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
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I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.
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Facing the Sandpoint Devil, an iconic Varisian monster.
Last year, Paizo did a revamp of their Player Companion products, and went from a bi-monthly to a monthly release schedule. They had already renamed the line from simply "Companion" to "Player Companion" in the past, but in the end this was little more than a name change.

Now, with the refreshed format they did, the Pathfinder Player Companion line is coming into its own: a monthly 32-page saddle stapled booklet intended specifically for players. But before I start jumping to conclusions, let’s open up the book.


Varisia, Birthplace of Legends Pathfinder

This isn’t even all that far from the truth, since Varisia, the country this book is about, was the first region that was made for the entire Pathfinder line. For a while, Varisia was synonymous with Pathfinder, seeing as the first three adventure paths all took place there. Perusing this release, exactly what does it present us with?

• Ease of reference: The book has a traditional table of contents, along with a rules index that lists all the crunch introduced in it. Alongside this is a page called "For Your Character", as a quick way to find the most useful options for you. One thing that deserves special mention here, is the sidebar with questions to ask your GM to help you get the most from the book. This makes the book very easy to navigate, especially since most topics are splashed out over two pages and the centerfold breaks it up nicely into two parts.

• Maps: inside the front cover there’s a 1/3 page map of part of Varisia, detailing the tribal lands of the Shoanti, one of the various human ethnicities that populate the region. Below this are short descriptions of the seven Shoanti tribes, each with traditional tattoos, totems, domain choices and oracle mysteries. If you’re playing a Shoanti, you’re going to want to check this page out.
The inside of the back cover has a complete map of Varisia, showing the various caravan routes, complete with a table with distances and travel times, which is very helpful.

However, the real prize here comes as a centerfold in the middle of the book. One of the great additions to the recent revamping of the line, is the fact that every companion is going to have a centerspread, two-page art piece. For this release, they went with a map of Varisia. But wait, I can already hear you say, "Another map of Varisia, not like we haven’t seen those before," this is something else from what we’ve seen before. This map actually looks like it belongs in the hands of an adventurer. It has an aged look, with little sketches on it that give you an idea of what you will encounter there, the only thing missing is a scribbled line saying "Here be Dragons". This map is a piece of art, worthy of framing.

• Content: The book starts of with an introduction to Varisia itself, with details about the land, its people and the races. What I really like here is the "Five Things Everyone Knows about Varisia" sidebar, which gives a player some nice, quick, in-character information they can latch onto. But the real content starts on the next page, with two page spreads for both the Shoanti and Varisians, the native inhabitants of the region. It has a nice balance of fluff and crunch, with background information, name choices, traits, and a sidebar with traditional sayings, which again helps players get into the skin of their character.

These pages also present a new feature called "roles". Basically a role is a collection of options to build a character to a specific theme. These roles are actually quite intricate, and list things like race, possible classes and class features, preferred skill and feat choices, and even roleplaying tips. The following pages hold both fluff and crunch with some new traits, archetypes, magic schools and common religions, and some equipment that we’ve seen before in other publications.

The latter half of the book is all about the main cities in Varisia. We get city statblocks, background, roles and traits for all the major cities and several of the smaller settlements. Of note here are the gorgeous two-page vistas for the three largest cities, Magnimar, Korvosa and Riddleport.

The book closes off with some details about the various adventure path campaigns that start in Varisia, and present us with some more possible traits. Special attention is given here for the latest adventure path, the Shattered Star.


Magnimar, City of Monuments, as featured on the Paizo blog last year.


Final Verdict

Varisia: Birthplace of Legends strikes the perfect balance between fluff and crunch, which hasn’t always been true. In the past, a lot of the companion line books have been extremely heavy on fluff, often with only a few pages of rules. They have also struggled with their identity at times, with some of them being more useful to GM’s than for players. Not so with this book, because if you’re a Pathfinder player in a Varisian campaign, this book is absolutely priceless.

I didn’t come across any typos and it’s put together very well, with practically all new art. I found it a joy to read, and this release rises above all of the previous companion books with head and shoulders. No matter how hard I've looked, I can't find anything at fault with it. If the companion line can keep up with this quality, I will definitely continue to pick them up, because this one has left a very good impression with me.

Note: Iron Reviewer 2013 - Entry #1
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Original Dibbler
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Nice review, Kris!
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Kris Vanhoyland
Belgium
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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
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I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.
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Originaldibbler wrote:
Nice review, Kris!


Thanks!
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