The Mwangi Expanse is huge. No, not the place, the book. It’s over 300 pages. That would have been above-average for a Pathfinder 1E book – it’s twice the size of the other PF2 Lost Omens books. The bulk of that is around 100 pages each on the people of the expanse and another 140 on the geography of the expanse. I know those are just numbers, but it’s great to get such a big, beefy text on a part of Golarion that hasn’t gotten this level of detail before (at least, not in one concentrated go). Balumbdar would be proud.
The Mwangi Expanse is a portion of the continent of Garund. Much of the ink that’s been spilled on Golarion concerns the northern continent of Avistan, and much of the coverage of Garund has focused on the northern and eastern coasts (Rahadoum, Thuvia, Osirion, Katapesh, Nex, Alkenstar, Geb, etc.). The book the Mwangi Expanse covers the western and central portions of Garund, as far south as Vidrian (as far south as the pull-out map went, if you have one of the old maps of the Inner Sea region). Note that this is a larger area than what has, in-world, traditionally been identified as the Mwangi Expanse – the place where there’s a “Mwangi Expanse” label old some of the older maps now says “Mwangi Jungle,” while the broader region includes the Sodden Lands, Sargava, and Vidrian.
The history of the expanse is very helpfully presented over eight pages, from the ancient past through the Serpent’s Skull Adventure Path (if I’m keeping my APs straight).
The most common folk in the Mwangi Expanse (like most large areas in Golarion) are humans. Several ethnicities are discussed here (Bekyar, Bonuwat, Caldaru, Mauxi, Sargavan, Vidric, and Zenj). These, however, are short reads. The bulk of the extensive discussion here is presentation of six new ancestries (see below) and lengthy discussions on seven non-human peoples (and their lands) – three groups of elves (collectively known as the Mualijae), two of dwarves, one of halflings., and one of orcs. At ten pages (!) each, that means I get thirty pages of elves.
The ‘baseline’ Mualijae are probably the Ekujae. These elves who stayed on Golarion during Earthfall, instead of retreating to Sovyrian. In some ways, the Ekujae are traditional ‘good guy’ elves. They’re environmentally friendly. They live in a forest (a jungle, to be more specific). If bad guys enter the forest, they will politely ask them to leave, then kill those who refuse. They have defended against a great darkness and know that they will have to again. They are both militant and wise. There are differences – their clans have democratically elected leaders, they particularly hate slavers, and their lands are littered with demonic shrines that need guarding.
The second group of elves is the Alijae, who inhabit the rather demon-infested city of Nagisa (in order to explore and contain its threat). They broke off from other elves over this goal, and their desire to write down for the sake of accurate preservation what had previously been oral history (including all over the walls of Nagisa). They are rather fond of Nocticula, if you’re a fan of that story of redemption.
The third group of elves is the Kallijae, who concluded that it was the elves themselves who would become the prophesied ancient evil. In this regard, their culture focuses on personal purity. They set up shop near Usaro, and their constant warfare against the minions of Angazhan have kept the Kallijae’s population in check.
The Mbe’ke dwarves ended their Quest for the Sky by partnering with cloud dragons (probably after a period of competition). For dwarves, they might stand out the most for tending towards being clean-shaven. The Mbe’ke are also noteworthy for being ‘normal’ good types who get into conflicts with the pirates of The Shackles (sometimes it seems to me that the players’ fondness for pirates translates into frequent portrayals of the pirates as just some sort of freedom-loving party ships). The term Mbe’ke can also refer to anyone who lives in Mbe’ke, not just dwarves – so, for example, there’s a non-trivial population of Mbe’ke kobolds (because they also adore those dragons).
The other dwarven population is the Taralu, a nomadic folk scattered across the Mwangi Jungle. The Taralu frequently function as mediators, having once upon a time been involved in the grinding conflict between Geb and Nex. Physically, they are most striking for their vibrantly dyed hair.
The halfling people described are the Song’o, who in many ways match with standardized notions of halflings keeping out of sight and living their pastoral existences as unmolested as possible, just in a different climate. They have a bit more bite than that, however, more proactively helping those in need or striking against those with ill intent. Other cultural markers include matriarchal, druidic rule, gauging of earlobes and lower lips, and stick-fighting.
The Matanji orcs are considered the Mwangi’s foremost experts on fighting demons (which is saying something, given all the demon-fighting we’ve already talked about). There’s a pretty clear flip-the-script here on orcs and half-orcs in the Mwangi Expanse, avoiding any history of conflict with humans and presenting the presence of orcs as a sign of security, not threat.
Of course, that’s a tiny shard of the extensive information that’s presented on these peoples in Mwangi Expanse.
Although not taking up a ton of space in the grand scheme of things, I always like getting more information on the various deities (or deity-like beings) of Golarion, and the Mwangi expanse presents 12 (although one, Grandmother Spider, is a repeat). Four of those are undead “god-king” Walkena, who rules over the city-state of Mzali, and the threefold sun gods whose memories he has sought to eliminate – Tlehar (dawn), Chohar (noon), and Luhar (dusk). Another figure who has played a role in Pathfinder history is Angazhan, the ravenous demon ape. Lubaiko, who has striking art, is a deity of literal and figurative wildfires and explosions – a deity I suspect may be liked a little bit too much by PFS players. And I already mentioned Balumbdar, the god of being really, really big. Beyond that there are deities for catfolk (Adanye), a guardian of deadly secrets willing to get his hands dirty (Kalekot), a serpentine empyreal lord (Mazduleh), and the great wyrm Uvuko, who champions change, cycles, and growth.
The longest section of the Mwangi Expanse is on the geography of the place. There’s around 40 pages of traditional ‘gazetteer’ style overview, plus another 100 pages specifically detailing eight cities and one nation of note.
The general geography section covers the Bandu Hills, Barrier Wall, Mwangi Jungle, Kaava Lands, Lake Ocota, Mugumo Plains, the Ruins of Kho, the Screaming Jungle, the Sodden Lands, and the Terwa Uplands. Each area gets an overview and then presentation of specific locations within that region. Most are four each, but this can vary. For example, in the four pages on the Screaming Jungle, it discusses the place’s dreamlike atmosphere, wildlife density, and how to get there, then touches on the tower of Dbede (a vast termite mound), Elokolobha (the biloko city of Elokolbha), the Korir River, the snowcapped peack of Mount Dowama, and the Devouring Kingdom of Rastel.
Those eight cities then get a dozen pages each. Two of these are an introductory splash with a high-level city map, stat block for the city, and pictorial information on resources. Standard topics include life in the city, the people of the city, and some number of locations grouped under ‘exploring the city,’ but it’s freeform after that.
- Bloodcove: You could probably guess from the name that this a haven for pirates, illicit trade, and other criminal activity. The name itself comes from the color of the water that flows under the city, which itself is built atop the roots of great mangrove trees. Important organizations include the Aspsis Consortium, who once ruled the city but have more recently been pushed out by the piratical Free Captains because the pirates are apparently so much more loyal, agreeable, and honorable (see prior observation about pirates always getting good publicity in Pathfinder).
- Jaha: The city of Jaha was once inhabited by xenophonic fanatics who enslaved the local iruxi (lizardfolk) before everyone vanished. Now the city has been reopened by a coalition of humans and iruxi. Aside from trying to distinguish themselves from the city’s recent past, the inhabitants are rather fixated on astrology (the book doesn’t quite manage to reconcile the Jaxahi’s apparently pervasive use of astrology with their rejection of astrology as a means of prediction, based on the repeated cataclysmic failures of such predictions).
- Kibwe: The setting for the recent The Slithering adventure, Kibwe is another city that’s much more built up than its population would imply, as the current occupants took up residence in the fortified walls, rather than building them around their own settlement. In addition to the walls, there are a plethora of statutes around the city, the purposes of which remain unknown.
- Mzali: Mzali is ruled by the undead child god-king Walkena. Rebels (the Bright Lions) seek a return of other forms of worship, and also maybe not so much tyrannical brutality. But the city is much recovered under Walkena’s leadership, the Chelaxians have been driver off, and life is much easier for those who loyally worship.
- Nantambu: Nantambu is probably best known for the Magaambya Academy, the school established by Old Man Jatembe (character options for this school were presented in the Lost Omens Character Guide). I think Nantambu stands as the main ‘normal’ city in the Mwangi Expanse – prosperous, functioning government, won’t try to kill you for being different, that sort of thing. Indeed, the most unusual thing about the city is it’s almost total lack of problems or conflict.
- Osibu: Osibu, on the other hand, has exactly one problem – I suppose that’s what you get for dubbing something the “Nemesis Well.” It hasn’t caused problems yet, but there are signs that it might in the future. Beyond that, everyone gets along, the Green Faith keeps everything copacetic, and this bustling metropolis of over 10,000 is like a small paradise of a community. I would say that it’s the sort of place that would set off warning bells as a little too idyllic, but everyone getting along and being very community and environmentally driven is pretty par for the course for the Expanse.
- Senghor: This naval power has been grappling with pirates since the Sargava fell and stopped paying them off. Relatively massive by local standards, Senghor is home to almost 30,000 souls. Senghor uses its size to force fair prices for its workers and craftspeople, while keeping out slavers and refusing to make deals with pirates. Yet still the city manages to feel like it’s not entirely a positive force.
- Usaro: If you were worried about too much harmony, welcome to the Mwangi’s resident hive of demon-worshiping fanatics. Anghazan’s town is full of evil energy and mandrill-folk.
Vidrian is the one non-city that gets a big write-up. Vidrian was once Sargava, a colony of Cheliax. They have thrown off the Chelaxian yoke (helped when the Chelaxian governor of Sargava ended up on the wrong side of a dynastic struggle), and then had to fend off the rapacious Free Captains (whose publicity machine failed them here). Vidrian works with Senghor against bother slavers and pirates, but finds little assistance from the other city-states of the Mwangi Expanse. Vidrian has the most free-wheeling feel out of the areas given the full treatment in the Mwangi Expanse – exactly the sort of place that adventurers might be able to make a mark helping folk, winning glory, and that sort of thing.
The Mwangi Expanse is almost entirely setting material, but there is a bit of crunch. Aside from a handful of thing scattered in other sections (like the Wyrmblessed sorcerer bloodline), this material is in two places – six new ancestries and a bestiary. Some of the ancestries are (I think) entirely new, and pretty wild, while a couple are returning options. The new ancestries (most of them fairly isolationist) are:
- Anadi – Shapeshifting spiderfolk.
- Conrasu – An abstract essence surrounded by a self-constructed wooden frame. Associated with aeons, conrasu are strongly inclined towards being lawful neutral. Their exoskeleton lets them heal from sunlight, and some ancestry options improve the offensive or defensive capabilities of the exoskeleton.
- Gnolls – You probably know what these are. Two notable heritage options allow for character to be Small or quite large (more hit points and bonuses on shoving and tripping, but still not Large).
- Goloma – In some ways the Goloma reminded me of Saru, with almost paranoid hypervigilance. But they look a lot scarier, with their eight-eyed, somewhat equine heads covered by chitinous faceplates and chitin claws to boot. This fits with their philosophy that if you think that someone is out to get you, the best response is to try to be so intimidating that they leave you alone.
- Grippli – The heritage options for these Small frogfolk include a prehensile tongue, sticky feet, and webbing to glide. Their ancestry feats (beyond the standards like lore and weapon familiarity) tend to focus on furthering those physical adaptations or relate to the jungle or hunting.
- Shisk – Visually, the shisk look a lot like humans, but are of avian descent and instead of hair they have vestigial plumage, most notably spines along their arms and on their heads. These quills are the subject of several heritage options and early ancestry feats, given them offensive or defensive uses.
The bestiary runs 18 pages, including versions the anadi. Other ‘normal humanoid’ entries include the biloko (crocodile-folk) and charau-ka (mandrill-like humanoids created to serve Angazhan). The challenge range is as covered as it can be in 18 pages, with most single-digit levels taken care of and a few higher ones (topping out at 17). My personal favorite is the grootslag (16), which kind of looks like a Gargantuan elephant until you notice the six tusks, gaping maw, and snakelike hindquarters. Looking almost kind-of normal makes it that much scarier. Another striking entry (and on literally the same two-page spread) is the k’nonna (8), which is half a person – the right, or the left. One leg, one eye, one arm, half a torso, half a head – and still highly dextrous.
I’m really glad that we got Lost Omens: The Mwangi Expanse. It’s an aspect of Golarion that hasn’t gotten a ton of attention in the past, and we got a tome with enough page count to really do it justice. I think the only downside is that now I really want to see more Lost Omens books that are given the space to go into depth like the Mwangi Expanse was.
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