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Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Inner Sea Races


The Pathfinder Campaign Setting world of Golarion is a diverse world, full of numerous different races, cultures, and ethnicities. This goes beyond just the core races of humans, dwarves, elves, gnomes, half-elves, half-orcs, and halflings. There are tieflings, aasimars, goblins, ratfolk, and more. There are even androids and aliens from other worlds. As the setting has expanded over various books, more and more of these races have received expanded detail, from cultural information to options to play them as player characters. But much of that information is scattered across numerous different books, making it sometimes hard to keep track of it all.

Inner Sea Races brings much of this information into one spot. In doing so, it takes the opportunity to revise and expand on that information, becoming the definitive book on the varied peoples of the Inner Sea region of Golarion. And it’s chock full of tons of useful information that will help bring both PCs and NPCs alike to life.

Inner Sea Races is a 256-page hardcover book. In layout, it’s arranged similarly to the Advanced Race Guide, in that the chapters are broken down based on how common the races are. However, the similarities mostly end there. Whereas Advanced Race Guide is a book of primarily game mechanics options with a bit of generic flavour text for the races it covers, Inner Sea Races focuses almost entirely on flavour text, covering such things as history, society, faith, and relations between races. In fact, there is no mechanical information at all in the first three chapters. The fourth chapter does introduce some new mechanical options, but this is a relatively small portion of the book. People looking for a vast array of new character abilities may well be disappointed with Inner Sea Races, but people, like myself, looking for more flavour text will likely be happier.

The book opens with a 4-page introduction, which includes a brief discussion on how the terms race and ethnicity are used in Pathfinder (as opposed to their real-world use), and the difference between nationality and culture. There is also a fairly comprehensive list of the languages spoken in the Inner Sea region. The list includes short, 1- to 2-sentence descriptions of each language. High-Intelligence characters in Pathfinder are often able to speak a lot of languages, so this list will be handy for players trying to choose what languages their characters know.

The first chapter focuses on the “Common Races”, which are the seven races from the Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook. From a Golarion perspective, these are the races that most people in the Inner Sea region will encounter at some point in their lives, even if they live in more isolated areas. A significant amount of space in this chapter is dedicated to various human ethnicities, meaning humans receive more space than any other individual race. However, given that humans make up the majority of Golarion’s population, this is not really surprising. It does mean, though, that the different ethnicities of other races (such as the Ekujae or Snowcaster elves) receive very limited attention, so people looking for information on those groups won’t find much in this book.

The chapter starts with humans, providing four pages of general information about humans, and then four pages on each of twelve ethnicities. The section on humans then wraps up with two pages covering seven less common ethnicities (such as the Jadwiga and Varki peoples). After this, each of the other core races (in alphabetical order) receive eight pages of detail. The information for every race and ethnicity in the chapter is broken up into the same basic categories, such as history, physiology, society, and so on.

Chapter 2 covers seven “Uncommon Races”. These are races that are not likely to be encountered just anywhere and many members of the common races may never meet one. They include aasimars, drow, geniekin (which are actually made up of five races, all of which are covered in the same section), goblins, kobolds, orcs, and tieflings. Each race receives six pages of detail covering the same categories as the common races in Chapter 1.

The third chapter moves on to “Rare Races” and provides two pages of details on each of ten more races. Also, several sections at the end of the chapter give brief details on aliens, races from the Dragon Empires (Tian Xia), and a few others. On top of that, the 2-page introduction at the beginning of the chapter lists another 40 races and provides one or two sentences about each.

On the whole, I like these first three chapters a great deal, especially the first two. There’s a wealth of information available in here, and since the book doesn’t need to spend time detailing locations and adventure sites, it can actually spend time on cultural and societal details—something which is often lacking in other Pathfinder Campaign Setting books. While I can understand that some people might find it too heavily focused on humans, this doesn’t really bother me, since humans are the most frequently encountered race anyway. Also, having a diverse array of human ethnicities represented, each treated equally, is important. Too often, fantasy settings focus on groups based on white Europeans, with other peoples mentioned only in passing.

Some of the information in these chapters has appeared in previous books. It’s hard to say exactly how much without comparing it page by page with every other book published, but it’s not an insignificant amount. However, I think there’s a lot of benefit to bringing it all together in one place instead of scattered across numerous books. The information has also been updated and often revised and expanded on. Elves are a notable example here. Elves of Golarion was one of the earliest Pathfinder Companion books published, and as the setting has grown and expanded since then, some of the information from that book needed to be adapted to account for all the other information now available. There is entirely new information as well, so even people who own every single Golarion book will still get something new out of it.

One of my favourite sections is the one on half-orcs, which provides a much more detailed look at the race and how they fit in the world than other books on the topic (such as Bastards of Golarion). I particularly like that half-orcs being born from violence is no longer the default assumption for the race. Rather, most half-orcs are the offspring of other half-orcs. This was first mentioned in Bastards of Golarion as something that was becoming more common, but Races of Golarion makes it the standard. After all, given that there have been half-orcs in the world for thousands of years, it makes sense that at some point, they would start breeding with one another.

Half-elves also benefit from expanded information, as do the various human ethnicities. This is particularly true of groups like the Vudrani, who have not featured heavily in previous products. There is even one ethnicity (in the short section on “Other Human Ethnicities”) that I hadn’t heard of before: the Caldaru. It’s entirely possible (even likely) that these people have been mentioned in other products before and I’ve simply missed them or forgotten about them, but their inclusion here was a neat surprise nonetheless!

Although Inner Sea Races (as its title suggests) is focused on the Inner Sea region, there is a surprisingly large amount of information about other areas of the world as well, such as Casmaron and Tian Xia. For example, the section on Keleshites contains a lot of information about the Empire of Kelesh in Casmaron. Given that many of the peoples in the Inner Sea region originated in other parts of the world, it makes sense that details of those parts of the world would come up in their histories and cultures. Learning about these things was one of the things I found particularly new and enjoyable when reading the book, as these are areas of the world that have received only limited detail in the past. It’s great to learn a bit about the wider world.

The rare races in Chapter 3 also give a bit of a glimpse into the wider world as many of these races originate in other parts of Golarion. It’s also nice to get a glimpse into these various other races. That said, it really is just a glimpse. Two pages is not a lot of space to provide much detail. Nevertheless, each section does still manage to briefly cover history, physiology, society, and relations with other races. The chapter is also an entertaining read, even if it does leave me wishing there were more space for more detail (which, I suppose, is kind of a good thing).

If I have one criticism of the opening three chapters, it’s that sometimes the text gets a bit repetitive, stating something that was already said a page or two before. In all cases, it’s relevant information to what is under discussion, but I wonder if a slight rewording might have allowed space for some additional, different information. For the most part, however, the text flows well and is an easy and entertaining read.

The final chapter of the book is “Racial Options” and it is the portion of the book that offers new abilities for character. The chapter is a bit of a mixed bag. There is some good and useful material in it, but also a number of things that really aren’t that interesting and suffer from the problem that afflicts many such options: not standing out amidst the vast array of other options already out there.

Amongst the more useful things in the chapter is an expanded reincarnation table that takes into account the large number of races on Golarion, and makes it possible for these races to result from a reincarnate spell. There is also an extensive selection of alternate racial traits for each of the core races and at least one for each of the other races in the book. The very end of the chapter compiles the base racial traits for all races covered in the book.

There is, of course, the requisite selection of new feats, spells, race traits (not be confused with the racial traits), and equipment. Most of the new feats require a specific race to select them, which is not surprising, and even expected, in a book about races. However, what is surprising is that the vast majority of new feats (41 out of 50 to be exact) are teamwork feats. Teamwork feats remain a category of feats that I rarely see players select from. Of course, my experiences can’t speak for everyone’s, but I do wonder how widely used they are. They can be very situational and often don’t provide much of a benefit above what a non-teamwork feat might provide. The ones in this book are also not all that inspiring, although Burn It Down! (a feat for goblins) is an exception, and is wonderfully evocative and in-character for goblins.

There are a few interesting new spells (such as fable tapestry, which summons quasi-real shadow versions of legendary characters from Varisian folk tales) and new magic items. Each new spell or magic item is tied to a specific race (though not necessarily limited to that race), and the best ones really fit the flavour and style of the particular race. Armour of grim triumph, for example, is made by orcs, and allows its wearer to mount trophies taken from slain foes to its spikes. Each trophy grants a cumulative bonus to Intimidate checks and Will saves against fear. Unfortunately, there are also a number of items that are fairly generic and don’t seem to have a whole lot to do with their linked race (such as the spyglass of discovery for humans).

Overall, Inner Sea Races is a very good and useful book. The first three chapters contain a wealth of information about the various races inhabiting the Inner Sea region, and although some of this information comes from previously published books, much of it has been updated and expanded upon. Importantly, it compiles all this information into one easy-to-reference book. The fourth chapter is the weakest part of the book, but there is still much in the chapter that is useful to people creating characters for the setting. The book is already a frequently referenced source for my own games and is likely to be for many other people’s games as well.

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