The Pathfinder Campaign Setting is focused primarily on the Inner Sea Region. This includes the continent of Avistan and northern portion of the continent of Garund. The majority of lands that have been detailed to date lie in this region. However, this amounts to a relatively small portion of the entire world of Golarion. Avistan is one of the smaller continents and while Garund is a much larger continent, only a small portion of it lies in the Inner Sea Region. There are several other continents as well. One of these, Tian Xia, has received an overview treatment in Dragon Empires Primer and Dragon Empires Gazetteer.
There have been some brief forays into other lands. The Hungry Storm, the third part of Jade Regent, for example, contains information on the Crown of the World, Golarion’s north polar region, which connects Avistan to Tian Xia, and the Inner Sea World Guide has brief overviews of all the continents on Golarion. Distant Shores, one of the most recent books to look beyond the Inner Sea Region, examines six very different cities from various different parts of the globe, and offers tantalising hints about the lands that they are part of.
Paizo has always strived for diversity in its campaign setting, which is a great thing. Numerous different real-world cultures, races, and ethnicities have analogues on Golarion. However, the fact remains that most of the cultures of the Inner Sea Region have their roots in white European cultures. Moving beyond the Inner Sea provides the opportunity to tip the balance slightly away from that, and this is exactly what Distant Shores does.
One of the things I like the most about Distant Shores is that, as well as providing enough detail to set adventures and even campaigns in any of these cities, it also provides glimpses of the countries, lands, and cultures that these cities are a part of. Sometimes this amounts to a sidebar with two or three paragraphs of information, and sometimes it is little more than a name mentioned while describing something else. Either way, it paints a wonderful picture of a large and vibrant world that we’ve barely begun to explore, and it makes me eager to learn more about that world.
Each of the six cities in the book receives ten pages of detail. These pages are split up in similar manners, beginning with an overview, then continuing with sections on appearance, history, society, relations, districts, and sites of interest. Although their lengths vary, these sections remain a constant part of each city’s description. However, each city’s description also ends with a couple pages about something particularly unique to that location. Often this includes things like descriptions of local gods, or game mechanics information on new races. Peppered throughout each chapter, there are also sidebars containing game stats for each city, as well as assorted other information. And, of course, every city also gets a full-page map.
First up is Aelyosos, a port in the archipelago of Iblydos, which lies just southeast of the Inner Sea Region map. Of all the cities in the book, this is one of the closest to the Inner Sea (the cities are ordered alphabetically, not geographically, so this is likely coincidence more than anything else). The people of Aelyosos live amongst cyclops prophets and hero-gods, powerful mythic characters worshipped by the people. As well as the material present in all chapters, this chapter contains some new mythic abilities that can be selected by hero-gods and PCs who gain mythic tiers.
Anuli is the northernmost city of Holomog, a Garundi nation south of Geb. Its rulers, queens called omwa, rule by the divine providence of the Empyreal Lords. Anuli is a city still rebuilding itself from a disaster called the Paroxsys, which levelled much of the city a century ago—a disaster the people of Anuli believe was caused by Geb. Anuli makes for a great area of political tension, as it finds itself at odds between a rising desire to go to war with Geb and the more peaceful ways of its parent country.
Dhucharg is the only non-human city described in Distant Shores. It is a hobgoblin city in the nation of Kaoling in Tian Xia. Dhucharg’s culture is similar in many ways to that of Minkai (Golarion’s Japan analogue), though highly militaristic and regimented, with all citizens having some form of rank in the society. Despite the large amount of information about the goblins of Golarion (including the book, Goblins of Golarion), there has been very little information about their hobgoblin cousins, so it’s nice to see a more in-depth look at one group of them here. This chapter also includes a new samurai order: the Order of the Eclipse. I’ve been critical in the past about cavalier/samurai orders not having a clear place in the world, and I’m happy to say that this is an exception.
Located in the heart of the Impossible Kingdoms of Vudra, Radripal is a city of great division, both physically (due to a gorge and river splitting it in two halves) and economically. Unfortunately, despite being the same length as all the other chapters in Distant Shores, this chapter manages to provide the least information about its subject city. Instead, there is a surprising amount of repetition. The text feels the need to tell readers multiple times that the northern half of the city is called High Bluff and the southern is called Silver Shore, or that High Bluff is rich and Silver Shore is poor, each time as if it’s the first. Indeed, each section of the chapter (overview, appearance, history, etc.) feels as if it was written independently of the others. Each seems to assume that readers haven’t read any of the others that came before it—thus the need to reintroduce previous information. It is thus the most disappointing chapter of the book. That said, it’s not all bad, and Radripal is still an interesting place to set a campaign. The chapter also contains details on three of Vudra’s many, many gods.
Far across the Arcadian Ocean, on the eastern shores of the continent from which the ocean gets its name lies the city of Segada. Nestled high in the only mountain pass that allows entry to the continent proper from the Grinding Coast, this city protects the nations of Arcadia from intrusion by Avistani colonists. Arcadia is, of course, Golarion’s analogue for the Americas, and any delving into cultures here brings with it the necessity of deciding how to handle the sticky real-world issue of colonialism. For Golarion, the developers have gone with the idea that colonisation has been attempted by the nations of Avistan, but rebuffed. Four nations of Arcadia came up with the Segada Protocol, which heavily limits Avistani movements into Arcadia. The Protocol allows for three colonies on the Grinding Coast and no more. One of those colonies has since collapsed, leaving only two, one Chelish and one Andoren.
On the first two pages of every chapter in Distant Shores is a landscape picture (occupying the upper half of each page) of the city, and I’m particularly glad of it in the case of Segada. The city exists at several elevations, making its geography somewhat difficult to envision, and this picture helps to alleviate this, particularly since the map of the city does a rather poor job of it. The map does contain contour lines, but they are very faint and hard to see, making the city look flat when it is anything but. This is exacerbated by how the map presents one of the city’s major landmarks, the Kankadanda Bridge. This bridge passes over the central district of the city, and joins two of the higher elevation districts. On the map, the bridge looks little different from a road, apart from a very faint grey border, and the points where it passes over other streets are depicted as intersections!
Apart from this topographical confusion, however, Segada is one of my favourites cities in the book. I also like the chapter’s inclusion of three new ritual spells (a type of magic first introduced in Occult Adventures). It’s great to see subsystems introduced in other books get reused elsewhere.
The final city in Distant Shores is Ular Kel, located in the vast steppes of Casmaron. The city is a crossroads between Vudra to the south, the Padishah Empire of Kelesh to the west, and the Castrovin Sea to the north. Originally settled at a watering hole by one of the Karazh horse tribes, it eventually grew into a large city where Water Lords control the supply of water to the people. Of particular note in this chapter is more detailed information on the Iridian Fold, a mysterious organization first introduced in City of Strangers. Ular Kel is the Iridian Fold’s birthplace and headquarters. Included with this information are several new teamwork feats of particular use to bonded pair members of the Iridian Fold.
I always love seeing far-off lands of campaign settings described in greater detail. Not only does it give other real-world peoples some much-needed representation, it provides a welcome change of pace from the standard European-based cultures that make up the bulk of so many fantasy worlds. Distant Shores provides a tantalising look at the vast diversity that exists in Golarion. While I know that time and resources make it difficult to fully describe everywhere in the world, I hope that Distant Shores is only the first of several books that will one day explore numerous other regions of Golarion.