The distant continent of Tian Xia rests on the opposite side of the world from the Inner Sea region, and it shows. From the treacherous jungles of naga-ruled Nagajor to the sorcerous kingdom of Dtang Ma, and from the trackless and unforgiving deserts of Shaguang to the wondrous city of Goka, countless opportunities can be found for any character or adventure in amazingly expansive Tian Xia. While the extensive Dragon Empires Gazetteer unveils dozens of the mystical continent’s secrets, the Dragon Empires Primer provides information pertinent to creating characters for campaigns set in this vast and diverse region. This volume of Pathfinder Player Companion provides players and Game Masters alike with all of the settingspecific traits and trappings they need to customize and play characters in the Dragon Empires.
Inside this Pathfinder Player Companion, you’ll find:
Overviews of all of Tian Xia’s nations, including important details for players to integrate into their characters’ backstories and new character traits for every region to give characters boons that further tie them to their homelands.
Rules for Tian Xia’s five most prominent races: the shapeshifting kitsune, ophidian nagaji, transmigratory samsarans, avian tengus, and shadowy wayangs.
Four new archetypes with distinctly Tian flavors, including the lotus geisha (bard), sword saint (samurai), white-haired witch (witch), and yokai hunter (ranger).
New feats for combative characters that bolster prowess in martial arts and swordplay.
An extensive look at the gods and philosophies of the Dragon Empires, as well as rules for the moon subdomain.
A new bloodline for sorcerers tainted with oni blood, and a new school of magic for wizards who wish to harness the power of the mysterious void.
New rules mechanics for establishing and maintaining one’s honor in the Dragon Empires.
This Pathfinder Player Companion works best with the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game or the 3.5 version of the world’s oldest fantasy roleplaying game, but can be easily incorporated into any fantasy world.
Written by Tim Hitchcock and Colin McComb
Each bimonthly 32-page Pathfinder Companion contains several player-focused articles exploring the volume’s theme as well as short articles with innovative new rules for social, magic, religious, and combat-focused characters, as well as traits to better anchor the player to the campaign.
Dragon Empires Primer presents a broad overview of the setting from a player perspective. As it serves the same basic purpose as the Inner Sea Primer (which provides an overview of the Inner Sea region), it shares the same style of layout and structure as that book, with half-page entries on each of the nations and main regions, along with new races, archetypes and feats, brief descriptions of the setting’s gods, and a system for keeping track of characters’ honour. Each nation’s entry also includes a pair of regional traits for characters from that land. It’s important to point out, however, that people expecting in-depth detail won’t find it here. Half a page is not a lot of space to describe an entire nation with anything more than the broadest strokes. What the book does do is provide an introduction to the setting, one to whet the appetites of players, and it does this very well. It provides just enough information to get players thinking about the types of characters they might like to play in the setting, and sets the stage for later, more in-depth development, provided by either the GM or future supplements.
So......I bought the Dragon Empires Primer PDF after getting the Gazeteer and finding that it left out some info on the Dragon Empires that would be included in the Primer. Like kitsune racial feats, and regional traits. What a waste this turned out to be.
Not only is most of the Primer just condensed or copied descriptions from the Dragon Empires Gazeteer (meaning I basically paid twice for most of the Primer's content), but there's hardly any new or useful info in the Primer for anyone who already has the Dragon Empires Gazeteer. Only 2 regional character traits for each country/region, 3 kitsune racial feats (all based on changing to fox form and back, quickly; nothing for their spell-like abilities or other racial traits), 1 bard archetype (Lotus Geisha), 1 samurai archetype (Sword Saint), 1 ranger archetype (Yokai Hunter), 1 witch archetype (White-Haired Witch), 10 new combat feats (only 1-3 of which are any use to non-monks....and 5 of the new feats are worse than core feats or just fairly pointless), 1 new samurai order (for evil samurai, and nothing new or special about it), 1 new sorcerer bloodline (the Oni Bloodline, which has a standard sorcerer skill as its bloodline class skill), 1 new wizard school (the void elemental school, which is a bit odd and requires both the Advanced Player's Guide and Ultimate Magic since some of its spells are only in those sources), 1 new wizard spell, and 2 pages describing Honor mechanics for the Dragon Empires as an optional rule.
The new material only occupies around 9 pages, and at least 1-2 of those are worthless to DMs. All in all.....the Dragon Empires Primer just isn't worth it for a DM, unless money and value are non-issues to you. Just get the DE Gazeteer PDF, if even that, which is only somewhat more detailed but more useful to DMs.
Players, at least, will get enough out of the Primer to at least make some characters hailing from the Dragon Empires, but only just. The 4 class archetypes are interesting enough and should be capable enough in a Dragon Empires campaign (perhaps the Jade Regent Adventure Path), though the Lotus Geisha and Yokai Hunter and some regional traits are unlikely to be as useful in some other parts of Golarion. The Void Elemental wizard school is neat and Call the Void is a cool spell, but with an error (it says victims can't cast spells with somatic components, when it should say verbal components, since victims can't speak in the airless void), and you'll need the APG and Ultimate Magic if you want to use its other spells. A few of the combat feats are actually useful, like Sleeper Hold, but most are weaker/more-limited than core feats.
The Companion line is supposed to present a player-friendly product to help in creating characters from particular regions/races/religions/whatever. I bought the Dragon Empires Primer (DEP) for this very reason, thinking that it would be just as useful as the Inner Sea Primer (ISP).
Well, the Dragon Empires Primer certainly is similar to the Inner Sea Primer. They both have short-but-interesting half-page summaries for each country in the region covered, and a couple of pages each on archetypes (DEP has lotus geisha bard, sword saint samurai, white-haired witch, and yokai hunter ranger), arcane spellcaster variations (DEP has the oni bloodline and the void elemental wizard school), and major deities and other religions/philosophies.
The DEP has two more pages devoted to races than the ISP (which has only two). That is not surprising, as five new PC-playable races have been introduced along with a multitude of Tian ethnicities. There are also three kitsune racial feats plus a double hand-full of combat-related feats.
Unlike the ISP, the DEP does not have an abbreviated time-line to bring players up to speed on both the broad strokes of history (Earthfall/Age of Darkness, other Ages, etc.) and some of the most recent current events.
Also unlike the ISP, the DEP has two pages devoted to honour in the region, its importance, and how to track it. The system is similar to the Reputation system for the Land of the Linnorm Kings (Campaign Setting sourcebook).
The problems ...
Mistakes in the crunch/rules-heavy part. Examples include the oni bloodline's class skill, a spell name changed between a school spell list and the actual spell write-up (the same spell also has an error), and an error relating to the sword saint archetype's brutal slash class feature.
Lack of one very important player aid when creating a character - deity domains (and sub-domains). Something like that is easily left out of the ISP because those same deities are also in the Core Rules (which presumably a player has access to when creating a character). But what about a player making a character for/from the Dragon Empires?!? Most of those deities' domains are not listed in the Core Rules (exceptions: Abadar, Desna, Irori, Lamashtu, Pharasma, and Shelyn - which leaves 14 others).
Quite honestly, I think that the DEP should have used one page for listing the domains of the deities worshipped in the Dragon Empires, and one page for describing the importance of honour in the region. (While putting this information in the player-friendly sourcebook is probably a good "heads up" for players, the actual rules relating to honour should have been put in the Gazetteer.)
The lack of an abbreviated time-line also irritated me. I'm still not sure which are the 16 Successor States, and I won't know unless I do some careful reading of the 28 individual country write-ups.
This is a review of the Dragon Empires Primer. I like it a lot, and I didn’t expect to. Please read on.
To understand the above, you need to know that overall I am not a huge fan of Asian-themed gaming. I grew up on Saturday afternoon poorly-dubbed martial arts movies that weren’t neat, just ridiculous. Oriental Adventures for AD&D was good, but it didn’t really inspire or convey any mood to me. Sacrilegious at it may seem I tried to like and read the old Kara-Tur boxed set and kept falling asleep.
On the other hand I have all of Miyazaki’s animated films on DVD, and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and I adore them. Also, the way Xena introduced Asian elements throughout the series and in her background really struck a chord with me too. Maybe it’s the fact that these are not loaded with cheese (from what I recall of similar films of the 70’s and 80’s).
So, as a Paizo subscriber I let Jade Regent take its place on my shelf with a light reading of each volume. The Dragon Empires Gazetteer was glanced through and looked amazing, but I had other things to read. I also skipped over the Asian weapons section in Ultimate Combat.
That brings us to the Primer. It’s beautiful to behold, a high quality of presentation as always. The interior front cover has the area map in full color with area names, major locations and borders shown. The intro immediately set me at ease. In plain words it set up what I was about to read, and an overview of how they view the Dragon Empires land and its people. Without the extra info in the Gazetteer, It read quick and to the point. It is the player’s version of setting and so contains no spoiler info. There is a handful or errors in the book but I didn’t really feel they detracted from the overall usefulness.
It is laid out in familiar fashion to those who have the Inner Sea Guide and Gazetteer. In the very beginning is a section on new races complete with stats, and an overview on the human ethnicities found in the region. Each nation or territory is then covered in a half-page column with a symbol, basic stats, summary description of the area, and a couple of traits to take. I expected to find a couple areas of interest and found myself getting more interested the more I read. The entries kept getting better. I was excited to get to the next one to see what was in store and was not disappointed.
To be frank, it’s because the places are weird enough but easily grasped with strong themes you can immediately latch onto. As a GM it got my mind going multiple times. Many of the entries are fantastic without being wacky or bizarre, and there is also a sense there are plenty of common folk and situations too without every place being alien. More importantly they feel like places I’d like to adventure in, not treat as background info only. A gritty Hobgoblin land, dark and foreboding Naga territory, a spirit-haunted wood akin to Princess Mononoke and a celestial nation of aasimar are just a sampling of what you’ll find here. It’s fantastic enough and Golarion-centric so I didn’t feel any intimidation regarding my overall knowledge gap on ancient oriental culture!
The Combat section has 10 new feats themed to the area’s style that will make monk players quite happy. There’s also a new Samurai order. The Faith section gives a paragraph on each of the deities of the realm. A handful of favorites from the Inner Sea region make the port (like Lamashtu, Desna, Pharasma and Irori), as well as a host of original ones with appropriate names and themes. There are also four new archetypes to help round out characters that deserve praise.
The Magic Section has the Sorcerer Oni bloodline and the Void elemental school for Wizards, with a new spell. The Social section has a spread and easy rules for tracking honor points for your character and the benefits or consequences thereof.
I figured I’d like the crunch, but the nations section was easily my favorite, and I didn’t see it coming. What a surprise. Not only do I feel the book is just what I needed to finally really get into the setting but I can’t wait to read the Gazetteer and to run the Ruby Phoenix Tournament adventure! My hat is off to writers Tim Hitchcock and Colin McComb. If it made a believer of a skeptic like me I’m sure fans of the genre will embrace what Paizo’s done to the other side of Golarion.