Monday, May 8, 2017

Inner Sea Primer [RPG]

It's hard to get into a new campaign setting once it's been around a while: the sheer amount of information can be overwhelming once one adds in all the "world lore" from dozens or hundreds of books over a period of years.  The official Pathfinder campaign setting of Golarion is no different, but perhaps has the added difficulty that idle reading on various Wikis can lead to major spoilers for modules and adventure paths.  For GMs, the best resource on Golarion is the Inner Sea World Guide--but that's a massive hardcover book that provides *too* much information for a casual newcomer.  The obvious solution is something like the Inner Sea Primer.  Clocking in at 32 full-colour pages, the purpose of this book is give a new Pathfinder player a concise overview of the various countries in the Inner Sea region of Golarion so they can give their character a background that is better tied to the setting.

The inside front cover is a map showing each country and its capital city.  Obviously, fitting an entire (half-) world map on a single page means there isn't going to be a ton of detail, but it's still enough to give readers an idea of where countries are in relation to each other.  The inside back cover is a reproduction of the cover (a very figurative representation of a memorable scene from Rise of the Runelords).  The inside is divided into 5 sections (one long one and four very short ones).

Section 1 (22 pages) is titled "The Inner Sea."  After a very brief introduction to Golarion, an historical timeline of Golarion is provided.  The bulk of the section is a gazetteer of the countries of the Inner Sea, and each one receives a half-page write up.   An introduction block for each country includes a drawing of its official flag, a brief one-line description (for example, Andoran is "Birthplace of Freedom" and Cheliax is "Diabolic Empire in Decline"), a general alignment, a listing of its capital, major races present there, major religions existing there, and common languages spoken there.  There are then three to five paragraphs summarizing the country, and this must have been extremely challenging for the writers to figure out what to keep and what to leave--imagine summarizing the United States or Russia in a few paragraphs!  I thought a pretty good job was done hitting the highlights, and a player skimming the pages to see where their character should be from would be able to get a rough sense of what each country is about.  I especially appreciated that the write-ups don't reveal what, for most GMs, are "open secrets" about certain countries that players (and characters from those countries) perhaps shouldn't know.  For each country, two regional traits are provided.  The benefits provided are rather modest and many of them are of the fairly boring "you gain a +1 bonus on this skill and this skill is always a class skill for you" type, but there are a few that are more creative and, if nothing else, the traits do seem well-tied to the country in terms of flavour.  The section concludes with a one-page overview of some other distinguishing features of the setting, such as the Darklands (Golarion's Underdark), the Worldwound, and some of the lands beyond the Inner Sea, the most prominent of which is Tian Xia.

Section 2 (2 pages) is "Combat: Sword Styles of the Inner Sea".  This section introduces three new archetypes tied to the fighting styles of particular countries:  there's the Aldori Swordlords of Brevoy (lightly armored duelists), the Dawnflower Dervishes of Qadira (whirling scimitar fighters), and the Rondelero Duelists of Taldor (buckler-and-falcata fighters).  All three seem reasonable to me. I appreciated that the section contains a very clear explanation of what an archetype is and how it works to modify regular class features.

Section 3 (2 pages) is "Faith: Gods of the Inner Sea," featuring two to three sentence introductions to each of the "Core 20" deities of the setting.  There's also very brief mentions of some other important religious figures, like Aroden, Razmir, the Empyreal Lords, etc.  Again, it's hard to do much when there's so much information to present in so little space, but from a "okay, you're playing a cleric, which god are you going to worship?" perspective, it's enough to at least narrow down the choices.

Section 4 (2 pages) is "Magic: Arcane Schools of the Inner Sea."  The section is interesting because it doesn't contain archetypes per se for wizards, but presents options that functionally do the same thing: modifying class features.  Three magical schools are discussed (the Arcanamirium of Absalom, Egorian Academy in Cheliax, and the Mages of the Veil of Qadira) and a wizard PC who wants to be a graduate of one of the schools swaps out the powers of their arcane school (universal, conjuration, and illusion, respectively) for new powers.  For example, the conjurors of Egorian Academy lose their normal acid dart and dimensional step powers and instead get a power to try to take control over other's summoned creatures and the ability to get an imp as a familiar.  I really like the concept, as it nicely ties in flavour, background, and mechanics.  It should be noted that there's no mention of the much more involved "Magical Academies" rules subset from Inner Sea Magic, however.

Section 5 (2 pages) is "Social: Races of the Inner Sea."  Here we have one-paragraph summaries of how the various core races and human ethnicities are viewed in the Inner Sea.  It's serviceable, but not exactly compelling.

The Inner Sea Primer is the sort of book easily overlooked by those who have been playing in Golarion for a long time, but it's the perfect thing to have on hand during character creation with new players.  When you have to help one player pick out spells for their wizard, hand the guy running a fighter this book and tell him to decide where he's from.  As a nice, concise overview of the setting, it's definitely worth the price.

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