Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Qadira, Jewel of the East

As much as I love the Pathfinder Campaign Setting, I have had a recurring criticism of many of the books describing the world. While I generally come away from the books knowing a great deal about what it’s like to adventure in the particular land being described, I often don’t know much about what it’s like to live there. Of course, the adventuring part is very important. The game is all about adventuring and the player characters themselves are generally referred to as adventurers. As such, the adventuring part is actually crucial.

Actual game play spends less time on day-to-day living. In fact, these sorts of things are often skimmed over. If they weren’t, it would take interminably long to play any campaign. For this reason, people might be inclined to think that information on what day-to-day life is like in the world would be less important—maybe even unimportant—in a setting book. I argue quite differently. While these are background details, they are also the kinds of details that bring a setting alive. Small details like the food the characters have for dinner, the kinds of clothes locals wear, or the customs they have for greeting strangers help to paint a picture of where all these adventures take place. They allow the players to better empathise with the world, and that in turn makes it all the more satisfying to the same players when their characters help to save that world and the people in it.

Yet Pathfinder Campaign Setting books often skimp on these details of daily life. An example I’ve commented on before is that several books contain the information that Prophets of Kalistrade have strict dietary restrictions, yet none of these books ever say what the restrictions actually are. So when a book comes along that breaks with this mould, I’m quick to praise and draw attention to it. Qadira, Jewel of the East by Jessica Price is such a book.

When Qadira, Jewel of the East was first announced, I was eager for it to come out so that I could read it. This is for the simple fact that I love setting books that move away from the western European-based lands that make up the majority of the Inner Sea countries and look at other, less-explored parts of the world. Qadira is technically still part of the Inner Sea Region of Golarion, but it’s on the outskirts, and it’s also part of Kelesh, an empire east of the Inner Sea map on the continent of Casmaron. I expected to learn a little more about Kelesh in a book about Qadira, and this is a kind of thing I like.

What I didn’t expect was just how much I would learn—about Kelesh, about Qadira, and the peoples and creatures that reside there. There’s an incredible amount of information packed into this book’s 64 pages, more than enough to set multiple campaigns in Qadira and not run out of ideas for more. Nevertheless, the book does leave me wanting more—but it’s wanting more in a good way, the kind that inspires me to spontaneously start thinking up my own ideas, and I love when that happens.

A typical format for Pathfinder Campaign Setting books is to spend a significant portion of the book on a gazetteer that lays out descriptions for locations marked on an area map, describing what can be encountered there. Other parts of the books will generally include more specific details on adventure sites, a bestiary, and so on. Qadira, Jewel of the East does contain these elements, but it also contains extensive chapters on life in Qadira and the people who live there—much more extensive than many other books—and this is a very positive change.

(I should acknowledge, though, that Qadira, Jewel of the East may not be the first book to make a change in this direction. I have a sizeable backlog of books from the past couple years I haven’t read, and the order I’m getting to them in is based largely on personal whim. As such, it’s entirely possible the Pathfinder Campaign Setting line has adopted a style more like Qadira’s in other recent books that I haven’t read yet.)

The book opens with a short introduction that provides a brief overview of what Qadira is like in the form of a series of lessons that newcomers to the country should learn. From “Family comes first,” to “Register as a foreigner as soon as you arrive,” these provide an immediate sense of life in Qadira. The two-page introduction then has a brief look at the Kelish language, including common expressions, and concludes with information on Keleshite names.

The first chapter is on the history of Qadira. This includes a summary of what the land was like before Qadira officially formed, its eventual formation, and major events in the centuries and millennia since. This summary is about two pages long and is followed by a timeline that condenses ten thousand years of history down to one page. It’s not particularly detailed at this point, but what sets this chapter ahead of similar chapters in other books is that this isn’t the entirety of it. Following the summary and timeline, the chapter looks specifically at the history of Qadira’s relations with its neighbours. This includes the Empire of Kelesh (of which Qadira is a satrap), Taldor, and Osirion. Each gets a page of background. That is then followed by a page on Qadira’s relations with the rest of the Inner Sea Region.

The second chapter covers life in Qadira and includes pretty much all the kinds of things I have long wanted to see in a Pathfinder Campaign Setting book. There are details on customs, including things like hospitality laws and the types of food people like to eat. There is a breakdown of the government and military, information on education and trade, and details on the various faiths followed in Qadira. While Sarenrae is the predominant faith, there are many other gods worshipped as well.

Climbing the social ladder in Qadira (and doing lots of other things in Qadira) requires patronage, and the second chapter concludes with extensive details on how this works. Since this is something that can very directly affect player characters, there is a set of new game rules for acquiring a patron, determining that patron’s “category” (the kinds of services the patron can provide) and “rank” (how influential the patron is in greater Qadiran society), and tracking how much “clout” PCs have with their patrons.

The next chapter is on the peoples of Qadira, and it includes information on the important role of family in Qadira, as well as how each Pathfinder class typically fits into the society. There is also a breakdown of the different Keleshite ethnicities. Until now, the campaign setting has presented Keleshite as a single monolithic ethnicity. Yet, much like the Mwangi and Tian peoples, Keleshites range across huge amounts of land (in this case, extensive portions of the continent of Casmaron) and actually compose several different groups of people. This section includes six distinct ethnicities that make up what people from Avistan term Keleshites. There is also some information on non-Keleshite peoples found in Qadira. This includes some familiar ethnicities like Garundis, some entirely new ones from other areas of Casmaron, and of course non-humans like elves and dwarves.

The fourth chapter covers adventuring in Qadira. It provides a few new desert hazards to add to the ones in the Core Rulebook. It then looks at the various regions in Qadira, such as the Meraz Desert and the Plains of Paresh. Each section provides lists of notable settlements, and resources, as well as brief descriptions of key areas. The chapter then provides more specific details on several specific locations, including the capital city of Katheer. This is followed by looks at several adventure sites. The chapter then concludes with a section on horses, which are an important part of Qadiran and Keleshite society.

The final chapter of the book is a bestiary. The bestiary contains mostly Qadiran horse breeds, which include shissahs and genie-touched horses. In addition to the horses, there is a new fey creature called a rabisu.

Although the majority of Qadira, Jewel of the East is flavour material about the setting, dotted throughout the book are several new rules options as well. In every case, these new options build on the flavour and style of the setting. One of my favourites is a new witch archetype, the ashiftah (also known as a battle witch). Just reading this one brought all kinds of ideas to my mind. In addition to this, there is a new sorcerer bloodline, a new cavalier order, a few new rage powers, statistics for merchant academies, a couple new spells, numerous traits, the aforementioned rules for patronage, and more. None of the new options seem out of place, and were clearly added because they make sense for the setting and not just for the sake of including new rules options.

The only disappointing thing in the book is the map of Katheer on the inside back cover, which is strangely...rough. It shows only districts and major streets, and is almost entirely a monochrome colour. It seems more like a rough draft of a map and is not up to the usual quality of maps in Paizo’s products. The map of Qadira on the inside front cover is much more to the usual standard.

Without doubt, Qadira, Jewel of the East is one of my favourite Pathfinder Campaign Setting books. It is simply jam-packed with information that not only brings the nation of Qadira to life, but also expands the world of Golarion in pretty significant ways with its glimpses into the wider Empire of Kelesh. This is an important and exciting thing for, while Golarion is certainly a diverse world, the fact is that the majority of books (with a few notable exceptions like Distant Shores and Osirion, Legacy of Pharaohs) have detailed places based on white European cultures. Qadira, Jewel of the East helps balance things out a little. I highly recommend it.

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