Considering how little I like racism, I’m shocked at how much I’m loving the Pathfinder Advanced Race Guide. It’s a lot thicker than I thought it would be, has a good balance of crunch and fluff, and provides new rules for almost every part of the system.
The least impressive chapter is probably the first (which is kind of a running theme in d20 books). The seven core races get new feats, class archetypes, favored class options, magical equipment, mundane equipment, and even spells, but these are the races that probably needed them the least. I think all of them have already gotten a (Race) of Golarion book, and this feels like overkill. There are certainly good options for minor variations (wild elves, feral orcs, lava gnomes), but it’s a lot of options for things that doesn’t need a lot more options.
Luckily, the second chapter is the same thing for races that deserve it. I don’t follow the campaign-specific books, so I’m not sure how much of the orc, goblin, and hobgoblin sections was reprinted from Goblins of Golarion and Orcs of Golarion. But I’ve never heard of the writeups for aasimars, tieflines, drow, and the elemental races like ifrits, so to us this is new and exciting information. Each races gets cultural information and the same treatment as a core races, if shorter, and it really fleshes out a lot of them.
The third chapter is an even narrower version of the second, focusing on strange races like changelings, kitsune, and vanara (I suppose the lesson here is that races from Bestiary 2 are old enough to be “featured”, while races as new as Bestiary 3 are still “uncommon”). Each race only gets two pages, but the writers packed as much information as they could into those two pages.
When we first saw the catalog, it quoted this from the back cover of the book:
A complete and balanced system for creating an unlimited number of new races, mixing and matching powers and abilities to form characters and cultures specific to your campaign.
I laughed, perhaps guffawed, when I read that, but I was still interested in seeing what they thought “complete and balanced” was. Well, the second page had a sidebar named “Races without Constitution”, which was a great start. Page 3 explained how to build a half-construct, half-plant race. So I’d say it’s comprehensive, or at least sufficiently wacky. We’ve been able to find an example of every racial traits we’ve though of so far. The balancing is a little weird, but no weirder than Pathfinder’s already hilarious system for playing monstrous creatures.
I do think I’m going to make one change when I integrate this into my campaign and that’s to remove most racial requirements. I can deal with a lot of the feat requirements that build on race features (elves get even better senses) or heritage (aasimars get wings), but the other requirements don’t make sense. Besides, the book uses the same language for “only half-orcs can summon an avatar of the blood god” that they use for “only half-elves can read star charts”, and if the requirements are as loose as that I’m fine with throwing them out.
When you’re past the racial requirements, it stops being a book that’s about seven races, sort of about sixteen others, barely about fourteen more, and tangentially about everything that exists. Instead, it’s a book about options, with seventy archetypes, more spells than that, more feats than that, and dozens of magical and mundane items throw in as well. With that in mind it’s a brilliant book, just awkwardly organized.