Currently there are not too many full-blown, world-encompassing campaign settings for PFRPG, probably due to the fact that Golarion already being an awesome place that perfectly covers a lot of ground.
Silver Crescent Publishing's Daniel Marshall has created a rather dark world and today I'm going to take a closer look at the epic hardcover of their campaign setting. Enjoy!
I actually own only the dead tree copy of this campaign setting, so I'll break my usual format for this review. The Realms of Twilight Campaign Setting comes as a massive 250+ pages hardcover book, including two pages of character sheets and 1 page map. After a page of editorial and a page ToC, we get 2 pages introduction and overview of the contents. After that, we get introduced into the world of Relistan.
One of the things you immediately notice, is that the b/w-artwork is stunning and ranks among the best you can find in any 3pp-books.
Chapter 1 details the fundamentals of the world (8 pages): Relistan is a world ravaged by two grand cataclysms: The first, a rite by the shadow fey, has permanently blotted out the sun, casting the world in a permanent twilight. Relistan also once was a planar hub and there have been massive invasions of outsiders in the so-called gate-wars, further crushing civilizations. Due to the gods seeking to annihilate dragon-kind, the last survivor of the original Relistan-dragon-race (there seem to be more from other places), in rage and desperation, managed to use an artifact to become a deity and close the gates. Driven insane by the sudden ascension, his rage further ravaged the already beaten world. Sounds cataclysmic? Surprisingly, it isn't all that bad on the world. The 3 moons seem to provide enough light for economies to work and plants to grow (Hey, it's magic and the leaking planar gateways actually serves as an explanation that satisfies me!) and there are ample civilizations out there on the 5 continents of Relistan.
Chapter 2 details Kesuril, the civilized lands (33 pages) and kicks off, as every chapter, with an IC-legend on the history of the continent: This continent is the one most reminiscent of temperate climate standard fantasy realms, but each city/nation gets some serious twist: There for example is a rather druidic nation led by lycanthropes who learn to control their urges. We also get e.g. a city famous for its college, a lizardfolk kingdom and the biggest metropolis of the world that can be seen on the cover, secluded in a crystal pyramid complete with a drow emperor and a false sun inside. Each nation/town is presented with some paragraphs on one or 2 authority figures and while there is information on the classes of said characters, no stats or levels are provided. Each nation/city also comes with information on diplomatic relations with neighbors. These pieces of information are also given in the other chapters, so don't be alarmed by me not mentioning them again.
Chapter 3 (26 pages) introduces us to Slarinca, the second continent, has its nation of elves, a nation of gnomes known for their sorcerous aptitude as well as human kingdoms aligned with the traditional elements (and a utopia aligned with light). These kingdoms adhere to an eastern, Chinese-influenced Nomenclature and structure.
Chapter 4 (18 pages)details the desert continent Shirán that consists of the almost impregnable resting place of the slumbering dragon-turned-deity and nations that are led by members of a rather evil (or at least neutral) planar group of adventurers. The chapter also provides one page of rules-recap for heat-dangers.
Chapter 5 (13 pages) provides us with information on Ezalyth, the frozen continent of Relistan, complete with monasteries, a nation of snow elves, giants and a settlement on the verge of a glacier. There is also information on dangers of the cold and ice.
Chapter 6 offers information on Cylthia (18 pages), a continent of trackless jungles (Mostly consisting of "The trackless Jungle") and a savannah with warring nations as well as a dwarven nation.
Chapter 7 (8 pages) details the seas and oceans of Relistan, e.g. providing rules for the random bursts of fire that erupt from the aptly-named Shadefire-sea. This is something I would have loved to see more often - little bits of rules for these locations that serve to enhance their uniqueness not only in description, but also in rules-terms.
Chapter 8 is the beginning of the rules-section of the book and focuses on classes. (27 pages)
The chapter contains an alchemist base-class, the combat alchemist. It is here that I want to address something - this book was released prior to the APG and some of the rules and content will reflect that. The combat alchemist base-class gets d8 HP, 4+Int skills per level, a bad BAB-progression and good ref- and will-saves. The basic idea is somewhat similar to the model used for psionics: The combat alchemist gets a certain number of mixture points and can use them to create effects of the formulae he has already learned. All of these so-called mixtures can be individually enhanced by what is called "experimentation" and is essentially a way to boost the effects of the alchemical mixture in question. To ensure balanced play, the mixtures have been divided in the classical 9 levels, restricting access to the more powerful mixtures at lower levels. The class is expertly designed and crafted and I really do like it. Unfortunately, the alchemist-class by Paizo is one of my 2 favorites from the APG, so I personally settle for him. However, if you want to check out a cool alchemical base-class and want something different, this one might actually interest you.
Next up are the prestige Classes. Each comes with a sample NPC. However, not all adhere to PFRPG-design-standards, some of them having levels that have no spell progression, bonus feat or other gain apart from saves and bab-progression:
-Acolyte of Twilight (d8, 2+Int skills per level, medium BAB, good will save, 5 of 10 levels spell progression): This class is a divine caster that is similar to the dragon acolyte, but representing the duality of the twilight dragon deity. Didn't strike me as too exciting apart from the cool associated deity.
-Disciple of Shadows (d8, medium BAB, almost good progression for fort- and will saves [+6 Fort and Will save at 10th level], 2+Int skills, 5 levels spell progression): Two-bladed sword wielding holy warrior of the church of Steelight Shadowborn. He becomes better at wielding his signature weapon and some shadow-blade abilities, transforming to native outsiders in the end. Okay class.
-Elemental Fist (d8, good BAB-progression, medium fort, ref and will-saves, 4+Int skills, continues improving monk abilities): Monk-like class that gains the abilities to use elemental shrouds that damage attackers. Nice class, but has 2 "dead" levels.
- Fire Dancer (d8, almost good BAB-progression (+9 at 10th level), medium ref save, 4+Int skills, 5 levels of spell progression): Bard-Prc that gets nice, albeit a bit weak abilities to use fire-like abilities with their dance.
-Hunter of the Wastes (d8, good BAB-progression, almost good progression for fort- and ref saves [+6 Fort and Will save at 10th level], 4+Int skills: Hunter of undead creatures from negative-energy-infused wasteland. Can detect undead and resist incorporeal undead and their attacks. Rather bland specialty hunter with 3 "dead" levels.
-Shadow Speaker (d8, +5 over 10 levels BAB-progression, almost good progression for ref- and will saves [+6 Fort and Will save at 10th level], 6+Int skills: Rogue-like class that improves sneak attack and abilities to communicate and summon shadows and see in the darkness as well as a greater shadow form. Ok supernatural rogue class.
Chapter 9 (18 pages) contains 4 new races, 2 new uses for skills, an easy in-game dice-game and 28 new feats. The new races are:
-Nightlings: A savage sub-species of halflings that get +2 to Dex and Con, -2 to Wis and-4 to Cha as well as normal speed, +2 to stealth & survival and the ability to smell incorporeal creatures. However, they also get a +1 level adjustment, i.e. a mechanic that has been discontinued in PFRPG.
-Twilight Gnomes: Elementally-infused gnomes, they get +2 Con and Wis, -2 Str, are slow, get training against giants, racial hatred against goblinoids and reptilian humanoids, Cold resistance 5, +2 to Perception and some elemental minor spell-like abilities.
- Umbral: Once their progenitors shadows made alive again in the cataclysmic sundering of an artifact, these people get +2 Dex, -2 Cha, +2 to stealth, Cold resistance 5, darkvision and the ability to cast chill touch once per day.
-Valshari: An evolved subrace of the drow that has returned to the surface, these elves get +2 to Dex and Int, -2 to Con, elven immunities, darkvision, can cast darkness once per day, +2 to Perception and racial weapon proficiency.
In the section on linguistics, we get short paragraphs on 4 languages, in the section on stealth information about hiding in crowds.
The dice-game of Relistan, Jok-Rin, is also explained.
The feats can be divided in 4 categories:
- Craft-feats (7 feats): These feats let you add semi-magical masterwork qualities to your work (which I consider to be great ideas) and forge a special material.
- Alchemy-feats (7 feats): Improve abilities of the combat alchemist.
- Background feats (5 feats): Weak feats a sidebox suggests to offer for free. Rather like traits, really.
- General Feats (8 feats): All of these are a waste of space in my opinion. They confer +2 bonuses to e.g. poison-saves or two skills. Boring.
There is also one rather cool metamagic feat, which lets you expand the casting time of a spell for an increase in DC up to +4.
Chapter 10 offers us new equipment and magic (34 pages). We get two new materials, umbristine and waterwood, with the former being a shadow-related metal mined via both alchemy and conventional techniques by the umbral and the latter being wood that is infused with the power of elemental water. On the conventional side of weapons, a new monk weapon is introduced that actually doubles as a music instrument, while alchemists get their own pouch and everyone who loves throwing daggers gets a cool harness that works as a substitute for the quick draw-feat for the 6 throwing daggers it can hold. Nice idea.
Next up are 4 new magic items and 2 artifacts:
-Armor of Alhara: Leatherarmor that should help with changing shapes. Unfortunately, this armor mentions the Control Shape skill, which has to my knowledge been discontinued in Pathfinder. I think the bonus should be conferred to the constitution checks of the afflicted, as per the PF-bestiary.
-Mask of Twilight: Mask that has abilities similar to the Twilight Dragon's Acolytes and complements them nicely. The abilities of course are just as dual as the divine dragon.
-Necklace of Sirens: Amulet with Confusion-abilities that auto-recharges each day and can also be recharged by bards.
-Sunstar: Medaillon can be used to summon true sun light to kill vampires and the like.
-The Blade of Shadows: Legendary, deadly two-bladed sword to drive back the chaos in the name of Stellight Shadowborn.
-The Shard of the Abyss: Deadly and intelligent fragment of the abyss. Rather strange, though, that the shard is CN instead of CE.
After that, we get a plethora of alchemical mixtures for the new combat alchemist class - dusts, grenades, oils, potions, salves and vapors. At least one of a kind for each level is provided.
Clerics also get some love in the form of 7 new domains: Endurance, Ice, Pain, Pestilence, Shadowborn, Spirit and Undead. I especially liked the shadowborn domain - individual domains for deities rock.
We of course also get new spells, 23 to be precise - the spells are quite nice and I didn't consider any to be problematic.
Chapter 11 (25 pages) features al lot of different new gods for the pantheons of Relistan - The deity-write-ups contain information on relationships with other deities - great idea that should be standard. On the downside, this chapter features unfortunately the only formatting errors in the books, with some of the artworks for the deities' symbols concealing parts of the text.
No campaign-setting would be complete without at least some monsters and we get some in Chapter 12 (12 pages).
-Anu-Zarati (CR 7): 4-armed undead guardian creature.
-Celesti (CR 1): Winged humanoid that includes information to make characters. I would have loved them to be included in the race-section of the book for PCs, though.
-Claw Leapers (CR 6): Somehow alien-like looking, deadly predator. Extremely cool creature!
-Nightwhisper (CR 6): Incorporeal undead with possession abilities.
-Sai-heth (CR 2): Race of Fey that eclipsed the true sun. Unfortunately only a sample fighter/rogue is provided sans their racial abilities, somehow making it harder to design new ones yourself.
-Shadowborn Warrior (CR 6): Holy warriors of Steelight Shadowborn.
-Shadowborn Magi (CR 7): Transcended mages of Steelight Shadowborn.
-Shadowborn Law Priest (CR 15): Highest servants of Steelight Shadowborn.
-Tunneler (CR 9): Huge subterranean worm.
The final chapter, chapter 13 contains 5 pages of additional legends.
The book is a huge hardcover with glossy paper of the highest quality, beautiful layout and (mostly) stunning artwork -while there are some pieces that don't live up to the superior quality of the rest of the artwork - these only constitute about 5% of the total artwork though, so expect to see a beautiful book indeed. I didn't really anticipate that this first publication of Silver Crescent Publishing would have such a high quality for the rather moderate price.
What do I expect from a campaign setting?
I expect an interesting, detailed world, potential conflicts and hooks for the PCs to participate in and craft adventures around and captivating writing. Does Realms of Twilight deliver? Well, at least for me personally, I'll say yes...and no. The world is chock-full of iconic locations and nations and leaves nothing to be desired location and environment-wise and some of the deities are very unique and beyond most of what I've read before. The new combat alchemist class for example is awesome and some parts of the crunch rock - however, due to the APG coming out, some parts of the book have aged, including the combat alchemist. While I e.g. loved the new craft feats, the general and background feats felt like uninspired +2/+2 to checks-filler-material, resulting in a stark contrast to the great crafting feats. The PrCs also didn't impress me, but e.g. the deities and most of the monsters are consistent in standard.
On the other hand, one of the races still has a level adjustment and here and there you can find remnants of 3.5-design philosophy (no dead levels) or minor remains like the level-adjustments. What do we get genre-wise, then? We get a world that is deeply-steeped in high fantasy and is quite dark, although more in the literal sense instead of genre-wise. You shouldn't expect a Midnightish or Ravenlotesque dark setting or even a post-apocalyptic one. It's also not a savage world in the Howardesk style, but rather points of light style. What you should expect is an ancient world steeped in lore and magic and while Relistan is definitely not a perfect utopia, it is rife with potential for adventures and especially iconic locations. Relistan has its very own feeling that sets the world very distinctly apart from other campaign settings and absolutely worth a try if you're looking for a world that is different.
However, there are some minor problems plaguing this book that show it is a first publication, especially one of this size: The minor layout problems in the deities-section could have been noticed and unfortunately there are editing several problems - I noticed a lot of typos and homophone-errors (i.e. there/their-mistakes that didn't get caught) that deterred from my enjoyment of the book. I should absolutely love this book and will probably mine some ideas from it, but somehow it didn't capture my interest as much as I thought it was supposed to - I should absolutely love this book by all accounts, after all: Its production values are top-notch and the locations are iconic. It took me some time to realize what has kept me from fully enjoying myself when reading this - a) I expected a rather low-magic setting on the brink of another cataclysm and b), which is the main reason, I somehow didn't feel that the writing was consistent. While there are some sentences of sufficient length, including prepositions and conjunctions, but here also are some paragraphs that feature a lot of short sentences that start with nouns and are not as elaborately worded. While this usually would not impede my enjoyment of a book, in combination with the editing glitches, it hampered my ability to completely dive into the world and lose myself in it. Another problem is that the same holds true for the crunchy bits of the book - There are some mechanics that just ROCK and others that rather felt like filler.
Thus, my final verdict will try to take the problems, the size of the book and the fact that this is a first publication into account and while I personally won't DM in Relistan, there is a plethora of nice ideas herein and e.g. the combat alchemist shows a solid understanding of the rules. What's my final verdict, then? Due to the glitches and the minor problems, I'll settle for a final verdict of 3.5 Rudii.
All right, that's it for now from yours truly, as always thank you for reading my ramblings,