Friday, March 24, 2017
If you're a GM and hate your players, send their characters to The Worldwound! Joking (mostly). The Worldwound is a location in Pathfinder's campaign setting of Golarion, and this book is an excellent product. The premise is that a century ago, a group of demon-worshipping cultists succeeded in the one thing that most adventures assume PCs will arrive to stop in time: they opened a permanent gate to the demon plane known as the Abyss! Untold numbers of demons poured out and quickly overwhelmed the entire country of Sarkoris before a crusade of defenders assembled from all over the continent managed to partially contain the threat by erecting magical barriers around the doomed country. The fighting continues to this day as the demons probe for weaknesses and the exhausted defenders dream of some way to banish the evil forever. The former nation of Sarkoris is a blasted apocalypse overrun by demons. It's the perfect setting for mid- and high- level adventuring groups looking for maximum danger and carnage.
The Worldwound book is a 64-page entry in the Campaign Setting line. The inside front cover is an excellent map of the area: it's detailed, has a scale, and is generally cool looking (really, everything one needs in a map). The inside back cover is a concise timeline of what led to the formation of the Worldwound, and the effects of the efforts to close or contain it since. The inside is divided into three chapters: a gazetteer, adventuring dangers, and a bestiary. As a minor note, I noticed and appreciated the detailed cross-referencing and incorporation of material from other Pathfinder books.
The gazetteer (25 pages) covers five different regions of the Worldwound and each of them receives four pages of coverage including a half-page map of a city or other notable location within that region (unlike the main map, these maps are sparsely annotated). Unlike some campaign setting books, there are no NPC or monster stat blocks within the gazetteer. The first region to get coverage is Frostmire, one of the safest places to be in the Worldwound because there's literally almost nothing there besides ragged hills and stinking swamps: both the demons and the crusaders long ago lost interest in the place. Next up is Riftshadow, a "ruin-choked waterway" notable in part for containing the home of Areelu Vorlesh, the demon-worshipping witch responsible for opening the rift to the Abyss in the first place! The Sarkorian Steppe is the third region covered and it's notable for the raids frequently launched into the area by the barbarian tribes of the Mommoth Lords. I really liked the description of an enduring rivalry between one barbarian leader, Khraigorr Half-Face and demon named Gashgelag. The fourth region covered, Stonewilds, has a fantastic backstory involving the last stand of a powerful circle of druids whose final action stymies the demon occupiers to this day. The final region is The Wounded Lands, the actual site of the rift to the Abyss and the center of its demonic taint. The description is quite effective at making it a terrifying place to visit! Overall, the writing in this chapter is strong. My main criticism, and it's not necessarily a damning one, is that I see incredibly little incentive for PCs to want to come here. GMs will have their work cut out for themselves to persuade sensible groups that the risk is worth whatever reward is on offer.
"Adventures in the Worldwound" is the title of the second chapter (15 pages). It starts with a great explanation of why travellers to the area will be lucky to survive the hazardous landscape before even thinking about the demonic armies waiting to pounce. This is the first Campaign Setting book I've seen to make good use of Pathfinders rules for weather, and each region has descriptions of its normal weather and occasional Abyss-influenced dangerous weather. In another nice touch, a detailed description is given to how Survival checks to obtain food and water are much harder in each of the different regions, and how they're likely to result in magically tainted finds that can have a variety of terrible effects. In other words, adventurers better bring their own food (and a lot of it, if they plan to stay long) and sufficient spells to protect themselves against crazy-dangerous weather patterns. Fantastically fun (and cruel) hazards like "Bowel Worms" and "Demonplague" are detailed here as well. If you want to tell a "Man vs. Environment" story, just crossing the Worldwound is a feat in itself. The remainder of the chapter gives overviews of ten different "adventure sites." Each receives about a page of coverage; for example, there's an entire village of werewolves called Moonscream Glade, and a mysterious hovering structure called simply "Hanging Tower." My favourite is Pulura's Fall, a temple to an empyreal lord that has managed to stave off the demonic forces that have besieged it for over a century. It's an evocative and inspiring tale. Do keep in mind that these entries are broad descriptions only, and a GM would have a lot of work to do (in terms of coming up with stat blocks and layouts) to actually use them in a game. They're aids to creativity, but definitely not "pull-and-play" encounters.
The third and final chapter is perhaps the longest bestiary I've seen in a book in this line: 25 pages. There are random encounter tables for each of the regions, and the lowest CR on any of them is 10! A good sign, as the book explicitly says earlier, that PCs shouldn't be coming to the Worldwound until they have several levels under their belts. As for the new monsters introduced (16 of them), simply put they're as good as it gets. If you think you've seen it all, you're wrong! There's some incredibly creativity (and horror) put on display in this chapter and I would cackle with glee (or sigh with pity) to put PCs up against them. The artwork here is really strong--maybe not the absolute best Paizo has offered, but still quite effective at conveying how hideous these creatures are. Whoever was responsible for this bestiary should pat themselves on the back and be given a raise.
I don't have any groups adventuring in the Worldwound at present, so I wasn't sure what to expect from reading this one. I hope, as a PC, that I never have to go there! But that's good. A fictional world needs places that scares PCs (and the players running them), and not every area needs to be suitable for 1st level characters. If your players have become jaded, the Worldwound will be an eye-opening experience. They may never forgive you!