I picked up Pathfinder Chronicles: Gazetteer yesterday at the game store. Usually, new releases can languish for months on my shelves, but I read this one cover to cover immediately. A few reasons for this – first, I’ve been known to get very excited about Pathfinder stuff in general and this was no exception. Also, there’s the D&D 4E Player’s Handbook fast approaching, and between that and the Keep on the Shadowfell review, I’d prefer to have something positive breaking up the monotony of invective.
Before I tackle the review, though, I will note that the first preview of Paizo’s organised play campaign Pathfinder Society is out. It presents the first of the five factions of the campaign, Andoren. The preview doesn’t really give us much in the way of detail about how the campaign is going to work, but we can speculate. For one thing, the phrasing “Missions assigned to Andoran faction members tend toward helping dissident groups within the other factions […]” seems to suggest that adventures may have conditional side missions for faction members. It’s also possible that adventures themselves are faction-specific, like in RPGA’s Xen’drik Expeditions, though I favour the other interpretation. It would make for better gaming, too, as long as the faction objectives aren’t always mutually exclusive – that would make it predictable and boring. Personally, though, I enjoy cloak and dagger games with a bit of intra-party intrigue.
But now, to the main event.
What’s This Gazetteer, Then?
Pathfinder Chronicles: Gazetteer is a softcover book with 64 glossy pages, describing Golarion, the setting of the Pathfinder RPG, from Paizo Publishing. It’s written by Erik Mona and Jason Bulmahn and includes a poster map.
It’s actually an instalment of the monthly series that Paizo is doing, the Pathfinder Chronicles. They even have a subscription scheme (several, in fact) on their website for this. You can order the entire product line delivered to you mailbox as it is released, in pdf or hardcopy. Last month’s product, by the way, was Classic Monsters Revisited, which I never got around to reviewing here, but which is made of awesome.
Anyway, the Gazetteer does what gazetteers do. It gives an overview – I wouldn’t use the word ‘details’ – the continents of Avistan and Garund in Golarion. It is in these places that the Pathfinder Adventure Paths and the GameMastery modules take place. There’s a bigger world out there, vaguely pointed at in the descriptions of the various frontier regions and peoples.
It’s a typically pseudo-European campaign setting. There’s the Land of the Linnorm Kings in the far north, where the Ulfen Vikings live, and there are the Varisian gypsies and the Byzantine Empire in decline that is Taldor. The Inner Sea stands in for the Mediterranean, complete with the Arch of Aroden for the Straits of Gibraltar. On the Inner Sea’s southern coast lie the deserts and jungles of Garund, with the pyramids of Osirion, the rainforests of the Mwangi Expanse, and the Chelaxian colony of Sargava.
One is provoked to ask the question: do we really need another sorta-Europe for playing D&D in? Aren’t Forgotten Realms and Greyhawk and the rest enough?
To which I can only reply – ignoring for the moment that basic D&D does set certain demands on a campaign setting and the other settings are owned by other companies – sure we do, why not? I’ll take ten, if they’re all this cool.
Even though the real-world parallels in Golarion are obvious, there are also elements of the fantastic, some cool stuff, and an endless variety of milieus to base different adventures in. There’s the Viking Land of the Linnorm Kings, and to the east, the eternal winter of Irrisen ruled by Baba Yaga’s progeny, and continuing on, the Realm of the Mammoth Lords, where the Kellid barbarians ride mammoths and hunt dinosaurs. To the south, there’s the Hold of Belkzen, an anarchic land of orcs, and to the east of there, through the gothic horrors of Ustalav, the realm of Numeria, where a silver mountain fell from the sky, and the locals sell off the salvages starmetals, guarded by the metal men rescued from the wreck. Here, I think, is where Expedition to the Barrier Peaks would be set. Continuing in that vein, the slavers of Okeno have yellow sails, echoing the A series.
Golarion knows its roots. The old classics are easily set in various places around Avistan and Garund, and the yellow sails of the Okeno ships show this to be by design.
It’s kind of like the lovechild of Greyhawk and Forgotten Realms, really, without the decades of baggage and high-level NPCs that some people seem to find so inimical to their enjoyment of the game. Some people may not like it, but then, you can’t please everyone and this is essentially the kind of setting that D&D implies. Yeah, even 4E, even though it really tries to pretend that it doesn’t.
The booklet opens with descriptions of the normal D&D character races and how they fit in the world, followed by the same for the base classes, and finally a word on the languages of the setting. Throughout this chapter, sidebars tell us of the human subraces, which I find to be something of a Greyhawkism. Then follows history and a timeline of a couple of millennia, with the death of the god Aroden a hundred years ago and the tumult that ensued. There’s a lot of little stuff here that I expect underlies the backgrounds of many GameMastery modules I’m not familiar with.
Then there’s the main part of the book, the Gazetteer of Nations, which clocks in at 35 pages, and finally a few pages on the major deities of Golarion.
There’s a cool thing about the deities. In the city of Absalom, the Lankhmar-equivalent of the setting, there lies the Cathedral of the Starstone, where the Starstone is kept. The Starstone is the rock that hit Golarion many millennia ago, creating the Inner Sea with its impact, destroying the ancient empires of Azlant and Thassilon and bringing about the Age of Darkness, when sun’s light could not penetrate the veil of dust over the world.
Then the god Aroden, then still a mortal, fished it out of the ocean and placed it in Absalom, becoming a god along the way, the first mortal who ascended by the Test of the Starstone. Since then, three other mortals have succeeded in the test – the death god Norgorber, the paladin type Iomedae, and my favourite of all, Cayden Cailean, the god of freedom, ale, wine, and bravery, who ascended accidentally, while drunk out of his skull. As a result of a dare. He is also, therefore, the god of being awesome, and deep-fried Mars bars.
So, I like it. Some others may not, but that’s their problem. I think the Gazetteer works as a good basic sourcebook on Golarion for players. Most of the information I expect will be reprinted in the larger Pathfinder Chronicles: Campaign Setting coming out in a couple of months, though, so unless one is a completionist or looking for a definitive source on Golarion, it they might want to hold off until August. On the other hand, the Gazetteer is fairly inexpensive. Especially as a pdf.
I can recommend it.