The world of Golarion is the default setting for the wildly popular Pathfinder game, a fork of D&D 3.5 edition. While former Dragon Magazine publisher, Paizo, was able to inherit all D&D rules, the OGL didn't enable them to inherit all of the lore, as laid out in decades of novels, magazine articles, video games, source books, modules, and so on. This meant that Paizo had a lot of catching up to do in order to get its world mature.
If there's anything that Paizo does well, it's writing. The word count of Pathfinder materials are almost daunting, at times, and a lot of it is dedicated to "flavour". The Pathfinder Companion book series are booklets of in-depth lore about a single subject. In this case, the subject are the Dwarves of Golarion.
Pathfinder's version of a dwarf is a pretty classical fantasy dwarf, but it's for the specifics of the dwarven backstory that you buy this book. The dwarves of Golarion have touches of Nordic mythology about them, honouring runes and runic magick, and being the first and last defense for the world against evils that would otherwise emerge from under the mountains. Their ale is famous, and this book even provides a few specific ales with minor game mechanic powers like healing or granting resistance to evil. Their technology is all but legendary: it's the dwarves who invented guns in this world, giving way to the Gunslinger class revealed in Ultimate Combat.
This book regales you with engrossing tales of the Five Kings Mountains, the rise and fall of the Sky Citadels, the battle against orcs deep underground, the Quest for Sky, and legends of great dwarven heroes like Taargick and Khadon the Mighty, and much more. It's only 32 pages long, so it's more like reading a high school social studies book than an R.A. Salvatore saga, but what the text lacks your imagination fills in, and that's the expectation. This isn't a proscription of dwarven history for you to memorise and enforce in your games, but a framework on how to build good dwarven settings, NPCs, and player characters.
This includes the minutiae of dwarven culture, with detailed explanation of typical attire, traditions surrounding hair and beard styling, fighting styles, religious beliefs, architecture and engineering, and much more. The rich histories of dwarven cities will make you want to design a dungeon crawl through a fallen sky citadel in time for your next game, but the sections on the design and strategy of underground dwarven halls and mines are possibly the most elucidating. Combined with the history of the wars waged against orcs and goblins and ogres, the placement of city gates, side tunnels, and traps make so much sense that you'll always have answers when your players ask why the dungeon they're exploring is laid out the way that it is.
This is an RPG source book, so as you might expect there are, in addition to lots of great lore, optional mechanics. There's 2 pages of character traits, 1 page of combat feats, 4 pages of spells, and 4 pages of NPCs. Game mechanics are what makes the lore of an RPG world so immersive, so while this book isn't necessary for building a dwarf character, it would make the prospect a lot more fun. Building and leveling a character are moments of possibilities. It's exciting because your imagination instinctively explores all the different paths your player character might follow. Will your character concentrate on combat? Or will your character lean toward study and philosophy? Will your character tap into ancestral tradition, or develop a new one? This book provides even more possibilities for your character. I know some people get overwhelmed by choice, but for many there's nothing more satisfying than reading through a few pages of traits or feats to find the exact mechanic that corresponds with the story they want to tell with their character.
This book provides, in more ways than just mechanics, tools for storytelling, with the story being a satisfying and immersive game experience. If your next game is set in the lands of the dwarves, or you're building a dwarf player character, you should get this book. If you're just a fan of good, in-depth lore and mechanics, then you should get this book. It's a great read, and a great Pathfinder gaming resource.
Photo by Mixed Signals. Creative Commons cc0.