Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Humans of Golarion (Review)

     I have not been a subscriber or even a particularly faithful purchaser of Paizo's Pathfinder products.  I have invested in the books that I feel I need to have in order to play PFS (the Core Rulebook, Bestiary, Advanced Player's Guide, and Ultimate Magic), the ones I thought would better inform my interests of the Golarion setting (the old Pathfinder Chronicles Campaign Setting that has given way to The Inner Sea World Guide, Faiths of Purity, Seekers of Secrets, Elves of Golarion, Andoran: Spirit of Liberty, and Qadira: Gateway to the East), and the ones I suspected would be most useful in homeplay (the old $2 Pathfinder Player's Guide – a fine introduction to what Paizo had in mind for Pathfider – and the first two chapters of the Rise of the Rune Lords arc: Burnt Offerings & The Skinsaw Murders for v3.5 play, the Game Mastery Guide, and Faction Guide).  Clearly, there is so much more I could be purchasing from Paizo.  Then again, I am not about to make the same mistake I made in liberally spending money of gaming products that will see limited use that I did from 1998-2005.  So, Humans of Golarion would have to do more than just regurgitate what has already been written about humans in order to make it worth my while as a purchase.
     I do like that Paizo makes good use of referencing their other products – for example, Humans of Golarion directs readers to five other print products that have dealt with human half-breeds – but I sometimes feel that Paizo could better serve the customer by not scattering all of this related material, and that a book about humans that addresses the two PFS playable half-humans could easily have contained more information on the other half-breeds.  This isn't a make-or-break feature for me.  As my primary use for Pathfinder products is PFS play, I have no real need for information on the half-humans beyond what is readily available in the three books referenced.  But I would have liked for them to have received some kind of treatment in the Humans of Golarion book.
     There is a brief overview of the history of human empires on Golarion.  It is nice, but it is heavily reliant on the reader knowing the empires and lands being noted.  Even stripping the other races from this overview, the authors couldn't present the timeline in a linear fashion, but the few steps back to recount a different region or power are not distracting.  It is also a reminder of the quibble I have where Paizo believes that a fantasy world needs thousands of years of recorded and remembered history (and wars that go on for 600 years).
     Paizo wisely forgoes giving any of the cultures bonuses in and of themselves, allowing them to serve only as flavor and add depth to the fantasy world of Golarion.  However, there is not so much here that is new or different from what is already present in The Inner Sea World Guide.  It also has a tendency, perhaps because of the brevity, to reduce the "sub-races" (as Paizo terms them) to stereotypes – and then goes and lets the reader know that these stereotypes have exceptions.  And, where Paizo does a laudable job in presenting cultures that reflect real world one often neglected in fantasy settings, sometimes I feel challenged in trying to make a character because there is no substitute for Gaels or non-Scandinavian northern Germanic peoples.  I wish Paizo had been able to work real world cultures and peoples into their world as well as the team at PCI did with their Arcanis setting, but they didn't.
     Humans of Golarion is rather light on crunch.  Normally this isn't a draw back, but as the background material is largely retread from other sources, it counts as a definite negative.  I do like that there was an effort made to identify weapons with a region and culture on Golarion, but all of these weapons are published in other books; this simply functions as an optional modifier to material you are already assumed to have put into use.  It does add some flavor to the weapons, but it absolutely feels like filler.  Likewise, the few added spells don't feel like much of a gain – the exception being Summon Totem Creature for the Shoanti.  The traits seem to cover ground that has already been handled, but I guess that giving more story related reasons for picking up whatever bonuses a player is after is a good thing.
     I am unclear as to why Aroden gets included as the god of Humanity, unless it is true that he is going to be coming back from the dead.  Paizo does a good job giving a history of Aroden and the state of his churches in the century since his demise.  He is a very important figure in the overall story Paizo is crafting, so I'm happy for the information, but I wonder if it made it into Humans of Golarion because it hadn't been published elsewhere.  At this point, why not just include him in the Faiths of Balance book?  On the other hand, selecting a single god to represent humanity almost requires using Aroden, even if he is dead.
     At a list price of $10.99 ($7.99 for the pdf), Humans of Golarion isn't a bad value (it does have the great production value I've come to expect from Paizo), but it is overpriced when compared to what one can get from other Paizo products in the same price range (for example, one can get the pdf of Ultimate Magic for $9.99).  If one has a means of discounting this price – I have the benefit of several $5 coupons at the game store where I judge PFS mods, so my cost is just $5.99 + tax – then it becomes a more palatable purchase.  But I would not recommend this as a purchase unless one has a need to own the complete Pathfinder library.

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