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Pathfinder Lost Omens: The Mwangi Expanse Review

Hello my lovelies and welcome to another PAIZO PRODUCT REVIEW! Today we’re taking a dive into Pathfinder Lost Omens: The Mwangi Expanse, the most recent setting book to drop from the Golem and honestly? A real treat to read. There is a LOT packed into these 300 pages—mostly history, culture, and setting details, but a handful of new character options—so don’t feel bad if you need to tackle it in chunks. I know I did!
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First Impressions​

I wanted to take a second and shout out Ekaterina Burmak for really killing it on the featured art here, both on the cover and her interior work—the poses are dynamic and really sell the motion, the colors are vibrant, and there’s layers of detail to really ground the viewer in the scene. Really wonderful stuff, and I’m glad she’s getting more work with Paizo. Also, letting the artists indulge in a two-page spread of splash art is always excellent to see, and I want to know more about the elderly gentleman on that pirate ship double-wielding scimitars.

The first section, “Reclaiming the Expanse,” is an excellent primer for both the setting book and the expectations that the reader should have when diving in. A lot of care is taken, at multiple points, to address the consumptive and dehumanizing depiction of the real-world places and peoples that the Mwangi Expanse was based on by older and less thoughtful media properties—including, at times, Paizo’s own publication history. While your personal mileage may vary on how well the dev team sticks the landing with how respectful their new approach is, for my money the repetition and specificity of how they address issues like colonialism and Eurocentrism indicates a clear understanding of and care for the underlying issues. Plus, making the Mwangi Expanse the first major setting book outside of the core World Guide is a pretty clear show of respect in and of itself.

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History​

There is a LOT of history in this book. I’m of two minds about this: on one hand, having an incredible wealth of stories, legends, grudges, and threats to pull on is handy for any GM needing to come up with a reason for strange things happening in strange places—after all, a backstory so long and dense that no one person could read and remember and keep track of it all is the ultimate bulletproof backstory for changing tracks on a dime—and as a world-builder myself I have to celebrate it when other fellow nerds get a chance to really dig deep and come up with cool and plausible histories.

On the other hand—ten THOUSAND YEARS? Yes, I understand that the Golarion timeline has always been ten thousand years, and yes, I understand the existence of long-lived species like elves and dwarves can radically distort the perception of time, but in the name of Sarenrae no one could possibly keep this straight. This is more a gripe with Golarion in general, though, not specifically the Mwangi Expanse, so I’ll just reiterate for GMs that this functions as a Backstory of Doom for the setting as whole—don’t get too bogged down in the specifics if the pressure behind your eye starts building.
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People of the Mwangi​

One of the neat things that always comes out of moving to a new area of Golarion is seeing how the standards for “normal” shift when it comes to different ancestries and languages. Of course, the Common trade language gives way to Mwangi, but the real standouts are the ancestries that get promoted to common rarity. Here in the expanse, you’re more likely to run into kobolds, lizardfolk, orcs, catfolk, gnolls, and gripplis than you are gnomes and goblins—hope you picked up the Ancestry Guide!

Orcs also get a cultural makeover that’s an improvement over the standard trope but still has some issues in how they’re represented. Even though they’re revered as demon hunters, there’s still an aspect there of consuming or taking on the corruption.

Pretty much every ethnic group gets an excellent write-up here, not just orcs. There’s plenty of detail and history to help you craft a character from multiple different types and tribes of elves, dwarves, humans, and so on, and each one is littered with rich little tidbits for you to spin out into something memorable.

Take my favorite, the Mbe’ke dwarves. Not only do they immediately win me over by starting off with an incredible piece of folklore, that folklore starts off with the banger of a line “This is the story that Mbe’kes tell,” and includes the absolutely pitch-perfect folk tale line of, “Dwarves, of course, can dig through anything, and so quite soon they broke through the sky into the Plane of Air.” Mwwah! Chef’s kiss! Perfection! Give that writer a raise. And then the history goes on to immediately ground (okay, refute) the folklore! I couldn’t ask for a better introduction. Other details, like the blind cloud dragon grandmother that terrorizes grandchildren and makes windchimes, or the Mbe’ke pastime of telling ridiculous tall tales until someone breaks their stoic facade with fits of giggles, really seal the deal on making Mbe’ke my favored people of the Mwangi. Sorry goblins, y’all have to take second place here.

The rarer ancestries are also a treat, varying from the adorable and shy spider-people known as the Anadi to the terrifying and xenomorph-like spider-people known as the Goloma. Someone really made a capital-C Choice in the art brief for the first Goloma we see because that is definitely human teeth in a horse’s mouth on a spider’s body, and I get the feeling that page is going to be permanently taped closed on more than one copy of this book. Gnolls finally get their day in the sun here, and you won’t be able to convince me that their first-level ancestry feat “Crunch” wasn’t actually named “Cronch” until the day before it got sent to print.

The Back Nine​

The religions presented in the Mwangi Expanse provide a number of fresh new ways to approach familiar archetypes, and I’m particularly smitten again by the strong folk tradition of introducing the Gods of the Threefold Sun with a repetitive and almost singsong cadence.

As for the geography—I’m admittedly a fan of giving the major sites the pages they need to breathe and the detail to excite the imagination, with major NPCs and even minor adventure hooks scattered throughout each entry. However, it drives me up the wall that each section needs to come with a sidebar entitled “Where Are We, Again,” when the book doesn’t come with a full-size map insert—one which will inevitably be sold as a separate product. It’s really the only major poke in the eye in the entire book, but boy does it sting.

Finally, the Bestiary in the back of the book has some horribly delightful gems to throw at an adventuring party foolish enough to challenge you, from the mandrill-faced Charau-ka to the absolute units known as Zinbas. The standouts for me are the Grootslang, which is just… it has to be seen to be believed, and even then it takes a minute; and the maliadi. Who made the maliadi? You didn’t need to make hippopotamuses worse, but you went and did it, and now everyone in the Expanse is going to get eaten. I hope you’re happy.

That about does it for Pathfinder Lost Omens: The Mwangi Expanse! A three-hundred page setting explosion packed with more color and lore and history than a single mind can contain, and with a gem on nearly every page. We’ll have more coming soon as we get back to our regular programming of reviewing APs!
 

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Ben Reece

Ben Reece


JThursby

Villager
I liked this book a lot too, but I would have liked more ancestry feats for previous ancestries and archetype options relating to the region and lore. Paizo is usually very good about marrying their setting with their system, so the lack of system options was a bit of a bummer.

As for the review itself, I agree on most points, but I find the dissatisfaction with the Mwangi Orcs silly. There are dozens of humanoid-ish creatures in Golarion described as savage and evil, such as the Charau-Ka in this book or the remnants of the Serpent Empire, yet Orcs get singled out as problematic when even partly associated with such themes. This book’s Orcs were fine (though some demon hunting themed Orc feats would have been nice).
 


Jimmy Dick

Explorer
I thought this was a major move in the right direction by Paizo regarding how areas outside the Eurocentric regions will be treated for Pathfinder Second Edition. The description of the Mwangi Expanse from a native viewpoint has been a very welcome breath of fresh air. It makes me anticipate books on other regions with excitement. The lush descriptions in the book of various places within the Expanse was done quite well too. There is enough detail to make you have an acquaintance with the location, but not enough that it takes away the agency of the GM to develop their own content for those locations.

The new ancestries were very good as well. I wouldn't worry about more ancestry feats. I have no doubt we are going to see plenty of those in various Lost Omens book over time or maybe in more rule books.
 

Justice and Rule

Adventurer
I thought this was a major move in the right direction by Paizo regarding how areas outside the Eurocentric regions will be treated for Pathfinder Second Edition. The description of the Mwangi Expanse from a native viewpoint has been a very welcome breath of fresh air. It makes me anticipate books on other regions with excitement. The lush descriptions in the book of various places within the Expanse was done quite well too. There is enough detail to make you have an acquaintance with the location, but not enough that it takes away the agency of the GM to develop their own content for those locations.

It should really be the new standard for setting books. They need to hit Northern Garund or Casmeron next. Tian Xia would be great in the future as well, though that could probably sustain two books.
 


Have they covered the other continents in the 1st edition?
Tian Xia was covered very lightly in Dragon Empires Gazetteer, a 32-page book with half a page on each significant country. I don't think other places beyond the Inner Sea region were covered.

That said, unlike e.g. Forgotten Realms, the "core" of the Golarion setting isn't continent-based. The primary setting guide for Pathfinder 1 was the "Inner Sea World Guide", so Pathfinder has always seen both sides of its Mediterranean-analogue as being "core". So the Mwangi Expanse was always considered a core part of the setting, whereas Tian Xia, Arcadia, and Casmaron are "foreign". That means I would not expect this sort of treatment of those places any time soon.
 

AlwaysMerlin

Villager
Parts of the non- inner sea areas have been covered in other materials. Parts of Tian Xia through two adventure paths for example. Unfortunately those were not even close to the same amount of information as this book.

I really enjoy the book, and it will definitely come in handy for lore, hooks, and ideas in my games. Running a sandbox in Razmiran and the River Kingdoms currently, and even just giving rumors of happenings in the expanse (and other areas) if it doesn’t inspire them to travel there, at least makes the world seem bigger.
 


Voadam

Legend
I mostly stepped away from 2e until a couple Humble Bundles so I had not been paying much attention to recent releases and did not know until this review that the Mwangi book was going to be a 300 page hardcover and not just a 64 page supplement.

Good to hear its a deep dive on lore.
 


What's the rough proportion of game-mechanical material vs descriptive material? I'm not a PF player, but am considering picking this one up for inspiration if it isn't too mechanics-heavy.
 



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