Friday 2 September 2011

Goblins of Golarion

Paizo first introduced their version of goblins in Pathfinder Adventure Path #1, and then detailed them further in Classic Monsters Revisited. I’ve always liked how they took a generic monster that had little real character to it and gave it new life. Goblins of Golarion builds on the previous works and still keeps them fresh and interesting. Some people might criticize the portrayal of goblins as too comical—they aren’t too bright, are willing to do silly things in combat like light themselves on fire or throw themselves off buildings, and run from dogs and horses—but as well as the humour, there is a serious side to the goblins as well. Goblins, for the most part, are evil creatures, and they kill and maim. The juxtaposition of the humour with the vile may not be to everyone’s taste, but I personally find it makes for far more interesting villains and sets goblins apart from the numerous other humanoid monsters in the game.

Goblins of Golarion is a bit of an unusual supplement. As I mentioned in my review of Humans of Golarion, that product is a useful, albeit not particularly exciting book. Goblins of Golarion is the reverse: a fun, interesting read, but not particularly useful to most games. More specifically, it’s not particularly useful to most players. Game Masters are likely to gain much more use out of it, but as a product that is part of the Pathfinder Player Companion line, many people will expect it to be usable by players. Of course, not every product should necessarily be usable by everyone. It makes sense that there would be some niche products. However, it’s important that people be aware that this is a niche product, as there are some players out there who feel that because something is printed, it’s their right to use it, and that’s going to annoy some GMs who don’t want monster PCs in their games. Players should be sure to check with their GMs before making use of this book.

For players with goblin characters, there’s no doubt that it’s very useful indeed. It’s full of information about goblin society, lifestyle, beliefs, and physiology, along with lots of useful game mechanics including goblin equipment, new traits and feats, and even goblin spells. In addition, it’s an engaging read that fully brings across the character and style of Golarion goblins. The first two sentences set the scene perfectly: “Once, there were no goblins. Most goblins agree that this was an unacceptable state of affairs.” From there on, it’s lots of mad hi-jinks as we learn about the goblin love of fire, their fear and hatred of dogs and horses, their constant hunger, their hatred of writing, and their love of song and music.

There’s a danger when adding new race-specific feats and spells. The resulting feat or spell often has little about it that characterizes that race and is something that could easily have been developed by some other race or group. However, Goblins of Golarion for the most part avoids this problem, providing feats and spells with a very goblin-like flavour to them. For example, Combat Distraction (oddly placed well out of alphabetical order—I suspect this feat underwent a name change and didn’t get moved in the final edit) gives a reason for goblins to do those strange, seemingly useless things they sometimes do in the middle of combat (such as laughing for no reason, eating a snack, picking up a bug, etc.) by providing a mechanical benefit for doing so (a -2 penalty on any Perception and concentration checks made by non-goblins within 5 feet). Ankle Biter allows goblins a free bite attack at anyone who attempts a combat manoeuvre (such as a grapple) against them. Fire sneeze is a spell that does pretty much exactly what its name says, and it’s a spell I can totally envision goblins (and pretty much no other creatures) inventing.

I was pleased to see favoured class options for goblins as well. The Advanced Player’s Guide first introduced additional options (beyond the core choice of an extra hit point or skill point) for each of the core races, but there has been little support for this since. Now, I have to admit, I’m not the biggest fan of additional favoured class options. I feel they create unnecessary extra bookkeeping and some of the options are questionably balanced. However, there are those who use them and like them (and I do use them in my on-line play-by-post games, even though I don’t for my home game), and I feel it’s important that if other races have access to them, then goblins (if they’re allowed as a PC race) should also have their own options.

For games that don’t allow goblin PCs (or simply don’t have any players interested in playing goblin characters), Goblins of Golarion can still be a useful supplement for Game Masters, who will find a wealth of information. The “Goblin Tribes” chapter, for example presents the most prominent tribes from around the Inner Sea. It allows GMs to keep every group of goblins unique, yet still unmistakeably goblins. From goblin pirates in the Shackles, to freedom fighters in Isger who are devoted to preventing goblins from ever being enslaved again by hobgoblins, to dinosaur riders on Mediogalti Island, there’s a tribe for just about every need. I really like that there are areas of the world where goblins are more common (such as in Varisia) and areas where there are very few, if any. It makes goblins more than just something you roll on a random encounter chart and plunk down anywhere.

Overall, Goblins of Golarion is a fun book that fully fleshes out goblins and makes them a viable race in their own right. Gaming groups that include goblin PCs will find the book invaluable. Game Masters of groups without goblin PCs will still find the book useful for providing interesting encounters with goblins. And even if your group has no goblin PCs and rarely, if ever, encounters goblins as monsters, the book can still provide a fun and interesting read.

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