More Lore: The City at the Center of the Lore

One of the most eagerly-anticipated releases in Paizo’s campaign setting, “Absalom: City of Lost Omens” is finally available! Topping 400 pages, this hefty tome goes into the details of the great city of Absalom, known as “the city at the center of the world” by many (although I’m sure the residents of Goka on the other side of the planet prefer Absalom’s other title, “The Jewel of the Inner Sea”). When we’re talking Golarion lore, Absalom figures in pretty much all of it since the god Aroden dragged it from the floor of the Inner Sea to begin the Age of Enthronement. The book comes with a poster-sized map of the city, complete with streets and individual buildings – although due to the scale, the buildings aren’t labelled, and there are too many to be specifically developed in the setting anyway. These unlabeled buildings are rich fodder for developing your own headcanon for the City at the Center of the World.

There are plenty of reviews of this book, so we won’t be spending time on that. Instead, this week we’ll look at how Absalom has changed between its original publication and the Second Edition update, and dive into the lore behind Absalom and find some tidbits that can serve as the basis for characters or adventures.

The More Things Change…

The world of Golarion has changed a lot in the past decade, with the Whispering Tyrant breaking free of his prison in Gallowspire, revolution in the Mwangi and the infernal Chelaxian empire, the rise of New Thassilon in the west and closing of the Worldwound in the east. Through it all, Absalom has retained its position as the center of trade and commerce in the Inner Sea region and beyond. Its calendar is used across Avistan, and four once-mortals ascended to godhood within its storied walls.With a population of over 300,000, Absalom edges out Goka as the largest city on Golarion, and its strategic position in the Inner Sea means it sees trade and immigration from most of the rest of Golarion.  All of this means, you can make pretty much any sort of character fit in with an Absalom background or starting point for a campaign.

Even a summary of the history of Absalom would take many pages, but here are a few highlights of the recent events which have occurred that may provide campaign seeds or background stories for your games.

  • The Siege. In 4717 A.R. (Absalom Reckoning, in years since the founding of the city), an unholy alliance of demons, cultists, and undead tried to overthrow the city from within. Known as the Black Echelon Uprising or the Fiendflesh Siege, the event deeply wounded the city and shaped the stories of every citizen. If you’re from Absalom, this event needs some thought in terms of how it affected your character. Thousands died in the attacks: did you lose family or friends, or become inspired to take up the cause of defending the city? The leader of the city’s Grand Council, Primarch Gyr, went missing during the siege: were you a supporter suddenly left without a patron, or did you see a political opportunity to join one of the factions struggling for control of the city?
  • The End of Slavery. One of the few positive results of the Fiendflesh Siege, all slaves in Absalom were granted their freedom if they helped defend the city. This quickly led to  slavery being abolished in Absalom forever. How did this affect your character? Are you one of those who took the pledge to defend Absalom to gain your freedom, and how do you feel about that deal? Did you work for freedom for all after the battle ended?
  • The Whispering Tyrant’s Return. Only two years after the Fiendflesh Siege, Absalom was once again visited by an ago-old enemy: Tar-Baphon, the Whispering Tyrant. The ancient lich escaped his imprisonment in Ustalav, destroyed much of Lastwall including the city of Vigil, and sent his undead armies to ravage the surrounding lands. He then assaulted Absalom, hoping to destroy his age-old foe’s city, before being defeated and driven back to his domain on the Isle of Terror. Yet another world-shaking event that would have affected every citizen of Absalom. How did it affect YOUR character? Did you manifest a sorcerous bloodline or make a pact with a mysterious power during the crisis? Did you flee the Tyrant’s armies as a refugee? Perhaps these repeated catastrophes gave you faith in a divine patron such as Groetus, the God of the End Times?

…The More They Stay The Same

All of the First Edition content published for Absalom can still be used, of course, with a few modifications for recent events. Perhaps your PC has come to Absalom hoping to attract followers before attempting the Test of the Starstone to become a god yourself. Perhaps you’ve come to study at one of the magical academies such as the Arcanamirium in the Wise Quarter of Absalom, or come to the Grand Lodge to petition to join the Pathfinder Society. Perhaps you came to the city from elsewhere and are trying to find your place in the metropolis, or perhaps you were born calling Absalom home. Almost any character background can be fit into Absalom, and almost any service or item can be acquired here, making it a common starting place or at least waypoint in many campaigns. (See my previous article on using your character’s journey to help flesh out background.)

Because Absalom is so big, it will also never be completed in terms of published canon. There will always be gaps in the published lore for you to fit your character’s story or adventure into. For example, back in my early days playing in the Pathfinder Society Organized Play Campaign, when all of the factions were nation-based, I designed an (unofficial) organization called the Lamplighters, which was a loose affiliation of adventurers within the Pathfinder Society. The Lamplighters had a few basic precepts to do with self-reliance and being able to handle a wide variety of situations, which I designed to justify my preferred play style. We were basically “Pathfinders first, faction second” characters, and didn’t spend much time worrying about the side-quests that used to accompany scenarios – we did what the Venture-Captain told us to do. (Now, of course, this role is filled by an official faction, first the Grand Lodge faction and most recently the Grand Archive faction.)

As the idea caught on with a few other players, I developed more of the Lamplighters’ background and goals as an organization. We had a charter and goals,  I would give a special stamp on Chronicle sheets, we even had temporary tattoos bearing the Lamplighter sigil at one PaizoCon! I also decide they needed a headquarters, which is the shop “Kaleel’s Curiosities”, an import/export business that one of my Pathfinder Society characters retired to run. Kaleel’s Curiosities is in Absalom’s Coins District, just down the street from the Grand Bazaar, the largest open-air market in Absalom. I picked one of the many hundreds of unlabeled buildings on the map for it, and I’m pretty confident that nothing Paizo publishes will ever “evict” me from that specific building! (And if it does happen, I’ll incorporate that into the story.) The Lamplighters has served me as background for a couple of my other characters, both in Organized Play and home games,  and I’ve used it as a GM as a patron for my PCs as well. I’ve gotten a lot of use out of that little unmarked square on the map!

Scott Young