Thursday, March 9, 2017
People of the River covers an interesting topic for a Pathfinder Player Companion. It's not about a specific race, or a specific country, but about a particular geographic feature (the Sellen River) and the peoples who live near it. The Sellen River is one of the most important rivers in the Inner Sea Region of Golarion, and is the lifeblood of several of the "River Kingdoms", small, independent nations with a variety of different types of governments and national ethos. People of the River covers several of the River Kingdoms, provides options for the Kellid people (tribal barbarians) of Numeria, serves as a general player's resource for the Iron Gods adventure path, and even discusses some general rules and options for river-based adventures generally. There's a lot to talk about, so let's hop into it!
The inside front cover is a "River Dangers" cheat sheet that contains quick rules reference page numbers for remedies for diseases, spells for dealing with dangerous animals, and ways to to safely navigate whitewater rapids. I appreciate little things like this, because Pathfinder has so much rules content it's easy to completely miss perfectly accessible options for dealing with problems. The inside back cover contains a paragraph-long description for each of three other important rivers in the Inner Sea: The Sphinx in Osirion, the Vanji in the Mwangi Expanse, and the Yondabakari in Varisia. The descriptions are very general, but there's not enough room to go into specific detail.
The book begins with a table of contents and a one-page "For Your Character" summary that indicates the book focusses on barbarians, kellids, sorcerers, and witches, but that any characters could benefit from the new background traits, description of life on the river, and map that's included in the book. This is followed by a one-page rules index of the new archetypes (6), feats (7), and traits (28!) introduced in the book. In other words, you can tell this entry in the product line is going to be pretty "crunch" heavy compared to earlier books in the line.
The book proper begins with a two-page introduction about rivers as a source of trade, combat, and borders generally before moving on to the Sellen in particular. About the first half of the book is a description of nine different River Kingdoms (Numeria, Daggermark, Echo Wood, Gralton, Lambreth, Mivon, Pitax, Sevenarches, and Tymon), each of which gets a page of coverage (or two pages in the case of Numeria). Each entry contains a description of the country, new regional traits, and something else special. The entry for Daggermark, for example, introduces the "Veneficus Witch" archetype, a witch specialized in poisons. The entry for Gralton contains a new Cavalier Order, the Order of Vengeance. One of my favorite things in the book is a new Sorcerer bloodline, Retribution, and its power, Vengeful Strike: when someone hurts you, they take the same amount of damage they dealt! (It's usable only once or twice a day, of course.) I was happy with the flavour, cleverness, and balance of the new options presented. I did think one of the new archetypes, the River Druid, was pretty weak considering how much it gives up for mediocre powers that can only be used near water.
Next is a two-page map of the Sellen River and its surroundings. It's a good way to see how the Sellen and its tributaries connect everything from the Worldwound in the north to Taldor and Andoran to the south. I quite like the style of the map: it's done in a "realistic" in-game fashion, but has a scale and enough detail to make it useful in actual gameplay. I assume that it's a pull-out map in the printed book, but I'm not sure as I only have the PDF.
Numeria is revisited for a two-page section that talks a little more about Kellids, the Technic League, and other Numerians. It introduces a cool new sorcerer bloodline for an SF-flavoured game, the Nanite bloodline. I'm not sure why the writers put some stuff on Numeria at the beginning of the book and then more stuff here, but I don't mind the expanded coverage on the country--it's the most unique of the River Kingdoms. Next, there's a two-page catch-all section about other people who might live along the Sellen, an interesting sidebar on "The Six River Freedoms", and a rogue archetype, the River Rat. It's a steep investment, as it gives up the one thing that used to set rogues apart (trapfinding) for some minor bonuses on swimming and navigating swampy terrain. Probably not worth it.
The last third of the book consists of two-page sections on a wide variety of topics. First up is "River Faiths", which mentions some of the "Core 20" deities commonly worshipped in the region but pays special attention to less commonly-known gods like Gyronna (the Hag Queen) and Hanspur (the Water Rat). There's also a new witch archetype for devotees of Gyronna. I don't know enough about the Witch class to offer an opinion, other than to say it has some flavourful features that would be fun to see in a villainous NPC.
Another section, "River Survival", introduces new rules options for "Catching a Creature Floating Downstream" (far more elaborate than is necessary for such a rare event, in my opinion) and "Swinging from Vines" (a fun idea). It contains a couple of new feats, one of which, "Waterway Caster" might see frequent use in the upcoming Ruins of Azlant adventure path: it allows spellcasters to avoid the need for "vigorous or violent motion" concentration checks for spellcasting while swimming or on a ship, and a bonus to underwater concentration checks. There's also a new "Galvanic Saboteur" archetype for rogues, which would be perfect for an Iron Gods campaign.
"Spells of the River" introduces seven new spells. Alter River seems surprisingly powerful for its level (it'd be easy to flood towns with it) and Magnetic Field (drawing metallic items towards the caster) is one of those spells that is quite cinematic but might be quite hard to set up the perfect circumstance to actually use it on the battlefield. Perhaps the best is a simple one: Hanspur's Flotsam Vessel, a low-level spell that creates a raft from river detritus.
Player Companions almost always introduce new magic items, and People of the River is no exception. Ten different ones are introduced, and most are at a character-friendly price point of 5,000 gp or less. I really liked Oath Breaker's Brand (which does as its name implies) and the Drowning Medallion (a steal at just 1,000 gp!).
The book ends with a two-page extract from the Iron Gods Player's Guide, and it reprints all of the campaign traits found in that book. Since a Player's Guide is free to download, I don't consider this good value for the space.
The artwork is top-notch throughout the book, and the writing was lively. There's a ton of quality material (flavour-wise and crunch-wise) for anyone adventuring in the Sellen River area, and the book does an excellent job reminding readers that rivers are far more than just obstacles to be crossed at the nearest bridge. Overall, this is an excellent addition to the line.