Intrepid seafarers seeking glory and gold need look no further than the vast and untamed
island chain known as the Shackles. Throughout these isles, undead cyclopes guard
eons-old treasure vaults, lycanthropic pirates maraud the waterways, and cannibalistic
natives sacrifice trespassers to their otherworldly god-queen. On the treacherous
seas surrounding the Shackles, a bold sailor may even rise to become one of the
realm’s infamous Free Captains, second only to the bloodthirsty Hurricane King
himself—though the rapacious pirates who raid the archipelago’s ports ensure
that only the cunning and swift survive for long.
Isles of the Shackles provides a comprehensive overview of the verdant islands that
make up this region, complete with buried treasure, dastardly corsairs, and ominous
ruins of a fallen empire.
Inside this 64-page book, you will find:
An expansive overview of the six civilized regions of the Shackles, from the mainland’s
sprawling seaside metropolis of Port Peril to the sahuagin-plagued shores of Shark
Island, complete with details on histories, notable rulers and personalities, and
gazetteers of each region’s varied locales.
Detailed entries on more than 20 of the Shackles’ most dangerous and mysterious
islands and islets, each with numerous plot hooks, helpful or treacherous NPCs, and
unique locations for brave adventurers to discover and explore.
Stat blocks for each island, detailing the region’s notable settlements and denizens, as
well as possible plunder and resources, such as hidden harbors and shipwrecks.
A huge bestiary of new monsters and villains that roam the islands of the Shackles
and the high seas around them, including the three-headed lusca, undead pirates
and ghost captains, and the degenerate kuru cannibals of the Blood Queen.
Stat blocks for a wide range of seafaring NPCs, from humble deckhands and
smugglers to pirate captains and shipboard sorcerers.
Isles of the Shackles is intended for use with the Pathfinder Roleplaying
Game and the Pathfinder campaign setting, but can easily be used in any
fantasy game setting.
by Mike Shel
Isles of the Shackles Web Supplement
The downloadable web supplement below is a huge PDF map of the Shackles featuring tags for all of the locations heretofore mentioned in Pathfinder products.
For an explanation of how I use the five star review method, see my entry on So What's the Riddle Like Anyway?HERE.
The Isles of the Shackles supplement for the Pathfinder Campaign Setting covers the archipelago south of the Eye of Abendego in the world of Golarion. It is a mix of Caribbean and African style culture all centered around piracy. If you were to take the Caribbean in the 17th and 18th centuries and put them in a fantasy setting, this would be pretty close. The Shackles are a loose pirate led confederacy ruled by a pirate council out of the capital city of Port Peril. This supplement tries to do what should be impossible: cover an area roughly 80,000 square miles with hundreds of islands in decent detail. The author trying this Olympian task is Mike Shel, an experienced writer with a solid background, so he might pull it off.
The book is in two parts. The first is the Shackles Gazetteer. This makes up more than two-thirds of the material in the supplement. It starts with a quick introduction to the Shackles and the nature of their government—such as it is—and their source of "trade": piracy. We then move on and get a description of the six "civilized" centers of the Shackles—Port Peril & the Mainland, Bag Island (Halfling anti-slavery community), Devil's Arches (Ruins of the ancient cyclops empire of Ghol-Gan now held by Chelaxian ex-pats), Motaku Isle (A pirate haven run freely by a popular half-elf pirate lord), Shark Island (Sahuagin infested land rules by a werewolf), and Tempest Cay (an island constantly battered by the eternal hurricane to the north and ruled by a powerful druid). Each gets two full pages and a piece of art the goes with the island in question. The detail here is really great, with many plot hooks and adventure ideas built in. From tentacled horrors lurking in Methoth Lake on the Devil' Arches to the lover's rift threatening Oyster Cay, almost every form of adventure imaginable has been placed just within these six regions. This is classic gazetteer style, with simple outlines and community descriptions for a GM to build adventures upon.
But where are the maps? There is a small scale map of the Shackles on the inside front cover, but this doesn't show most of the locations described in the various entries. This makes it hard to understand the relative distances and the like when constructing adventures. One of the things that I have always loved about fantasy campaign settings was when I could locate an entry on the map provided. Being unable to do that really limits the functionality and enjoyment of this work. A free web supplement with what may very well be one of the best maps for a fantasy campaign setting ever was added after the fact, which sadly means the print version has no reference to it. You have to download the map with all the detail you could want off the website. Not an issue for me, but it does leave those with just the book with limited usability. Remember what I said about this being impossible to do? This is where we have come up against it. Still the info in the gazetteer is phenomenal, so with the download I can forgive a lot of this.
The next part of the gazetteer covers an island a page, and there are a lot of them! Twenty-two islands in all, each with its own history, lore, and adventure hooks. The variety is amazing, from cannibal tribesmen and ancient ruins, to an Asiatic port of call where a daimyo rules, to elven supremacists, to raging volcanoes, it's all here in loving detail. You could run multiple campaigns in the region without ever duplicating yourself. This is great stuff, and all with just enough detail for a GM to run with it. This is exactly what a gazetteer needs to be. The final pages of the gazetteer give a brief overview of eighteen islets, rocks and atolls of the Shackles. All in all, a very thorough accounting of the archipelago.
The second part is a Bestiary for use with the Shackles. It starts with wandering monster tables, an essential ingredient to any sandbox style campaign. This bestiary is huge for a supplement this size! It has twenty-three entries, not counting variants ranging from CR 1/2 to CR 23. Add the variants in and you have another five adversaries. Some of the entries are NPCs written up specifically for the Shackles (mainly pirates) and the undead pirate entry has three direct variants plus a description of ghost ships and haunts. It's all great pirate themed material, with a certain ridiculous movie monster made over into a true terror of the deep (the lusca is a three-headed gargantuan sharktopus. I'm not sure if that is cool or really ridiculous. I'm going with cool!).
Final Thoughts: All in all, this is an amazing piece of work. Mike Shel pulls off a minor miracle, packing this thing from cover to cover with absolutely astounding material. Whole campaigns can be made out of any four or five pages of material here, and the gazetteer covers a full thirty-eight pages. The bestiary is massive and offers threats for any level of campaign. This is a near perfect supplement with a significant flaw: because of the size of the campaign setting books, there was not enough room to include maps. This is offset by the gorgeous downloadable map, but not having that ready to go at printing and a reference to it in the printed version was a glaring oversight. The download does reduce the usability of this supplement a bit as well. So I will have to drop a star from what I consider one of the best campaign setting source books ever written. Four out of Five Stars.
I purchased this to help flesh out the individual isles in the Skull and Shackles Adventure path. I was happy that the writing encompassed the isles, but unfortunately there are NO maps of the isles in the gazetteer. A gazetteer without some maps is like a pirate ship without a crew. The Inner Sea World Guide is how each campaign setting supplement should be written. Yes, making maps of the isles and of the major ports of call is tedious; however once the work is accomplished, it is done forever and the world gets more detailed and more fleshed out. If it is too difficult to map from scratch, use Google maps to overlay existing locales on Earth like the Marshall Islands, and illustrate the overlay into a map for the guide.
I really don't need more monsters. Between the Bestiaries, the AP's and the campaign settings, we are being overwhelmed by monsters. Save those monsters for the AP's or for campaign specific bestiaries and flesh out the campaign resources with more MAPS.
Threats of the shackles
It would of been great to have.
Port Peril and the Mainland 4
Bag Island 6
Devils Arches 8
Motuko Island 10
Threats of the shackles
I like the fine folks of Paizo, but really should we need to know ALL these credits.. But we have 25 names listed, and only 2 table of content entries. While the first name sells it for me as a consumer, Mike Shel.
-1 Game Mastery settlement info modifier's, totally lacking. This I think is another major fault of this product.
I am currently running Skulls and Shackles. Another source book I have been using is Heart of the Jungle.
So I will be comparing the two products. I find as a GM, Heart of the Jungle is much better suited as a GM aid. As a sample compare the Bloodcove section to that of Port Peril in this book, I have as a GM sailed my players into Blood Cove with-in about 20 minutes. I can generate treasure and such for players to buy. Figure out quickly what plot hook I can use. So while I own the complete AP line, I am still forced to carry most of these books around just to reference city's, such as Port Peril, which is included as a source setting for this book.
-1 general formatting, after comparing this book with the Heart of the Jungle it is clear, that this book has 2 formats to use. A 1-page and a 2-page layout for each section. This is a terrible choice compared to a book like Heart of the Jungle. Pictures, there are allot, some seem just to be page filler. Compare to pictures or maps that would help a GM.
+1 Random encounters
+1 Bestiary, allot of good material here for all gm's, still allot of big pictures.
Being a GM making my own campaign in the Shackles, I found this book to be invaluable. The random encounter tables were perfect and the bestiary has several important monsters that I plan to use immediately. The detailed descriptions of the islands and places were like those of the inner sea guide. They contained plot ideas and good description. Great resource for game masters
Same quality as many beloved gazetteers
(Contributor, RPG Superstar 2010 Top 4)
Disclaimer: I am a contracted employee for Paizo. I had no affiliation with this product whatsoever. As far as Mike Shel? I've never met the guy or even spoken to him before. No one whatsoever suggested, encouraged, or prompted me to write this. Nevertheless, we work for the same company so I'm making it quite clear. If the reader thinks that poses a conflict of interest, I understand and respect their point of view and I won't be offended if they disregard this review.
Overview of the main islands: Personally I found them interesting and flavorful and the writing sharp and professional. It didn't feel dry to me, but it felt like a gazetteer- much in the fine tradition of such books dating back to Greyhawk when I was in junior high in 1979. That's okay! I expected a gazetteer and Mr. Shel provided me one. Specifically each entry told me why the island was important and what was interesting about it. The entries suggested some typical creatures to be encountered, as well as an extraordinary plot hook entailing something above and beyond what monsters live there. Each individual island received a full page, two column text entry- allowing for some quarter page art on some entries. Really this compares well to the Inner Sea Guide and other gazetteers when you consider that each page is for one single island. As for being 'textbook-like', I like that Mike Shel actually uses his word count to tell me something useful and informative, instead of spending paragraphs telling me-
"Scholars can only speculate about-"
"Only the gods know and they remain cryptically silent, blah blah.."
"Sailors whisper rumors about some strange bizzaro conjecture based on nothing but its filling my word count, so hey..."
Ladies and gentlemen, that's the stuff that makes ME cringe.
When I read these entries and I can learn specifics about (very short spoiler)..
exiled drow, a dragon dominated island, and a lich that haunts a volcano island, and so on.
These are not fully developed encounters by any stretch, but it’s the cool stuff I expect in a gazetteer- and really this is not any different than many of the fine ones I have read.
Bestiary: This is a meaty bestiary that really rounds out the regional monsters I need in order to design professionally in this area, or just run a homebrew campaign. That is, I need a range of CRs and different types of creatures (i.e. magical beasts, oozes, undead, fey, plants, constructs, you know- a little of everything). To me, none of these guys are filler. Not even the sea snake. I need basic creatures in my toolkit right along with the exotic monsters. Variety is key, and this book has provided it handily. Plus I got some nice handy Pirate NPCs here that I can plug and play into an encounter. Saving me work with kick ass monsters is what I expect, and I wasn't disappointed.
Art: Standard high Paizo quality, my kudos to Sarah Robinson and her Department.
Maps: The one provided is pretty good. The major islands are identified along with the major locations on those islands. Could there be more maps? Yes- yes there could. ::shrug:: I am respectfully dubious of how much they would be used without being part of a module, scenario, or adventure path. Again, I point out the tension between what is expected of an overview of the area, and an actual adventure or set of actual encounters. If the lack of maps is preventing this book from being useful, then respectfully I think an Adventure Path or a Module is more in keeping with what the reader is looking for. A gazetteer is fuel for the GM, and this book fulfills that function. I would expect to have to extrapolate some information in finer detail. More maps would be nice, but I know there is a lot of considerations that go along with that. Less content and a possible higher price point.
I can compare this book to Distant Worlds which has more maps, but to no more affect and I can't quite reconcile some of the criticism. And I lovedDistant Worlds (I really did, J.S.) But that's my point. I don't feel THIS book did me any disservice or lacked in any significant comparison. The two authors are different, have their own styles, and the topics interest me on different levels; but in terms of the product line there is patently not so great a difference that this book needs or should be judged harshly. That’s my opinion. This is good stuff.