The Overview Review of Lost Omens: The Mwangi Expanse
In 2009, after being abandoned by Wizards with the end of 3.5e D&D, Paizo Publishing released Pathfinder. In 2019, they launched Pathfinder 2nd Edition; and unlike its D&D origin, Pathfinder focused on a single world, Golarion. Golarion was everything that Wizards now says doesn’t work for a campaign setting. It has a detailed history. It drips lore. There are canonical results for things. And the fans love it. The new edition carries this forward, with the Lost Omens series of books that add more detail to the setting and bring it howling into the 2nd Edition. Last fall, Paizo was kind enough to provide me with an electronic copy of Lost Omens: The Mwangi Expanse. I’m done reading it now, so let’s dig into this book!
An Unfair Comparison
Right away, we need to make an unfair comparison that highlights a serious difference between Paizo and Wizards for world building. When compared to its closest thematic analogue in 5e D&D, the Tomb of Annihilation (ToA), Lost Omens: The Mwangi Expanse (LOME) obliterates it. Where ToA was a place to go and then leave, LOME is a place to be from. Where ToA is a one-off campaign, LOME is a place to have multiple campaigns. In short, if you were to pick up only the core Pathfinder 2nd Edition Books and LOME, you could run multiple campaigns there with relative ease and have support in terms of lore and ideas to jump off from. The same cannot be easily said of ToA, and there’s much less supporting lore for it or the larger region around it.
Now, I know this comparison is not strictly fair as ToA is a Campaign Book, and LOME is a Setting Sourcebook. But it’s not a wrong comparison. Through 5e D&D, Wizards has taken a very low view of lore, and none of their in-house settings, with the exceptions of Eberron and Theros, are detailed or developed in a way that makes them usable for general campaigns. And the world building in ToA represents the quality and quantity a region can expect in a larger book. So, the comparison, while unfair in some ways, is still appropriate.
Flicking through the pages of LOME on my tablet was like slipping in a cool and refreshing pool of water on a hot day. After years of reviewing campaign setting material that left me let down at best and deeply saddened at worst, this book brought its A Game and it shows.
An immediate thing that hits you is the art. To say that it’s been carefully curated is an understatement. The art is gorgeous, and it drives home that this is a fully realized sub-setting on Golarion, not just a book of adventure ideas for characters from other parts of the world to pick and choose from while the locals remain in the background. A delightful component of the art is that non-human peoples actually have homes, culture, and their own things going on, and you can actually see it. It’s not just implied or mentioned, it’s visual. And that’s huge in of itself.
The writing flows. The team that put this book together was diverse in every way possible, and not a few prominent Black writers in TTRPGspace were involved. And it comes through loud and clear. The book is dense with information that is easy to parse and immersive to read. The attention to detail treads that fine line that generates interest and provides jumping-off points for adventurers perfectly too.
The last thing I’ll have in the good section is that this book went out of its way to de-other some of the non-human ancestries. And this is huge. Why? Because the difference between “lizardman” or “lizardfolk” and “Iruxis”, or “Gnoll” and “Kholo” is serious and moves them from monster entry to being a people in their own right, not just seen through a human lens. Even my amphibious faves, the Grippli, make an appearance, and they are even more awesome in this book than how I imagined them.
This is more a section of nit picking than anything “bad” perse, which speaks to the quality of the book.
I think that the biggest gripe I have is that there’s no equipment section or magic item section. Unique weapons, armour, equipment, items, magic items, and so on are a big part of what sets an area apart, and I think it was a missed beat not to include them in the book. I know it can be a lot of “X, but re-skinned for…”, but it helps with the immersion and world building aspects to round things out.
On the same note, I think there was a missed opportunity to tie the Mwangi Expanse into the larger scene in Garund (the continent it shares with several other regions and powers). Specifically the now lost Jitska Imperium and the Northwest and Northern regions of Garund. If they’d done that, I think it would have dovetailed the Mwangi Expanse sub-setting more smoothly into the larger world scene and opened some creative doors for GMs and Players who thrive on hints and connections like that.
To be completely honest, there is no ugly. This book was well made, well designed, and even managed to avoid the pitfalls of mixed ancestry characters (the half elves and half orcs) way better than most by at least looking at them through an in cultural lens for the region. It’s still not ideal, but it’s at least trying. So, yeah, I have nothing for this section, which is fairly refreshing.
This is a solid Rank A book. This is by far the best setting sourcebook I’ve seen in ages; it uses art and language to put together a place you want to be from, not just a place to go for adventurer tourism. It offers a truly unique sub-setting, complete with its own ecosystem of ancestries that include all new ones, and local variants of classics, all with cultural notes to get you going but nothing so heavy as to weight you down. When I think about what these kinds of books should be, this is pretty much it. Enough information to fuel your imagination and springboard adventure ideas, and enough lore to keep your interest, but not so much of any of it that it feels like you can’t do your own thing or change something.
I’ll be going more into the peoples and history of the Mwangi Expanse and Garund in general both here and on the Lore Diver Podcast, so keep a watch out for those.