Friday, March 30, 2012

Bestiarum vocabulum - The Nordanbjörn (New Race)

Since reading Northlands, I want to play a sapient polar bear – the responsible is the Kingdom of the Bear mentioned in that book (which, oddly, doesn’t have intelligent bears). However, the true responsible for this post is Bailywolf’s thread on RPG.Net. The text below belongs to him, while the mechanics are my take on his original design (for ACKS). Hope you like.

The Nordanbjörn (Sapient Northern Bears)

The Nordanbjörn are speaking bears, intelligent as men, but lacking the tool culture that comes easily to a people with such clever hands.  They are long limbed, sleek in Summer, heavy and shaggy in Winter.  They have jaws that can crush an elk’s skull, and claws longer than a man’s fingers.  They have rough dexterity with their forelimbs, and can rise to two legs if they must, but they’re not tool-users - at best, they can shrug on and cinch-up and a suit of dwarf-forged bear-barding.  They have the senses of a woodland beast, and are well adapted to the harsh climate of their native lands.

They are relatively few in number compared to humans, but control a broad forested territory to the North - the Nordanmarches.  The marches are a rugged and inhospitable terrain of mountains, icy rivers, dense ancient forests, and ice-broken rock.  The hub of the civilization is the Sky Hall - a vast and ancient ruin made in a pre-human age.  The females and young of the Nordanbjörn tend to cluster there, while the less sociable males wander the outer regions of the Nordanmarches, gathering only occasionally into bands for drinking and storytelling.  

Nordanbjörn Racial Traits
+2 Strength, +2 Constitution, –2 Charisma
Large: Nordanbjörn are Large creatures and gain a –1 size penalty to their AC, a –1 size penalty on attack rolls, a +1 bonus to their Combat Maneuver Bonus and Combat Maneuver Defense, and a –4 size penalty on Stealth checks. Nordanbjörn occupy 10 ft., have a natural reach of 5 ft and – while walking on all four paws – calculate their encumbrance as quadrupeds.
Speed: Nordanbjörn have a base speed of 40 feet. Standing on two legs, their speed is 20 ft., they can’t run or charge.
Bear-senses: Nordanbjörn have low-light vision and scent.
Brute Strength: Nordanbjörn gain a +2 bonus on Strength checks made to break or bend objects.
Red in Tooth and Claw: Nordanbjörn have 3 natural weapons – a bite (1d6) and 2 claws (1d6) –, and a +2 racial bonus on Intimidate checks.
Tough Hide: Nordanbjörn have a +4 natural armor bonus.
Winterborn: Nordanbjörn are acclimated to cold weather and have a +4 racial bonus on Fortitude saves against severe and extreme cold weather. They also receive a +4 racial bonus on Survival (only in cold terrains), Stealth checks (only in snow) and in all Swim checks.
Sapient Bears: Nordanbjörn are sapient bears and work a little different than the usual humanoid races.
First, they aren’t tool users. While Nordanbjörn can stand on two, their upper limbs are limited to crude tasks, like carrying, pushing or smashing something. They can’t use weapons (unless custom made and grafted to their paws), armor (idem) or wield normal humanoid items.
Second, they are large and quadrupeds, which limits their movement, especially in tight spaces.
Third, Nordanbjörn have enormous appetites and must eat (in normal climes) a number of pounds of food equal to 3 + their STR modifier (minimum 3).
Finally, due to their limitation in weapons and armors, a Nordanbjörn can choose to replace the Weapon and Armor Proficiencies granted by their 1st level class for improved natural benefits:

  • A Nordanbjörn can replace their proficiency with all Martial weapons for the Improved Natural Attack feat (from the Pathfinder Bestiary) or Weapon Focus feat (limited to bite or claw).
  • A Nordanbjörn can replace their proficiency with Light and Medium Armor to improve their natural armor bonus to +6.
  • A Nordanbjörn can replace all their Armor proficiencies to improve their natural armor bonus to +8.
  • A Nordanbjörn spellcaster can replace all their Armor proficiencies for the Natural Spell feat (even if he doesn’t meet the normal requirements). 
Initial Idioms: Nordanbjörn speak their own language, Common and the tongue of normal bears.

Unique Nordanbjörn Options
These are just some suggestions for the Gamemaster with Nordanbjörn PCs in their party.
Monster Feats: A Nordanbjörn could (with the GM’s permission) buy monster feats like Awesome Blow, Improved Natural Attack, Improved Natural Armor and Multiattack.
Tool-User: A Nordanbjörn with Intelligence and Dexterity 13+ can buy this feat to use weapons or tools in general. However, these items must be sized for a Large humanoid user and the Nordanbjörn suffers a -2 penalty to all actions using such items (including attacks). Actions that require delicate manipulation (like lock picking) suffer a -4 penalty. This is a racial feat.
Powerful Bulk: At 4th level, a Nordanbjörn with Constitution 13+ can forego his 2nd Ability Score Increase to be considered of once size larger for the purpose of Combat Maneuvers while standing up. At 16th level, he can forego his 4th Ability Score Increase to gain the following modifications: Natural Armor +2, Dex -2 and improve the damage of his natural weapons by one step. At 20th level, he can forego his 5th Ability Score Increase to be considered of Huge size for all gaming effects.
Commentary: Powerful Bulk allows a Nordanbjörn to grow in size and power without stripping him of feats. By 20th level he gains basically 2 benefits – the reach of a Huge creature and, if he stands up, he can face use Combat Maneuvers as Gargantuan creature (like wrestling an old dragon, a task worth of a legendary northern bear).

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Open Design is going solo

Solo Adventures are back in fashion, thanks to Kobold Quarterly (more specifically KQ #18 and #19). Now you can get these little packages of entertainment directly as PDFs, by $ 2.99 each, with the Party of 1 line.

While I was already a gamer by the time I read my first solo adventure (the lethal but amazingly fun Temple of Terror, from famous Fighting Fantasy), it was a nonetheless a unique (and addictive) experience - and I can swear to you that I NEVER fudged my rolls (which may explain why I also never managed to finish the Temple of Terror).

 Of the first two solo adventures released by Open Design, Party of 1: Kalgor Bloodhammer and the Ghouls through the Breach was my favorite. It starts unpretentiously linear but before you notice it, you’re suddenly faced with very complex and interconnected choices (besides being a good plot for a dwarven adventure). Partyof 1: Elgar Fletch and the Dark Army didn’t have the same effect on me. While the “countdown” effect was cool, I found it too linear – which makes it a perfect introduction for those that never played a solo adventure. However, I found it in certain aspects more lethal than Kalgor Bloodhammer. Oh, and both solo adventures uses Pathfinder rules, including a full character sheet for each protaginst.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Worldbuilding – The Kingdoms of Man

This idea originated from a (for me) very common situation – the dissociation between the players’ expectations and the typical Pathfinder/D&D campaign setting’s reality.

Most players (and a few GMs) play D&D with the intent of being immersed in a medieval world, even if by “Medieval” what they really mean is “Hollywood Medieval” or “Young-Adult Fantasy Literature Medieval”.

The problem is that D&D is its own genre; a genre that is considerably detached from most cinematic, electronic or literature sources known nowadays (yeah, even MMOs).

Before going on, I must stress that I’m not saying that people expect to play in a true historical European-like feudal setting (in fact, most people would be a little shocked/surprised by such settings). What I’m trying to say is that the usual kitchen sink/mash up of obscure literature, old pop culture and niche gamisms that make up D&D go against what your typical player think as “Medieval Fantasy”.

In case you’re wondering – what exactly does players expect in regard to Medieval Fantasy?

I believe they want a paradox.

They want “A” – a world created by a romantic/modern view of Feudal Europe: farms, small and peaceful villages, imposing castles with nobles and knights, city-states filled with merchants and intrigue, a few kings and one or two (distant) autocratic empires, one or more Catholic-like churches (but dedicated to pagan deities), ruins of fallen realms, barbarians at the map’s borders etc.

But they also want “B” – a dark forests filled with every type of folkloric monster, Tolkien-based elven and dwarf races, mountains filled with yet more dangerous monsters, large evil and antagonistic religions, various types of evil humanoids enemies, all-powerful gods bent on destroying/corrupting/conquering the world, planar menaces of all kinds (infernal rifts, bizarre manifestations, heavenly incursions) etc.

Now try to mix “A” and “B” in a way that it makes sense.

Apparently this isn’t hard, but when you stop to think about it most types of villages, farms, castles and usual feudal/ancient organizations or defense systems from “A” are completely ineffective (or blatantly illogical) in world where “B” exists.

As an addendum, in my experience (as a GM in Brazil) the typical gaming group sees Medieval Fantasy as a synonym of Tolkien-based Fantasy or one of its rip-offs (like Dragonlance or even Salvatore).

At most you can anticipate players to desire something that just resembles (visually) Tolkien, but that in reality works like Middle-Earth on steroids + Dark/Metal Fantasy. Curiously, in this regard, you can say that the common brazilian fantasy role-player would love and readily understand Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay.

D&D, which it’s “Vancian” magic system, Crusade-based priests, Gygaxian vocabulary, unique monsters, all sorts of mechanical idiosyncrasies (mostly the way Attack Bonus, Levels and Hit Points works) and – most important – high amount of spells and magic items, makes up for a truly different experience, and one which can hardly be described as “medieval” (especially in regard to the players’ expectations).

How to solve this? (That’s, if you want to solve, as for some people there’s nothing wrong with this light gonzo-feel do classic D&D games)

The common solution is to go is the Low Fantasy approach. While this works just fine, you eventually get the feeling that you aren’t playing “full” D&D.

One way to settle that is with the “special PCs” concept – the PCs here really are above the magical/expertise level of the setting. For example, the party’s magic user is one of the seven apprentices of the last great archwizard of this age; and the group’s paladin is actually guided by the spirit of the greatest saint of the Church etc. However, by using this rote you run a considerable risk – character death. How do you replace “unique” heroes without forcing the setting’s verisimilitude?

Thinking about that I came with a short campaign idea – the Kingdoms of Man. Actually, this is more a meta-setting or idea. You can either use it in a homebrew setting or take the model and apply to a world of your choice – like Forgotten Realms, for example.

The Kingdoms of Man is low fantasy and very mundane for D&D standards. Think of A Song of Ice and Fire. In rule terms, the big difference is that the innumerable human cultures have access only to NPC classes.

You have dangerous and forsaken regions, nasty places where fell things are trapped or sleeping, due to battles that took place in the last Age of the world, but they are nonetheless rare. The problem is when these old mythic beasts or powers are freed or awoken by a mad adept, an ambitious king or your usual dim-witted emperor. Then all hell breaks loose.  And the job of cleaning the trash (or avoiding altogether) belongs to the PCs.

Who are the PCs? Here they’re the Elder Races.  The Elves, Dwarves, Giants, Numenorians, Valyrians, Melniboneans,  etc.  Their home is the typical mythical land that PCs never manage to reach before 12th or higher level.

Melniboné is a perfect example. Think of the Kingdom of Man as Moorcrock’s Young Kingdoms – historically new cultures, founded by a young and primitive race, in a world that was ruled in previous eons by D&D-level civilizations (in regard to magic and power).

What do they do? The PCs are sent from their far homelands to the Kingdoms of Man first (and openly) as ambassadors, to gain the trust of the young human race. However, secretly they’re to make contacts, to research and retrieve lost lore, eldritch artifacts and items of power from the previous Age. With more experienced they’re eventually charged with fostering and shaping those human kingdoms that can best manage the balance of supernatural forces in the world. At higher levels they also are the elite forces aimed against other Elder powers manifesting in the Kingdoms of Man.

The idea is that, in previous Ages, the PC’s Elder Race ruled the world; but the unrestricted use of high magic doomed their civilizations to the present vestigial stage – living at the world’s fading borders and dying slowly. In their absence came the younger race of Man (humans); still feeble, weak and inexperienced (therefore only with access to NPC classes). Although Man has potential, they’re also easily corrupted by the Fell Powers and if a new cataclysm occurs, the entire world will perish this time (including the much diminished Elder Races and their far lands).


  • This approach allows the Gamemaster to create a conventional medieval setting (or or one based on Antiquity, Renascence or even more modern) and thus to meet the player’s usual expectations about living in fantasy world like the one they see on movies and books. They know (generally) how it works and behaves.

  • The above assumption means that campaigns can be started with less preparation. In fact, the Kingdoms of Man can be a good frame for pick-up games.

  • Although most of the worlds operate on Low Fantasy, the PCs work by the usual D&D/Pathfinder rules. They are different and they have a good excuse for being above the mark.

  • Practically all humans met by the party will be of NPC classes – the exceptions will be named antagonists, usually assisted by artifacts, outsider influence or unique traits.

  • If a character dies, the group has a good excuse for the new PC. He’s just the new “envoy” fresh from Elvenland.

  • Because the party is exotic and from a higher (or legendary) culture you will finally have a perfect excuse for putting them on all kinds of weird adventures (especially dungeon crawling after magic items), quests and heroic actions in general. In fact, given the importance of the “super hero” in modern myth, it would be easier for the players to get the “feeling” of how they should interact with this setting. Even if they choose to side with Evil, it’ll be easier for the Gamemaster to adjust the campaign, putting the players against their native homelands and its powers.

  • Remember that the PCs’ enemies are also above average (although not all the time). Besides monsters from forsaken regions where no sane human dare to thread, they’ll face champions and legendary opponents that are seen as “supernatural” by the Kingdoms of Man. For example, in a world where practically 99% percent of all human man-of-arms are from the Warrior NPC class, a warlord with a few levels in the Barbarian or Druid class can be seen as a Chosen of some forgotten god, a mortal possessed by a wild spirit or even a half-god. All of these elements could be used even at low-level.

  • Because most of the setting is restricted to NPC classes and more mundane creatures, the players will get the impression that their PCs are clearly heroic (in the Homeric sense) and capable of greater deeds (instead of just a bunch of 1st level rogues).

Implementing it

Before starting a campaign with the Kingdoms of Man template, you should decide which “Elder Races” are available, from where they come from and how recently is their contact with the “modern” Age of the world (and Man).

The easiest solution is to allow Elves (and Half-Elves) and Dwarves. Elves can come from the “West”, a mythical archipelago, a giant unique forest protected by a magic barrier etc. Dwarves can come from some Olympus-like mountain in the far frozen north.

It’s easy to add Humans to this the options, simply treat them as a race of “Higher Men”, like Numenorians from Lord of the Rings or the Valyrians from A Song of Ice and Fire.

Gnomes could be added, but with more care (maybe as servant race of the Elves or Dwarves), as most players wouldn’t take seriously the idea of Gnomes as an Elder Race.

Halflings in my opinion could be used just as the remaining mundane humans. They’re good partner for a young human race. Maybe you could have a “halfling hero” or two, chosen by an Elder Race party because of some special trait, but this should be the exception, not the rule.

Actually, you could establish that a few rare mortals could be “Elven-touched” (or “Dwarven-touched”) – they traveled to the mythical Elder Realms and learned the secrets of steel (Fighter), the eldritch lore of old (arcane spellcasters) or were taken before the gods and anointed (divine spellcasters). Or they have elven (or dwarvish?) ancestors.

Finally, we have Half-Orcs (and thus Orcs).

Before deciding how they should fit with the Kingdoms of Man idea, you should first decide how Humanoids in general work for your campaign. If they’re used as the “barbarian menace” of the setting, then it could be established that they’re not only a new threat but also the main (or openly) reason behind the Elder Races’ return. If used in this fashion, then Half-Orcs are fair game. They’ll be rare enough to fit the idea.

Personally, I prefer a second option: treat Orcs (and Half-Orcs) as another Elder Race. This requires a little reskinning.

Forget the idea that orcs are stupid and savage barbarian hordes (or violent but benevolent shamanistic warriors). Use elements from The Hobbit (and some bits from the Lord of the Rings) – now Orcs are the only Elder Race that live in the Depths. This bold action cost them dearly in the distant past, which explain why they’re so few and why their culture and appearance are so frightening and warlike. In The Hobbit, Orcs are great blacksmiths, forgers, miners and engineers. Use those traits. Give a niche to Orcs. Make them cool.

Half-Orcs could be used in this option as spies and surface envoys from the orc realm to the Kingdoms of Man. While Elves and Dwarves desire to retrieve eldritch lore from the hand of the Kingdoms of Man by acting openly as counselors, the Orcs are a lot less subtle – they want to intimidate the Kingdoms of Man and to kill any human fool enough to meddle with these forces (taking whatever treasure they can get while doing so).  They’ll tolerate alliances with Elves and Dwarves because they’re facing common enemies (lie Drows or Goblinoids).

You can even allow Half-Orcs to be visually more human-like, lessening their “orcness” (to make them better spies). In fact, you can use the Pathfinder illustration of the Half-Orc race as the default appearance of true Orcs. Half-Orcs would then be humans with some unusual trait – maybe strange eyes, small prominent lower tusks or slight yellow/green skin.

If you use Orcs as the subterranean equivalent of Elder Races, place Dwarves as the quintessential Mountain Folk. Make dwarves tough, grump, honor bound and organized. Make Orcs chaotic, belligerent and sneaky, but also knowledgeable in the ways of the Depths and masters in the craft of weapons and engines of destruction.  Give distinct niches to the various Elder Races. If you just don’t want Orcs, a Ogre-like race would be excellent – like Wheel of Time’s Ogiers or Arcana Evolved’s Giants (based on The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever). You can easily change which Elder Races to use. Maybe you group prefer a campaign where all PCs are planetouched (like Aasimars and Tieflings).

The Kingdoms of Man template is just a way of running Pathfinder RAW, but in a more mythological,(apparently) low power and historical setting.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Augury – Pathfinder Campaign Setting: Distant Worlds

I was really excited to get my hands on the Pathfinder Campaign Setting: Distant Worlds. After Dragon Empires, this one was ‘The Paizo Product of the Year’ for me, particularly with the John Carter movie hitting the screens, plus the fact that I’m finally finishing the last Barsoom novels.

In many ways Distant Worlds is about everything that makes Paizo (and Pathfinder) cool. They really know from where their game (and D&D) came up; and they love it! There’s reason the first edition of D&D had stats for lots of Barsoomian monster (and some of which are still around) and it’s hard not to see John Carter’s exploration of Mars as one of the quintessential D&D campaigns – travel around, face monsters, survive dangerous environments, fight bad guys, save damsels in distress, win the respect of your peers and eventually become a powerful warlord.

The problem with Planetary Romance (and Science Fantasy) settings in general is that, after Tolkien (actually after books like Shannara and Dragonlance), most people got a very restricted view about what Fantasy should be. The genre became too isolated and monochromatic.  That’s why it takes a good amount of courage (and a lot of research and concentration) for a big company to release a product like Distant Worlds – most people don’t like laser pistols and aliens in their placid and “medieval” campaign settings.

A bigger problem (at least in my opinion) is that you shouldn’t simply add Science Fiction elements to Pathfinder. Planetary Romance (or Adventure) and Science Fantasy aren’t about that. That was basically my issue with the old Tale of the Comet boxed set for AD&D 2nd – it just mixed AD&D with Terminator. It was weird, in a bad way. I believe that the style of adventures that better suit Pathfinder is something closer to Burroughs, “Doc” Smith and Vance. Theoretically you could add some of the stuff created by classic Science Fiction writers, like Asimov, but you’ would really be pushing it (stuff from Heinlein and Clarke are too much for me).

Before you think I’m digressing too much, let summarize this review: Distant Worlds starts wonderfully, fully integrating Planetary Romance and the pulps with Pathfinder, and ends with an honorable homage to Lovecraft. The problem is its middle – its gets too “modern” with its SF-part, diluting the Fantasy-bit that should pervade Pathfinder. But let’s get to the details…

Pathfinder Campaign Setting: Distant Worlds is a 63 pages softcover with a gazetteer-style treatment of Golarion’s Solar System (first mentioned in the Second Darkness Adventure Path). The sourcebook follows Paizo’s high art and layout standard.

After a brief introduction by author James L. Sutter, we’re trust right in the Sun. Literally. Golarion’s Sun (differently from the great Shadow of the Spider Moon) isn’t a big nexus to the Elemental Plane of Fire, but a true star (although its core is a gate to Positive Energy Plane). Interesting locations are an archipelago of cities held within magic bubbles and the demesne of a really reclusive archwizard.

Before continuing to Aballon, the Horse (that’s Mercury), is worth mentioning the stellar bodies’ presentation: you get its name, its most common title, basic atmosphere, diameter, gravity, mass and orbit. Don’t expect scientific terms – the stats are simple and given in relation to Golarion (for example: Aballon has 1/20th of Golarion’s mass and 1/3rd of its gravity). There are no rules for atmosphere and gravity, just basic guidelines (remember, this is a gazetteer).

Now, let’s go back to Aballon: this is a barren metallic planet, where a mechanic civilization was seeded by an elder civilization. Remember that I mentioned that I don’t like Terminator + D&D? There’s nothing of it here. Aballon’s machines were abandoned by the creators – the Fist Ones – resulting in a very religious (and messianic) civilization of lost robots. We also get cool locations like the Sea of Glass, the Midnight Trenches and the forsaken City of the First Ones. A very nice start!

The next planet is an instant classic: psionic and tropical lush Castrovel, the Green Planet. This is pulp Venus, full of giant amazons riding yet bigger lizards; and also full of elves. One of Golarion’s most ancient secrets is revealed here: Sovyrian (the mysterious homeland of the elves) is actually a continent on Castrovel. Again, pure pulp awesomeness!

Golarion itself is briefly described – its title is “The Cage”, a reference to Rovagug’s imprisonment deep within the planet’s core. Most of the entry is devoted to Golarion’s Moon – with juicy details including an abandoned Azlant penal colony called the City of the Faceless.

Next on the list is Barsoo… I mean, Akiton, the Red. This is Burroughs’ Mars and like Castrovel, it’s a classic. Akiton has everything that you can expect from Mars of old science fantasy (and fiction) tales – vast deserts (that are ancient and dried sea beds), hordes of four-armed barbarians (that are also expert rifle marksmen), a civilization of red men, strange psionic brain-creatures etc (you also get extra material like Ratfolk and Lizardmen).

After Castrovel and Akiton, it’s time for the really new stuff. This is undoubtedly Distant World’s real challenge.

Our first candidate is Verces, the Line, a tidally locked planet inhabited by an advanced race of tall, gaunt, Grey-like humanoids (with zeppelin-shaped spaceships). It’s here that we begin to see Paizo’s approach to technology is – perhaps purposely – ambiguous. I mean, you have an illustration of a clear technological humanoid and references to ships, but it’s difficult to pinpoint if we’re dealing with pure science (even if Golden Age’s “super science!”) or with some kind of magitech. The people of Verses are scientist but also spellcasters, and most technological devices have mystic names (aetherships) or obscure references to arcane knowledge or magic used together with technology. Maybe this was Paizo’s way of satisfying those people that hate advanced technology in their games. Personally I would prefer something more clearly defined (after all this is roughly about Planetary Romance/Science Fantasy and those that don’t like aliens and tech shouldn’t even buy this book). Anyway…  Verces is a fine setting, but which I believe would have benefited from a stronger technologic theme (like the cliché of the advanced race that finds magic primitive and dangerous).

The next planet isn’t a planet but an asteroid field: Diaspora, the Lost Ones. Diaspora has one of Distant Worlds’ best ideas: it consisted originally of binary planets that destroyed each other in a mutual cataclysm. Diaspora is now a collection of mini-settings – some still inhabited by the Twins’ (self-proclaimed) primordial masters, the weird (and energy-winged) sarcesians. Like the vercians above, we’re not a given a clear picture if they are technological, magic-wielding or both.

Eox, the Dead, is our 8th (or 9th) planet. As most of you can guess this is our undead world, filled with a civilization of brilliant (but proud and bitter) minds that chose undeath as a viable alternative to survive their post-apocalyptic planet. I get a dark transhumant vibe from Eox, which may please lots of readers. Their “dead ships” and tech-lich visual are neat concepts and reminds of Warhammer 40K.

Triaxus, the Wanderers, is a planet with a bizarre orbit, which causes its seasons to last decades and its ecosystem to change extremely between generations. The native humanoid civilization is adapted to the extreme weather changes, with each generation been either born to survive a nuclear winter or a blazing desert environment (I can’t explain why but they remind me of a furred humanoid race from the old D&D TV cartoon). Oh, and I almost forgot: Triaxus has dragon riders… bounded dragon riders! Another pulp critical hit!

Liavara, the Dreamer, is our first gas planet. The real setting here is Liavara’s moons. The same holds true for the next world – Bretheda, the Cradle. This is where Distant Worlds should have ditched science (and our solar system) and gone full Space Adventure/Science Fantasy. Both planets (and their themes) are too similar and the moons described (expect maybe insectoid Nchak and metallic Dykon) are most of time science concepts without any strong fantasy twist or flavor. To make things worse, the “elder race” responsible for the gas giants – the brethedans – are an amazing science fiction race but a rather poor choice for a science fantasy game (or Pathfinder). I guess a few alien deities, Lovecraftian weird shit or perhaps even a completely unrealistic truly giant world would have been better options.

Apostae, the Messenger, is the system’s last planet. It’s a mystery planet and also a dungeon world, inhabited by a congress of races (or maybe just one much mutated species) known as the Ilee. Apostae is probably an artificial planet, maybe even a primordial spaceship. It holds a mysterious gate that may hold to key to other solar systems.

Finally, there is infamous Aucturn, the Stranger. Aucturn isn’t part of Golarion’s natural system and came from the Dark Tapestry many eon ago. This is epic-level Yuggoth and a non-Euclidian setting on steroids. A high-gravity, toxic wasteland that holds the greater concentration of Great Old Ones activity in the solar system. Aucturn may in fact be a corpse planet, the dead (or hibernated) body of some kalpas-old dire entity. This world is a beautiful little package of nightmares and Lovecraftian terror that will put an evil smile on every Gamemaster’s face.

Distant Worlds also offer a short list of other world, strange objects and constellations, besides a few details on Golarion system’s ice belt.

The next chapter is about stellar adventurers, being a brief list of ways of traveling through space (spells, ships, shantaks, gates etc), with a few new dweomers; unfortunately there is no new equipment.

The next part is a lot more interesting:  aliens. We get advice on “reskinning” monsters, besides which types of creatures live in which planets. We also have full stats for the mechanic Aballonians, the life-creators Brethedans, the Contemplative of Ashok (from Akiton), the dragonkin from Triaxus,  the titanic space whales known as Omas and the four-armed giants Shobhad (also from Akiton).

Pathfinder Campaign Setting: Distant Worlds is a difficult book to judge. Sword & Planet/Planetary Romance, Space Fantasy, Science Fiction (even Transhuman), Golden Age SF are all present here somehow, which is both good and bad. Maybe a more “pure” approach – like Adamant Entertainment’s MARS – would have pleased more; after all we’re dealing here with a niche product inside a niche industry (none of my players knew Burroughs before the John Carter movie). Distant Worlds tries to do a lot with just 63 pages. It’s a remarkable goal and Paizo should be praised for launching this campaign setting. Its only true drawback is its size – it’s just too small. We can only hope for a proper expansion (especially for Castrovel, Akiton and Aucturn).