Kris Vanhoyland
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“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” ― H.P. Lovecraft
I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.
Ninja vs Samurai, who will win?
Most of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game (1st Edition) takes place on the two continents of Avistan and Garund, also known as the Inner Sea Region of the Golarion campaign setting. But Golarion actually has seven continents, including an Atlantis analogue.

So far, very little has been said about these other continents, but the one that has gotten the most attention, is the continent of Tian-Xia (also called the Dragon Empires), Golarion's Asian analogue.

The product

Dragon Empires Primer is a Pathfinder Player Companion release, a saddle stapled 32-page supplement for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, that's also available as a bookmarked PDF. It's mainly intended for players who are going to be playing in the Tian-Xia continent, or who wanna base their character from that continent. The art throughout is a little sparse, but what is there is of good quality.

The inside front cover is splattered with a full-sized map of Tian-Xia, clearly denominating all the nations and their capitals. Looking at the scale, we also realize that Tian-Xia is a LOT bigger than both Avistan and Garund.

The first actual content of the book talks about life in the Dragon Empires, and we get a sidebar comparing real-world analogues. The race section of the book covers the Kitsune, Nagaji, Samsarans, Tengus, Wayangs, Tians (human ethnicities) very briefly. Most of them only get a few paragraphs of background information, along with their racial traits. Most of this is repeated in the Advanced Race Guide, and the only new material here consists of a few Kitsune specific feats.

The next 14 pages make up the biggest part of the book, and cover all the 28 nations of Tian-Xia (well, 27 nations and the Darklands). Each of these comes with a small illustration of their flag or symbol, which explains why the art feels a bit sparse in the rest of the book. We get nation alignments, capitals, major races, religions, and languages, a bit of background, and each entry comes with two new traits, meaning this section gives us 56 new traits.

The archetypes section gives us four new archetypes, each of which definitely exudes an eastern feeling.

• Lotus Geisha: A bard archetype, the lotus geisha are seducers, and get the option of only affecting a single target with their bardic performance, which increases either the bonusses gained or the save DC.
• Sword Saint: This samurai archetype gets iaijutsu strike, also known as the art of drawing a katana. Sword saints rely heavily on first strikes, but there are some problems with the mechanics, and there's also some unclearity where it replaces an ability samurai don't actually get it. Seeing as this is the only samurai archetype we've gotten so far, it's a bit of a missed opportunity, but there's still potential here.
• White-Haired Witch: My favorite addition of the book, this witch archetype replaces hexes with a natural hair attack that she can use to grapple, and that at later levels gets reach, constrict, trip, pull, and strangle. Very evocative of the japanese horror films.
• Yokai Hunter: A ranger archetype, they specialize in hunting down yokai creatures. A bit of a weird option, since the word yokai is mentioned in none of the bestiaries, but this archetype identifies them as "beings connected to the spirit world, such as kami, oni, and ghosts". Open to GM interpretation I assume, and probably only useful in a heavily Asian flavored campaign.

On the next six pages we get four short chapters; Combat, Faith, Magic, and Social.

• Combat: Fighting styles of the Dragon Empires gives us 10 new combat feats, most of which revolve around either unarmed combat or combat maneuvers. Naturally, a lot of monk love to be found here, as well as a sidebar containing the Black Daimyo, a new samurai order for evil samurai.
• Faith: Gods of the Dragon Empires discusses the twenty core deities that are generally worshipped in Tian-Xia, six of which are the same as the Inner Sea Region, which means fourteen of these are new. Each gets a single, two sentence paragraph, and unfortunately their game statistics such as domains and favored weapons are nowhere to be found. There's also a new domain here, the moon, a subdomain of darkness.
• Magic: In Arcana of the Dragon Empires we get a new bloodline for sorcerers; the oni bloodline, and the void elemental school for wizards. We also get a new spell, that lets a caster surround himself with an aura that damages those around him, as well as inflicting fatigue, and preventing them from speaking and breathing. Pretty nasty when combined with the white-haired witch that can grapple foes with her hair.
• Social: A new sub-system is introduced here, where characters can earn Honor Points by accomplishing a multitude of things. These points can then be used to purchase things like boosts on Diplomacy and Intimidate checks, and gaining favors, gifts, or loans from NPC allies.

The verdict

I found Dragon Empires Primer to be a bit lackluster. I enjoyed reading through the nations, as some of them are quite interesting, such as an entire nation ruled by oni giants and one ruled by an elder kraken, a forest inhabited completely with spirits and fey, and an inhospitable jungle filled with monsters. The downside here is that most of the art budget probably got used up doing the numerous flags, and I would have liked to see at least one piece of art for the archetypes.

The races chapter in the beginning of the book brings little to the table, as most of it is repeated in other places. The archetypes are pretty niche and either not very interesting, or not very well-designed, and the only one here I really liked was the white haired witch. The feats might be worth a look over, especially since they're so monk-focused, but I'm not sure how useful they'll prove for people, what with all the options from Ultimate Combat. The last thing that struck me as less than ideal was the omission of the game rules for the deities, and a list of that on the back inside cover would have been better, since that now holds just a repeat of the front cover art.

In the end, I'm not sure who I can recommend this too. The only usefulness this might serve is, as I said before, to create characters based out of Tian-Xia, and then only if you want to use some of the rules options from the book. Because if you just want to know more about Tian-Xia, you're much better off with the more elaborate 64-page Dragon Empires Gazetteer, and the only thing this has going for it is that it has slightly more options for players. As for as actual information goes, the campaign setting book Dragon Empires Gazetteer is far superior, especially for GMs.

Note: Iron Reviewer 2013 - Entry #31
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