Varisia – Wild Frontier RegionVarisa at a glance:
- Alignment: N
- Capital: None
- Notable Settlements: Celwynvian (unknown), Kaer Maga (8,000), Korvosa (18,486), Magnimar (16,428), Riddleport (13,300), Urglin (5,800)
- Ruler: No Centralized Ruler
- Government: Unaffiliated City-States
- Languages: Common, Varisian, Shoanti
- Religion: Abadar, Desna, Erastil, Calistria, Cayden Cailean, Gozreh, Lamashtu, Pharasma, Norgorber, Urgathoa, Zon-Kuthon
At the height of Old Azlant, the wizened mystics of that continent-kingdom exiled a powerful wizard named Xin for his heretical beliefs that cooperation with the lesser races could build a greater nation. The outcast arrived on the shores of Avistan with an army and a plan. He established the empire of Thassilon, and in so doing brought commerce and civilization to the simple folk he found living on Avistan as nomads, a people known as the Varisians. As Thassilon’s reach and influence continued to grow, Xin appointed seven of his most powerful wizardly allies as governors, splitting his empire into seven nations. Xin’s governors, each focused on one of the seven schools of rune magic he helped define in accord with his seven virtues of rule, became known as the runelords.
Yet Xin’s optimism was sadly misplaced. The runelords wrested control of his empire from him, and for centuries their cruelty led Thassilon along the path of decadence, ultimately collapsing into ruin when the Starstone rocked Golarion (although sages argue to this day upon the exact cause of Thassilon’s demise).
The region remained wild for thousands of years, inhabited only by barbarian tribes known as the Shoanti and the nomadic Varisian – survivors of Thassilon’s fall, until it came to the attention of expansionist Cheliax, whose armies marched on the region in 4405. Chelaxian soldiers drove the warlike Shoanti into the rugged regions to the northeast, while colonists adopted a tenuous peace with the native Varisians under the pretense of bringing “culture and civilization” into their lives. It was at this time that the ancient frontier came to be known as Varisia.
Modern Varisia is a region of conflict, a strip of frontier laid against the Storval Rise — a land of barbarians and giants to the northeast. Although no central government controls Varisia, three city-states have emerged, each of which could some day soon claim control over the region. The eldest and largest of these is Korvosa, a city of Chelish loyalists ruled by a monarchy but cleaving close to Cheliax in a bid to be reabsorbed into the empire. Korvosa is a haven for merchants and tradesmen, and functions as a gateway for trade throughout all of the region. The city itself is governed (some say too governed) by a complex charter that divides responsibilities between several magistrates, law-enforcing arbiters, and a monarchy of kings and queens. Most of Korvosa’s citizens are native-born, but they retain much of their Chelaxian blood, both in appearance and tradition. The Varisian people are tolerated in the city but are often discriminated against, while Shoanti are openly shunned and thought of as crude and violent barbarians who have no real place in a civilized city.
Yet as much as her government might like to hope, Korvosa is far from the only center of civilization in Varisia. The second-largest regional city, cosmopolitan Magnimar, is in an era of growth while Korvosa, at best, stagnates in its thick traditional values. Here, unlike in Korvosa, guilds are actively encouraged, and with enough luck and skill, anyone can rise to a place of power. The local Varisians are much more tolerated here, although they do still tend to dwell in specific ghettos inside the city walls. Magnimar is ruled by a lord-mayor and a Council of Ushers. As the city grows, so does its Council, and in time, Magnimar might well outshine Korvosa, especially as word of Magnimar’s fewer restrictions on trade reach further into the world.
Further to the north lies the region’s third-largest city. Riddleport is a solution to those who find law of any sort oppressive, and serves as a safe harbor for mercenaries, thieves, bandits, and pirates of all cuts. Tales of bandits ruling the streets, of muggings and murder taking place in full light of day, and of riots and anarchy are popular among the nobles of Korvosa, yet there is little truth to these tales, for the Overlords of Riddleport are undeniably harsh in punishing those who would attempt to disrupt civic function. Nevertheless, the fact that crimelords, pirates, and scoundrels rule the city shows in every street. Riddleport is not a place for the timid. Yet it still draws a surprising number of scholars and intellectuals to its filthy and dangerous avenues, for the city of Riddleport is host to one of the most intriguing and well-preserved Thassilonian monuments — the cryptic Cyphergate, a ring of stone that arches gracefully over the entrance to the city’s harbor. This and other mysterious local remnants from the previous age have long intrigued wizards and sages and their like, enough so that these stereotypically meek folk have become a strong and tempering force in Riddleport’s society.
Dozens of smaller towns and villages dot the lowlands of Varisia, and the majority of them see one of these three cities as their protectors. Korvosa takes a relatively active role in governing and guiding these holdings, but Magnimar prefers to let its holdings develop on their own, providing aid and support when a town asks for it. Riddleport has little interest beyond its walls, though, and as a result, very few villages survive for long in northwestern Varisia. Those that don’t succumb to internal corruption and strife invariably become prey for bandits, pirates, or other dangers of the region.
In many areas, Varisia remains a true wilderness, claimed by deadly predators and ferocious humanoids none too eager to share their territories with the advance of humanity. Along the coastal reaches, hundreds of goblin tribes dwell in sea caves and thistle-thick woodlands, bickering among themselves until leaders strong enough to unite several tribes at once take hold. Further inland, ogres and trolls hold court on rugged mountaintops and in deep forest glens, yet the true lords of the wildlands are the giants. Descended from the slave castes of ancient Thassilon, giants of all types call the true wilderness reaches of Varisia home, and their periodic forays and raids against humanity make for constant and brutal reminders that this realm is far from tame.
Other creatures dwell in the darkest corners of Varisia as well — monsters in some cases left over from Thassilon’s rule, tales of whom frighten even the giants of the land. These include mighty dragons, the cannibal spirits known as wendigos, sinister and capricious fey, pockets of scheming lamia-kin, and even sinister explorers and pilgrims from other worlds whose eldritch corners brush unwholesome and unwelcome against parts of this haunted landscape. And against this menacing backdrop broods an even darker evil, for the ancient lords of the land are said to exist still, dead but dreaming, awaiting the time for their return to rule over lands once theirs. Should these all-but-forgotten runelords rise, Varisia could be but the first of Golarion’s regions to fall.
Sources: Pathfinder Chronicles Campaign Setting