Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Cheliax: Empire of Devils

I picked up (and read, in short order) the latest Pathfinder Companion volume, Cheliax: Empire of Devils. Despite the fact that the title had me humming Frankie Goes to Hollywood all night (Cheliax! Don't do it! When you want to come!) I liked the book. Cheliax has actually featured in quite a few of the Pathfinder products, at least in some form. The Rise of the Runelords adventure path is set in Varisia, and Chelaxians (or the Chelish; Paizo seems to use both adjectives nearly interchangeably) are a major component of that nation. The second adventure path, Curse of the Crimson Throne is set in Korvasa; a city that technically isn't Chelish in terms of sovereignty, but absolutely is Chelish in terms of culture. The next two adventure paths explore some other areas of the setting, but we return to Cheliax for the fifth adventure path, the Council of Thieves, which is set in the sprawling urban dump of Cheliax's former capital, Westcrown.

So clearly someone at Paizo likes Cheliax.

I do too; it's an interesting idea. Geographically, it would represent maybe the Western Roman Empire to Taldor's Eastern Roman Empire or Byzantium, but only geographically and from a historical perspective. Nothing else about it fits the bill; rather it's a fantasy totalitarian state. And since Nazis are the ultimate pulp evil, what better way to build on the concept of fantasy Nazis than to make them a devil-worshipping theocracy to boot? It's just too over-the-top evil, and that's the charm of the place, frankly.

Now, I wouldn't have minded if the authors had taken just a few sentences here and there to talk about how in Cheliax they're Asmodian apologists or something. No, he's not a devil, that's a heresy that the other gods have spread, etc. Nobody thinks that they're evil, and Cheliax doesn't have any such psychological buffer. There's also a handful of weird "this society is lawful evil, so here's some concessions to arbitrary lawfulness" moments in the book. That's one of the problems with the D&D alignment system, though and it's a shame that the authors had to play up to that bizarre alignment paradigm at the expense of verisimilitude. But it's not a huge deal either way.

The art, as always, was very nice, although I don't know what that thing on the front cover is supposed to be. A centaur Hellknight? I didn't know there was such a thing.

One nice thing about the book was that even for a land that's known as an oppressive, controlling, totalitarian regime, I felt like there was stuff you could use. You don't just go to Cheliax and have to follow all the rules because otherwise you get thrown into prison; this is a place that could be a home for adventure. And not just the "spying on Cheliax" or "infiltrating Cheliax" or playing "Luke Skywalker to Cheliax's Death Star, with Hellknights as Sith Lords". This place felt a bit like a place that you could easily use in your game. If I were homebrewing something similar, I'd probably make it slightly less overt; Asmodeus goes by a different name, people in Cheliax don't believe he's evil (although of course he is) and there's not such a risque, "Ooooh, we're the devil-worshipping Nazis!" vibe all the time; it would be just a tad more subtle.


doombringer said...

I've used it in my current Crimson Throne campaign to get further into the feel of the setting. The hellknights have been featured prominently in my games, and I am considering rewriting Sabina Merrin using some of the feats in the book.

Joshua said...

Why not? Korvasa is like a little northern slice of Cheliax, and I'm sure it was meant to be.