Saturday, February 25, 2017
Gnomes of Golarion is a 32-page entry in the Pathfinder Player Companion line of books. The subject matter, obviously, is gnomes; what this book does quite well is explain how gnomes in the official campaign setting of Golarion are different than standard "D&D" gnomes. Gnomes in Golarion are exiles from another plane of existence, the First World, and their presence on Golarion comes with a price: The Bleaching. The Bleaching is a sort of wasting-disease that affects gnomes if they fall prey to the status quo and stop seeking out new experiences and wonders. Thus, the Bleaching ties in perfectly to a game that's about adventurers, and gives gnome characters a natural reason to travel, encounter dangers, and be curious: they have to do something to stave off the Bleaching! I really like the concept, and although I haven't played a gnome character in Golarion, I certainly have an interest in doing so.
I really like the front cover's artwork, as it's brighter and just a tad more "cartoony" than normal Paizo art which fits gnomes quite well. The inside front cover is a helpful summary of gnome racial traits, favored deities and regions, and naming conventions. All of this can be found scattered in other books, but it's helpful to have it collected in one place. The inside back-cover is a map of major gnome settlements in the Inner Sea Region, descriptions of which we'll find inside the book. Gnomes of Golarion is divided into nine separate sections.
Section 1 is ten pages long and titled simply "Gnomes of Golarion." The first couple of pages give a "fluff" or "flavour" explanation for the mechanical racial traits of gnomes, which perhaps isn't strictly necessary but better for players than "just because." The first real meat in this section is the description of the gnomes as exiles from the First World, the curse of the Bleaching, and how the race eventually discovered a way to stave it off. As I mentioned in the first paragraph, it's really good. The rest of the section delves into other aspects of gnome culture and society: birth and death, clothing, their fondness for pranks and jokes (where some of the unfortunate hatred of gnomes by gamers comes from), and their skill at invention (I quite liked the description of gnomes as being quite skilled inventors whose devices work quite well; it's just that the devices do things that other races find absurd, and gnomes are easily distracted and unlikely to repeat their inventions for broader distribution). The section ends with a couple of paragraph each on two varieties of gnomes shunned by their mainstream kin: spriggans (feral gnomes) and svirfneblin (subterranean gnomes). Readers interested in this last bit will get only a tease, and will need to seek out other Pathfinder books for more information.
Section 2, "The Wonderseekers" (two pages long), introduces a new organisation whose goal is to seek out gnomes who appear to be falling prey to the the Bleaching and get them active by awakening their sense of wonder. The group thus sponsors new adventuring parties, makes travel and exploration magic available at quite reasonable prices, etc. The Wonderseekers are presented as an option to use as a Faction under the Faction Guide, and contains some information tied to that subsystem. I haven't ever played with Factions, and can't really comment on the idea. The section introduces a new feat, Master of Wonders, which has membership in the Wonderseekers as a prerequisite: it allows gnomes to reroll a result on a rod of wonders and take the second roll. Overall, I like the concept of The Wonderseekers and could see them as a good way to get a gnome PC or (perish the thought!) an all-gnome party started in a campaign. Imagine gnomes whose lives have become dull and routine being pushed (or dragged) out of their humdrum existence by The Wonderseekers into a life of adventure!
Section 3, "Gnome Traits" (two pages long), describes several new background traits in the following categories: Combat (x3), Magic (x3), Social (x4). All are restricted to gnomes. The traits definitely fall on the average- to low- spectrum in terms of mechanical advantage to gnome PCs and they don't really do a lot that's exciting (usually a minor skill boost here or there, with the best perhaps being one that raises a PC's caster level for illusion spells). But, they're all flavoured well and clearly show ways for players to use the traits as role-playing opportunities. No complaints here.
Section 4, "Gnome Settlements" (six pages) covers, with two to three paragraphs each, several notable gnome towns in the Inner Sea. I think this amount of attention is probably just right for a Player Companion, as it gives PCs enough information to pick one of these places as a "hometown" for their character. The entries focus on what's distinct or interesting about each location, which keeps the section from becoming a dry gazetteer. The following settlements are included: Brastlewark, Finderplain, Gogpodda, Irrere, Sovvox, Kalsgard, Omesta, Quantium, Thom, Tiven's Reed, Whistledown, Umok, Wispil, and Yavipho. I imagine it's hard for a writer to come up with interesting descriptions of so many different cities that all fit into the overall picture of gnome culture, so this is a job well done.
Section 5, "Gnome Weapons" (two pages) introduces about a half-dozen new weapons and a couple of shields. The idea here is solid, and one of the weapons is hilarious and fits the "gnome invention" concept perfectly: the Ripsaw Glaive which is basically a chainsaw! There is a problem here in that one of the weapons, the Flickmace, receives an entry on the weapons table but doesn't receive any description; normally, that wouldn't be such a big deal, but it is for the Flickmace because it's a small-size weapon that has reach, which makes it an intriguing option for Medium-sized PCs who want a one-handed reach option. Paizo's policy of not publishing errata or clarifications for the Player's Companion line is unfortunate here. In addition, another weapon, the Switchscythe, has a confusing and probably erroneous description in relation to how it can be disguised as a quarterstaff.
Section 6, "Faith" (two pages) contains short descriptions of commonly-worshipped deities and the reasons why gnomes venerate them. Instead of a new clerical spell, like one might expect, this section contains a mechanical description of the Bleaching as a curse whose onset is middle-age and has a frequency of 1/year. I think it might have been better to keep the Bleaching as a purely discretionary "fluff" concept instead of attempting to quantify it and remove its mystery. But this is Pathfinder, and if it doesn't have numbers a lot of readers won't pay attention to it, so I understand the decision.
Section 7, "Magic" (two pages) starts with an attempt to give a coherent reason why gnomes have the seemingly-unrelated grab bag of innate spell-like abilities they start with. I'm not sure it's successful, but I appreciate the attempt. Next, there are three new feats (all limited to gnomes) Effortless Trickery allows for spellcasters to concentrate on illusions as a swift action, and would be a no-brainer for dedicated specialists. Extra Gnome Magic adds to the number of times per day a gnome can use their innate spell-like abilities; I would consider this a waste of something as powerful as a feat. Threatening Illusion is a cool metamagic feat that allows illusions to threaten squares for the purposes of flanking if an enemy fails a will save; I could imagine a lot of uses for this one. Finally, there's an odd new spell: Illusory Poison, which creates just what the name implies. I'm not sure if it would be worth it, since the target receives a Will save and then Fort saves.
Section 8, "'Persona" (two pages) introduces two new gnome NPCs. I've talked a lot in the past about how weird it is to see NPCs in a Player Companion, and Paizo long-ago stopped doing it. Still, I have to admit that the two NPCs here are great: one of them intentionally loses a magical coin to interesting-looking people so she can challenge herself to steal it back, while the other is a Don Quixote-like gnome who, if it had been possible at the time, should have been statted out as a cavalier rather than a fighter.
Section 9, "Social" (two pages) concludes the book with nine (!) new feats that offer gnomes various tricks when using the Bluff skill. Most of them probably aren't worth it, as they require a standard or full-round action to Bluff an enemy so that the PC gains, on the next round, a relatively small mechanical advantage to something else. They have great flavour, but are probably more for the "RP above stats" devotees. One feat, Babble-Peddler, has been known to create some problems in game play by allowing gnomes to get away with some stunning thefts quite easily since they'll have maxed-out their Bluff skill and most NPCs haven't done the same with Sense Motive.
Overall, Gnomes of Golarion is a strong addition to the "races" line of Player Companion books. It's far more interesting and original than Dwarves of Golarion, for example, because it gives a clear reason why the race in Golarion is at least somewhat different than it's portrayed in generic fantasy settings. I quite liked the Bleaching concept. Too often, gaming sourcebooks provide a ton of dry historical or cultural exposition that is difficult or impossible to see manifest in actual gameplay. But, the "lived reality" of the Bleaching is an excellent motivator for gnome PCs. GMs also don't need to worry about the Player Companion creating any sort of power-creep; the mechanical advantages it provides are actually quite modest. So for players and GMs interested in gnomes, this book would be a great start.