Saturday, April 1, 2017
Orcs of Golarion is a book about . . . well . . . . Orcs . . . in Golarion! Really, there's no other plausible way for me to complete that sentence. To be more precise, both Orcs and Half-orcs are covered in this entry in the Pathfinder Player Companion line. With that awkward introduction out of the way, let's stick to just the facts, ma'm. This is a 32-page full colour book, with great cover art. The interior art seems more sparse and lower quality than most Paizo books, and much of it consists of drawings of various Orc banners; we'll just have to chalk that up to a busy month for Paizo's freelance artists. The insider front cover is a very useful recap of Orc and Half-orc racial traits, while the inside back cover is a clearer copy of the cover art. The interior is separated into six sections. Before getting into them, it might be helpful as a general matter to say that Orcs of Golarion is an example of the older style of Player Companions insofar as it contains far more description (background "flavour" or "fluff" depending on your preferences) than the newer style which has PC options covering every square inch.
The first, longest, and most important section is titled simply "Orcs of Golarion" and comes to 21 pages. The first few pages of the section are a history of the race in the official campaign setting of Golarion, and it's interesting enough if not exactly mind-blowing. The next few pages feature what are essentially "in-game" explanations for Orc and Half-orc racial traits like Ferocity. Cultural aspects like Diet, Lifespan, Religion, and so forth come next and take up several pages. There's a terrible drawing of an Orc on page 7, by the way: I keep thinking it's a barefoot rock giant. I'm being a bit silly in this review, but the writing here is solid and informative for anyone who really wants to understand Orc life. A new bloodline ("Orc") for Sorcerers is introduced and it looks pretty cool for those who like to mix melee combat in with their spellcasting. The next few pages provide brief overviews of various different Orc tribes through Golarion, and discusses how the species operates on more unusual terrain, like jungles or mountains. Major Orc settlements, like the famous Hold of Belkzen receive several paragraphs of coverage each. There's about two pages devoted to how Half-orcs do and do not fit in within Orc culture (and human-centered mainstream society) before the section ends with with several new background traits. There's 13 new Race traits, 6 new Regional traits, and 4 new Religion traits. The Race traits are, of course, restricted to Orcs and Half-orcs, but the others could in theory by taken by any PC from the appropriate region or religion. I thought the traits were well-done: most give something more interesting and/or more useful than the traditional "+1 to a particular skill and it becomes a class skill for you" model. The Tusked trait, for example, gives you a bite attack while the Unafraid trait (for (Half-)orcs from Ustalav) gives a +2 on saves vs. fear.
Section two, "Combat" (two pages) introduces ten new feats. All of them are limited to Orcs and Half-orcs only. Many of them play off the rage class feature and would thus probably be of most interest to barbarians and bloodragers. I didn't find the feats particularly interesting, as too many of them simply provide an extra round of rage upon doing something special (landing a critical hit, killing an enemy, etc.).
Section three, "Faith" (two pages) discusses the role of shamans in Orc culture and includes a sidebar on (the fairly generic) gods often worshipped by Orcs. There's only one piece of crunch in this section: a new feat called "Adept Channel" which gives some divine spellcasters who can't channel the ability to do so twice per day.
Section four, "Magic" (two pages) begins with a too-short discussion of Orc witch doctors (arcane spellcasters) and their rivalry with shamans. Six new spells are introduced, and some of them are pretty cool! "Blood rage" is a buff that increases an ally's Strength every time they take damage, while "Enemy's heart" provides nice bonuses for killing an opponent and literally eating their heart! Imagine fighting an enemy who does that on the battlefield . . .
Section five, "Social" (two pages) covers Orc and Half-Orc "class roles" for all of the Core Rulebook and Advanced Player's Guide classes. I thought it was reasonable in its frankness that some classes are quite common and respected in Orc culture (e.g., barbarians, rangers, etc.) and others are frowned upon or almost unheard of (e.g., paladins, wizards, etc.).
And there you have it. The writing in this is pretty good and some of the traits could be useful. On the other hand, there's nothing in here that revolutionizes the concept of the Orc from mainstream fantasy and most players could run such characters just fine without this book. I think I would characterize this one as a "I've got $ 10 to spare and might as well add something to the cart for my Orc PC" purchase rather than an essential one to seek out.