Friday, 28 September 2012

Knights of the Inner Sea

The latest release in the Pathfinder Player Companion line of supplements, Knights of the Inner Sea provides players with an overview of what they need to create characters who either are, or are destined to become, knights. It contains information on the most prominent knightly orders in the Inner Sea region of Golarion, their mandates and backgrounds, along with character roles, traits, new magic items, and even a few new spells. It’s important to be aware that, if players are looking for an in-depth treatise about a specific knightly order (including detailed hierarchical structures, lists of prominent commanders and other characters, lists of outpost locations, etc.), they won’t find it here. However, what they will find in Knights of the Inner Sea is a plethora of starting points from which to develop interesting character ideas, along with options for developing those characters throughout their careers (with things such as the new Squire feat). In this manner, Knights of the Inner Sea is a successful and extremely useful book for anyone who wants to create a knight from the Inner Sea region.

Knights of the Inner Sea is the second of the series to use the new format that d├ębuted in Varisia, Birthplace of Legends, a much more player-friendly format than what preceded it. Like Varisia before it, it opens with a “For Your Character” section which gives an overview of what the book is focused on, along with “Questions to Ask Your DM”. After this single page, however, it doesn’t become stuck with having to provide specific types of sections like the old-style Companions did (such as the “Combat”, “Faith”, “Magic”, and “Social” sections). This is a good thing, allowing the book to focus on the types of material that work best for its topic.

The centre two pages constitute my favourite part of the book. “Anatomy of the Knight” provides a diagram detailing the names of all the parts of a knight’s armour (such as the plackart and pauldron), a mount’s barding (such as the champron and criniere), the heraldic shield and tabard, and so on. In short, the names for all the accoutrements that make up the standard mediaeval fantasy knight. There is also a sidebar describing how heraldry works. The simple glossary provided on these two pages allows for the addition of a great deal of flavour to anyone’s character. Now you have more than just stats for your knight; now you can actually talk like your knight (and possibly sound quite pompous while doing so)!

The inside front cover contains information on four of the most prominent knightly families in the Inner Sea region, while the inside back cover provides details on several Inner Sea breeds of horses as well as a few other animals. Both sections provide yet more ways to add flavour to your character. In fact, I’d almost consider just “Anatomy of the Knight” and the two inside covers to be worth the purchase price alone. (Okay, that’s perhaps an exaggeration, but I do love the amount of flavour those four pages add to the setting.)

Knights of the Inner Sea also introduces an intriguing method of handling squires in the game, through the Squire feat and several archetypes for your squire cohort. The Squire feat works like a lower-powered version of the Leadership feat (and actually morphs into Leadership at higher levels). To be honest, I’ve always had something of a love-hate relationship with the Leadership feat (and, indeed, all the ways in which older editions of D&D have tried to handle the concept of characters gaining followers). On the one hand, Leadership provides a straight-forward mechanical way for dealing with a character who has someone else following him/her around and helping out (with healing, fighting, or whatever). On the other hand, Leadership can cause annoying situations where a character who has never done anything to attract a following suddenly gains the feat and the player wants to know, “When will my cohort show up?” Not only that, in the hands of a competent player, Leadership can easily become the most powerful feat in the game, perhaps too powerful. As such, I’m a bit unsure how to view the Squire feat. Is it a good or bad addition to the game? It certainly has good flavour potential (and that’s generally what I rate highest when considering a new feat/trait/spell/etc.’s addition), and squires are certainly an important part of the whole mythos surrounding the fantasy knight. In the end, I’d have to say the Squire feat is as good or bad as the Leadership feat is, and that’s something that individual groups need to decide on their own.

I do have two areas of disappointment with Knights of the Inner Sea and they both have to do with the cavalier class. First off, the section on monstrous mounts presents mounts that can be gained as cohorts using the Leadership feat, but misses out on the opportunity to provide a means for a cavalier to gain one of these mounts as a bonded mount. For example, as it stands now, a cavalier who wants a pegasus mount must either gain one as a cohort (using the Leadership feat) in addition to his bonded mount, or simply not have a pegasus mount at all. I think there was a definite missed opportunity here for the addition of a feat, archetype, or some other means for a cavalier to gain a non-standard bonded mount.

I also think there was a much bigger missed opportunity to explain exactly how cavalier orders fit into the game world. In books like the Advanced Player’s Guide and Ultimate Combat, cavalier orders are simply mechanical aspects of the class, with a small amount of information on the general outlook espoused by each particular order. As these books are setting-neutral, this is a perfectly understandable way to present them. However, no Golarion book to date has discussed how these orders fit into the world (unless I’ve missed something somewhere). What kind of organizations are these? How do they relate to various orders like the Knights of Ozem? Are certain orders more prominent in certain areas of the world? What kind of hierarchy do they have? This seems like perfect material for a book called Knights of the Inner Sea, yet this book doesn’t take this opportunity. There are three new orders in the book, but they are presented in exactly the same format as the Advanced Player’s Guide and other rulebooks, with no information on how they fit in the world. A few of the roles for specific knightly orders list appropriate cavalier orders for that group, but don’t go anymore specific as to how the cavalier order mixes or integrates with the knightly order. I think this is a major missed opportunity to explain, in-game, exactly what a cavalier order is.

Apart from these couple things, however, Knights of the Inner Sea is a good book. If you’re looking for a definitive treatise on the Knights of Ozem or the Hellknights, it’s not the book for you. But if you’re looking for a broad overview of all the knightly orders, along with options for making a knightly character, the book has just about everything you’ll need. It’s well worth the read.

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