At the height of Old Azlant, the wizened mystics of that continent-kingdom exiled a powerful wizard named Xin for his heretical beliefs that cooperation with the lesser races could build a greater nation. The outcast arrived on the shores of Avistan with an army and a plan. He established the empire of Thassilon, and in so doing brought commerce and civilization to the simple folk he found living on Avistan as nomads, a people known as the Varisians.
As Thassilon’s reach and influence continued to grow, Xin appointed seven of his most powerful wizardly allies as governors, splitting his empire into seven nations. Xin’s governors, each focused on one of the seven schools of rune magic he helped define in accord with his seven virtues of rule, became known as the runelords.
Yet Xin’s optimism was sadly misplaced. The runelords wrested control of his empire from him, and for centuries their cruelty led Thassilon along the path of decadence, ultimately collapsing into ruin when the Starstone rocked Golarion (although sages argue to this day upon the exact cause of Thassilon’s demise).
The region remained wild for thousands of years, inhabited only by barbarian tribes known as the Shoanti and the nomadic Varisian survivors of Thassilon’s fall, until it came to the attention of expansionist Cheliax, whose armies marched on the region in 4405. Chelaxian soldiers drove the warlike Shoanti into the rugged regions to the northeast, while colonists adopted a tenuous peace with the native Varisians under the pretense of bringing “culture and civilization” into their lives. It was at this time that the ancient frontier came to be known as Varisia.
Modern Varisia is a region of conf lict, a strip of frontier laid against the Storval Rise—a land of barbarians and giants to the northeast. Although no central government controls Varisia, three city-states have emerged, each of which could some day soon claim control over the region.
The eldest and largest of these is Korvosa, a city of Chelish loyalists ruled by a monarchy but cleaving close to Cheliax in a bid to be reabsorbed into the empire. Korvosa is a haven for merchants and tradesmen, and functions as a gateway for trade throughout all of the region. The city itself is governed (some say too governed) by a complex charter that divides responsibilities between several magistrates, law-enforcing arbiters, and a monarchy of kings and queens. Most of Korvosa’s citizens are native-born, but they retain much of their Chelaxian blood, both in appearance and tradition. The Varisian people are tolerated in the city but are often discriminated against, while Shoanti are openly shunned and thought of as crude and violent barbarians who have no real place in a civilized city.
Yet as much as her government might like to hope, Korvosa is far from the only center of civilization in Varisia. The second-largest regional city, cosmopolitan Magnimar, is in an era of growth while Korvosa, at best, stagnates in its thick traditional values. Here, unlike in Korvosa, guilds are actively encouraged, and with enough luck and skill, anyone can rise to a place of power. The local Varisians are much more tolerated here, although they do still tend to dwell in specific ghettos inside the city walls. Magnimar is ruled by a lord-mayor and a Council of Ushers. As the city grows, so does its Council, and in time, Magnimar might well outshine Korvosa, especially as word of Magnimar’s fewer restrictions on trade reach further into the world.
Further to the north lies the region’s third-largest city. Riddleport is a solution to those who find law of any sort oppressive, and serves as a safe harbor for mercenaries, thieves, bandits, and pirates of all cuts. Tales of bandits ruling the streets, of muggings and murder taking place in full light of day, and of riots and anarchy are popular among the nobles of Korvosa, yet there is little truth to these tales, for the Overlords of Riddleport are undeniably harsh in punishing those who would attempt to disrupt civic function. Nevertheless, the fact that crimelords, pirates, and scoundrels rule the city shows in every street. Riddleport is not a place for the timid. Yet it still draws a surprising number of scholars and intellectuals to its filthy and dangerous avenues, for the city of Riddleport is host to one of the most intriguing and well-preserved Thassilonian monuments—the cryptic Cyphergate, a ring of stone that arches gracefully over the entrance to the city’s harbor. This and other mysterious local remnants from the previous age have long intrigued wizards and sages and their like, enough so that these stereotypically meek folk have become a strong and tempering force in Riddleport’s society.
Dozens of smaller towns and villages dot the lowlands of Varisia, and the majority of them see one of these three cities as their protectors. Korvosa takes a relatively active role in governing and guiding these holdings, but Magnimar prefers to let its holdings develop on their own, providing aid and support when a town asks for it. Riddleport has little interest beyond its walls, though, and as a result, very few villages survive for long in northwestern Varisia. Those that don’t succumb to internal corruption and strife invariably become prey for bandits, pirates, or other dangers of the region.
In many areas, Varisia remains a true wilderness, claimed by deadly predators and ferocious humanoids none too eager to share their territories with the advance of humanity. Along the coastal reaches, hundreds of goblin tribes dwell in sea caves and thistle-thick woodlands, bickering among themselves until leaders strong enough to unite several tribes at once take hold. Further inland, ogres and trolls hold court on rugged mountaintops and in deep forest glens, yet the true lords of the wildlands are the giants. Descended from the slave castes of ancient Thassilon, giants of all types call the true wilderness reaches of Varisia home, and their periodic forays and raids against humanity make for constant and brutal reminders that this realm is far from tame.
Beyond its monsters, its cities, and its people, many other Varisian sites of particular interest have long lured explorers and adventurers to seek them out. The most notorious and famous of these are detailed, in brief, below.
Cinderlands: Home to three Shoanti tribes, the hostile Cinderlands are a unique region. Not quite desert, these rugged badlands are rather volcanic. Black blizzards of emberstorms, immense grassland fires, and deadly eruptions of poisonous gas make it a difficult place to dwell, yet the Shoanti continue to do so, having adapted to the harsh environs as necessary.
Hollow Mountain: The largest of Rivenrake Island’s peaks still carries a particularly striking Thassilonian ruin—the carving of a stern woman’s face. An immense rent down the center of the face opens into an equally immense network of caverns and underground ruins that, rumor holds, are connected to the dust-choked ruined city on Hollow Mountain’s lower slopes. Scholars believe this is the site of Xin-Bakrakhan, the City of Wrath and capital of Runelord Alaznist’s nation.
Kaer-Maga: Varisia’s most notorious city, Kaer-Maga perches atop one of the highest runs of the Storval Rise, overlooking the verdant lands to the south. Built into and onto the ruins of an immense Thassilonian fortress, the denizens of Kaer-Maga enjoy anarchy in its purest form. All manner of strange factions hold court in Kaer-Maga’s halls, from the bloodthirsty bloatmages to the militant monks of the Brothers of the Seal to the grisly augurs—troll soothsayers who use their own entrails to prophesize with questionably accuracy.
The Mushfens: One of Golarion’s largest wetlands, the swath of swamp known as the Mushfens stretches along the entire southern border of Varisia. This trackless region has resisted every attempt at colonization so far, and to this day remains a wildland in every sense of the word.
The Sunken Queen: This towering pyramid has partially sunk into the sloppy depths of the surrounding Mushfens, leaving the immense Thassilonian ruin leaning at a severe angle. One face of the pyramid is decorated in an immense bas-relief carving of a beautiful nude woman, while curving towers extend from its peak like growths or chimneys. Tribes of the froglike humanoids called boggards hold the Sunken Queen with special reverence.
Xin-Shalast: Rumored to lie hidden somewhere deep in the Kodar Mountains, the legendary city of Xin-Shalast has long haunted the dreams of romantics and historians. Said to have been the capital of one of Thassilon’s Karzoug the Claimer, stories tell of a vast mountaintop city with streets of gold and buildings shingled in slates of jade and other precious stone.
While worshipers of all Golarion’s varied religions can be found in Varisia, the majority of the region’s civilized populace adhere to one of six major faiths.
Abadar: Master of the First Vault, gold-fisted Abadar seeks to orderthe world. Judges, merchants, and aristocrats worship him, prayingfor his clarity in judgment and business. The poor and wronged also frequently honor him, seeking reversals in their fortunes.
Erastil: To his followers, Old Deadeye is a stern father, a helpful neighbor, and a watchful hunter. Small communities, farmers, hunters, and common folk most often pray to Erastil.
Desna: The furtive Song of the Spheres, Desna is the goddess of dreams, luck, stars, and travelers. She delights in freedom and mystery, and teaches her people to experience all they can. Mystics, explorers, wanderers, and those in need of a little luck worship Desna.
Gozreh: The Wind and the Waves, the god of nature cares nothing for the ways of men and their irrelevant empires, ever demonstrating that mortals are insignificant and would do best to remember such. Farmers, seamen, foresters, and all who live at the whim of nature fear and respect Gozreh.
Sarenrae: The Dawnflower, the Healing Flame, the Everlight, Sarenrae brings warmth and radiance to all souls who allow her in. Those with compassionate hearts and kind intentions turn to Sarenrae as both the source and protector of all things good.
Shelyn: Goddess of art, beauty, and love, Shelyn encourages creativity and inspires the world. She challenges her faithful to test their limits, share what the create, and delight in the gifts of others.