One of the most dangerous places on Golarion is the region known as the Worldwound. A little over a century ago, at the time of the god Aroden’s death, demons tore open a rift from the Abyss into northeastern Avistan, then swarmed out and destroyed the nation of Sarkoris. Forces led by the followers of Iomedae fought hard to hold the demons back, launching a series of crusades, none of which have been fully successful. However, they have succeeded in keeping the demonic taint from spreading across all of Golarion.
This desolate land is the subject of Pathfinder Campaign Setting: The Worldwound. I’ve often said that my favourite supplements are generally the ones detailing specific lands and countries. But the Worldwound is a very different sort of area from most. It’s not the kind of land that player characters call home. Instead, it’s the kind of land that they travel to once they’ve gained a few levels, and hope to survive long enough to make some sort of difference. However, they would have to be high-level Mythic heroes to have any hope of ending the demonic invasion entirely (something they may get the opportunity for in the new Wrath of the Righteous adventure path, the first part of which I will be reviewing in the not-too-distant future).
The Worldwound is really quite an impressive book. The desolation and despair of the setting come across remarkably well, while at the same time, the little glimmers of hope that dot the region (a few hold-outs for the forces of good) keep the book from becoming too depressing in its subject matter. In many ways, travelling to the Worldwound is like travelling to the Abyss without leaving Golarion, so it presents a very, very different setting to what is just next door. Even the sky and the weather behave in different ways. It’s not an area of the world I’ve paid a lot of attention to in my gaming up to now, but after reading this book, I just may pay it a little more in the future.
The first chapter of the book opens with an overview of the history of the Worldwound region and that of the four crusades (and a sidebar with a brief mention of the fifth crusade of Wrath of the Righteous). It then looks at each of the five distinct areas of the Worldwound (Frostmire, Riftshadow, the Sarkorian Steppes, the Stonewilds, and the Wounded Lands), with each one getting a four-page write-up. What’s most impressive throughout these write-ups (and this holds true in the second chapter as well) is how much one learns about Sarkoris. Even though this nation is long gone, there are remnants and relics of it that still exist, usually in warped and tainted ways. From the undead siabrae (what the druids of the Forest of Stones have become) to the last surviving defenders of Pulura’s Fall, the tragedy of Sarkoris is palpable throughout. Yet as tragic as Sarkoris’s fall was, it is also clear that Sarkoris was not a perfect land, its persecution of wizards and other arcane spellcasters being one of its major failings. For a book that is mainly about what the Worldwound is now, readers also learn a respectable amount of what is once was, and this gives an overall sense of history and tragedy to the setting.
I actually found myself wishing the write-ups on each area were a little longer—maybe six pages instead of four. This isn’t because I felt they were lacking anything, but rather because I was so engrossed, I didn’t want them to end (although there are further details of specific areas in Chapter Two). Of course, adding extra pages here would have meant removing pages elsewhere, but I wouldn’t have been bothered by a shorter monsters section—although the lengthy monsters chapter makes a lot of sense for this particular book.
The second chapter looks at adventuring in the Worldwound. It begins with some information on hazards in the region, including hazardous flora and fauna. There is very little (other than demons and the demons’ servants and slaves) living in the Worldwound, but what little there is has generally been tainted by the demonic influence. It makes surviving in this land very difficult. Indeed, even things as commonplace as Survival skill checks to find food are much harder here (Chapter One contains adjusted DCs for each region) and that food can expose travellers to demonplague and other terrible things.
One of the things, though, that makes the Worldwound so instantly alien is the sky. It’s usually overcast, but when it isn’t, the sky usually looks wrong. Dawn comes later and night fall earlier than in the surrounding lands. On some days, the sun rises in the west and sets in the east. At night, there are either too many or too few stars, and they always appear in patterns alien to Golarion. The weather in the Worldwound can be very unpredictable and sometimes, the truly bizarre can happen. There can be sudden heat waves, or supernatural storms with hail composed of jagged crystals, arrowheads, or even teeth. These are all little hints of the Abyss seeping through into Golarion and they’re a great opportunity for gamemasters to play up the creepiness and terror of the land.
The second chapter also looks at a number of specific adventure sites. While these places are also briefly mentioned in Chapter One, they are fleshed out more fully here, and through them, the book also reveals a great deal more of the history and society of the land—or, more accurately, the society that once existed before the Worldwound opened. Although these are adventure sites, there are no maps or stats to go with them. These are fluff write-ups of the locations. GMs wishing to send their characters to these sites will have to do the additional work themselves. But honestly, I think the book comes out much better because of this. It allows the book to look at all the key areas of the Worldwound and provide inspiration for many, many hours of game play.
It’s pretty normal for Campaign Setting books that detail a specific region to contain a Bestiary of creatures native or unique to that region. Due to the nature of the Worldwound, it’s not surprising that The Worldwound contains a much larger bestiary than normal—and most of the creatures contained therein are new demons. The demons range from low-powered (CR 3) abrikandilus (who delight in destroying beauty) to high-powered (CR 19) gallus (demons of war). Eyeless lilitus (CR 17) exist to tempt mortals into all manner of sinful acts. But there are more than just demons here as well. Grimslakes are giant, maggot-like creatures, while riftcreepers are protoplasmic oozes that dissolve and consume their prey. Siabrae are the undead remnants of the druids of Sarkoris—who are still capable of using their druidic powers despite the fact that undeath is anathema to the Green Faith. GMs looking for new and unusual creatures to throw at their PCs while they travel through the Worldwound have plenty to choose from here.
Overall, The Worldwound presents a dangerous and bleak area of Golarion where PCs can fight for the forces of good against the ultimate evils. It’s not the kind of place to begin a campaign with low-level characters, but it makes an ideal goal for crusaders from neighbouring Mendev to eventually reach. The book is a captivating read, and the setting is both terrifying and desolate, but with just enough sliver of hope to it to provide a rewarding gaming experience.