More Lore – Shadow-Haunted Ustalav

Greetings, Golarion fans! Welcome to “More Lore”, which will delve into some little-known tidbits of the Pathfinder campaign setting (now known as Lost Omens) and develop adventure hooks and storylines you can use in your game.

First, a very brief introduction of your Keeper of Lore: I am Scott D. Young, a Canadian freelance adventure author and game designer. I’ve been playing TTRPGs on and off since Grade 6, and the last time I came back to the hobby I discovered the Kingmaker adventure path, which brought me to Pathfinder. I didn’t know anyone locally who played it, so I started a Pathfinder Society Lodge in 2010 and have been involved in the Organized Play environment ever since. In 2012 I wrote my first freelance adventure for Paizo (a quest as part of the special “Grand Convocation” event at PaizoCon 2012) and since then I’ve been writing regularly for Paizo and other great publishers like Legendary Games, Flaming Crab Games, and Encounter Table Publishing (the folks behind the Aethera Campaign Setting).

All right, let’s get started – MORE LORE!

Homebrewed Canon

For me, Golarion is the greatest sandbox of all. There’s enough existing content that a GM could run nothing but pre-prepared adventures. For GMs who want a challenge or more creative freedom, though, you can use the setting itself as the campaign. The various campaign books are a trove of tidbits, one-liners, and adventures hooks that could each be spun into an adventure, a series of adventures, or an entire campaign.

More Lore isn’t just for GMs, though. My favorite way to incorporate more lore into campaigns is through the PCs. Every character in the world came from… somewhere, and they all have a previous life before becoming adventurers (that they may or may not be aware of). When a PC comes up with a backstory, I take notes or work with them to include some bits of lore I know I can draw on later. When a PC *doesn’t* come up with a backstory, I work with them to help give them something that works for them, while providing hooks for me as GM later in the campaign.

(Side note: GMs, this is not a way to create vulnerabilities in characters. Don’t kidnap every family member or destroy every hometown, or players will quickly learn to not share such stories with you.)

Sources of Lore

While obviously the Lost Omens line contains the most up-to-date and authoritative canon, don’t ignore the huge resources provided in the First Edition books. Many of the nations in the Lost Omens World Guide only have a few hundred words in PF2, but have entire books devoted to them in First Edition products.

Obviously, some updating will be necessary, since a few world-changing events have happened since the First Edition books were published. No more Worldwound; no more Lastwall; no more Gallowspire; no more Sargava; etc. But much of the rest of the lore can be used as-is or modified slightly to take into account the changes.

Shadow-Haunted Ustalav

For this week’s blog we’re going to visit one of my favorite Golarion nations and tackle the biggest change in the setting with the introduction of Second Edition. We will visit the Immortal Principality of Ustalav – land of vampires and werewolves, secret societies and ancient cults, indead tyrants and elder gods, and an aging nobility continuing feuds long forgotten by everyone else. The Lost Omens Campaign Setting covers Ustalav to a degree, but the (First Edition) book Rule of Fear gives a detailed look at the various counties and plots in the days before the Whispering Tyrant escaped. All of the material in Rule of Fear is still valid, of course, but a few things have been made obsolete by recent events.

So, how can we use the older material and what we know about the new canon to create an interesting adventure hook? Let’s take a concrete example that has already happened, and then build it into further potential adventures.

In Rule of Fear, the village of Anactoria is mentioned on page XX6 as a small village in rural Caliphas county near the Nirmathis border. Its claim to fame is their village’s mascot – the “Maid of Anactoria”, an ancient bog body found in the local peat bog and now on display in a private cottage. Anactoria has only 130 words to describe it, the bog bodies, and a couple of factions involved.

The Paizo Organized Play folks took this tiny hook and outlined the Second Edition scenario PFS2 2-17, “The Lost Maid of Anactoria”, where the Maid is under threat of theft and the PCs have to keep it safe. I got to write this as a freelancer, and spent a lot of time trying to make the scenario feel authentic to rural Ustalav. The locals are very suspicious of strangers, and superstitious, so I made sure both of those elements appear in the scenario. The Maid is rumoured to have occult powers of prognostication and healing – or is it just urban legend? A whole adventure for Second Edition, born of a single paragraph in a First Edition book.

Without spoiling the scenario, suffice it to say the PCs uncover various people interested in the Maid and the potential of other bog bodies with strange powers which may or may not exist in the region. One could envision a follow-up scenario with several factions trying to recover a newly-discovered cache of bog bodies for their patrons, while running afoul of strange swamp creatures and some of the newly-uncovered bog bodies who have returned to life. There are enough threads to keep a party pf PCs active in and around Anactoria for several sessions of play at least.


So what else can we pull from Ustalav Lore? There have been a couple of Adventure Paths set there, which have “used up” some of the hooks from the campaign setting, but there’s still lots to draw from.

For example the more recent events in Ustalav nave caused an influx of refugees fleeing the Gravelands. Historically (ahem Worldwound…), Ustalav has dealt with such situations by closing the borders. But, what if one of the more enlightened Palatinates decided to help the refugees by expanding Ustalav’s borders into the lightly-held areas of the nearby River Kingdoms and Numeria? You could have something like the hexploration-based Kingmaker Adventure Path set in Ustalav, with Razmir waiting to see which side to ally with and the Whispering Tyrant’s forces watching from afar (or maybe not that far…?) Another entire campaign, grounded in the rich lore of Golarion but still completely home-brewed by the GM.

The Lost Omens Campaign Setting is full of great story hooks like these: a few sentences which could grow into an entire campaign, just waiting for you to design it for your players or incorporate it into your PC’s background. In future articles we’ll look at other ways for you to inject More Lore into your campaign.

Scott Young