Return to the Inner Sea

The revised Inner Sea World Guide (ISWG) is rapidly nearing release, and Paizo has finally placed some previews on their blog. And man, does it look stunning. It’s been a long time coming—then again, it’s also been a long time since the Pathfinder Chronicles Campaign Setting (PCCS) went out of print—but, by the end of the month, the first campaign setting written 100% for the Pathfinder rules will have .pdfs on-sale. (Said .pdfs are bargain priced at $9.99, while the print book is a $49.99 tome.)

First. The art. Oh, the glorious art. This is the best looking Pathfinder book I’ve seen yet; nothing against the rest, but the lushly color-coded margins make this book pop. Nothing against the other books in the line, but primary colors beat earth tones (brownscale?) every time. Definitely getting our money in terms of art design. On top of that, we get a good look at the splash page for a region and a new example of a map. The sample region, the Worldwound, has a nice chunk of art there: very evocative, with a Balrog-like balor fighting with a crusader. The original lacked art of all kinds, so each region getting a splash image is an awesome concept: the flags and one-line descriptions were cool, and I assume they’ll in the regions’ respective info boxes from the sample, but a single great piece of art is a better way to evoke a region’s feel for players.

For maps, the preview shows the Sodden Lands, showcasing several great choices. First, the region depicted is colored while the surroundings are in greyscale, which works better IMO than the dopey red dotted lines. If I wanted to see a region in context with its neighbors, I’ll pull out the poster map. Second, according to Paizo, each region gets its own map, which is a godsend compared to the first book, where only the lucky regions with existing material (Varisia, Andoran, Mwangi) got maps of any sort. (Also,a map for Ustalav, even though it took us this long to see a Ustalav-based adventure path… which looks awesome!) I love maps, can’t get enough of them, so putting them back in the main book is a win in my opinion.

Second. I’ve been assuming that it would be primarily fluff-based, like the original, which had a half-dozen prestige classes, one feat per nation, and one variant option per class. (IIRC, it also had domains, some spells to go with them, and a few magic items like the wayfinder.) The previews give us a snippet of the magic items page as well as a new creature… and it’s a dragon at that. I’m kind of mixed on that regard. I liked the first edition because of its high emphasis on fluff and low crunch content, and while I realize revising the original and adding sixty pages of pure fluff would be a massive chore, I’d rather see more depth on the Inner Sea regions than get nine monsters I’ll rarely use. That said, I’ll never say no to more crunch (only complain about it on my blog), and the fact they led with a Numerian dragon is a great sign.

Third, which is related to the above. I realize Paizo has to add in new material to attract people who already bought the Campaign Setting—hence the nine new monsters, to give GMs another justification to pick up the World Guide. This is the least of all problems for me; I already own the PCCS, but am planning on buying the ISWG. Golarion and the Inner Sea have been richly developed since the PCCS was released, and the new edition takes that into account. The original was  the book that influenced the line; the revision is what codifies the existing material. The ISWG has new info fleshing out parts that were absent in the original—the Shoanti weren’t included, even though the Azlant and Tian were—as well as adding in new material, such as the Knights of Abendego.

A few things I’m curious about. The original had a nifty section at the back mapping where all the current adventures, paths, and “Guide To” books were set. I thought it was a great idea, though it really showcased how the Gamemastery/early Pathfinder line had been Varisia- and Andoran-centric, and quickly became outdated. I’m hoping they’ll continue the idea with the ISWG, or better, have some frequently updated interactive map on their website showcasing the locations of all the published adventures. (It would be a real pain to establish, and the upkeep would be a chore,  given the sheer number of Society modules. But it would be a great aid for not just GMs but also Paizo, enabling them to see the spread of established canon/info/what have you.) Considering all the world locales have been pinned down for the Huge Ass Map, as part of the Inner Sea Poster Map Folio, at least part of the work is already completed. At worst, we have said map folio, even though charting the location of adventures and the location of world locales are two different things.

I’m also hoping that the revised setting will showcase some more of the fascinating regions that have been neglected for so long. Numeria is at the top of my list, given its pulp SF leanings, but when was the last time anybody used Alkenstar or Hermea? What about Thuvia, which I’ve never gotten a good feel for? The Linnorm Kings or Mammoth Lords, which barely even exist? I realize not every region can have an adventure path, module, Companion guide, or section in “[Blank] of Golarion” tacked onto it, especially not this soon—and with Tian Xia on the far horizon, not if the line is balanced between the two regions in any way—but hopefully the neglected regions will get more than a two-page spread in terms of material.

Given the quality of the original—it won an ENnie after all—it leaves big shoes to fill. That said, it was far from perfect: it was flush with spelling errors, including a blatant one on the map. It really lacked maps, probably because the game line wasn’t fleshed out at the time. The descriptions were brief, even for Paizo’s signature broad strokes vibe, with each region getting two to four pages. And the book’s covers have a tendency to curl, which irks me to no end; I placed my copy under a stack of Spycraft books for a month, and it still wraps back. Sigh. Converting it to Pathfinder gave a good opportunity to fix all those gaping errors, as well as adding in new content, and I eagerly await the results.

Given the quality of the original—it won an ENnie for best new campaign world—it leaves big shoes to fill. That said, it was far from perfect: it was flush with spelling errors, including one blatant one on the map. It was a  wasteland in terms of maps, probably because the game line wasn’t fleshed out at the time compared to the years and years of additions that the new volume has to contain. The descriptions were brief, even for Paizo’s signature broad strokes vibe. And the book’s covers have a tendency to curl, which irks me to no end; I placed my copy under a stack of Spycraft books for most of a month, and it still wraps back. Sigh. Converting it to Pathfinder gave a good opportunity to fix all those gaping errors, as well as adding in new content.

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