I’ve gone round and round with pathfinder but I think I’m still in the camp for passing on it. At the heart of it is that I’ve got my 3.5 D&D books. I see pathfinder as a refinement of those rules. I think 4E really made changes to how D&D plays and I liked what WotC did. I just don’t see me going back to previous editions and I feel pathfinder goes in that direction.
For a lot of folks, I think pathfinder is a perfect fit for their D&D game. It tweaks and retools the stuff some might have found lacking in earlier D&D editions. I can completely understand the things they love about pathfinder and why it is their D&D game of choice nowadays. It’s just not my thing.
I will however step up and say that Paizo has some wonderful products in the pathfinder line. And I think for people that enjoy fantasy RPGs, you will be doing a disservice to your group if you don’t give some of them a try at your game table. I also feel that a lot of the material (with a little elbow grease) can work for your 4E game. One such product is the pathfinder campaign setting, the Inner Sea world guide (ISWG).
This is the default campaign setting for pathfinder. Don’t let that put you off. If you play any edition of D&D, you simply need to buy this book. It’s a wonderful setting and fleshed out world that is rife with inspiration for a high fantasy campaign.
The book is a meaty tome that gives details on 40+ countries and locations that make up one of the many continents within the world of Golarion. What I particularly like is the digest-size write up of each region. About 3-4 pages are provided listing a brief history, government and politics, along with some details on the major settlements and noteworthy locations in that region. It’s enough to give a DM a grasp of the country along with enough ideas to write up an adventure, without saddling you with pages and pages of fluff, background, and other ‘facts’ that can trip up your story.
The key element I enjoy about ISWG is the variety of the lands given. Humans are the most common and are of a variety of ethnicities and cultures. You have different governments and political ideologies. Some countries are stable, others constantly at war (both civil and external), while others are in a constant cycle of violent revolution with their ruling class. Add to this regions with heavy undead and demon influence, wasted lands devoid of magic, while others seem to be warped with bizarre creatures from a wizard’s imagination, you’ve got a lot on your plate as a DM to choose from.
The sheer variety of campaigns you could run in the ISWG is staggering. Obviously you could have the typical high fantasy world. However if you want a bit of steampunk, a Ravenloft-like setting, fighting in demon lands, or even a touch of Gamma World (one land having a mysterious ‘meteor’ crashing into it’s borders), there are options here for the DM. I think this alone makes for a wonderful product, as you could start your campaign in different regions of the same game world and get very different types of settings.
Making the transition from a pathfinder source book to 4E is not too difficult. Much of the core races are there (halfings, dwarves, gnomes, elves, etc.). I think the pathfinder elves are a bit closer to the 4E eladrin than your typical 4E elf, but I think you have enough room to encompass just about any 4E race into this world. Tieflings could obviously come about from the many demon controlled kingdoms, with goliaths being an easy shoe-in for the northern lands, and drow are all ready within the ISWG lore.
There is a full pantheon listed of the many gods and faiths within the Inner Seas that I think can be tooled around with if needed (particularly with the alignments). The ISWG has information listed in the traditional D&D 9 step alignments but aren’t that difficult to craft into the reduced alignments of 4E. While there is a simple creature bestiary listed, they are primarily based off stock entries in the pathfinder bestiary. Something a 4E DM should adopt, and simply re-skin the many creatures currently in the monster manuals if needed.
The campaign setting specific class options in the ISWG bring about exciting possibilities, especially with WotC’s new heroes of shadow book out. I can envision the Red Mantis easily as an assassin character option, as well as the Hellknights being a step away from a blackguard. I particularly like how the book details certain factions based on a philosophy that encompass more than those just driven by a nationalist agenda.
There is a lot of stuff in this book. It is well organized and I particularly like the sections that help detail normal life of most people within the world, covering mundane aspects of trade, state of current technological achievements, to the role of magic in the world. This book covers a lot, and best of all manages to distill things down to bite-sized chunks of information that can be easily processed.
You don’t need to have a complete grasp of the entire world geo-political layout to play. You can simply pick a land, skim through the neighboring regions, and have a complete historical and political handle (not to mention the major factions) on what is happening in that part of the campaign world. It’s a fantastic 4E resource, gorgeously presented in color with great art, not to mention a nice poster map of the entire place.
Do your group a favor and pick up this book. Even if you aren’t set on running a game in the Inner Seas, you’ll definitely find some ideas for your game.