Tuesday, February 23, 2016

D20-Era Reviews Tuesday: Book of the Righteous

As mentioned last month, I'm going to reserve Tuesdays mainly for a new feature on the blog, wherein I'll review an old D20-era product, mainly from the standpoint of how useful it is for gaming with any system, whether you prefer stuff like D&D (any edition), Pathfinder, Savage Worlds, or other systems of your choice.

Today's book features a ton of non-mechanics content that can easily be used "as is" in a fantasy campaign world, or modified to fit an existing religious pantheon, regardless of your system of choice. We're talking about Green Ronin's Book of the Righteous, published in 2002 for the 3.0 Edition of D&D.

The idea and concept behind this book, as discussed in the introduction, is that most fantasy religions presented in campaign settings are simply very cursory overviews, covering a god's name, portfolio (areas of influence), maybe a favored weapon, and not much else. In most published fantasy game religions, little attention is paid to things such as the names and titles of the priesthood, how one advances in the priesthood (not just in class level but in influence), rites and ceremonies, and so forth. Most books even go so far as to provide some type of game mechanics and statistics for the gods or their avatars, which honestly aren't really all that useful if you're playing a cleric or paladin and are looking more for information on how your character might react in a certain situation based on his or her religious beliefs.

I've mentioned before that I've had difficult intertwining religion into my long-running World of Samoth game, which mainly has come from a lack of desire on the part of the players to really get into character and make decisions based on the tenets of their characters' faith (which is fine - they're just not interested in that aspect of the world). However, part of the issue is also the way I described the faiths in my campaign background I handed out before my campaign began. One of the later players to the group mentioned being interested in having his character follow a specific faith, but that he really didn't know enough about it to make an informed decision as to whether it made sense and also how it would impact his character's outlook and world-view. That's a fair assessment - I did get a bit more caught up in things like what color robes the priests would wear versus things as basic as how a member of that religion might view the government, the poor, the rich, adventuring and looting, non-believers, etc.

The Book of the Righteous is something that really could have helped me when crafting the faiths of my world. It presents a single encompassing mythology, which you can either adopt as-is, modify, or completely ignore. There are guidelines throughout the book for taking each approach. The meat of the book is actually descriptions of the major churches of this faith, which follow a pattern of being associated with typical fantasy gods - e.g., god of strength, god of justice, god of death, etc. But they are presented in very colorful and intriguing ways, and in each description it provides full details on things such as the myths, associations, alignment, representatives, purpose, and servants of the deity. It also covers the structure of the deity's church, including the doctrine, common prayers, holy days, saints, the deity's view of its church, and preferred weapons. Lastly, it cover the holy orders of each deity, including its clerics, holy warriors, and (because it is 3rd Edition, after all), Prestige Classes.

The authors describe the book as essentially being a campaign setting that is all about religion, but one that's written in such a way that it can easily be incorporated into an existing campaign world. This is a large undertaking, but for the most part, it does work that way. There is a ton of detail behind the various churches in this book, but plenty of guidance to help you modify things to mesh with your existing campaign world, especially if you follow a traditional fantasy polytheistic approach to religion. 

In addition to covering each of the deities, the book also presents an interesting concept at the very beginning - the "Great Church." This is an over-arching church structure that incorporates the entire mythology but doesn't focus on worshiping just one particular deity. It could easily be used as a pattern for a medieval Western European monotheistic religion, and one thing I really liked about it is that its Prestige Class is a "Deacon" which is more of an aristocratic leader versus a spell-casting cleric. In fact, Deacons don't even require spell-casting to qualify for the class, nor do they gain spell-casting abilities.

There is also a discussion on incorporating "The Old Gods" which are ancient gods that are more "elemental" in nature (air, earth, water, the "tree of life," and the creator). Each of these, like the other deities in the book, includes same detail in terms of the myths and purpose, details on the church structure, and the different holy orders associated with that deity.

There's a ton of great content in here and it's very easily modified, adapted, or expanded upon, and very little of it has game mechanics - there are mentions in the sections on the holy orders for how you modify a cleric or paladin's (called "holy warriors" in this book) powers to swap them out for things that are more appropriate to the deity in question, but it's minimal. For example, in one of the chapters covering the clerics of the goddess Zheenkeef (goddess of wine, madness, and inspiration), it just mentions which domains those clerics can pick from, when during the day they would pray for their spells, and what alignment they can be. That's it. Nothing too fiddly. The game mechanics in the section on the holy warriors (paladins) of Zheenkeef are limited to: what domains they can choose from, additional class skills they receive, two powers they swap out in place of "remove disease" of a standard paladin, what spells they can choose from, what animals they can choose from for their celestial mount/animal companion, and their "code of conduct" (which isn't mechanics - it's just flavor). Again, there aren't a lot of mechanics here in the majority of the book. Obviously the Prestige Classes do include more mechanics behind them, but you can easily just read the background/introduction to the class to get the idea of what it's about, and then decide how to apply that for your particular system. In a "rules light" version of D&D, like B/X or 1st, you'd just role-play the differences with no mechanical benefits (or maybe swapping out a a higher level ability or two) and call it good.

After the presentation of the churches, which take us through more than half the book, there's a chapter on "Putting Faith in Your Evil" which talks about the structure of evil faiths, gods, and cults. It's a short but interesting chapter.

This is followed by "Campaigning" which provides ideas on alignment, geographically integrating your faiths into your campaign world, adventure hooks, evil races, and heretical teachings and blasphemy. This is all great information that is most often overlooked when presenting fantasy religions for campaign worlds.

Then there is a chapter called "Do It Yourself," which covers how to design your own mythology from scratch. It covers such topics as Cosmological Implications, Names, Complete Religions (things like "The Past Returns" and "Friendly Foreign Culture" all the way to "Gods From Another Dimension"), Single Gods, Racial Gods, Altering the Churches, and Altering the Mythology and the consequences of doing so.

Then we get to the mechanics of 3rd Edition with Chapter 11, called "Additional Rules." This section is only 33 pages long, representing only slightly more than 10% of the entire contents of the book. It covers a new class, the "Holy Warrior" which is basically a paladin but one that swaps out different class skills, preferred weapons, and class abilities (such as remove disease, lay-on-hands, and mounts) for different abilities based on the deity in question. It's a really neat solution and one that makes paladins different from each other while still maintaining the essence of what makes them a paladin. I actually used these a lot for my 3rd/3.5/Pathfinder World of Samoth Game, modifying the class abilities to fit the religions of my campaign world. The section also includes the requisite new skills and feats, new cleric domains, new spells, new magic items, and a handful of new creatures.

The appendices cover topics like "A Treatise on the Divine" which covers the creation story of the mythology and where the gods came from, and also quick reference guides for all the gods and churches presented in the book.

Anyone else pick up this book back in the day?  what were your experiences?

BOOK OF THE RIGHTEOUS
  • Format: Originally a 320-page hardback book with color cover and B&W interior. Also available as a PDF.
  • Where to Buy: Although the hard-cover is out-of-print, used copies are available right now on Amazon or you can also buy a PDF directly from the Green Ronin website
  • Price: The original price for the hard-back was $39.95. The PDF currently sells for $19.95.
  • More Information: The product page on Green Ronin's website describes the book and provides links to preview some images, designer spot-lights, etc. When you buy the PDF version, you also get a free 16-page PDF Update of the Holy Warrior class for the 3.5 version of D&D. The book itself was never updated to 3.5 so this is a nice bonus.

Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: Water
Listening: "Gotta Be Love" by Joey Youngman



2 comments:

  1. The Great Church reminds me a bit of the Priestess' church in 13th Age. There you have a similar cross-pantheon approach where all religions and deities are welcome; I've interpreted it to include even the less friendly religions, so my players encountered a cleric of Cthulhu who was nonetheless working for the --"neutral good" -- Priestess.

    Given 13th Age's origins in third and fourth edition D&D I wonder if the Great Church was an influence?

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    Replies
    1. That's interesting - I did remember liking the whole "Icon" aspect of the religion in 13th Age, although I've yet to actually play the game. I've mainly been looking at it as an opportunity to steal stuff for regular campaign, rather than switching systems.

      I think it's very possible that "The Great Church" may have influenced some of the stuff in 13th Age. While they're from two different companies, all of those guys are friends, or at least very close colleagues. Chris Pramas from Green Ronin worked at WotC at the same time as Jonathan Tweet who is one of the primary designers of 13th Age and I believe that at one time or another a lot of those guys like those two, Monte Cook, and others used to game together semi-regularly.

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