Friday, March 17, 2017
Sargava, a former Chelish-built colony on the shores of the Mwangi Expanse, is an area of the fictional world of Golarion that, in lesser hands, could have gone horribly wrong. The colonialism, racism, and exploitation of Africa, South America, India, and so many other places by imperial powers in the real world could have found strong echoes in a setting about a vast, unexplored jungle continent full of technologically-primitive dark-skinned tribespeople. Fortunately, Paizo recognized the dangers of the "explore the dark continent" trope and was careful to ensure it would receive a far more intelligent expression in Pathfinder. Although the themes of colonialism, invasion, and corporate exploitation remain, the PCs are definitely not expected to follow in the footsteps of real-world colonialists, nor are they necessarily expected to play outsiders at all: extensive information is given about the indigenous peoples of the Mwangi Expanse, so that alternative themes of resistance and cultural integrity can be experienced. And lest this all seem to heavy, this is a Pathfinder game so groups who want to focus on being chased by huge dinosaurs and ancient demons can do that too!
Sargava, the Lost Colony is a 32-page book in the Player Companion line. I think the front cover is great, showing one of those aforementioned dinosaurs chasing after the Iconic ranger, Harsk. The inside back-cover reproduces the artwork sans logos, while the inside front-cover is a map of Sargava showing the perfect amount of detail for PCs to understand what's around them without giving away too much detail. The interior is divided into eight sections.
The first section (11 pages) is an overview of Sargava. It covers the interesting history of the area as a colony founded by the Chelish empire, the bloody battle for independence (aided by a problematic deal with a pirate fleet), and the situation today, wherein Sargava has to try to delicately navigate relations with the native inhabitants of the area and find allies overseas. All in all, it's an interesting political situation with plenty of room for PCs to become involved in all sorts of intrigue and adventures that could influence the state of things. A detailed timeline of Sargava is provided, which is probably more detail than is needed for a Player Companion. As we'll see, this is one of the problem areas for the book: an inability to differentiate between player needs and GM needs. The section provides an overview of the various Mwangi tribes that exist near Sargava, and I appreciate how it takes pains to establish that a) they're not all the same; b) they don't necessarily get along with each other; and c) there is a vast degree of complexity and sub-groups within each tribe. This helps avoid the "all natives are the same" problem of historic colonial fiction. The section contains large sidebars on private organizations that have a major influence in Sargava, including corporate mining companies, trade guilds, and the Pathfinder Society. There's about a page on "Classes in Sargava", but each class (core-only) receives just a single sentence or two about their common role in the area. As this would be one of the most important thing for players in a Sargava-focussed campaign, it would have been helpful to elaborate on this much further.
The second section (7 pages) provides more detail on particular settlements in Sargava. First up is Eleder, the only city built by the original Chelish colonists. The sense I get is that it's a lot like how the colonial British acted in India as seen in a novel like A Passage to India: deeply concerned with maintaining the social decorum and expectations of the "Old World." Although the local Mwangi have roles within the city, it's also clear they face discrimination and subordination. Apart from these issues, there wasn't a lot that stood out to me about Eleder--it seemed like a pretty average "D&D" city. But perhaps that helps to emphasize the mysterious dangers that await outsiders if they venture too far into the jungle . . . The second settlement discussed is Kalabuto, a city with a really interesting history (a bit too involved for me to cover here) that today consists of a partially-assimilated Mwangi tribe and some descendents of the colonists. Because it is frequently attacked and often overrun by hostile Mwangi, Kalabuto is a much more dangerous (and exciting) place for PCs to visit. Five other settlements, much smaller than Eleder and Kalbuto, receive about two paragraphs of description each: Crown's End, Fort Bandu, Freehold, Port Freedom, and Stark Point. Overall, I would say the writing in this section is about average--not as original and exciting as some Pathfinder products I've read, but serviceable.
Section three is "Adventuring in Sargava" (six pages). The first few pages talk about different locations in the area where adventurers are commonly hired, and what tasks they might be asked to perform. It's not exactly "adventure hooks" in the conventional sense, but more like "reasons why a PC might be in a general location." One of the topics on a subsequent page is interesting: buying nobility. A chart lists the quite modest cost to buy 100 acres of land of various terrains from the colony's leader, and says that titles of nobility can be purchased as well (though no prices are given for the latter, which seems like an oversight). The most important page for players is the collection of new traits. There are four combat traits, each of which makes fighting in a particular terrain (hill, jungle, river, and savanna) a little bit easier. There's one magic trait which is actually a pretty good one: the ability to take one zero-level spell from another class' spell list and add it to your own. Next, there are eight race traits, but the "race" prerequisite doesn't refer to things like the "core rulebook races" but instead specific tribes in the Mwangi Expanse, being Mwangi in general, or being a colonist. On the whole, I don't imagine they're taken very often: they are quite specific and most come with a drawback along with a benefit (like a bonus on Intimidate checks vs. Mwangi but an equal penalty on Diplomacy checks against them). The three regional traits are pretty bland and narrow in scope. Of the two religion traits, one is interesting from a flavour-perspective ("Faithful Arodenite"--a worshipper of the dead god Aroden), but both are lacking when it comes to game effect. As a whole, I wasn't impressed with this section. The first part is too vague and, for the most parts, the traits are forgettable.
Section four, "Sargavan Fighting Styles" (two pages), introduces several new combat feats, each with an animal theme, like "Monkey Lunge" (no AC penalty for using Lunge) and "Rhino Charge" (allowing a character to use the Ready action for a charge attack). The feats are actually quite useful for certain melee builds. There's also a new "Equipment Trick" (a concept first introduced in the Adventurer's Armory Player Companion). This one focuses on Kava Musk, an adhesive chemical with a powerful odor. It's a creative idea of something to base an Equipment Trick around.
The fifth section (two pages) is on religion in Sargava and talks generally about the Mwangi attitude toward religion, the efforts of some colonists to convert them to "mainstream" religion, and how some of the "Core 20" deities (like Shelyn, Abadar, and Iomedae) are viewed in the area. This section is all "flavour" with no "crunch."
Magic is the topic for the sixth section (two pages), and it contains three new spells (all for druids, rangers, and/or wizard/sorcerers) and six new magic items. All of the spells and items are jungle themed, and seem reasonably interesting and useful.
The last section (two pages) is "Local Hazards", and it contains descriptions of various jungle dangers (like heat, mosquitos, getting lost, wild animals etc.). It's all pretty broad, and I would think such stuff would be more for a GM than a player.
Sargava, the Lost Colony is clearly from the period when Paizo was still figuring out what a Player Companion should be like. Readers expecting it to be like a modern Companion that's chock full of dozens of feats, archetypes, spells, etc., will be disappointed by the relative sparsity of PC options. The book serves as a solid introduction and overview to Sargava, and could be useful to both players and GMs who intend to use it for that purpose. But although Sargava is potentially quite interesting, this book probably doesn't do the area justice. I would recommend this one only for a campaign specifically set in the area, and even then, I wouldn't say it's a "must buy."