Review: Pathfinder 2E Lost Omens Character Guide
The first full-size sourcebook for Pathfinder 2E isn’t going to break any games wide open, but it does an incredible job of offering both a slab of cool, creative character options and expanding players’ abilities to connect with the shared fantasy world of Golarion.
For many people this second part may not seem particularly important – most of us are here for the cool powers, not the world-building – but it’s this iron-clad tie to the setting that really helps the Lost Omens Character Guide stand out. It helps to make the book feel like something unique, rather than a simple list of powers and feats for optimisers to toy with.
While there are plenty of generic fantasy choices buried within its pages, many of the new options in the book are intimately woven into the world itself. These can range from minor tweaks to ancestry, such as allowing humans from shadow-clad Nidal to see in the dark, through to entire archetypes that allow characters to join up with the famous Pathfinder Society.
Almost every new option expands what a character can do, but the vast majority of new choices seem designed to fit in with cool concepts or add a bit of flavour to your hero rather than unlock game-warping combos. They’re flourishes rather than killer blows and allow characters to express their personality in the most Pathfinder was possible – through rules.
We may look back on some seemingly innocuous option a few years from now and lament that we didn’t see its wild strength earlier, but for the time being it seems as though the Lost Omens Character Guide has its power-level aimed roughly where it needs to be.
Lizards & Leaves
The book is divided into roughly three even chunks, the first of which deals with existing heritages and ancestries. Every single core ancestry gets a look in here, with most of them getting a decent slab of new feats to play around with.
This is perhaps the least exciting but most functional section of the Lost Omens Character Guide. Every single character in the game is going to get access to at least a handful of new choices here, most of which are designed to tie the heroes to some aspect of Golarion’s culture.
The sections on gnomes and goblins – both of which have had their traditional fantasy roles given a unique spin in the world of Pathfinder – are particularly slick. This is helped out by some beautiful art, especially the kaleidoscopic designs on the gnomes, but also by the selection of nifty new feats that help to make these magically-fuelled ancestries feel special.
Simply put, if you aren’t immediately drawn by a feats that allows a goblin to set themselves on fire mid-battle, I don’t know how else to appeal to you.
Of course, the Lost Omens Character Guide doesn’t just deal with the existing core ancestries. The second section in the book outlines three brand new ancestries – the warlike hobgoblins, the magical leshies and the taciturn lizardfolk.
The leshy, who are a race of animated plantfolks, are by far the most exciting and magical of this trio. Depending on how you imagine your leafy hero you can play them as a walking mushroom, a humanoid clump of vines or even a pumpkin-headed vegetable-man, all of which come with their own weird and wonderful rules. They’re bizarre little creatures but that just makes them more appealing to play around with.
The other ancestries on offer are just as functional as the leshy but don’t quite have the same innate magic and wonder. Hobgoblins suffer from what feels like a fuzzy, indistinct identity based around a hatred of magic and vaguely evil overtones. Their mechanical design is fine, but even after poring through the flavour text it’s hard to get a grasp on why you should be excited to roll up a hobgoblin adventurer.
The last third or so of the Lost Omens Character Guide is home to the meatiest and most substantial options, but also the ones that are hardest to casually add onto a character. It deals with almost a half-dozen of Golarion’s best-known organisations and lays out a solid selection of archetype feats that their members can take.
Where the ancestry options represent minor tweaks to your heroes, these archetypes can replace a swath of class feats and really add some unique twists to the character. A few levels devoted to Hellknight training, for example, can turn any warrior into a bulwark of infernal power and allow them to easily stand out from the amassed legions of fighters clogging up countless gaming tables.
It’s hard to know how well these would play out in a game set outside of Golarion, but if you are running a campaign in the standard setting there’s an incredible amount of both flavour and power to be mined here. The hoops a character has to jump through to join up – as well as the class feats they have to sacrifice – should keep things from being too game-warping, and the amount of story hooks a GM can toss out based on their membership should keep the stories flowing nicely.
The most worrying options – as far as basic theorycrafting goes, anyway – are probably those tied to the Magaambyan, a magical academy deep within the Mwangi Expanse. Members of the group can gain access to so-called Halcyon Spells, which combine the arcane and primal spell lists, as well as a huge range of abilities that tweak or modify spellcasting.
Being able to mix-and-match different spell lists has traditionally been an incredibly powerful ability, and though the power level seems to be controlled for the moment this is something that will only get more powerful as more sourcebooks are added onto the system over the years.
One final issue with the organisation rules is that many of them rely on information only found in the Lost Omens World Guide. While most folks with access to this book probably have a copy of the Word Guide sitting around too, it’s slightly irritating that you can already roll up a character that requires you to bring three entirely separate sources to the table.
A World Worth Exploring
Honestly, the Lost Omens Character Guide isn’t for everybody or for every table. Not every GM is going to want to deal with the vast amount of new feats that their players can choose from, and not every player is going to want to pick through the endless lists of choices to ensure they’re making the optimal choices.
It’s also a slightly questionable purchase if you don’t plan on running adventures in the classic Golarion setting, as you’re either going to have to re-flavour huge swathes of the book or ignore it entirely.
Indeed, perhaps the greatest strength of the book is how neatly it ties its characters into the world it creates. Pathfinder has always been a game about playing with cool powers and it would have been easy for Paizo to churn out a big book of thoroughly generic options for players to power-up their heroes, but they’ve instead chosen to keep their first few releases tightly bound with the setting and focus on making things fun and flavourful above all else.
If nothing else, the Lost Omens Character Guide is an incredibly encouraging sign for the future of Pathfinder 2E. It’s well-written, beautifully illustrated and built around a stack of clever little options that can (mostly) be easily slipped into the core classes without disrupting the game.
I was afraid that the first sourcebook for the new edition would mark the opening of the floodgates – the first sign that we’d soon be facing the ultra-optimised, super-complex character builds that eventually plagued its predecessor. Instead, we got something that’s fun and exciting, which has left me eagerly waiting the next set of releases.
A lovely bag of options to trick out characters and tie them into the Pathfinder 2E setting