Skull and Shackles
The greatest heroes of Golarion’s modern age record their victories in an ongoing series of chapbooks known as the Pathfinder Chronicles. The amazing, often unbelievable tales bound in these often traded volumes tell of lost gods and sunken continents, of creatures older than the world itself who fell from the stars in the eldest days, and of the fantastic ruins they left behind. These volumes also tell the stories of people, of individuals who experienced some of the very best and very worst Golarion has to offer. The authors of these tales belong to the Pathfinder Society, a loose-knit group of explorers, archaeologists, and adventurers who span the globe in search of lost knowledge and ancient treasures. Some seek to unlock the secret history of the world, piecing together the past one fragment at a time. Others are in it for the money, filtering priceless antiquities through a series of unscrupulous merchants to enrich themselves beyond measure. Other Pathfinders take up the trade because they find the thrill of risking their lives more addicting and exhilarating than any vice or drug. The Pathfinder Society was founded 400 years ago by the original Decemvirate, a shadowy group of masked individuals whose identities are unknown and unheralded. Presumably, the composition of the Decemvirate has changed in passing centuries, but when or how the Ten recruit new members is as secretive as their makeup. Operatives known as venture-captains coordinate teams of Pathfinder agents in their assigned regions, tipping them off to ancient legends, passing along newly discovered maps, and supporting efforts in the field. Each venturecaptain oversees the activities of several tightly-knit groups of Pathfinder field agents who conduct much of the exploration and adventure that fuels the society as a whole. Venture-captains are fairly autonomous but still answer to the Decemvirate. The ultimate goals of the Decemvirate are inscrutable, and not even the venture-captains understand the full picture of what the Pathfinder Society does with the information it collects. The society makes few demands on agents. It does request a 10% assistance fee from all money or treasure found. There is no reckoning or oversight of this percentage to the society’s coffers, and some agents of dubious character (even published ones) brag that they have never given a single copper to the society. Presumably, the money that members do choose to give is sufficient for operations. Agents are expected to provide detailed written reports of their exploits to their venture-captains, who then forward the most compelling records to the Grand Lodge in Absalom for consideration by the Decemvirate. Periodically, the masked leaders of the society collect and publish the greatest exploits into new volumes of the Pathfinder Chronicles, which they send back to their venture-captains in bulk for distribution to field agents. Whenever a new volume of the Pathfinder Chronicles hits the field, dozens of adventurers f lock to the sites described therein for further exploration and adventure. Although they belong to the same society, individual groups of Pathfinder agents often find themselves at crosspurposes in the field, particularly if each team reports to a different venture-captain. Competition between Pathfinders rarely results in outright battle, but certain agents aren’t above collapsing passages, triggering ancient traps, or selling out their rivals to hostile natives—all in the name of friendly competition, of course. Although volumes of the Pathfinder Chronicles are technically intended only for the eyes of Pathfinder agents, unaffiliated adventurers, crooked scholars, and ambitious antiquarians also track down stray volumes and use them as maps to adventure. Even the oldest volumes, whose subjects have been plundered again and again, often contain hints leading to undiscovered treasure. In recent years, former venture-captain Surit Shema has begun acquiring copies of the Pathfinder Chronicles and reproducing them for sale to the public. Shema sometimes updates stories that he finds lacking before reproducing them. The chapbooks are hungrily lapped up in the River Kingdoms, surrounding lands, and points beyond. Even those who never leave their home cities thrill to the tales within. Shema’s reproductions can be troublesome for agents who try to follow one, only to find that Shema “updated” a critical passage to his liking. An experienced eye can tell a cheap Shema reproduction from a real Pathfinder Chronicles chapbook, though few who read them are of such discerning caliber. If the Decemvirate dislikes Shema’s burst of capitalism, it hasn’t shown it. The Grand Lodge is a great fortress complex within Absalom proper, and it is quite public. The outer doors almost never close, and Pathfinder agents stumble or stride across its threshold at all hours. Janiff Ivulxtin is a Garundi venture-captain of the Grand Lodge. Janiff maintains order in the Lodge by overseeing everything personally and getting rid of agents quickly. He keeps a f ile of relatively safe but time-consuming jobs to keep new, untested agents from loitering. At the Grand Lodge, Janiff is the primary authority f igure. He receives communications from the Decemvirate regularly through a small, rotating, passthrough door. In addition to Janiff, several other members of the society stand out among their many peers. Ezralow Glyphcatcher, a churlish know-it-all who lives in Azir, is the society’s most prominent venturecaptain in Garund. Ezralow plays scry-chess with fellow wizards from all over Golarion, and he seems to have professional acquaintances nearly everywhere. Evni Zongnoss is a gnome venture-captain in the city of Vigil. Unlike some venture-captains, Evni cares for her agents and tends to mother them. Ling Yayao is a Tian monk frequently called on for rescue duty of lost or trapped agents. Several volumes of the Pathfinder Chronicles mention Ling crossing impossible distances on her horse, Fallow Grain, to arrive in the nick of time. In exchange, she demands only a kiss from those she saves. The inner circle of the Decemvirate manages the various venture-captains throughout the world through couriers and spells. Sometimes a venture-captain does not know his orders until an agent arrives bearing the writ of instruction. Agents then carry out exploration and codification of their findings. The society’s chief resource is its vast organization of operatives spread throughout the Inner Sea region and beyond. Venture-captains in cities or especially remote locations usually run lodges where they conduct Pathfinder business. Typically a house or building owned by the society, a lodge is completely under the administration of the local venturecaptain. Agents may stay in a lodge as long as they are on legitimate Pathfinder business, but to deter freeloaders, lodges rarely offer food or extensive free services. Most venture-captains keep small stores of potions, scrolls, and mundane adventuring equipment for sale to agents. Mercenary venture-captains charge exorbitant prices for these if they believe their agents found a treasure haul. As information conduits, venture-captains also pass along letters or messages through Pathfinder channels at agent request.
Members The Pathfinder Society is so loosely organized, it’s difficult to identify it as having a particular flavor or character. In most cases, venture-captains are members of their communities and participate in local customs and habits. For instance, the only lodge in Razmiran is operated by a true believer in the Living God. Field agents are even more of a hodgepodge. The freedom for agents to be, do, and say anything they want is likely the organization’s most consistently distinct aspect. The liberty of agents occasionally clashes with the rootedness of a venturecaptain, but it rarely creates too deep a rift for them to work together.