From the crumbling spires of the ancient Runelords in distant Varisia to the bustling merchant kingdoms of the Inner Sea, Golarion is the name of default world of the Pathfinder Campaign Setting and related supplements, modules, and Adventure Paths. There are some really great D&D worlds such as Krynn (Dragonlance), Greyhawk, Eberron and Toril (Forgotten Realms), and I think that Paizo’s Golarion has more than earned an unofficial spot on the list. This week on the Campaign Trail I’m providing some notes on using Golarion for the setting of an adventure or even an entire campaign. If your D&D group has been playing for years in the Realms, take a look at Golarion – it might be a perfect fit.
Campaign Setting Overview | Deities of Golarion for D&D 5th Edition
Pathfinder & D&D: A Short History
Way back in the 1970s a group of friends gathered around a table to play Dungeons & Dragons. Since then, history has found a way to split Dungeon & Dragons players into more and more camps with each new release. Back in 2007, Paizo was a publisher working on Dungeon and Dragon magazines, but Wizards of the Coast chose not to renew their contract. Paizo decided to begin publishing the Pathfinder periodical line as a replacement. When it was announced that D&D 3.5 was being replaced with a 4th edition of D&D and a more restrictive game system license, Paizo decided to develop and playtest its own RPG. In 2009, using the Open Gaming License (OGL), Pathfinder RPG was released as a modified & extended version of the 3.5 edition rules of D&D. Pathfinder even went on to even outsell D&D before the eventual release of the hugely successful 5th edition of D&D in 2014.
Where to Start?
Pathfinder RPG was released under the Open Game License (OGL), so it’s core core rules are free to use, but its excellent setting books and adventures need to be purchased. Paizo has published a ton of great books, including the following setting books that will give you more than everything you need to run a campaign in the world of Golarion.
- Beginner Box
The Game Master’s Guide details the starting town of Sandpoint (and its surrounding countryside) and provides lots of hooks to keep your adventurers busy. This product is an excellent value and great way to try out Pathfinder and Golarion.
- Inner Sea World Guide
320 pages of races, cultural information and history for “more than 40 crumbling empires, expansionist kingdoms, independent city-states, and monster-haunted wildlands of Golarion’s adventure-filled Inner Sea region, with locations perfect for nearly any type of fantasy campaign.“
- Towns of the Inner Sea
Explore “six small but richly detailed settlements from the Pathfinder campaign setting. Each entry provides insights into the town’s history, culture, and residents, as well as what dangers lurk in the shadows. Numerous adventure hooks, full-page maps, and stat blocks for key NPCs make these towns fully realized settings, ready for” you to use in your own Golarion campaign.
- Cities of Golarion
64-page book details adventure hooks, monsters, politics, history, people and places for six cities to run urban adventures in.
- And many, many other books. This is a rich, detailed setting that I can only brush the surface of in this article, but I’ll try to highlight some of the places and people you can visit.
Places to Go
The map above is just a small region of Golarion called the Inner Sea (and this map does not even show it all). Like the Sword Coast of the Forgotten Realms, it’s the area of Golarion that gets the most attention, but there is a whole world to explore. The world of Golarion has a long history spanning thousands of years and contains eight continents separated by huge seas. If you want to run a short adventure or an entire campaign, Golarion has a ton of varied locations for nearly any theme to visit. Each of the locations below is supported with lots of adventures you can run or pillage for ideas and some have setting books too. Like the Forgotten Realms, Golarion has more than just your default fantasy setting if you are looking for something a little more exotic.
Here are ten of my favorite settings that can be found around Golarion:
- Azlant – Atlantis inspired continent that has mostly sunk under the waves
- Mwangi Expanse – Jungle
“the jungle is a living, breathing entity, and it’s always hungry…“
- Darklands – Pathfinder’s version of the Underdark
- Crown of the World – Frozen Northlands
- The Shackles – Pirate themed setting of the Skull & Shackles adventure path and card game
- Osirion – Ancient Egyptian themed setting
- Andoran – Colonial America themed setting
- Tian Xia – Asian themed setting
“Inspired by the fascinating myths and rich histories of numerous Asian cultures and traditions“
- Lost Kingdoms – Explore the “shattered remains” of mysterious ancient nations and fallen empires
- Realm of the Mammoth Lords – Prehistoric themed setting
People to Visit
Looking for people to fill Golarion with? The adventures are filled with NPCs, but you can also find more in these books:
- NPC Codex
Find more than 300 “nonplayer characters of every level, from a lowly forest poacher to the most majestic knight or ancient spellcaster.”
- Inner Sea NPC Codex
Another 50 unique NPCs such as assassins, cultists, cabalists, and other characters their players may meet
- Inner Sea Races
Histories, cultures, and powers of all the major races that shape the Inner Sea region, “from elves and dwarves to celestial-touched aasimars and subterranean drow, along with new details on a variety of rare and mysterious populations“.
My favorite thing about Pathfinder is the iconics (seen throughout the Wayne Reynolds artwork in this article). As Pathfinder adds more and more classes, I’ve become a lot less enamored with newest additions, but I feel like I got to know the earlier iconics by playing them as PCs and reading about then in the Pathfinder comics. If you are running a campaign in Golarion, the iconics can be a great resource for pre-generated player characters (level 1, 7 and 12) or why meet a random NPC when you can bump into an iconic. Pathfinder has made it a habit to release an iconic when they release a new class. They just released 6 new iconics to support their Occult Adventures book. Each iconic has a interesting and detailed backstory (yes lots of orphans). Here are four of my favorites that just happen to be available with the Beginner Box:
- Merisiel (Elven Rogue) was orphaned at a young age and raised by humans in the slums. She’s seen many friends grow old and die in the decades it took her to become an adult, so now she lives life to the fullest, “for you never know when you’ll meet an unexpected end“.
- Ezren (Human Wizard) decided to abandon his old life and become a wizard, even though he was already middle aged and nobody would have him for an apprentice.
- Kyra (Human Cleric) swore her life and sword arm to the sun goddess Sarenrae after bandits attacked her village, killing her parents. Since then, Kyra has traveled far powered along by her “fierce will and pride in her faith and skills with the scimitar“.
- Valeros (Human Fighter) whose longing for adventure convinced him to flee from an arranged betrothal to a farmer’s daughter. The former mercenary “is famous for his two swords, his love of strong drink, and his appreciation of pretty women“.
Gods and Monsters
If you are looking for gods or monsters for a Golarion campaign you are in luck.
The Inner Sea region, Dragon Empires, Osirian and other areas of Golarion are well supported with a variety of pantheons for your divine powered PCs to pray to. Gods for specific monsters are provided as well. The popular live play show Critical Role started their campaign using Pathfinder’s rules and moved to D&D, keeping the gods such as Sarenrae (diety of their cleric Pike) when they moved over. If you just need a new pantheon for your world, look and see what Pathfinder has to offer. I borrowed Besmara the Pirate Queen to add some pirate flavor into my campaign’s pantheon.
Pathfinder’s most famous monsters are their mascot like goblins, but there are way more monsters to be found. Paizo has published 4 Bestiaries with a fifth one on the way in November. Each Bestiary is full of hundreds of monsters, many unique to Pathfinder. The monsters aren’t that hard to convert and you might even find a bunch of monsters to send against your players they haven’t faced before. Look to the adventures to provide unique monsters too, Skull & Shackles adventures have provided a few awesome monsters for my own D&D seafaring campaign.
NOTE: All links to the Paizo store are provided for convenience to the reader. The links are provided without any affiliate links, so we don’t make a dime if you click and buy. There are some great books mentioned/linked to above, so please check them out and support all the great setting work done by the team at Paizo over the years.