All Shapes and Sizes
One of the greatest lures of Pathfinder has always been the chance to build whatever kind of weird and wonderful fantasy hero you can imagine, and while it may not be the deepest book in the world the Lost Omens Ancestry Guide is a grin-inducing cavalcade of background options that can truly make an adventuring party stand out in a crowd.
The latest sourcebook for the game’s second edition, the Ancestry Guide is a product made with the simple goal of stuffing as many ancestries – Pathfinder’s term for a character’s species and cultural origin – into the game as possible. The result is a kaleidoscope of creatures that boggles the mind and applies a jolt of pure excitement to whatever part of the brain is dedicated to brewing up new characters.
With this book in hand, it’s now possible to roll up an android Tin Man, leshy Scarecrow and catfolk Cowardly Lion to accompany Dorothy (who’s probably a rather boring human bard) along her monster-haunted yellow brick road. If you have an extra player, you could even gin up a beastkin Toto to accompany them.
Now, whether that idea appeals to you or not is probably a fair indication of how you’ll get along with the book as a whole. If you’re of the opinion that Tolkien just about nailed all the fantasy races you could ever need to run your game, it’s probably a bit of a waste. If, however, your response was “that’s nice, but I kinda need someone with wings to play the flying monkeys”, this is probably something you need in your library as soon as possible.
All in all, the book tackles about 30 different ancestries. Of these, about half of them are ancestries that have already appeared in assorted Pathfinder rulebooks, with the new material simply consisting of new feats and cultural options. The remainder, however, are brand new to this edition.
It would be nice to try and give some sort of impression of the newcomers as a whole, but in all honesty the group is so incredibly diverse that this feels almost impossible. On the one hand you get the esoteric, planer-fantasy of the aphorites – mortal beings infused with a glowing shot of pure order – and their chaotic cousins the ghanzi. On the other, you get a handful of classic horror creations for your table to explore, including the werewolf-esque beastkin and the Frankensteined fleshwarp. And in between them are almost a dozen other thoroughly out-there ancestries to pick from, each of them with some cool or clever trait that makes even the quasi-mystical elves, dwarves and halflings feel passé.
It’s easy, of course, to dismiss these options as being nothing more than fodder for the optimisers and theory-crafters of the world – the ones who aim to break the game wide open by mashing together the perfect combination of feats, skills and ancestries. However, to do so would be to ignore the excellent roleplaying and storytelling sparks that these fresh powers and backgrounds can offer.
Take, for example, a new feat allowing a changeling character to decide they are descended from a Blood Hag. Not only does this add in a little bit of flavour, but it also manifests rather viscerally in their new ability to quickly ditch a disguise by literally ripping off their own skin. Is this a particularly useful talent? Perhaps not. Is it flavourful as all hell? Yes. Yes it is.
Really, the biggest problem with the book is one that becomes obvious when you compare the number of ancestries with the reasonably modest pagecount. Once you allow for an introduction and some ancillary rules around gear, you end up with each ancestry getting barely more than four pages of material in total.
This is enough room to get the basics of the culture and a decent wedge of rules across, but only just. While many of the brand new options get a shade more space to breathe, you’re still getting a whistle-stop tour of what makes them exciting to play. If you were hoping that the Ancestry Guide would delve into culture and history to any real detail, you might be disappointed.
The entire book is definitely a case of breadth over depth, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Pathfinder is a game of options, and that is exactly what the Ancestry Guide brings to the table. That, and the chance to finally roll up a sprite that’s small enough to ride your party’s fighter into battle.
An avalanche of ancestries sure to keep your table feeling fresh for years to come
You thought playing as an orc was out there? Try rocking up as a rat with a broadsword
This feature originally appeared in Issue 53 of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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