Pathfinder Society games take place in the fantasy world of Golarion. Most games take place in an area called the Inner Sea, which is roughly equivalent to Europe, the Middle East and northern and central Africa in our world. The Inner Sea itself is roughly analogous to the Mediterranean Sea.
Naturally, the world is rather bigger than that, but in most cases, you’ll be adventuring in the Inner Sea area.
Full details of the world are presented in the Inner Sea World Guide or the shorter Inner Sea Primer. As a player you are not required to own these books, or even know the background. But in case you want to know more than just your mission briefing, here’s some potted information to help you get a handle on the world your character lives and adventures in.
Technology and magic
While there’s no direct parallel to our world, technology and fashion seem closest to 18th century Europe and North America, but with a hefty injection of the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance. The printing press exists. Firearms and gunpowder, though they exist, are fairly rare. Most people rely on medieval or Renaissance levels of weaponry and armour: swords, spears, bows, chainmail and plate armour.
Magic of both arcane and divine origin is fairly common. Everyone is aware of magic, and most folk have encountered magic and magicians, even if they don’t fully understand it – even small villages will have a village priest or a wise-man or wise-woman capable of casting simple spells.
Around the northern coast of the Inner Sea, frock coats, breeches, stockings and tricorne hats are in for man and women; women may prefer dresses ranging from simple frocks to elaborate formal constructions that would delight Marie Antoinette.
Of course, there are many nations, ethnicities and climates in the world. From the brightly coloured bangles and long scarves of the Varisians to the turbans and veils of the Qadirans, to saris and salwar khamis among the Vudrani, the furs of the Ulfen and the loin-cloths, kilts and beads of the Mwangi, pretty much anything goes.
The headquarters of the Pathfinder Society, the Grand Lodge, is in the city of Absalom, sometimes known as the City at the Centre of the World. It’s a teeming metropolis of around 300,000 people. Absalom lies in the Isle of Kortos in the Inner Sea – roughly where Cyprus would be in our world. People from all over the world come to trade and even settle in Absalom.
Some – but not all – of the nations around the Inner Sea have some real-world parallels as well.
We won’t cover all of them – just the highlights. More details on all the nations covered in the map can be found in the Inner Sea Primer and (in considerably more detail in the Inner Sea World Guide).
Andoran: The nation of Andoran, once a province of the Cheliaxian Empire, rebelled and won its freedom about 45 years ago. Without its imperial masters, and somewhat suspicious of the noble houses that had prospered under Cheliax, Andoran developed a new form of government: democracy. Nowadays, Andoran is devoted to truth, liberty and justice. Its elite Eagle Knights defend its borders and – beyond its borders – seek to end slavery. Loose parallels with revolutionary-era America may be drawn.
Belken: Home of the Orc Hordes.
Cheliax: Once the heart of a vast empire, the nation of Cheliax was wracked by a vicious civil war which started a hundred years ago and lasted 30 years. The devil-worshipping House of Thrune emerged victorious and now controls the Chelaxian heartland. While not everyone in Cheliax worships devils or supports the House of Thrune, those who don’t keep quiet about it for fear of the House of Thrune’s agents and inquisitors, or its enforcers, the fearsome Hellknights.
Five Kings Mountains: Homeland of the Dwarves.
Galt: Imagine that the Reign of Terror after the French Revolution never ended, and you have a fair idea of what Galt is like. It broke away from Cheliax during that nation’s civil war, and the Red Revolution has slowly morphed into the Eternal Revolution. Dissenters and nobles are hunted down and executed on magical guillotines called ‘final blades’.
Jalmeray: The westernmost outpost of the Vudrani Empire (which lies east of the Inner Sea map), the Kingdom of the Impossible, uses genies and elementals to create elaborate gold and marble palaces, fountains and other wonders. The island has a number of monasteries devoted to the deity Irori, mother of perfection, where devotees hone their minds and bodies studying martial arts.
Kyonin: The kingdom of the Elves.
Osirion: An ancient desert land renowned for its pyramids and tombs. Most of Osirion’s population live close to the life-giving River Sphinx. If that makes you think of ancient Egypt, you’re pretty close to the mark.
Qadira: The Gateway to the East is the westernmost satrapy of the Padishah Empire of Kelesh. Worship of Saranrae, the Dawnflower, is common here. While Qadirans are primarily interested in trade, the satrapy maintains well-armed fleets and supplements its camel cavalry with flying carpet scouts and enchanted sandships. Think Arabia of myth and legend.
The River Kingdoms: A group of independent realms, frequently of low character, clustered around the Sellen River.
Taldor: Once the ruler of a mighty empire that stretched around the north shores of the Inner Sea, Taldor has shrunk back in on itself. Its nobles spend their time in intrigue and, as a result, Taldor produces some excellent spies. Its native language (Taldan) remains in such widespread use that most folk call it Common.
Varisia: A boisterous frontier land, much of Varisia remains an untamed wilderness, with the occasional city state or independent town.
The Worldwound: A rift to the Abyss opened in the land of Sarkoris abnout 100 years ago, and waves of demons passed through. Now the Worldwound is like a cancer in reality – the closer one gets to it, the more chaotic and unpredictable the land becomes – and the more likelihood of encountering demons and horrors from beyond the world.
This isn’t the place for a detailed timeline of Golarion, but we’ll just cover a handful of major events.
First, the calendar: The current year at the time of writing (2015) is AR 4715 (Absalom Reckoning). Years in the Pathfinder Society campaign progress at the some rate as real world years, so our year 2016 will be AR 4716.
Absalom Reckoning marks years since the foundation of the city of Absalom, the first human city.
Ten thousand years ago, Golarion was pelted by falling stars in a great cataclysm known as Earthfall. Civilisations fell, and the skies were covered with dust for a thousand years, a period known as the Age of Darkness. The Elves fled the world, except for some who merely fled to the furthest corners of it. The Orcs and Dwarves broke through from the Darklands to the surface world. Ancient Azlant sank beneath the waves.
After the Age of Darkness, the gnomes arrive in Golarion from the First World (the realm of the faeries).
1 AR (4,715 years ago): Aroden, the last Azlanti, raises the starstone from the depths of the sea, becomes a deity, and founds the city of Absalom.
AR 2,497 (c. 3,200 years ago): The demon Treerazer manifests in the forests of Kyonin. The Elves return to Golarion to deal with him. They stay on.
AR 4307 (just over 400 years ago): The Pathfinder Society is founded in Absalom.
AR 4606 (just over a hundred years ago): The deity Aroden, long prophesied to return to Golarion, is slain. The repercussions of this event spark civil war in Cheliax and see the opening of the Worldwound in the north.
AR 4715: The ‘present day’ at the time of writing.
As well as many different types of humans, Golarion is home to many non-human intelligent species. Most of these will be familiar to readers of fantasy fiction, players of fantasy games and watchers of fantasy films. There are elves, dwarves, gnomes, halflings, orcs, giants, goblins and dragons.
Only some of these species (the game calls them “races”) are available as player characters: you can play a human, elf, dwarf, halfling, gnome, half-elf and half-orc.
If you have the Advanced Race Guide supplementary rulebook you may also choose to play a kitsune (shapeshifting fox-person), a nagaji (snake-person), a tengu (crow-person) or a wayang (a sort of shadow-pixie).
Players who created such characters before August 2014 may also have aasimar (humans with distant descent from angels) or tieflings (humans with distant descent from devils).
No other races in Golarion are allowed for play without a special boon from Paizo (bring your boon sheet if you want to play such a character).
A little background on the races from the core rulebook, as they fit in Golarion.
Dwarves: Most dwarves hail from the Five Kings Mountains, though some (the Frostborn) live in the far northern Land of the Linnorm Kings, the deserts of Osirion (the Pahmet, or ‘sand dwarves’). Further south, in the Shattered Range between Geb and the Mwangi Expanse, the dark-skinned desert dwarves eke out a nomadic existence.
Elves: The Kyonin forest is the homeland of many – even most – of Golarion’s elves, though there are smaller settlements in the Mwangi Expanse, Varisa and the Steaming Sea. Most elves living north of the Inner Sea are pale skinned, but the long-lived elves tend to change their appearance to suit their environment, so an elf who leaves the temperate Kynonin Forest to live in the jungles of the Mwangi Expanse or the deserts of Osirion will, over decades, develop darker skin better suited to the hot sun. Elves raised among humans are known as Forlorn; it can be hard for such a long-lived species to watch their childhood friends age and die.
Gnomes: The ancestors of the gnomes came from the First World – the faerie realm – and gnomes maintain a kinship, however distant, to fey creatures such as brownies, pixies and dryads. Gnomes tend to have vibrant hair and eyes of any colour of the rainbow. Gnomes love change and excitement, and boredom and routine can prove fatal to them: as they age gnomes in an unchanging environment experience the ‘Bleaching’: their colours fade, their mental abilities diminish. Most die, though some – the ‘bleachlings’ – survive. Gnomes with a knack for finding new things can stave off the bleaching.
Halflings: Halflings always seem to have been present in human communities, often seeing to the needs of their bigger cousins as cooks, entertainers and manual labourers. Some human societies – notably Cheliax – value halflings as slaves.
Half-elves: The name ‘half-elf’ is a little misleading. They tend to have both human and elven ancestry, but only rarely have one human and one elven parent. Half elves rarely form communities of their own, but although they often find it difficult to fit into either human or elven societies, most try to adapt to one or the other. Half-elves tend to have skin tones and hair colour reflecting their human heritage.
Half-orcs: Half-orcs can be found anywhere orcs are in conflict with humans. Orcs themselves tend to see half-orcs as weak but cunning. Humans tend to see them as powerful brutes. Half-orcs themselves are often conflicted, prone to vicious temper, but possessed of a burning will to survive. Far from the conflict zones, in the cosmopolitan cities of the Inner Sea half-orcs experience less bigotry and suspicion, though they still have their inner conflicts to deal with. Half-orcs are big, most between 6 and 7 feet tall, and muscular. They have pointed ears, green skin and tusks. They have dark hair – black is most common, but also brown, gray or dark red – and small, beady eyes.
Almost every real-world ethnicity has some parallel in Golarion. And with Absalom attracting people from all around the world, human characters can come from pretty much anywhere.
Azlanti: The ‘high men’ are now extinct, though their descendants live on. Some humans in Cheliax or Taldor with Azlanti blood in ancient lineages claim to be true Azlanti, but this is vanity. It’s possible the aquatic gillmen are also descended from Azlanti.
Chelaxians: Descendents of Azlanti refugees and Ulfen raiders. Chelaxians tend to have sharp features, pale skin and dark hair and eyes. Red hair is known, and often regarded as a sign of diabolic influence. Chelaxians are found not only in Cheliax, but also in Andoran, Galt, Isger, Molthune, Nirmathas and Varisia. Chelaxians speak Common.
Garundi: The tall, dark-skinned Garundi are found in Absalom, Geb, Katapesh, Nex, Osirion, Rahadoum and Thuvia. Their dark hair is often prematurely white. Garundi speak Common and Osiriani.
Keleshites: Olive-skinned Keleshites have uniformly black hair brown or slightly golden eyes. They’re most commonly found in Katapesh, Nex, Osirion, Qadira and Taldor. Keleshites spean Common and Kelish.
Kellids: Brawny, with tanned skin weathered by the elements, Kellids are common in Numeria, the Realm of the Mammoth Lords and the Worldwound. Kellids have dark hair, and eyes tend to be black, blue, or steel gray. Kellids speak Common and Hallit.
Mwangi: The numerous tribes of Mwangi are heirs to a lost civilisation. There are actually four different groupings of Mwangi: the Bekyar, Bonuwat, Mauxi and Zenj. All have dark skin and dark hair. The Bekyar, from Sargava and further south, are tall, with skin tones ranging from dark brown to coal black, and their hair is wiry. The coastal Bonuwat are excellent fishers and sailors. The Mauxi, most common in Rahadoum or Thuvia, are tall and patrician, with straight hair and greyer skin tones, sometimes even ashen. The Zenj are the most common subtype in the interior of the Mwangi Expanse; they’re slightly shorter than human average, with slender, muscular frames and wiry hair. Mwangi speak Common and Polyglot.
Shoanti: The proud, warlike Shoanti tribesmen hail from northern Varisia, Belkzen and the Lands of the Linnorm Kings. Skin tones range from deeply tanned to dark brown, though most have ruddy complexions. Shoanti regard hair as a weakness in battle, so most – of both sexes – except for shamans and the elderly shave their heads. The Shoanti are divided into seven quah (clans), which we won’t list here. Shoanti speak Common and Shoanti.
Taldans: Being partly descended from Kellishites, Taldans tend to have bronzed skin. They tend to wear their brown hair long. Eyes tend to be green, gray or (more rarely) amber. The Taldan Empire once stretched around the northern coast of the Inner Sea, so Taldans can be found in Absalom, Andoran, Brevoy, Cheliax, Druma, Galt, Isger, Lastwall, Molthune, Nirmathas, Qadira and Varisia as well as Taldor. Taldans would say they speak Taldan – but that’s the same language everyone else calls Common.
Tians: From a continent on the other side of the world to the Inner Sea, Tians tend to be smaller and slighter than humans of the Inner Sea area – men rarely exceed 5ft 6ins tall, and women rarely past 5ft. Skin colour ranges from alabaster to bronzed, and although most have dark hair, shock-white or silvery white hair is not unknown. There are several groupings of Tians, but we won’t list them all here. For game purposes Tians speak Common and Tien, though other languages exist on their continent.
Ulfen: The tall, pale-skinned Ulfen tend to have blond, light brown or red hair. Both men and women wear their hair long and braided. Man tend to wear beards. Ulfen come from Irrisen, the Lands of the Linnorm Kings and northern Varisia. They speak Common and Skald.
Varisians: The nomadic Varisians have dusky skin and large, expressive eyes often of strange colours, such as violet or gold. Hair colour ranges widely, from platinum to blond to deep reds, browns and black. They tend to be lithe and long-limbed. Men have trouble growing facial hair, though that doesn’t stop them trying: their stringy beards and/or thin moustaches give them a distinctive appearance. Varisians speak Common and Varisian.
Vudrani: They tend to have skin ranging in tone from dark to bronzed, and dark hair and eyes. Although the distant Empire of Vudra, with its rajahs and marharajahs, lies far from the Inner Sea, Vudrani are noted explorers and merchants, and can be found on nearly every continent in the world. Around the Inner Sea they’re most common in Absalom, Jalmeray, Katapesh, Nex and Osirion. Vudrani speak Common and Vudrani.
In Pathfinder Society games, your character is an agent of the Pathfinder Society. What’s that? What other organisations are there in the Inner Sea, and what does the Pathfinder Society think of them?
Naturally, there are numerous special interest groups in Golarion that reach across national boundaries. But here, we’re interested in only the most powerful organisations that affect the Inner Sea region.
You will meet other factions in missions. If your mission briefing doesn’t cover them, try to use your common sense when dealing with them (of course, in a world with magic, common sense may not always be a reliable guide – if you really want to make sure you know what you’re dealing with, invest points in boosting your character’s knowledge skills).
Yay! Our heroes!
The Pathfinder Society is the foremost adventuring society in Golarion.
Pathfinders are driven by curiosity. They are the seekers of secrets, devoted to exploring the world and reporting what they find to their Venture-Captains and, through them, to the Decemvirate, the mysterious masked masters of the Pathfinder Society.
The most interesting reports are printed in the long-running series of Pathfinder Chronicles.
The ideal Pathfinder Society agent is half scholar, half archaeologist and all adventurer.
The Society was founded 400 years ago, and its success in exploring the dark, dingy corners of Golarion has brought it wealth and influence, which it uses to train and recruit more adventurers to bring it more wealth and influence. What does it do with such power? On the surface, nothing. But behind the scenes the Society has a number of factions that wish to steer the Society in different directions. As a Pathfinder Society agent, your character will be a member of one of those factions.
What are the factions? Well, they change. Sometimes they achieve their objectives. Sometimes they fail and disappear. The current list of factions you can join, their aims and the things your characters can do to further the aims of their chosen faction are detailed in the Pathfinder Society Roleplaying Guild Guide.
For more information on the Pathfinder Society and its factions see:
1) The Pathfinder Society Roleplaying Guild Guide (which is free, updated every year, and which you must have to create your own Pathfinder Society character).
2) The Pathfinder Society Primer, which contains more detailed background on the Society, its organisation and special equipment available to agents.
3) The Pathfinder Society Field Guide, which is a little out of date (some of the the factions it describes have changed name; others have disappeared – for now), but packed with tons of useful information, equipment, traits and feats, and interesting ways to spend your prestige points.
4) Seekers of Secrets, the precursor to the Pathfinder Society Field Guide, is now very out of date for PFS, but has maps and descriptions of the Grand Lodge in Absalom and the Varisia Lodge in Magnimar, descriptions of notable Pathfinders (including some of the Venture-Captains your character will work for), new feats and ways to customise your Wayfinder.
Boo, hiss! The baddies.
The Aspis Consrtium is another adventuring guild, but it is everything the Pathfinder Society is not.
Officially a trade and enterprise group, the Aspis Consortium is greedy, grasping and utterly mercenary. Their above-board activities have brought them wealth and influence, but behind the scenes they are unscrupulous, merciless and treacherous.
While the Pathfinder Society seeks knowledge for its own sake and has acquired wealth and influence as an accidental by-product, the Aspis Consortium actively seeks knowledge for whatever power, wealth or and influence it can bring.
Let’s put it this way: Indiana Jones and Belloc are both adventurous archaeologists. Indy works for the museum. Belloc works for the Nazis.
The Eagle Knights of Andoran are considered by some to be shining examples of the best humanity can offer in a dark, dismal world. Others view them as ideological imperialists who seek to impose their own worldview on others.
The Eagle Knights espouse Andoran sensibilities. They value truth, justice and liberty. And they don’t really mind who they upset to ensure everyone gets it.
Needless to say, their aims may sometimes bring them into conflict with the Pathfinder Society –and sometimes they will align with the Society. A Pathfinder Society agent should always remember this.
Note: If you like the sound of what the Eagle Knights stand for, consider having a character join the Liberty’s Edge faction of the Pathfinder Society.
Despite their name, the Hellknights are not universally evil. But they are dogmatic, disciplined, bureaucratic and utterly devoted to law and order. They aren’t interested in mitigating circumstances or exceptions to the rules.
And if people won’t obey the rules willingly, the Hellknights have no hesitation in making them fear the consequences of disobeying the rules.
The Hellknights are the primary law enforcers in Cheliax, but their influence and presence goes beyond that. They’re one of the most highly respected – and feared – mercenary organisations in the Inner Sea region, and nations or rulers who have problems with criminal elements may well consider bringing in the Hellknights. Of course, persuading them to leave is not so easy – not when the Hellknights can see so many laws being unenforced.
Some say they’re a religious cult. Some say they’re a criminal organisation, some say they’re a guild of assassins.
Treat with extreme caution.