Note to players: This is the original player’s guide I wrote for the campaign back in May 2011. It was adapted from the Rise of the Runelords Player’s Guide ©2007 Paizo and Inner Sea Campaign Guide © 2010 Paizo. Since the start of the campaign, I have changed a bit of the background
Like no other land I have visited in all my vast and fevered travels, within the untamed beauty of Varisia, art and environment are truly one. The monoliths of a mysterious and romantic people weather the ages, telling the voiceless tales of a race lost to silence. Each inspired day colors the skies in vivid palettes of placid blue, raging red-orange, and sorrowed gray—heavenly emotions painted across an endless, cloudless canvas. Even the natives live like masterpieces on display, their tattoos becoming the likenesses of their lives, their dances telling their endless tales, and their wisdom tempered by murmured harmonies echoing from both past and future.
—Cevil “Redwing” Charms, Esq; 4586 AR
“Savagery and regression epitomize the disfigured lands of Varisia. Jagged mountain chains break the worthless, dusty clay at queer and reckless lengths. Tangled forests grow wild with titan weeds—the flora of these fecund plants little more than tenacious brambles. Blasted reaches of cracked earth and rolling scrub form the parched paradises of all manner of backward savages, including the doomed final generations of humanity’s brutish ancestors. And everywhere the land bears the scars of a forgotten people whose eroding ruins and crude attempts at artistry litter a landscape already scarred by its own geographical leprosy. Succinctly put, Varisia is a land to be avoided by civilized beings at all costs.”
—Darvane Gios Amprei; 4603 AR
Welcome to Varisia! Scarred by the depravity of ancient wizards and reclaimed by a wilderness of beasts and savages, only in the past few hundred years have the steps of civilized beings again trod upon the wondrous and mysterious land of Varisia.
Geography: Varisia itself is a wilderness borderland on the northern reaches of civilized lands of the Inner Sea Region of the world of Golarion. Varisia does not have a central government. Bases of power in Varisia lie in three major city-states (Korvosa, Magnimar, and Riddleport), and in numerous small local and regional rulers. While the city-states claim areas of influence near them, in outlying areas regional rulers assume titles such as Mayor, Thain, Baron, or Duchess (or even King!) Varisia was once the center of the long-vanished Thassilonian Empire, and ruins of that empire are still found throughout the land.
Varisia is a mountainous and forested land with a cool temperate climate. Its southern coast is mostly uninhabited, as the dominant feature is a vast swamp called the Mushfens. Attempts at draining the Mushfens over the years have all failed. The western coast of Varisia is dominated by a large natural gulf, the Gulf of Varisia (or Varisian Gulf to some), which is sheltered by a chain of barrier islands 100 miles west of the mainland. The southern coast of the Gulf is extremely fertile farmland and the fishing is excellent. This area is called the Lost Coast, and it is now seeing a wave of settlement that hasn’t been seen in Varisia in more than a century.
The southern parts of Varisia are temperate with mild summers, cold winters, and frequent precipitation. Most of the northern part of Varisia is made up of the much colder and arid Storval Plateau, which stretches for three hundred miles past the 500-foot Storval Cliffs to the Kodar Mountains to the north and the Orcish lands of Belkzen to the east.
Several lands border Varisia. To the northwest of Varisia is the arctic Ulfenheim, ruled by mighty Ulfen [Viking] warriors who bring both trade and war throughout the Inner Sea Region in their longships. Also to the north, over the Kodar Mountains is the land of endless winter called Irrisen, ruled by the tyrant Witch Queen and her terrible followers. To the northwest is the primitive Realm of the Mammoth Lords, where barbarians and gigantic animals roam. To the west is the Orcish Hold of Belkzen. To the southwest is the war-torn forest state of Nirmathas, and due south is the dark and shadowy land of Nidal, an dark and dangerous theocratic vassal state of the once-great Empire of Cheliax.
Major cities in Varisia:
Korvosa is the largest city-state in Varisia (pop. 18,000), which swore fealty to the Emperor of Cheliax 250 years ago when that great empire attempted (and ultimately failed) to annex the lands of Varisia. The Korvosan court is still beholden to the Imperatrix of Cheliax. Korvosa lies on the southern coast of Varisia, and its navy controls much of Conqueror’s Bay. It is about 300 miles overland to Korvosa from Sandpoint, or 500 miles by ship. Unlike most of the rest of Varisia, slavery is commonly practiced in Korvosa, as it is in Cheliax. While still mighty, Korvosa is a city in decline with a top-heavy aristocracy, feuding guilds and merchant groups. The city is ruled by the young Queen Ileosa I, who appears more concerned with ingratiating herself to Cheliax than with ruling her city, as her very ill and much-older husband (the king by blood) slowly loses his grip on the throne.
Magnimar is the second-largest city-state, (pop. 16,000), and it controls the southernmost navigable entrance to the Gulf of Varisia. Ruled by a Lord-Mayor appointed by the Council of Guildsmen, its population and power are growing. Taxes and other restrictions are a bit lower in Magnimar than in Korvosa, attracting many Korvosan merchants and artisans, and the population is growing quickly. Indeed, the merchants themselves hold power in Magnimar, as it is a city without a bloodline aristocracy. Magnimar is called the City of Monuments, and is home to dozens of Thassalonian ruins, the greatest of which is the Irespan, a gargantuan ruined bridge around and under which the city sprawls.
Riddleport is the third-largest Varisian city-state (pop. 13,500), controlling the mouth of the navigable Velashu River on the Gulf of Varisia. Riddleport is a haven for those who don’t like laws or government, for the Overlords of Riddleport are concerned with commerce above all else. While the Overlords are quite effective in keeping the streets safe for merchants and their customers, and quickly and harshly deal with those who would disrupt public order (and threaten business), Riddleport has a well-deserved reputation as a haven for pirates. A famous feature of Riddleport is the Cyphergate, an ancient Thassilonian stone arch covered in carved runes that stretches in a perfect circular arc across the entrance to Riddleport Harbor, a quarter-mile in length. While the Cyphergate still radiates strong magic ten thousand years after the fall of Thassilon, no one has yet figured out its purpose. Despite the lack of “legitimate” authority, Riddleport is home to a college of magic and has a thriving intellectual and artistic community.
Sandpoint: Jewel of the Lost Coast
The adventure begins in the town of Sandpoint, on the Lost Coast, about 50 miles northeast of Magnimar. Its population is about 1300.
Sandpoint is a medium-sized town on the Lost Coast on the Gulf of Varisia that was founded about 50 years ago by a group of merchants from Magnimar. Looking for a place to set up a trading town with lower taxes and more freedom than Magnimar was willing to offer, the guild discovered a tiny native Varisian fishing village (called “The Sandy Point” in the Varisian language), located on a perfect natural harbor. Accounts differ as to how the guild convinced the Varisians to agree to let settlers in, but the town of Sandpoint has flourished ever since. Sandpoint is still very much in Magnimar’s sphere of influence. One difference with Magnimar is that slavery was declared illegal in Sandpoint at its founding, and the town has become a minor haven for escaped slaves from other nearby regions. Slave ships are not welcome in Sandpoint’s harbor, which has raised the ire of some in Magnimar and Korvosa.
Today, Sandpoint is home to fishermen, farmers, merchants, and other down-to-earth folk, which make the town of Sandpoint one of the few truly peaceful havens in Varisia. A simple town located on the Lost Coast Road halfway between Magnimar and Windsong Abbey, Sandpoint is a place with all the color and common oddities that one expects from a tightly-knit community. Wood buildings and cluttered docks line the town’s natural harbor, while farms and manors of wealthy citizens dot the surrounding countryside. During the day, fishing, farming, milling of lumber, glassmaking, and shipbuilding occupy the lives of most townsfolk, who commonly retire to their homes by way of Sandpoint’s many taverns. A playhouse and would-be museum make unusual attractions in such a small community, but Sandpoint’s true landmark is the Old Light, a ruined 200-foot lighthouse of ancient origin.
A relatively peaceful town which is normally devoid of either the dangers of the frontier or the intrigues of a large city, Sandpoint has had its share of troubles recently. The fading scars of a recent terror still linger five years on, a time the locals call the “Late Unpleasantness.” A little over five years ago, a madman stalked the streets of Sandpoint, killing more than two dozen of townsfolk, and leaving their bodies terribly mutilated (missing eyes and tongues). Known as The Chopper, the killer’s month-long terror ended in a bloody melee with Sheriff Avertin, leaving the popular sheriff dead. Guard Captain Belor Hemlock tracked the bloody footprints to the home of eccentric local artist, Jervis Stoot, whose exquisite wood carvings of birds had been highly prized. At first believing Stoot to be yet another victim, Hemlock discovered the preserved eyes and tongues of the victims on an altar, revealing that Stoot was the Chopper. Before Stoot could be brought to justice, Stoot killed himself as a final sacrifice to the demon lord that The Chopper has served. Adding to the pain of the murders, less than a month later, the local chapel burned to the ground in a conflagration called the Sandpoint Fire that nearly consumed half the town, and left the local priest and his adopted daughter dead.
Emerging from the shadow of these events, Sandpoint has healed and rebuilt, with many townsfolk viewing the coming dedication of a new cathedral as a symbolic end to the healing, and a return to normalcy. The cathedral will be dedicated on the day of the Swallowtail Festival, a holiday honoring the goddess Desna, which happens on the first Friday of September (for those keeping track, the date of the celebration will be Fri, Sept 4, 4711 Absalom Reckoning)
The game will start in Sandpoint, on the day before the celebration, so please have an idea as to why your character is there.
Government in Sandpoint:
Kendra Daverin has served as the mayor of Sandpoint for the past eight years. Lawmaker, judge, and general peacemaker, Deverin has proven to be both an adept diplomat and stern hand when needed—skills likely honed during her youth in Magnimar and as an adventurer. With a personal—some say sisterly—style of governance, Deverin holds the abiding respect of most of Sandpoint’s people, charming them with her fiery temper and tenacity for justice (as demonstrated during the Late Unpleasantness.) A council of several of the towns most respected and affluent landowners aids Deverin’s work. While several councilmembers have their own agendas and visions for the town, the mayor’s no-nonsense attitude assures that council decisions ever work toward the common good.
Metting out the town’s good justice, sheriff and councilmember Balor Hemlock keeps watch over Sandpoint’s people and property. Held as a local hero, Hemlock is lauded with being the man who brought the serial killer, The Chopper, to justice. Although rarely faced with misconduct more severe than petty theft or public drunkenness, the sheriff has both a keen wit and a skilled sword arm, and openly proves both when needed. While the town’s chief enforcer, Hemlock knows the difference between the letter of the law and its intent, and often gives those under his jurisdiction the benefit of the doubt.
The sheriff’s work aside, Sandpoint’s people realize they must often fend for and defend themselves, especially on the outlying farms. In the rarest and most extreme cases, mob justice is sometimes all that will satisfy an outraged people. It is extremely common for people to walk around armed, especially if they plan to leave the safety of the town itself.
The Land Around Sandpoint:
A rolling, lightly forested land of limestone escarpments, rugged tors, and verdant moors surrounds Sandpoint. Most who populate the area live off the land and sea. Numerous farms spread over the surrounding countryside, while the homes of fisherfolk dot the coastal cliffs. Viable farming land is a coveted commodity around Sandpoint, as rocky hills and expanses of limestone pavements—expanses of flat rock—break the otherwise lush landscape.
Wolves, snakes, wild boars, and firepelts (a native wildcat) stalk the deer and hares common to the area, along with the stray farm animal, making animal attacks on humanoids rare. When the fogs common to Sandpoints’s stretch of shore rise, though, every dark shape in the mist can become a monster, giving rise to the numerous local legends of canibalistic wild men in the woods, winged terrors in the skies, tentacled horrors from the marshlands, and reeking things from the sea. One persistent legend is of a terrible creature called the Sandpoint Devil that is rumored to stalk the darkest nights.
One thing to watch out for when traveling in the surrounding lands are several tribes of goblins. Thankfully, goblin raids on the Lost Cost Road and surrounding farms are rare, as the goblins seem to be more concerned with fighting each other than with bothering humans.
A welcoming, largely unprejudiced community of colorful locals call Sandpoint home.
Some of the notable denizens are:
- Jesk “Cracktooth” Beriani: Witty and urbane half-orc owner of Cracktooth’s Taverm; a strong supporter of the local arts.
- Kendra Deverin: Town mayor.
- Cyrdak Drokkus: Grand actor, gadabout, and proprietor of the Sandpoint Theatre.
- Belor Hemlock: The gruff but protective town sheriff. Of Shoanti heritage, but has abandoned Shoanti traditions and taken his wife’s family name.
- Ameiko Kaijitsu: Ex-adventurer and proprietor of the Rusty Dragon Inn. Rebellious daughter of nobleman Lonjiku Kaijitsu. Her exotic name and appearance would indicate that her family came from far Tian Xia.
- Lonjiku Kaijitsu: Stoic nobleman, owner of the town glassworks. Father of Ameiko Kaijitsu.
- Sir Jasper Korvaski: Former adventurer; office manager of the Sandpoint Mercantile League.
- Das Korvut: Town blacksmith. While extremely skilled, he has a notorious temper and little patience for others— including his customers. He also drinks a lot.
- Madam Mvashti: Venerable Varisian historian, seer, and fortune-teller.
- Brodert Quint: Local expert on ancient Thassalon.
- Jargie Quinn: One-legged owner of the Hagfish Tavern.
- Titus Scarnetti: Tradition-minded noble who owns Sandpoint’s thriving lumber mill.
- Nisk Tander: Town alchemist.
- Ethram Valdemar: Oldest of the nobles, was present at the founding of Sandpoint.
- Ven Vinder: Owner of Sandpoint’s well-stocked general store.
- Garridan Viskalai: Shoanti owner of the White Deer Inn;
- Vashli Voon: Sorcerer and proprietor of the Feathered Serpent, the town’s magic shop.
- Abstalar Zantus: Curate of the newly-consecrated Sandpoint Cathedral and chief priest in the area. He is a priest of Desna, but serves all followers of the common non-evil faiths.
Languages in Varisia:
Numerous languages are spoken throughout the land, including Taldan (“Common”), Dwarven, Elven, and Gnome, plus several distinct human languages. [A departure from the Core Rulebook: Halflings do not have their own language, but rather speak a distinctive dialect of Common.]
Not as commonly heard in civilized areas are the Draconic, Giant, Goblin, Orc, and Sylvan tongues.
Human languages heard in Varisia are:
Shoanti: The language of Varisia’s Shoanti tribal clans, this sharp tongue is spoken across the Storval Plateau and any of the other rocky lands that the Shoanti tribesmen inhabit. Humans of Shoanti descent gain this tongue as a bonus language. Written Shoanti uses simplified Thassalonian runes as letters, but otherwise bears little resemblance to that dead tongue.
Skald: The fast-spoken, staccato language of the Ulfen people, who are native to Ulfenheim, which lies north of Varisia. Humans of Ulfen descent gain Skald as a bonus language. Skald uses its own written runic alphabet.
Taldan: The common tongue of human trade, this is the most widely-spoken human language in the Inner Sea region of Golarion. It is often referred to as “Common.” It is the native language of the empires of Taldor and Cheliax, and of most of the lands that were once part of these empires. Written Taldan uses its own alphabet.
Thassilonian: This is the dead language of the builders of the Varisia’s ancient monuments. Known primarily as a runic written language, no one alive is exactly sure how spoken Thassalonian was pronounced, but the modern scholars, historians, and arcanists who study this language have settled on a “proper” spoken form.
Varisian: Songs in this rolling, sultry language of Varisia’s nomadic people precede them wherever they travel. Humans of Varisian descent gain this tongue as a bonus language. Written Varisian uses the Taldan alphabet.
Other Points of Interest in Varisia
Varisia contains dozens of interesting ruins, geologic sites, and settlements that are ripe for exploration and adventuring opportunities. Here are but a few:
Galduria: A large town on the shores of Ember Lake, home to an independent college of magic.
The Bloodsword Vale: A fey-haunted mountain pass into the land of Nirmathas to the southeast.
Brinewall: A mysteriously abandoned sea-fortress.
Hook Mountain: A peak of dark repute and the ancestral home to several tribes of murderous and degenerate ogres.
Barovia: a remote county high in the Malgorvian Mountains, it is rumored that travelers seldom wish to leave after a visit.
Viperwall: The Citadel of Snakes. Its walls of carved serpents endlessly leak venomous green vapors.
Churlwood: One of the largest dense forests in Varisia.
Celwynvian: The doomed capital of the Mierani Elves, abandoned by its people millennia ago.
The Sunken Queen: An immense, timeless pyramid rising from the Mushfens’ murk. It bears a gigantic carving of a beautiful nude woman.
The Mobhad Leigh: A vast and deep pit, which the Shoanti say has no bottom.
The Storval Staris: Titanic steps cut into the face of the Storval Cliffs.
Faiths in Varisia:
The pantheon of deities described in the Core Rulebook is followed in Varisia, and throughout the Inner Sea Region of Golarion. Most people worship the pantheon as a whole, but most also favor a particular deity. Desna is the most-worshiped deity in the region, followed closely by Erastil, Gozreh, and Sarenrae. A few Varisians instead follow a spiritual philosophy not connected to the gods called The Green Faith, that venerates the forces of nature.
Abadar (LN): Master of the First Vault, gold-fisted Abadar seeks to order the world. Abadar is the god of cities, law, merchants, and wealth. Judges, merchants, and aristocrats tend to follow him, calling upon his clarity in judgement and business. The poor and wronged also frequently honor him, seeking reversals in their fortunes. His symbol is a golden key.
Asmodeus (LE): The only evil deity in the pantheon that can be worshiped openly in polite society, the Prince of Darkness worked with Sarenrae at the beginning of time to lock away Rovagug the Destroyer, and thereafter gained a certain begrudged respect among the nonevil gods. Asmodeus is the god of contracts, pride, slavery, and tyranny. While not worshiped widely in Varisia, open worship is usually tolerated, if frowned upon. Aristocrats, merchants, slavers, and those who wish to elevate their station at the expense of others worship the Prince of Darkness. His symbol is an inverted pentagram.
Cayden Cailean (CG): The Drunken Hero, Cayden Cailean was a mortal Taldan who ascended to godhood through the Test of the Starstone about 1200 years ago. He is the god of bravery, ale, freedom, and wine. Legend holds that Cayden entered the Cathedral of the Starstone on a drunken bet, and and emerged three days later as a living god. As a god, Cayden behaves much as he did as a mortal—standing up for the wronged underdog, fighting for worthy causes, and enjoying both a good drink (or ten). His followers do pretty much the same. His symbol is a silver tankard.
Desna (CG): The Song of the Spheres, Desna is the goddess of dreams, luck, stars, and travelers. She delights in freedom and mystery, and teaches her followers to live life to the fullest and to seek out novel experiences. Mystics, explorers, adventurers, and those in need of a little luck worship Desna. Her symbol is a blue-and-silver butterfly.
Erastil (LG): To his followers, Old Deadeye is a stern but loving father, a helpful neighbor, and a watchful hunter. Erastil is the god of family, farming, hunting, and trade. Small communities, farmers, hunters, and most common folk most often pray to Erastil. His symbol is a golden bow and arrow.
Gozreh (N): The Wind and the Waves, the god of nature cares nothing for the ways of mankind and their irrelevant empires, ever demonstrating that mortals are insignificant and would do best to remember that. Farmers, seamen, foresters, and all those who live at the whim of nature fear and respect Gozreh. Undead are an abomination to Gozreh, and his clerics always channel positive energy. His symbol is a living leaf dripping with water.
Iomedae (LG): Called the Inheritor, Iomedae is the goddess of honor, justice, and righteous valor. At one time a mortal Chelaxian paladin, Iomedae ascended to godhood by passing the Test of the Starstone about 800 years ago. Priests of Iomedae have a well-deserved reputation for trustworthiness. While part of the pantheon, Iomedae has relatively few direct worshipers in Varisia. Her symbol is a gleaming sword radiating rays of light.
Sarenrae (NG): The Dawnflower, the Healing Flame, the Everlight, Sarenrae brings warmth and radiance to all souls who let her in. She is the goddess of the sun, healing, honesty, and redemption. Those with compassionate hearts and kind intentions turn to Sarenrae as both the source and the protector of all things good. Her symbol is an image of the goddess herself: a golden female figure standing with outstretched arms and feathered wings.
Shelyn (NG): The Eternal Rose, Goddess of art, beauty, music, and love, Shelyn encourages creativity and inspires the world. She challenges her faithful to test their own limits, share what they create, and delight in the gifts of others. Her symbol is a silver bird with a rainbow-colored tail.
Astronomy, Time, and Calendar:
The lands of the Inner Sea Region (including Varisia) all use a common calendar called Absalom Reckoning (AR), named for the largest city in the world. Year 1 AR was the year that the great hero Aroden raised the Starstone from the bottom of the sea, creating the Island of Kortos. That year, Aroden founded the city of Absalom on Kortos, built the Cathedral of the Starstone in Absalom, and ascended to godhood, becoming the God of Humanity. The current year is 4607.
The world has a 24-hour day, and a 365.25-day year (a leap day is added to the month of Calistril every 4 years). It has a single large moon that completes its phases every 29.53 days (exactly like our moon). The stars are fixed in the night sky, and there are six planets that move through the sky, of varying colors and brightness. The two brightest are the green-hued Castrovel (a morning/evening star), and the red Akiton.
The standard calendar of Absalom Reckoning is essentially identical to our real-world calendar: 12 months of 28, 30, or 31 days, and a 7-day week. The days of the week are: Moonday, Toilday, Wealday, Oathday, Fireday, Starday, and Sunday. Sunday is a traditional day off: most businesses are closed. Oathday is the traditional day of the week to make promises, sign contracts, and get married. The months are: Abadius [January], Calistril [February], Pharast [March], Gozran [April], Desnus [May], Sarenith [June], Erastus [July], Arodus [August], Rova [September], Lamashan [October], Neth [November], and Kuthonia [December].
The first event of the campaign, the Sandpoint Swallowtail Festival, will occur on Friday 02 Rova 4607. Play will start the day before.