Since the release of the Pathfinder Campaign setting, one country in Golarion has clawed to the top as most popular. Cheliax, Empire of Devils.
Paizo knew they had a winner on their hands so they saved a Cheliax companion for the launch of the Core Rulebook so that the options could be Pathfinder RPG compatible instead of reverse compatible. Now that I expect many options in a companion book.
At a Glance
Paizo wisely invests in top quality art usually, but this time the cover is surprisingly soft. One would expect something terrifying or devious for Cheliax, and the cover does have the appropriate elements: a crimson border; a warhorse-based centaur in full plate and an infernal mage accompanied by a cackling imp; art by Matt Dixon. Unfortunately it comes off soft and cartoony. Amiri looks more like a Barbie than the iconic barbarian, with bright colours and lipstick. My only theory is that Paizo deliberately went with a cartoony cover to soften backlash to a sourcebook featuring devil pacts and corruption.
The interior art meets expectations better, starting with the Cheliax version of a coq fight on page 2, a cockatrice fight. It’s a fun idea, except that cockatrice are immune to cockatrice bites.
Otherwise the art is sparse. There are a variety of headshots that will most likely end up in a faces deck. There is also a very nice piece featuring a lady in red on page 20. Out of context she looks like a devious noble, the smirk and drip of blood on her hand giving away her cruel intentions. By placing her amidst magic item descriptions, the imagination runs wild. Is she wearing the glamorous side of a cloak of flash and shadow? Is a grudge blade hanging off her belt? Is she holding a pact parchment? Very intriguing.
Paints the World
The Cheliax Companion succeeds at its base function: it brings the country to life. By discussing history, religion, entertainment, society, even architecture, it feels less like a sourcebook and more like a well written travel guide.
Interestingly, the Cheliax Companion distances the Empire of Devils from its infernal reputation. Rather than describing streets cobbled out of skulls and pentagrams at every corner, Cheliax is actually portrayed as a fairly typical city that acknowledges but is passive towards its ties with hell. This is a realistic departure from the expected and explains why paladins haven’t tried to cleanse the country in droves.
If this was a product aimed at GMs, the depths of Cheliax’s pacts and corruption would have been explored more deeply and honestly. This being a Pathfinder Companion, that lack of information is much appreciated. The intent of the Companion series is to give player’s the information they need to play characters that live in Golarion without handing them valuable secrets. Although outlining a world through implication is usually preferred over hard facts, the extra layer of vagueness and the impression that everything is okay in Cheliax matches the country seen through a commoner’s eyes. It matches a player’s perspective.
The absence of rules for playing the oft-referenced Hellknight might seem like negligence, but it falls under the same category. Hellknight popularity is based on a Boba Fett effect. The intrigue based on the little information provided is far more appealing than knowing anything more. A Hellknight prestige class does appear in Pathfinder Adventure Path #27: What Lies in Dust (Council of Thieves 3 of 6), a product for GM eyes only.
It might be surprising to hear that a Pathfinder Companion has game options. It should be made clear that there are only about seven pages of material relevant to characters, most of which is strongly tied to Cheliax. Consider this the prize in the cereal box. It may be fun to get glow-in-the-dark Ninja Turtle stickers, but if you don’t like Shreddies you’re wasting your money.
The Cheliax Companion is a fun read and very informative, but its format has more in common with a history book than a splatbook. As such, when it gets heavy into Chelaxian history, especially the parts that revolve more around politics that pacts, it can get a bit heady.
Additionally, it is not formatted in an easily referenced style. The glossaries and timelines are appreciated, but a couple of pages of appendix would have been helped to use the book while gaming.
Assumes Previous Knowledge
A Golarion-curious gaming group might see Cheliax as the Pathfinder campaign setting’s most popular country and try to get away with only purchasing the Cheliax Companion. It is not enough. The Cheliax Companion fleshes out ideas established about the country, but an understanding of Golarion, the Pathfinder’s gods, and basic knowledge of Cheliax is required to use this book to its fullest. Luckily, there exist resources like the Pathfinder Wiki.
Spiked Chain Options
Barely worth mentioning, but the spiked chain is criticized for being an illogical weapon that can do too much. A piercing, tripping, reach weapon that functions underwater. Now, with a couple of feats, it can function as a bola and net as well.
The sidebar on how to offer a bribe may not be hard crunch, it is a fun read that presents GMs an alternative way to run a social encounter.
Traits are unique in that they are crunch that features heavily in Pathfinder Chronicles and Pathfinder Companion books without actually being a part of the Pathfinder RGP. Traits of note include accelerated drinker for quick potion consumption, and all three magic traits introduced: desperate focus, diabolical dabbler, and theoretical magician.
The Ring of Terrible Cost are useful items that capture the feel of selling yourself for a short term gain.
I’m going to include the Emergency Force Sphere spell because I like spells with a casting time of 1 immediate action and because I wish I’d taken it for the sorcerer I just retired.
Finally, a pair of noteworthy feats with nothing to do with spiked chains are Belier’s Bite, a must-have for monks, and Osyluth’s Guile, which creatively uses Charisma defensively in combat.
So far the only experience I have with Cheliax is my wife’s Pathfinder Society character.
If you plan on running a game set in Golarion and there’s any chance the adventurers travel to Cheliax, your group should split the cost of the Cheliax Companion. If you have a concept for a city or country with devilish influences, Cheliax serves as a great template. If you want to flesh out your PC’s backstory, there is a nice mix of fluff and crunch.
If You Liked This Book…
Date Released: August 2009
Date Reviewed: December 2009