Deities & Demigods
Deities & Demigods Capsule Review by Robert J. Grady on 03/01/03
Style: 4 (Classy and well done)
Substance: 4 (Meaty)
Despite its shortcomings, all the tools you need are here. More deities, and more pantheons, would have taken this product to the height of Olympus.
Product: Deities & Demigods
Author: Rich Redman, Skip Williams, James Wyatt
Company/Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
Line: Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition
Cost: US $29.95
Page count: 223
Year published: 2002
Comp copy?: no
Capsule Review by Robert J. Grady on 03/01/03
Genre tags: Fantasy
I. First Impressions
An attractive hardbound, with middling to good art. Yondalla and Ares were my favorites. Some of the art is unfortunately cartoony, like the demented-looking Avatar of Gruumsh staring at his own nose. Apart from the first page of each chapter, the book is printed in comfy black on white.
II. Capsule Summary
Chapter One introduces deities, including the nature of religions, the nature of divinity, and building a pantheon. It touches on pantheons, monotheism, animism, mystery cults, and philosophies. Under the nature of divinity, it discusses how immortality is achieved (or not), whether gods can die, and how active the gods are in the world. The book provides options, not answers. The standard assumptions of the D&D cosmology have all been un-assumed in this first chapter. Thoughtful advice is given on the effect various decisions can have on your cosmology.
Chapter Two introduces the deity stat blocks. Deities have a Divine Rank, ranging from 0 (hero or quasideity) to 21 or more (overdeities not relevant to mortals). Divine characters include maxium hit points, improved movement rate, a divine armor clas bonus, various roll and Check advantages increasing by Rank, immunities (transmutation, energy drain, ability drain, ability damage, mind-affecting, and electricity, cold, and acid), damage reduction, spell and fire resistance, salient divine abilities, domain powers, spell-like abilities, immortality (immune to death by natural causes), divine senses, divine portfolio, automatic actions, create magic items, divine aura, granting spells, spontaneous cast of cleric spells (if known), communication, godly realm, travel, and familiar. Salient Divine Abilities are sort of super-feats; they include everything from Divine Blast to Gift of Life to Alter Reality. Domain powers are abilities gained from the Cleric Domains the deity governs; the deity may use them more often than a Cleric. Deities gain the spell-like ability to cast every Domain spell at will; for instance, Pelor can cast all the Good, Healing, Strength, and Sun spells as often as needed. A deity's divine senses increase by Rank; all deities of Rank 1 or higher can perceive everything within miles. The divine portfolio is the deity's domains (small D) of influence, like nature, music, and so forth. Deities can sense happenings involving their portfolio; powerful deities even know the future. Automatic actions are free actions the deity can perform; for instance, Moradin the smith can forge things as a free action. Deities can create magic items related to their protfolios; Olidammara can create magical instruments, for instance. A deity's Divine Aura inspires awe in mortals. Deities can grant spells to their clerics; this is pointless, since Clerics can gain divine spells through their own dedication without a deity at all. Deities can communicate at great distances, and can use various modes like speaking in tongues, telepathy, and so forth, depending on their Rank. A Godly Realm is the deity's home base, over which he has a great deal of control. Deities can travel by teleporting at all; some can plane shift as well. Deities with levels of Sorcerer or Wizard can treat any animal of the type as their Familiar. Incidentally, most deity's stats are based on 20 Hit Dice Outsiders, with similar basic abilities to Titans; class levels are then added. Some deities have the abilities of a demihuman race. Tiamat and Bahamut, the dragon deities, are instead based on Colossal Dragons. This chapter includes topics such as portraying deities in the game, experience point awards for interacting with deities, and Divine Minions.
Chapter Three is the D&D Pantheon, a hodge-podge of deities from almost every D&D setting ever published. Each entry describes the deity briefly as done in the core rulebooks; describes dogma, clergy, and temples; and then provides the stat block, including Avatars (if any). I won't bother repeating the descriptions, as these deities are all named in the basic rules. I noticed a couple of errors in Moradin's stats. Erythnull is the most poorly rendered, a nonsensical force of Eeevul. Yondalla is probably the best, giving a picture of a stalwart deity I hadn't previously grokked. Chapter Four is a similar treatment of the Olympic Cosmology. Chapter Five is the Pharaonic Pantheon of Egypt. Chapter Six covers the Asgardians, from Odin to Loki.
Chapter Seven tackles Other Religions. The Faith of the Sun is a monotheistic religion; the deity has two aspects, Creator (Day) and Destroyer (Night). I didn't find it very compelling. The next, Following the Light, is a dualistic religion. The central conflict is between a deity of light and a deity of darkness. Again, not terribly interesting, and a little redundant with their first example. Finally, there is the cult of Dennari, a mystery cult devoted to a dwarven goddess of freedom and mercy.
Appendix 1 adds some new Domains and spells.
Appendix 2 covers Divine Ascension. Essentially, it's a series of campaign ideas based on different ways of achieving immortality. III. Analysis
This book does almost everything right, mechanically. The deities are formidable, but not invincible, to the right group of heroes. Almost all of the mythical abilities of gods are present, from Alter Form to Possess Mortal. Salient abilities are both colorful and potent. While not all are precisely equal, neither are all deities.
Its primary weakness is its lack of completeness. The Planes are named, but not described. Each demihuman race gets only one deity in the D&D pantheon. There are no sample church organizations; perhaps Cathars & Cathedrals will be next. I'm also not entirely happy with the D&D pantheon. It covers a lot of bases, but I'm not sure I want a deity named Garl Glittergold in my campaign. Saint Cuthbert? Why is he called a Saint if his mortal history isn't even remembered? Little mention is made of common religion; do everyday people in D&D worship one, several, or all gods?
Probably the number one failing, though, is that it has essentially no support for designing Clerics of more than one god (the rule, not the exception, in pagan cultures). For instance, it's hard to imagine a Cleric of Zeus who could not also call on Hera. D&D's "pick one" pseduomonotheism is at once unsatisfying and problematic. It's unsatisfying, because it doesn't resemble too many real-world situations, it doesn't define the relationships between the gods, and it makes all religions highly specialized. In the real world, people either have lots of deities (to cover lots of domains) or one deity who handles basically everyhting. In D&D, Clerics typicaly serve one deity who covers only a few aspects of life. It's problematic because it's difficult to give D&D cultures a unifying religious structure. If the King is ordained by the High Priet of Pelor, but the greatest knights are adherents of Saint Cuthbert or Heironeous, who is supposed to call the people to war against the forces of evil? What's the protocol, there? The result is a religious plurality... a rarity in the modern world, almost unheard of in the days before cars and ocean liners and the Bill of Rights. The rigidity of alignments suggests that each Axis could have its own fairly complete pantheon. It may be difficult to include deities of multiple alliances, though, without some backstory.
Also not detailed are the relationships between the D&D gods and such beings as Titans, Celestials, Genies, Demons, and Devils. I can only hope "The Manual of the Planes" sheds some light.
One direction in which the book excels is setting a standard way of describing deities. The result is modularity. Statting deities described in third party supplements is a snap.
One thing I would have liked would have been an Epic-level upgrade for the deities. None of the described deities have more than 20 levels in one class. However, as the deities sit in at between fourty and sixty Hit Dice, they should be sufficiently challenging for even an advanced Epic party. Still, I might have liked a little stat block, like:
EPIC VERSION: Increase his Fighter level to 25, his stats to blah blah blah, and add the Epic Feats blah blah blah. This book does not offer mechanical advancement for deities. This is no basic D&D Immortals. Which is unfortunate, from a certain standpoint; graduating from dungeon crawls to divine wars seems like a natural step.
Overall, I rate this a good buy, with the caveat it isn't complete. Without sourcebooks that describe specific churches, more specific information about the D&D cosmos, and more deities for the divine-impoverished D&D world, this is not a pantheon-in-a-box. D&D is more and more returning to the toolkit approach of early editions; if you are not a world-builder, except to shell out some cash for a deluxe setting if you want a complete cosmology.
I give this book a 4 for style; the "new art" isn't completely to my taste, but the drawings are professional, accurate, and occasionally evocative. I give it a 4 for substance; despite its shortcomings, all the tools you need are here. More deities, and more pantheons, would have taken this product to the height of Olympus.