Thursday 31 July 2014

People of the River

The Sellen River cuts across eastern Avistan, all the way from the Lake of Mists and Vales in the north to Star Bay in the Inner Sea 1200 miles to the south. It passes through (or forms the borders of) numerous lands along its way. Amongst them are Numeria and the River Kingdoms, which are the main topic of People of the River, the latest release in the Pathfinder Player Companion line. It provides new options for players making characters from these lands, and also provides some rules and information regarding rivers in general.

The River Kingdoms are actually a grouping of numerous small kingdoms. Combined with Numeria, they make for a large amount of material for this one small book to cover. Not surprisingly, it can't cover them all and there are several River Kingdoms that get no more than a sentence or two of mention. As a Player Companion book, it also devotes a large amount of space to game options, like new traits and archetypes, further limiting just how much it can cover about these locations. In my review of the recent Numeria, Land of Fallen Stars, I stated that that book does a great job at describing what it is like to adventure in Numeria, but gives little information about what it's like to live there. Somewhat unfortunately, this book doesn't really fill in that gap. Players without much pre-existing knowledge of the lands covered in People of the River will come away from the book with only a smattering more knowledge than they started with. However, they will come away with several new options to consider for their characters, and for many players, that may well be more than enough.

People of the River opens with a brief introduction about river life in general and then a look at the Sellen in particular. A sidebar on these two introductory pages provides a single sentence of description for each of the River Kingdoms not covered in the upcoming pages of the book. Following this introduction is a two-page section on Numeria. After that come sections on eight of the River Kingdoms, each getting a single page. The countries covered are Daggermark, Echo Wood, Gralton, Lambreth, Mivon, Pitax, Sevenarches, and Tymon. Each of these various sections contains a description of the country, one or two new regional traits, as well as a selection of other new options that vary with each country. While the country descriptions are very brief (generally only two or three paragraphs total), they do a fairly decent job of summing these lands up, so at the very least, players can learn what each country is most well known for, if nothing else.

Of the new game options, the one that stands out most for me is The Bear's Jig, a new bardic masterpiece found in the section on Pitax. It works like a temporary awaken spell, giving an animal human-like intelligence as long as the bard maintains the performance. This masterpiece does a good job of providing flavour that fits with the location along with its mechanics. In general, the various new options attempt to provide this kind of flavour, although some do it better than others. The veneficus witch archetype in Daggermark fits seamlessly into its location and helps to give a better understanding of Daggermark. The order of vengeance from the Gralton section, however, like so many new cavalier orders, is just a collection of abilities with little grounding in the setting. There is also at least one example of a rather useless ability. The section on Echo Wood contains three new wizard arcane discoveries. One of these is time stutter, which works like the spell time stop, except that it only provides one round of apparent time—which doesn't really give you much more time than you would have had if you had simply not used the time stutter ability in the first place. The ability doesn't actually indicate the kind of action it takes to use it, which generally means it's a standard action. The best you can really do is get an extra move action with this ability by using the ability, getting your round of apparent time, and then using your remaining move action in real time (or doing the real time move first and then using the ability). Considering you need to be at least 10th level to learn the ability, you really don't gain much from it.

The centre two pages of People of the River comprise a player map of the entire Sellen River area. As well as showing Numeria and the River Kingdoms, it also includes places like Brevoy and Mendev in the north, Taldor in the south, and all the places in between. I always really like these player maps when they appear in the Player Companion books. They provide a great visual representation of the kinds of maps the PCs might actually use in the game world. They're also generally quite gorgeous to behold. This one here is similarly beautiful, but lacks one thing others like the map of Varisia in Varisia, Birthplace of Legends or the map of Osirion in People of the Sands have had. Those maps showed roadways and travel routes, complete with labels of the distance from one location to the next. This was incredibly useful information to have as roads rarely run in a straight line, making it time-consuming to calculate accurate distances using the scales provided. Unfortunately, the map of the Sellen does not include any roadways or distances. It cuts out one of the major uses of these maps, and that's a bit of a shame.

The second half of the book starts by taking a look at the people of the regions, spending two pages each on Numerians and then River Folk. Both sections contain some new race traits. The section on Numeria also contains a new sorcerer bloodline: the nanite bloodline. The River Folk section contains a new rogue archetype: the river rat.

The book then spends two pages on “River Faiths”. This is one of the more useful sections of the book as the people of the River Kingdoms follow a couple of gods not commonly followed elsewhere in the world (Gyronna and Hanspur). As well as information about the faiths of these two gods, the section provides brief information about the worship of the more common gods. Strangely, however, the section lacks information on the domains and favoured weapons of Gyronna and Hanspur. True, this information can be found in other Golarion sources, but generally these books only assume access to the rulebooks, not campaign setting material. While I can see not wanting to needlessly repeat information in multiple books, in this case a bit of repetition is kind of necessary, and a list of domains and favoured weapon really wouldn't take up much space at all. Players of clerics of either of these two gods must now seek out the book(s) containing this information rather than be able to make their character with this book alone.

The next section of the book moves away from Numeria- and River Kingdoms-specific information to a more general look at “River Survival”. This section contains simple, but useful rules for catching a creature floating downstream and for swinging on vines (or ropes or similar things). There are also a couple of new feats, as well as a ranger archetype, the galvanic saboteur, which is focused on destroying robots. The next two sections (each two pages long) contain new spells and magic items from Numeria and the River Kingdoms. The final section of the book is a brief player's guide for the upcoming Iron Gods adventure path, which is set in Numeria. It contains campaign traits for the adventure path.

The book manages to squeeze out just a little bit more, too. The inside front cover looks at general river dangers, from diseases to fauna to whitewater rapids. The inside back cover provides brief information on three other major rivers of Golarion: the Sphinx in Osirion, the Vanji in the Mwangi, and the Yondabakari in Varisia.

On the whole, People of the River does a pretty good job of covering a large amount of material, but it is constrained somewhat by that large volume. While it's true that one can turn to more detailed sources (Numeria, Land of Fallen Stars and Guide to the River Kingdoms) for more information, I think I would have much preferred to see this book divided up into two books, one for Numeria and one for the River Kingdoms. They could then each be player-focused companions to the Campaign Setting books mentioned above. It would also allow for more in-depth coverage of the countries and the peoples who live there. But overall, People of the River is not a bad book and there's quite a bit in it to interest players creating new characters.

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