Review – Paizo's Inner Sea Poster Map Folio

The Inner Sea Poster Map Folio is the culmination of several years of Paizo’s development of their Golarion setting. Let me start out by saying [i]I love maps.[/b] I have very fond memories of the maps from the original Forgotten Realms Campaign Set and still pull them out from time to time to look at. I also am a sucker for the map folios put out by Paizo since I find them a great source of inspiration and also handy for use at the table, even though I don’t play the PFRPG nor even D&D at the moment. I’m also a fan of Golarion and so when I saw that a set of giant poster maps were coming out for the Inner Sea region, I knew I’d be buying them.

Product Details

It consists of four quadrant poster maps detailing the entire region of the Inner Sea (essentially all of the area explored and detailed through the Pathfinder releases up through 2011). The result is ahuge map of the region – combined the maps cover an area of 5 feet (high) by 3.5 feet (wide). Each section is printed on heavy, glossy stock which is likely to hold up to regular use. The amps are beautifully drawn, full color and with a ton of detail – this includes every locale detailed in the The Inner Sea World Guide as well as most (all?) of the major sites details in Paizo’s modules and adventure paths to date (2011). The colors are vibrant, the fonts easy to relatively easy to read (though a bit cramped for my tastes), and the overall graphics are detailed without being overly cluttered. To say the maps look awesome would be an understatement.

About the only thing I can find at fault with them is that the scale is a bit odd: The demarcations on and rendering of the scale – which is broken in to 8 segments and is 420 miles in length. Obviously this means that the demarcations on the scale don’t break up evenly (that’s 52.5 miles per segment) nor do they match a standard incremental length in either the Imperial or Metric system – each segment is less than one inch (15/16″ or 24mm to be precise). That makes using the scales nearly impossible without a calculator or the ability to do fractional multiplication in your head. I also really wish that Paizo would have had enough sensibility to have abandoned the antiquated Imperial mile and stuck with the Metric kilometer since it would have at made the map a lot more user friendly since distances would have involved much simpler math.

The Verdict

Aside from the scale, there’s not a lot to not love about these maps if you’re a fan of Golarion and I think anyone running a campaign in Golarion would find them invaluable. I also think other people looking for inspiration or just a cool set of fantasy maps would find them a worthy addition to their collection.

4E Session 1 AP report

The first session of the 4E campaign I’m running at the school’s game club is over and it went reasonably well. To minimize my prep time I’m using parts of The Keep on the Shadowfell, modified to fit the campaign concept we created.  The adventure has the added benefit that it has tips & rules guidelines right in the module’s text which is nice since I’m still learning the system as well.

If you haven’t played KotS, there are some very minor spoilers below (mainly about the nature of the preplanned encounters).

In our 3 hour play session we started up with the characters talking to the high priestess of Pelor in Fallcrest and then setting off for Winterhaven to investigate the elven council head’s visions.  On the road to Winterhaven they were ambushed by a small band of kobolds. The battle that followed took up the rest of the session (2+ hours), but that wasn’t really the fault of the system but rather the group’s unfamiliarity with the rules as well as attention span of they typical 12-16 year-old boy (“Harry…it’s your turn.  Harry….. Harry!”).  One of the big issues was the fact that they had to do a lot of looking up of their powers to see what they did which involved passing around the PHB and a lot of page flipping.

During the fight both the paladin and rogue got pretty beaten up; in fact both were down to single digit HPs by the end. The rogue’s player main issue was that he was trying to play the character has a front line fighter-type which obviously doesn’t work well with a lightly armored character, high DEX or not. The paladin, OTOH, suffered mainly because he was the only defender type and took a lot of hits.  The party’s cleric, trying to be a frontline battle cleric managed to whiff nearly every round (you’ve got to love the flat frequency curve of a d20…or maybe not) which was pretty discouraging for his player.

My impressions

  • Overall 4E is fun but has a lot steeper learning curve than its predecessors. The biggest issue is that the exceptions-based rules on many powers are very tough for the students to parse, especially if they’re not a native English speaker. I think the kids will get the hang of their powers and start using some tactics once they have some more sessions under their belts.
  • A map and miniatures is a must for combats to run smoothly – there is no way you’re going to be able to play this game IMO without a map and some sort of way of tracking player position.
  • My first priority for the next session is to find a way to make accessing the power descriptions faster and more handy.
  • Prep for the game seems better than my experiences with 3.5, but it’s still ridiculously long compared to some of the indie RPGs I play.
  • Combat takes a long time.

4E Game Premise – Final Version

So, after some thought I’ve made a few changes to the background we decided upon to make the story a little more interesting, suspenseful, and internally consistent. Most of the story is the same but there are a few more unknowns so I have a few surprises for the players as the game develops. I’ve also took advantage of the info presented at the end of the 4E DMG – the map and description of the Nentir Vale looked like it could be adapted simply enough to what I had in mind and thus saves me having to create a map or any real background.

The Nentir Vale is a northern land, with harsh, bitterly cold winters. Summers are cool and mild. The majority of the region is made up of large stretches of open meadow land, copses of light forest, gently rolling hills, and the occasional thicket of dense woodland and heavy undergrowth. It is bordered by the Winterbole Forest and the Spine (a very high, very rugged mountain range) to the north which are largely the domain of the elves. To the east lie in the Dawnforge Mountains,another dense and far ranging mountain range known for its rich mineral veins and the dwarves that mine them. In the west the Cairngorn Peaks and Ogrefist Hills form a natural border to the vast prairie and grasslands known as The Stonemarch. Finally, to the south lay the dense and wild Harkenwood and Witchlight Fens. The Nentir River, which flows from Lake Nen in the north of the Vale to the fens in the south splits the Nentir Vale nearly in half.

The important points and info to get the players started include:

Iìslandruble – Ancient white wyrm who ruled the surrounding lands for centuries. Also known as “Frostbite” which is a simplified translation of the elves’ name for the dragon. The elves of the high peaks, with the help of the humans and dragonborn in the area, finally defeated the dragonhim’s horde and mortally wounded Iìslandruble, who fell to earth amongst the Glacier of the White Wyrm. For nearly 150 years the Vale’s inhabitants and the elves have known peace. Iìslandruble had many followers who worshipped her as a goddess – these include a large tribe of kobolds, a clan of frost giants, as well as numerous dragonspawn. They were slain or scattered when she was defeated.

The elves of the high peaks (Ter’lan sani) – live amongst the massive conifers of the Winterbole Forest and the peaks of The Spine (picture redwoods). They are accustomed to the cold temperatures of the region. Humans often refer to them as “ice elves” though this isn’t really an accurate description since they don’t differ much from other elves of the land. More than 4,000 elves live in the region although their individual settlements are usually quite small (less than 350 per village). Their largest settlement, Cylisdranii, is a town of over 1,000 elves built within the trees themselves. The elves are ruled by a council of 5, the head of which is Correlion Eldor.

Dragonborn (Kyriislan’kez) -elven named literally means “children of Iìslandruble” Name for the dragonborn that live amongst the elves. Legend has it that they are the descendants of men who were tainted by the dragon’s blood. Less than 400 dragonborn live in the region, along side the elves. Their scale colors range from pure white to an sapphire blue and all have a cold breath weapon, supporting the idea that they are somehow liked to the white wyrm.

Fallcrest – walled town that stands amid the Moon Hills at the falls of the Nentir River. Here the roads moving through the region as well as the river meet making Fallcrest a hub of the region’s trade. The surrounding ridges shelter small valleys where outlying farms and woodsfolk live. Home to nearly 1200 humans, along with a small community of dwarves, couple dozen half-elves (interbreeding is very rare and frowned upon), and a few odd elves. Pelor has a large temple within the town headed by high priestess Aeriana, who is an ally of the elves.

Winterhaven – village that lies about 100km to the northwest of Fallcrest. The road linking the two towns is known as the Kings’ Road. Winterhaven is a sleepy village with less than a thousand residents.

The Background story – Just over 150 years ago, the great wyrm Iìslandruble’s reign of terror over the region of Nentir Vale came to an end thanks to a coalition of elves, humans, and dragonborn whose armies scattered the dragon’s followers and sent her mortally wounded body plunging to the icy barren glaciers of the Spine. The win came at a terrible price, decimating the vale’s population and civilization. For the past century and a half the vale’s peoples have struggled to rebuild.

Recently, the leader of the elven council, Correlion Eldor, has had a series of prophetic visions, suggesting that a new threat has risen. While the cause of the danger is not clear, Correlion fears that Iìslandruble hordes may be gathering again, despite the fact that their goddess has died. This belief is supported by reports of increasing hostile activity amongst the kobolds within the vale, as well as recent mysterious attacks on caravans traveling the King’s Road. The Dwarves, once again wary of getting involved in the problems of men and elves have begun shutting the doors to their great halls and cities.

Correlion has sent his two sons, Eryanor and Corran, on quests to discover the viracity of the visions: Eryanor has been sent on a mission to investigate the Glacier of the Great Wyrm, where Iìslandruble’s body fell 150 years ago. Meanwhile, Corran has been sent south to investigate the reports of attacks by kobolds and other minions of the great white dragon. He has been sent to meet with Aeriana, high priestess of Pelor who is interested in finding out if there is more to the recent attacks than just merely banditry.

4E – We’re giving it a try

The kids in my RPG game at the school’s gaming club wanted a game with more action and one of them has been on the fence about playing in a RPG vs. playing miniatures.  I can identify with that too since I ‘ve been itching to play some more Warmachine now that we have a few more kids interested in the game. Of course those games aren’t much fun for me since the new crop of WM players are all noobs, have a limited # of models, and aren’t terribly good at the game: It’s not that they stink at the game but rather that I find the game pretty boring sans the “wow I never saw that coming!” type of playstyle – just plodding across the board, rolling dice, and killing models isn’t really what I like about the game.

Ok, back on topic: I originally planned on running Privateer Press’s “The Witchfire Trilogy” using the Spirit of the Century rules. They liked the system but the story/adventure itself was hard for most of them to get into because all but one knows nothing about the Iron Kingdoms. That left me wondering whether I should plod ahead with the game hoping they get the setting with more time, try a new storyline in a less unusual setting, or try a different game altogether.  One thing that almost all of the players wanted was the use of miniatures in our game: Many of them were really thrilled about the idea of painting miniatures to represent their character.

At nearly the same time I put up a pretty low bid on a complete set of 4E books, in English, on Ebay Germany…. and won. I ended up paying just over 50 Euros, shipped for the books which normally cost about 70 from Amazon.de.  After reading through the PHB I was intrigued with the idea of giving it a whirl with the students since 4E is really more of a “really cool miniature game” with some roleplaying elements bolted on. While I’m much more of a “story first, crunch last” kind of guy, I couldn’t help wondering if the game itself wouldn’t work well with the club kids because it offers lots of action but is “lite” enough that I can still get them into the roleplaying part of the hobby. So I brought it in this past Wednesday and after some discussion and explanation, I got them to make up characters.  They ended up with (clockwise around the table):

  • Elf wizard
  • Half-elf cleric
  • Human paladin
  • Halfling rogue
  • Dragonborn warlock

Time to introduce player narrative contributions, part 1:  I made each of them turn to the person seated to their left (person clockwise from them) and tell me how they knew that person.  First up, the elf wizard…. he decides he’s from forests high up on a mountain side where his people battle a dragon. He then introduces the idea that the half-elf is the son of a distant cousin of his. The half-elf cleric decides the paladin works for his temple. The paladin gets linked to the halfling because he caught the halfling stealing. Who was he caught stealing from? The dragonborn. The dragonborn then says he lives in the elf’s village and is a descendant of the dragon that plagues the valley.  I have to admit that I helped some of them a bit but overall they generated the basic ideas. I then took those ideas and modified them, with the players’ input, to make things a little more interesting and sophisticated.  In the end this is what we came up with:

The elf comes from a tribe of elves that live amongst the giant conifers that grow at high altitudes in a mountainous series of valleys. The entire region centuries ago was plagued by an ancient white wyrm that the humans called “Frostbite.”  The elves formed an alliance with the humans living at the lower altitutdes, and together they managed to create a spell that forced the dragon into a magical slumber and thus the lands have lived in peace for the last few centuries. Unfortunately something has caused the spell to begin to fail.The elf’s father is the head of the elven council and has had a vision that the cause of the problem lies near the distant village of Winterhaven. He has contacted a human priestess in the nearby town of Kingsbridge and she has offered several trusted underlings to help in discovering the cause:  One is a half-elf cleric (an orphan who is actually the son of the elf’s sister who abandoned her family to marry a human tinker). Another is a human paladin who was rescued from near death (he has amnesia about the purpose of his quest which in reality was originally to destroy a dragon cult who worshipped Frostbite), and a halfling gypsy who was caught stealing and was sentenced to maiming (having his hands cut off) but whom had his sentence changed after the paladin offered to become his mentor in order to steer him towards the light.  Last up…. the dragonborn who was sent with the elf because the dragonborn’s people are the remnants of a tribe that rebelled against Frostbite’s tyranny despite the fact that they believe they are her direct descendants, born of her blood.

 

Of course after some later reflection, I realized the “sleeping dragon awakening” is actually straight out of the 1st D&D movie (which was pretty shitty IMO)… I guess that idea buried itself in my subconscious. That part is going to get modified in the next couple days, after I’ve had time to think about it a bit more.  Overall though I really like the idea the group came up with – it has lots of potential story-wise, doesn’t hem me in to an overarching storyline that is too restrictive, and all of them feel like they have ownership of the world and game. Best yet there’s practically no setting beyond what we’re using for this game – thus I’m not left trying to explain the world, its politics, etc. to make them understand the world. Instead their knowledge of their world extends only to the immediate region and that region has a personal connection to them since they helped create it.Next session we’ll start actually playing so stay tuned if you’re interested in what the game is actually like….