant detail, there is certainly enough information to bring some intriguing nautical elements into a game, such as mysterious ghost ships, underwater ruins, and a mysterious, unending hurricane. This section is followed by a truly massive timeline, spanning over ten thousand years of the Inner Sea's history. After that, we come to the real meat of the chapter: the myriad nations of the Inner Sea. Over forty nations are described; each one has a section detailing the history and government of the area, along with a gazetteer that provides interesting locations for adventure. It's a staggering amount of information to take in; as I read through each nation's gazetteer, I would take notes, writing down plot hooks that were presented that I wanted to use. By the time I had gone through every nation, I had well over one hundred hooks for future campaigns. In addition to all this information, each area has a small stat block that reveals the general alignment of the inhabitants, the capital city and other major settlements (including the population of each), the ruler of the region, what kind of government is in effect, and common languages and religions. In addition, each nation has a half-page map that you can use to determine distances between areas of interest. Overall, I was very impressed with how thorough Paizo was in this chapter. I was also impressed with the sheer variety presented. Jungles and deserts, evil empires and fledgling democracies, and a whole lot more. There's something for every kind of campaign.

Chapter three is about Religion. Paizo continues to amaze me with the detail poured into this chapter. The twenty core gods of the Inner Sea are each given a half-page description which describes pretty much everything you'd want to know about them: what they represent, what their temples and holy texts are like, even what garb their clergy are expected to wear. Of particular interest to me were the descriptions of how each god shows pleasure or displeasure; now, if a player goes out of their way to appease or disrespect a deity, I can reward or punish them appropriately. For instance, if one of my players is about to sail across the ocean, he may wish to pay tribute to Gozreh, god of the sea. If he does so, I know to reward him by having a warm breeze fill his sails, moving his ship faster than usual. However, if the player does something to displease Gozreh, I know to instead have a localized raincloud follow him wherever he goes. This will add a lot more flavor to the campaign than simply saying, "You have made Gozreh angry. The seas become stormy and the water gets choppy." In addition to the core gods, several smaller cults and les popular gods are described. They are given less detail, about a paragraph apiece, but there is still enough there to bring them into a campaign. There are also brief descriptions given to some Demon Lords, Archdevils, The Eldest (powerful fey from The First World), Elemental Lords, Empyreal Lords, and the Four Horsemen. Following this is an interesting section discussing lost, forgotten, and dead gods, inclduing Lovecraft's famous Great Old Ones. In the next section, philosophies are introduced, which can be used in conjunction with religion. Philosophies grant no extra bonuses, but they could certainly serve to augment roleplay. The chapter ends with a description of the Inner Sea's cosmology, complete with details on each plane. I'm pretty happy to see that, because I like sending my players into the elemental planes, the Abyss, and every other dimension available.

The fourth chapter, Life, is about the basics of living in the Inner Sea. Days, months, and important celebrations are all outlined, as well as weather patterns and the general climate. There's also a section on popular trade routes over both land and sea, which will come in handy whenever a party needs to protect a caravan or trading vessel. A short section on the fauna of the the Inner Sea gives a few monster variations, which are all just regular monsters from the Bestiary with some basic templates slapped on, but I found them interesting nonetheless (mostly because I'm bigger on fluff than crunch). There's also a section about unique flora, but the only plant that stuck with me was a special cactus that could be used as a narcotic. The chapter ends with a couple pages on technology. It introduces firearms (which is great, since the gunslinger class is going to be released later this year), as well clockwork golems. Clockwork golems are, as the name implies, golems that are purely mechanical, rather than being animated by magic. You can apply the clockwork template to any regular golem. Personally, I love this idea; if you toss some clockwork golems into the Mana Wastes (a nation devoid of magic that relies wholly on technology), you're on your way to a steampunk campaign. In addition, this section introduces Numerian Technology: highly advanced tech like nanomachines, laser pistols, and giant robotic laser scorpions. I probably won't use it very often (I'm much more into fantasy than sci-fi), but it's nice to know it's there if the mood ever strikes me. Also, that robot scorpion thing looks pretty sweet.

The next chapter is Factions. There are a few smaller ones detailed to start off with, and they all add a lot of flavor to the world of the Inner Sea. They each provide some interesting plot hooks, and I'd like to see how my players interact with them. There are five "major" factions, each with a couple pages of description, and they range from multinational corporations to secretive leagues of assassins. Information on each of these major factions includes their history, power structure, and goals, making them easy to fit into a campaign, whether as allies or enemies.

The penultimate chapter is called Adventuring. It begins with a short description of each class's general role in the Inner Sea, which I didn't find particularly useful. From there, it jumps into prestige classes, starting with the Harrower. Harrowers are fortune tellers; in order to play as one, it's recommended that you own a Harrow deck (available at paizo.com). However, if you don't feel like buying one, that's fine too; you can simply roll dice to see what card you would've drawn. Harrowers seem like they might be something of a hassle to play as (there's a lot of extra rolls/cards to draw, and it might become tiresome to keep track of each card's effect), but if you can get past that, it seems like a solid class: they can see glimpses of the future, and their Harrow powers can grant some nice bonuses to attacks and defense. Next up is the Hellknight class. Let me just put this out there: regardless of how useful it might be, the Hellknight is cool. Remember the Judges from Final Fantasy XII? Hellknights are like that, but cooler. I already have a player who's planning on being one, and he's only seen the art for it. They have a variety of powers inteneded to punish lawbreakers, and more importantly, they get access to some awesome armor that resists fire. The next prestige class presented is the Low Templar. Flavor-wise, Low Templars are based on an old cliche: the rough warrior who's grown all cynical and tormented inside from fighting so long, etc. Crunch-wise, they're basically Fighters who fight dirty. They get a few abilities that help them withdraw from a fight, as well as some bonuses to improvised weapons and the Leadership feat. They also eventually gain the ability to hide their alignment from spells that would detect it, which could be fun. Finally, there's the Red Mantis Assassin class. Much like the Hellknights, Red Mantis Assassins are just plain cool. One of their class features turns your character into a big red praying mantis! Do you even need to hear anything else? I mean, come on. Once you can do that, you don't even need other class features. Next up, the book introduces some new feats, which range from basic combat feats to the ability to train falcons to magically growing a third eye. A few new weapons are introduced as well, including a few goblin-made blades and a bladed scarf. There are also a handful of new armor types, the most important of which is the Hellknight armor. Statistics for the different kinds of firearms are presented. Some new adventuring gear has been added; of particular note are the Tears of Razmir, a highly addictive narcotic from the nation of Razmiran, and cologne (yes, I realize most people don't find that nearly as interesting as I do). There are some new spells that look like fun; their abilities range from polymorphing you into a rat to summoning an army of ghostly horsemen to trample your opponents. There are also several new magic items. Some, like the Mask of the Red Mantis, help add flavor to different elements of the game (in this case, the Red Mantis Assassins) while others are purely for utility. A small number of new artifacts are introduced as well, any of which could play major roles in (or form the basis of) several campaigns.

The final chapter is entitled Monsters. It opens with several short paragraphs detailing where major monster types (such as demons, troll, giants, and the like) dwell before launching into descriptions of several new types of monster. Included (among other things) are a new type of dragon, a race of bizarre monkey-men, and two new playable races: the aquatic gillmen and the winged strix. My favorite new monster, however, is the aluum: a special kind of golem fueled by human souls.

In summary, this book is excellent. It introduced an incredible world, with enough information available to keep me exploring it for years to come. With such a wide variety of nations to visit, I know that I can turn to the Inner Sea for any campaign I want to run, be it horror, high fantasy, steampunk, or cyberpunk. It gave me a much better understanding of religion and everyday in Pathfinder, as well as introducing me to several factions that I can guarantee will be showing up in my campaigns in the future. And on top of all that, it included some very cool new player options and monsters. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention, the art in this book is beautiful, so that's a major bonus. Overall, this book was well worth the money and I highly recommend it to any Pathfinder GM.