Pathfinder Lost Omens Character Guide: A Review

Hello again my delightful darlings! We’ve got a special PAIZO NEWS ROUNDUP for y’all today: it’s a review of the Pathfinder Lost Omens Character Guide! It’s our first big crack at new character options since the release of, well, the Core Rulebook itself, so rev up your character generation engines and let’s get to work!

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OVERVIEW

From a broad perspective, the Lost Omens Character Guide sets out to not only make more options available when customizing your Pathfinder 2E character, but to provide context and grounding for those options within the established Lost Omens campaign setting.

To this end, there are new Heritages and Ancestry Feats for each of the six core ancestries in Pathfinder 2E, as well as three new Ancestries (hobgoblin, lizardfolk, and leshy). On top of that, the Lost Omens Character Guide provides a detailed descriptions of five prominent organizations in the Lost Omens campaign setting, including new Uncommon general feats, magic items, and archetypes to suit that organization’s playstyle.

Finally, the Lost Omens Character Guide has a few small treats for GMs, mostly in the form of pregenerated monster and NPC stat blocks. Another lovely addition for GMs, and one which I think is fairly uniquely suited to Pathfinder 2E, are the monster templates. These allow GMs to give NPCs and monsters organization-based tweaks – but more on that later. That’s enough high-level overview, let’s get into the weeds!

TOO MUCH, TOO LITTLE?

To my eyes, the first section of the Lost Omens Character Guide (the one covering additional options for the Human ancestry), is incredibly frustrating, in no small part because the issues that are most prominent here might otherwise go unnoticed in the other sections were it not for their prominence in the very first section of the book.

The biggest issue with the chapter on the Human ancestry is the disjointed feeling I got of somehow too much content and simultaneously not enough. The whole of the human history in the Lost Omens campaign setting is squashed down into three short paragraphs, but each paragraph has at least ten proper nouns with which to bombard the reader. It feels as if the book is relying heavily on the reader already having read the Lost Omens World Guide – and yet the later sections covering the other ancestries are written as if they will be the first and primary reference point for those ancestries outside of the Core Rulebook.

This sensation of too much and too little extends further into the coverage of the various ethnicities within the Human ancestry. The writers have done an excellent job in the breadth of their representation of real-world analogues: it’s made clear that certain ethnic groups that are commonly homogenized by less careful worldbuilders (analogues to the peoples of Africa and Asia) are in fact many diverse, distinct cultures. They even include female, male, and gender-neutral names for each of the Human ancestry ethnic groups. In short, it is an unmatched work of inclusion and representation unlike any I’ve seen in the hobby so far.

So what’s the problem? Unfortunately, the focus on breadth of inclusion seems to have come at the cost of depth of inclusion. Twenty-three ethnic groups are crammed into just four pages, leaving precious little room for description beyond geographic origin, eye shape, hair type, and skin color, with perhaps a scant phrase or sentence to give a sprinkle of actual culture. Also crammed into that limited space are suggestions for names for each ethnic group; and while it is admirable that they include female, male, and gender-neutral names, there appears to have only been space for just three of each.

Each of these ancestries and ethnic groups could have greatly benefited from the style Paizo has been using recently for stat blocks and significant entries; namely, one page for description, history, and flavor, and one page for mechanics (in this case, ancestry feats and heritage options). Once you look for it, it’s very obvious that there is barely any mechanical support for playing one of the very diverse human ethnic groups in terms of character options – after all the ink spilled, only one ethnic group gets a heritage option.

My suspicion is that there was a very strict page limit for this book, and likely for the other Pathfinder rulebooks in this edition. This book, for reference, is a light 135 pages long – and, as it would seem, the Lost Omens World Guide is also exactly 135 pages long. Given the nice round number of pages in the Core Rulebook and the Bestiary, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least to learn that there had been a hard page count set for the writers (either overall or by section), and they were forced to trim certain sections to the bone. I will be equally unsurprised if we don’t eventually see these ethnicities given space to breathe in a future campaign setting.

MOVING ON

Let’s move on to what I like! And, goodness, do I like a lot about this book.

The worldbuilding for the dwarves is so good it makes the humans look even worse in comparison. I love the fact that dwarves were created underground and lived so long down there they’re almost as alien as the elves. Dwarven days have a different length than humans do – because of COURSE, they didn’t have the SUN – and the sky was such an incomprehensible concept to them that it literally took the planet cracking open for them to realize they could dig UP.

AND THEN THEY DUG UP SO WELL THEY WENT PAST THE SURFACE AND MADE SKY CITADELS. I can’t even. Did I miss a memo about dwarves in 1E? This is great.

Speaking of elves, they continue to be alien weirdoes. They give a couple more examples of characterization options presented but not supported – I’d love to know what the designers have in mind for the Forlorn, elves who live entirely amongst the shorter-lived peoples of Golarion, and for the Jinjin, elves who ventured underground during Earthfall and came up in Tian Xia. Sadly, those two flavor-blasted options are relegated to sidebars, and we can but wait patiently for another book in the future.

What of the other core ancestries? The more we learn of gnomes, the more certain I am that these characters are going to be exhausting. If you weren’t a fan of kender and kender players, you ain’t gonna be a fan of 2E gnomes and gnome players.

The section on gnomes also showcases a very useful feature present in this ancestry section and every other (aside from humans): suggested or common heritages to the new ethnic group divisions within each ancestry. These suggestions aren’t universal, but they help players get a mechanical foundation on which to build their concept of a new or different ancestry.

To the surprise of exactly nobody, goblins continue to be my favorite ancestry of this new Pathfinder, and everything in the Lost Omens Character Guide only reinforces that opinion. I love the glimpse we get of the goblin creation myth, and I love everything that goes into the saying “Frostfang is Frostfang”. Goblins really showcase what the other sections aspire to, with enough space for physical descriptions, cultural depictions, common interactions with the other peoples of Golarion, and suggested traits for each ethnic group. There’s even a few dashes of humor in this section!

Halflings continue the trend of adding new extras that feel like they should be standard across all the ancestries. For example, there’s a sidebar dedicated to halfling slang, and some of the halfling ancestry options even include common character classes to help new or curious readers.

NEW ANCESTRIES

The chapter on the new ancestries is a little sparse; after all, it’s just three new ancestry options much in the same style as ancestry options presented in the Core Rulebook. Still, I can’t help but wish there had been space for a deeper exploration of these new ancestries. This is a tome of character options and character flavor, after all – why should we be limited to the minimum for a new ancestry?

Speaking of the “Other Ancestries” section, why include a section describing so many more uncommon ancestries without providing any mechanical options for playing them? Where else would be an appropriate place to include rules for playing them if not in the Lost Omens Character Guide? It can’t just be the fact that these ancestry options are Uncommon; so too are the hobgoblin, lizardfolk, and leshy options presented not pages earlier. Is this simply another symptom of that page limit again? Whatever the case, all we can do is wait.

ORGANIZATIONS AND NPCS

There is a LOT to like in the section on Organizations, and GMs will rejoice when they get to the section on NPCs and templates. Not only do we get five new organizations in this section, but there’s also statblocks for said organizations for easy comparison! It’s a bit of keyword soup, but hey, that’s 2E. The only minor fly in the ointment is the inclusion of “Other Organizations” before the descriptions of the main organizations; this just hits the same sore spot that “Other Ancestries” did, and it doesn’t have the courtesy to act as a teaser after the main event.

The organizations in general are delicious, providing meaty flavor, history, and character to all five organizations. On top of that, each organization has Uncommon and Rare feats and magical items for characters to strive for, should they feel the need to flaunt their standing in the organization in question. Heads up to players: joining the Knights of Lastwall can get you a CHAINSWORD.

GMs will appreciate not only the numerous notable figures for each organization presented via sidebar, but also the description of the organization’s relationship with other organizations and local authorities. And then there are adventure hooks thrown in to boot! There are even two pre-built NPCs of 4th and 11th level for each organization, allowing a GM to quickly make a contact or nemesis on the fly. Templates seem to be just slight alterations to a monster’s stat block based on its level, and strike a good balance of not significantly impacting how they play from the GMs side while also adding a distinct flavor.

CONCLUSION

The Lost Omens Character Guide is a wonderful expansion of the ancestries and character options presented to players in the Pathfinder Core Rulebook. Great care is taken to reflect the diversity of the game’s audience, and to add much-needed history and detail to the peoples of the Lost Omens campaign setting. What holds the Lost Omens Character Guide back is simply that it could have been so much more. I have no doubt its shortcomings will be addressed in future releases.
 
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Ben Reece

Comments

Ulfgeir

Explorer
Nice article. Should have been Kender and not Kinder if you refer to the species from Dragonlance.
 

dm4hire

Explorer
I agree about the space issue. So far outside the core books everything seems second thought for size and spacing. I understand their desire to get products out for us to use, but at the same time I think players would understand if they just said, "We're pushing this product back a bit more to make sure it's up to our standards." Which is an ironic statement since they did push it back a little for supposedly those reasons.
 

EthanSental

Explorer
probably just me, but when I read “gender neutral names,” my mind goes to the long running SNL skit of Pat by Julia Sweeney....and just searched it...1994. Wow that was further back than I thought!
 

Philip Benz

Explorer
Great review for a great product. I'm really impressed by the new content for PF2 and glad to see this site publishing reviews for it.
 

Philip Benz

Explorer
PFS isn't the only game in town. <g>
Find some friends and get a home game going. Restrictive rules have their place, and shared worlds rely on them. But a home game will let you negociate more freely with your DM and you'll have a far more satisfying sense of continuity and character advancement than a series of semi-random one-shots.
 

HuntersMoon

Explorer
PFS isn't the only game in town. <g>
Find some friends and get a home game going. Restrictive rules have their place, and shared worlds rely on them. But a home game will let you negotiate more freely with your DM and you'll have a far more satisfying sense of continuity and character advancement than a series of semi-random one-shots.
Uhm you do realize that he WANTS to play PFS? He shouldn't have to play a home game, to get the rules quickly installed into PFS.
 

Jimmy Dick

Explorer
On the other hand, a universal campaign allows for players to share in a larger community of people enjoying Pathfinder Second Edition. Some home games turn into nothing more than GM power trips where the rules are vaguely in line with what they are supposed to be.

Restrictive rules are what has made Pathfinder Second Edition so good. They were baked into the system from the beginning. That said, they also allow for homebrew deviation and that's great. It lets people play the game the way they want to. I just prefer PFS gameplay as it puts me and the players in my service area in contact with thousands of other PFS players across the nation and globe where we can enjoy the game.

You want to have a more satisfying experience? Play PFS2 online via the Discord PFS server and Roll20. The international community is wonderful. You meet all kinds of people and share game experiences that you won't in a homebrew local group.
 

HuntersMoon

Explorer
This doesn't surprise me at least, it's the new path that Pathfinder is following. It's called price gouging, with some easy examples.
Compare this book, to Starfinder's Character Operations Manual. You can buy that for $10 on PDF, or in print for $40. It's 160 pages and it's crammed with A LOT of information.
Then take the Lost Omens series of books. They are $25 for the PDF, $35 in print, and it feels like they are rather short changed with information, and filled with more fluff.
All because they call Starfinder books "core" books, and these not. Sad state of affairs where Paizo is heading.
 

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