Tuesday, June 5, 2018
Towns of the Inner Sea is a 64-page entry in the Pathfinder Campaign Setting line. The point of the book is to present detailed looks at six different towns in the fantasy world of Golarion, suitable as either "home bases" for PCs or as interesting destinations to set adventures in and around. Each town receives 10 pages of coverage that includes a drawing of it from the outside, a settlement stat block (from the Gamemastery Guide), a full-page map with keyed locations, discussion of the town's history and major landmarks, and then a one-page stat block and description of an important NPC.
The six towns covered are Diobel, Falcon's Hollow, Ilsurian, Pezzak, Solku, and Trunau. The inside front-cover is a map of the Inner Sea region of Golarion showing where each of these towns are located (the inside back-cover is just a version of the average cover art sans logo and title). The book starts with a two-page introduction that is actually quite useful as it includes a list (and one-paragraph description) of other towns in Golarion that have been fleshed out and what book they can be found in. In another clever move, it then lists several towns that are canonical but almost completely untouched in terms of established lore, giving a GM free rein to develop them without having to worry about any contradictions. Introductions aren't usually so useful!
Diobel is the first town covered. Flavourful opening text positions it nicely as a sort of smugglers' den on the same island as the metropolis of Absalom, filled with earthy, friendly folk who respect hard work and common sense and despise pretense and regulation. My first experience with Diobel was running a Pathfinder Society scenario (The Hydra's Fang Incident) which has a notoriously-confusing explanation of Diobel's geography. I'm not sure if the entry in this book really matches that scenario, but that might be for the best. There are a couple of fun ideas, like a floating pleasure barge name Wisps on the Water and an abandoned but potentially devil-haunted warehouse fittingly called Devil's Pier. One of the major themes of the entry is the role played by the Kaldroon family (proprietors of Kaldroon's Smokehouse) in lending stability to Diobel, and the featured NPC is Elvi Kaldroon, the head of the family. All in all, Diobel seems fun as a trade town suitable for a short story-arc, but I didn't get a real feel for it as a place PCs would naturally want to spend a lot of time.
The second town is Falcon's Hollow, a fairly famous location in Golarion as the setting of several early modules. Falcon's Hollow is a classic place for an adventuring campaign, as it's a sort of refuge for the desperate, surrounded by untamed wilderness and mysterious ruins. The town itself has a surprisingly dark history, while its present-day domination by the Lumber Consortium (headed by a fully statted NPC, Thuldrin Kreed) means it's definitely not a forgettable, sedate little town--this is the sort of "home base" that ensures the danger and excitement aren't just had once the PCs are off adventuring. The write-up is great, with tons of flavourful description and bits of intrigue I could see as the basis for hours of game-time. If I had to pick just one town in the book to use for a new campaign, it would be Falcon's Hollow.
Ilsurian, the third town in the bunch, is the one I've used most as both a minor part of Rise of the Runelords and as the setting for the Murder's Mark module. (indeed, it was for the former reason that I bought this book to begin with!) Ilsurian is a town of proud, independent folk who work hard to avoid falling under the control of any of the larger city-states in Varisia. It's notably racially intolerant of ethnic (nomadic) Varisians, however, which creates some good role-playing opportunities. The entry here is a bit dry, but it does provide some adventure hooks involving thieves guilds, shiver (a narcotic) distribution, skulks, and so forth. There are some spoilers for Murder's Mark, so GMs shouldn't allow players to read the whole entry. The major NPC detailed is Genthus Duggern, a sort of political propagandist hoping to return Ilsurian to its former glory; I don't think the concept really comes across well as a threat to PCs.
For something completely different, take a look at the fourth town: Pezzack. Pezzack is a city under siege, as it has rebelled and tried to break away from the devil-loving country of Cheliax! The reader is thrust right into the the middle of the action, as there are loyalists, insurgents, strix (!), spies, assassinations, tons of story seeds and adventure hooks, and everything else needed to make the liberation of Pezzack the focus of a very memorable campaign. A storyline involving Pezzack would be a natural fit for GMs interested in politics, espionage, and other themes a bit more sophisticated than the traditional "kill the monsters and take their stuff" approach to gaming.
Solku, the fifth town, is a fortress bastion in the deserts of Katapesh that serves as a major stopover for caravans. Due to the omnipresent danger of gnoll armies, the town has a major military function and is home to a prominent contingent of priests and paladins of Sarenrae. The locations detailed within Solku are done really well, and I think it would make a solid staging area for campaigns focussed on Indiana Jones-style "expeditions into desert ruins." It's also the first one we've seen that has a more "Middle Eastern" than "Western" aesthetic, and it's good to show off the diversity that Golarion has to offer.
The final entry is for Trunau, a town with an epic backstory as home to the lone human hold-outs in territory long since overrun by orcs. With each resident sworn never to flee or surrender, the town is in constant danger of being destroyed, but the shared danger (and isolation) also brings a real sense of community that comes across well in the entry. When you need a place for the PCs to really love and care about, Trunau could be a good choice. (or, if you want to tell a story about trying to find glimmers of hope in the face of despair, a storyline where Trunau finally falls could be suitably tragic).
Before moving on, I should go ahead and discuss the artwork. The featured NPC in each entry gets a full-figure illustration, but the other artwork (aside from the opening drawing of the town itself) are just head-shots of particular NPCs. It's frankly pretty bland from an art design perspective, and this is one area of the book that could have been improved. On the other hand, the maps are uniformly clear and easy to use.
This is definitely a book for GMs, as players will not find new character options. On the whole, I think Towns of the Inner Sea achieves its intended purpose--towns like Falcon's Hollow, Pezzack, and Trunau would all make memorable settings for a campaign. With so much of the setting work already taken care of, the GM can focus on role-playing and coming up with great adventures. I wish there were subsequent volumes of this book devoted to some of the more exotic locales in Golarion (even beyond the Inner Sea). Still, as long as any of these towns are of interest, a GM will get their money's worth from this book.