Review – Inner Sea Races

PZO9280            Inner Sea Races is a setting and character option book for the Pathfinder RPG and for Golarion, the official Pathfinder Campaign Setting. Inner Sea Races presents setting information and character options for over 20 races (most of them playable) and a dozen human ethnicities. Inner Sea Races is a 254-page, full-color hardcover, and retails for about $45.

The Quick Take: Lots of pretty sweet character options. The flavor section is loaded, but you’ll need to have a working knowledge of the Inner Sea area in order to maximize that aspect of the book.

Contents

Inner Sea Races is organized into two distinct chunks – 190 pages of pure setting material and the rest character options (I remember being on the fence when I first ran into an RPG supplement that shunted all of the mechanics away from the flavor like this, but I’ve found that it’s incredibly useful in practice to have all the mechanics in one section).

Setting: Inner Sea Races breaks the races up into three groups – common, uncommon, and rare – based on how likely they are to show up in the Inner Sea area of Golarion. Each of the non-human standard races (Dwarves, Elves, Gnomes, Half-Elves, Half-Orcs, Halflings) gets eight pages, and each of the twelve presented human ethnicities gets four pages. The uncommon races (Aasimar, Drow, Geniekin, Goblins, Kobolds, Orcs, Tieflings) gets a six page spread. The rare races (Androids, Catfolk, Changelings, Dhampirs, Fetchlings, Ghorans, Gillmen, Hobgoblins, Ratfolk, Strix) gets two pages. Although the varied page count obviously affects how in-depth the coverage is, the spread for common and uncommon races includes history, likely characteristics, opinions others may have about you, physiology, where in Golarion one is likely to find these folks, family, life cycle, society, faith, culture, relations with other races, how typical members of the race might take to the adventuring life, and a few themes specific to that race.

PZO9280-EkujaeElfThere are also brief 1-3 paragraph write-ups of the following: Kasathas, Lashunta, Triaxians, Trox, Kitsune, Nagaji, Samsarans, Tengus, Wayangs, Aquatic Elves, Gathlains, Grippli, Merfolk, Skinwalkers, Vanaras, Vishkanyas, Wyrwoods, and Wyvarans.

Mechanics: There is an awful lot packed into these 60 pages of mechanics. For one thing, there is the basic mechanical information you’d need to play a member of every single one of the races mentioned above, even that list at the end that only got a couple of paragraphs each in the setting section. And some of them – like Aasimar, Dhampir, Geniekin, Tieflings, and Skinwalkers – have half a dozen subtypes included. Although there are mechanics to use each of these options as a PC, I wouldn’t recommend it, and the book divides the races into ones that should always be OK for PC use (from a mechanics perspective, anyway – your game may not have something like catfolk in it, of course), ‘advanced’ options that offer some situational bonuses and/or flexibility beyond what the core races get, and races that qualify as monstrous races and your GM should really never let you use without modification (about a dozen of the races fall into this category). Unless I’m mistaken, the base mechanics for each race have been previously printed elsewhere, but Inner Sea Races gives it all in one convenient location.

In addition to that gathering of content, each race gets one or more alternative racial traits (replacements for the standard traits that are part of the base write-up), race traits (no, that’s not the same thing – these are sort-of half-feats that are tied to a specific race or ethnicity), feats (almost all teamwork feats, available for both races and ethnicities), and a selection of spells and magic items.

Opinions

PZO9280-VarisianRandom crunchy bits I found cool in Inner Sea Races:

  • Spell Smasher (Dwarf racial trait): A dwarf with this trait focuses on attacks that will disrupt opposing spellcasters, at the cost of some of the usual subtype-based bonuses.
  • Overlooked Mastermind (Half-Orc racial trait): Those judgmental jerks won’t know what hit them when your Half-Orc drops a pile of social skill bonuses on them. Sweet talk them, take their money, and leave them thinking they pulled one over on the dumb green guy.
  • Efficient Packer (Gnome race trait): not because I really need extra carrying capacity that much, but because that’s a delightful name for a feat
  • Enduring Spellcraft (Human Azlanti race trait): higher caster level for duration only
  • Belt of Impossible Action (Human Vudrani wondrous item): perform combat maneuvers on giants like they were halflings, and run wild in difficult terrain
  • Tremor Bar (Kobold wondrous item): because every trap-loving draconian needs a magical mithral crowbar

As one should expect from a Pathfinder Campaign Setting book, the setting material in Inner Sea Races is specific to the world of Golarion. A lot of the discussion may be generically applicable to how members of a particular race might fit into a general fantasy world, but you’re not going to be able to, for example, take the entire eight pages on Dwarves and just drop it whole cloth into a random fantasy setting (the Advanced Race Guide might be more up your alley if that’s what you’re looking for). The writing also assumes a reasonable level of knowledge of the political geography of the Inner Sea region.

If you’re in the prime target for Inner Sea Races – you’re playing in the official Pathfinder Campaign Setting, or you’re just steeped in it as a reader – this book will be pretty amazing. The write-ups for each of the races/ethnicities  provide a lot of hooks on how to think about the characters, and their place in the world. Even if you’re not into the setting, just the dump truck of race-based options contained in the last quarter of the book will make a nice addition to your character options toolbox. A lot of the mechanics have a bit of fluff that relates specifically to Golarion, but works just fine anywhere.

Promotional consideration was provided in the form of a review copy.

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