Rise of the Runelords
Formerly controlled by the Chelaxian Empire, the wild frontier of Varisia (pronounced vah-RHIS-ee-ah) is composed of rural communities, independent city-states, cyclopean ruins, and uncharted wilderness.
In ancient times, before the Earthfall, Varisia made up a large portion of the Thassilonian Empire. When the empire crumbled, so did parts of the earth itself, forming the landscape seen today. The result was that the Shoanti people began settling the north and eastern sections of the land while the ethnic Varisians, from whom the land takes its current name, settled much of the rest in their own vagrant way. Celwynvian was also abadoned near this time as the elves left Golarion. Janderhoff was established as a Sky Citadel at the end of the dwarven Quest for Sky.
Many years passed and the land and peoples became more stable, Shoanti battling giants and orcs while native Varisians wandered the land. Southern expansion and exploration of the largely wilderness region began in 4406 AR when Chelish colonists entered the land through Bloodsworn Vale. This sparked a war between the settlers and Shoanti which last nearly a century before the Shoanti were pushed back to the Cinderlands. The settlers then founded Korvosa.
Another upheaval occured upon the death of Aroden and the subsequent decline of Imperial Cheliax, a large part of the population left Korvosa and founded Magnimar on the southwest corner of Varisia. These two city states have since been vying for resources, though not openly warring, while the Shoanti grow strong, and ready for war in the north.
Varisia is a vast frontier region in the northwest of Avistan. It stretches from the Steaming Sea in the west to the Mindspin Mountains in the east and from the Kodar Mountains to Conqueror’s Bay in the south. The region possesses a variety of environments within its limits, from the swampy Mushfens of the south to the flame-scorched Cinderlands on the northern Storval Plateau.
(Much of the information on Varisia and it’s people can also be found in the Rise of the Runelords Player’s Guide.)
The majority of the dwarves of Varisia live in the iron-walled town
of Janderhoff. Having settled in the copper-rich foothills of the
Mindspin Mountains centuries ago, with the coming of foreign
interlopers the dwarves have seen their home change from a simple
mining village to a bustling trading town. Despite Janderhoff’s
fortresslike exterior, its people welcome any visitors who seek to
do honest business and who don’t cause trouble. This hospitality
extends to both the Shoanti tribes of the Storval Plateau and the
Chelish traditionalists of Korvosa. While the barbarians and Chelaxians
antagonize one another seemingly at every opportunity,
Janderhoff has no mind for such bickering. The dwarves eagerly
capitalize on their position as the sole passage for the worked
goods of Korvosa and beyond onto the plateau and rare Shoanti
foods, medicines, and ancient artifacts into the south.
While Janderhoff offers great opportunities to enterprising
dwarves, those who seek their fortunes away from their home’s copper
steeples can be found among the workshops of Magnimar, the gas
forges of Riddleport, hunting alongside the Shoanti, and anywhere
else in Varisia that a profit might be made.
Few elves make their home in Varisia, with the exception of the
residents of the Mierani Forest. From the giant pines, white
barks, and towering coastal redwoods, the Mierani elves have
sculpted several villages, most notably cliff-side Arsmeril on the
coast and the trading town of Crying Leaf on the edge of the
Velashu Uplands. Their true home, though, the tree-city of Celwynvian,
is a city abandoned. Although it still stands, the elves
have fled the City of Emerald Rains, saying only that the place has
fallen under the deepest of shadows. Few elves—and no outsiders—
know any more than this, though emissaries to Korvosa and
Magnimar offer incredible rewards to any willing to investigate
the forsaken city.
Aside from those of the northern forest, elves from far-off
exotic locales like Kyonin, Sovyrian, and the Mordant Spire are
not unknown in Varisia’s larger ports.
While it’s well-known that the gnomes of Varisia make their
homes in the Sanos forest, few can truthfully say they’ve ever seen
an actual gnome community. Whimsical but secretive—despite
their seemingly good natures—the gnomes of Varisia rarely speak
of their homes. Even when they do, their details rarely weather
retellings, leading many to speculate that a great treasure, gateways
to the fey court, or some other secret lies hidden within
the forest. Regardless of their mysteries, Varisian gnomes share
their race’s typical ties to the natural world, and perhaps even a
heightened curiosity, as many gnomes seem to sense something
vaguely “off,” “strange,” or “old” about the land.
Gnomes are most commonly found it the rural communities
around the Sanos Forest. Nybor, Wartle, and Whistledown host the
largest populations, with some even traveling as far as Magnimar
and Riddleport. While gnomes are sometimes seen in Korvosa or
farther north, these rare individuals are typically traders and wanderers
from Thom to the east, Brastlewark in Cheliax, or the shey
citadels of Irrere.
As they tend to throughout the world, the halflings of Varisia live
among the other races of the lands they inhabit. Most commonly
met in the southern lands from Magnimar to Korvosa, halflings
tend to adopt one of three distinct ways of life.
As many migrated to Varisia following Chelish explorers, the
halflings of Korvosa and its vassal townships live life similarly to
their kin in Cheliax: second-class citizens who toil as servants,
middlemen, and entertainers. To the west, in the lands claimed
by Magnimar, halflings enjoy more emancipated lives, occupying
many of the same roles as humans. Although some Chelish prejudices
survive, leading some to ridicule the smaller folk, most halflings
are happy to swindle foolish and condescending humans.
Numerous halflings have also joined the land’s native Varisians,
sharing in their nomadisim and reverence of the goddess Desna.
Both peoples seem to view the other as kindred spirits and willingly
share their ways.
Born of extraordinary and often unfortunate circumstances, halfelves
face prejudices of both their parent races. While some find
it easy to disguise their mixed heritages in the teeming human
cities of southern Varisia, a considerable number discover a harsh
sanctuary among the cutthroats and outcasts of Riddleport. Some
half-elves dwell on the fringes of the Mierani Forest where they
are, at best, pitied by their elven kin or, at worst, shunned. A few
half-elves have come to live among Varisia’s wandering natives: the
Shoanti see no difference between them and full-blooded elves,
while Varisians prove all too familiar with the scorn of their “civilized”
Regardless—or perhaps in spite—of the cards cast against
them, half-elves strive for extraordinary goals, doing and saying
what few would dare, defying the world, and determinedly shattering
Members of this rare, bastard race most commonly come to Varisia
alongside marauders from the Hold of Belkzen, which frequently raid
Shoanti tribes and pillage the sparse resources of the Cinderlands.
The warlike clans long ago discovered that breeding with humans
produced whelps of greater cunning and discipline and have since
preyed upon Varisia’s native peoples to provide such brutal unions.
While some half-orcs have sought to escape the barbarousness
of Belkzen, most travel Varisia on special orders from their warlords,
taking them to scurvy Riddleport, shadowy Kaer Maga, or
the merciless pits of Urglin. While some make their homes in the
same depraved dens their bloodthirsty kin frequent, others live on
the fringes of Varisia’s southern lands. In seeking acceptance, these
outcasts lead lives of incredible daring and personal discipline,
ever hoping to prove their worth by actions and escape the shadows
of their birth. In any case, wise half-orcs rightly avoid Varisia’s
native Shoanti, who see them as the foulest abominations, more
hated than even the Chelaxians of the south.