EZG reviews The Secrets of the Divine: Pantheon, Love, Sky & Wright
This massive pdf is 36 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD and 2 pages of advertisement, leaving us with 31 pages of content, so let’s take a look, shall we?
So if you’ve been following Rite Publishing’s releases for some years like I have, you probably will have to have noticed by now the implicit setting of the books, Steven D. Russell’s much-anticipated Magnum Opus Questhaven. This supplement constitutes one of the releases that can be considered very much tied to the setting, with us getting an introduction to some of the deities of the setting and their servants. Thus, one could call this a sourcebook of divinities as well as of their adherents.
First of all, it should be noted that the respective deities are not called by their name, but rather by epithets – a notion which I have adapted to my campaign: The deity of song and love would be for example known as “Our Laughing Traveler of Passages and Messages”, while, when talking about e.g. Asmodeus, a good character would probably call the archdevil “Their Dark Lord of Fire” or “Their Infernal Tyrant” – a great way to utilize processes of identity construction and othering to create identities. The respective entries of the deities come with full (sub-)domain-information, portfolios etc. as well as information on the respective church’s background, secrets, manifestations, holy days, mythology and hierarchies, written in lavish, awesome in-character prose that actually makes the pdf a joy to read.
So let’s get into the meat, shall we? Well, first would be the church of the great pantheon, which is essentially the catch-all pantheon sans evil deities – and thus, clerics of the pantheon can choose from almost ALL domains or subdomains. Read that again. Yes. When I showed this to the player in my group who almost always likes to play divinely-inspired characters, he was grinning from ear to ear. On one hand, it’s awesome because you get to finally choose the obscure domain/subdomain combination you always wanted. On the other hand, this can be potentially problematic if you use a lot of domains in your game and consider the assignment of domains to deities a balancing factor – after all, some domains simply are, at least regarding their granted abilities, better than others. So yeah, DMs beware regarding that one.
The first servant of the Pantheon we’re introduced to would be the Deacon of the Great Church, a 10-level PrC that gets d8, 6+Int skills per level, 3/4 BAB-progression, 1/2 ref-and will-progression, +1d6 sneak attack progression on every odd level and full bardic spellcasting progression, should you have bardic levels. It should be noted that the classes HD are somewhat hidden directly below the table above the requirements, a slightly confusing place layout-wise. Beyond the obvious agent-angle, the PrC also get a discount at most places. At 4th level, Deacons get the Astute Planning-ability – 1/day, the Deacon can devise a plan as a move action that adds the Deacon’s class level to any roll and even flat-footed AC of an ally. Nice, but though it extends only to 1 roll and doesn’t require even a free action on part of the ally. A problem here would be the amount of allies this extends to – there is no limit. None. Any ally is eligible. That means, that a deacon could stand with a magical megaphone before an army and, as a move action grant each individual in the whole army the bonus. Here, a caveat on how many allies can be affected, either by range or by HD etc. is rather in order.
They also get a cohort and as a capstone, may use suggestion once per encounter. Urgh. Per-encounter abilities make no sense whatsoever within the context of a given setting. An example: Group raids a room, two goblins inside. Suggestion is used on one, the other is killed. Encounter ends. New goblins enter the room, suggestion ability can be reused. Had the former not succumbed to the first suggestion, thus not ending the encounter, there would be no second use of the ability. Why not tie it to minutes? Rounds? Any concisely-defined time-frame already used by the rules instead of the wibbly-wobbly per-encounter?
We also get a new paladin archetype, the Orphans of Ecumenical Commandments. These paladins replace their detect evil with the option to assist healing by maximizing numerical variables of their own or another’s healing, but only for one target. They also are keepers of the law, modifying smite evil to work against known lawbreakers instead and get law-themed auras. What’s downright genius is their mercy that nets them essentially an extra-dimensional holding cell to temporarily keep hostiles you don’t want to kill. This one is glorious and wills be quite a bit use in my campaigns – great to see some non-lethal ways to deal with foes, though the lack of any form of increased non-lethal capabilities mean that the archetype could have used a bit more options in that array. Nice: We get a proper code of conduct!
Then there would be Divine Vessels – summoners that cast from the inquisitor spell-list as divine spells and divine variant of any directly eidolon-influencing spells. Additionally, they may enter what can be considered a kind of avatar as a standard action. This form allows you reassign your attributes (with a bonus), skills and even feats, but also temporarily prevents you from using some abilities. This form has its own hit points to take care of and effects, curses etc. all are covered. Essentially, this allows you to pseudo-gestalt with your eidolon, though the armor-bonuses the form may have beyond those granted for eidolon-form, are negated. One issue I have here, would be that while I applaud the supremely ambitious synthesist-like approach, but like the troubled archetype, this one has some potential issues: Take the fact that, as written, the archetype could reassign both attributes and skills as well as feats every time s/he changes into avatar-form and we have an unintended issue here – there is no caveat that, once chosen, attributes, skills and feats are permanent, making this archetype the ultimate wild-card character. We need more limits here. The new feats for the archetype allow you to have your animal companion change to fit your avatar form or hit harder when charging while transforming, though the latter doesn’t work as written: It requires you to charge (full-round action) in the same round you transform (standard action) – which is impossible. 1/day form-change as an immediate action is also rather powerful, as is an elemental aura, free intimidate against ANY enemy in sight and even stun enemies within 30 feet for 1 round. Especially the former is BROKEN (and yes, it’s all-caps-broken) -AoE stun, unlimited times per day? (Potentially at first level, with a save of 10+1/2 level+avatar’s con-mod for DC 16 with the bonus to AC – sans being a race with a bonus to Con! Not starting with the confusion whether the avatar’s or the vessel’s con-mod should be used upon transformation back…) AoE demoralize? Come again??? Worse, the AoE-stun can be taken by both forms, allowing you to duplicate the effect when changing back! Let’s revisit stun, shall we? Creature drops anything it holds, can’t take actions, -2 AC, no more dex to AC, +4 to CMB against them. Stun is one of the most powerful conditions in the game. This allows you to move and constantly stun-lock all adversaries that fail their (high!) save against you – constantly! This lets your allies mop up those hapless, stunned idiots while they try to get back their weapons, wands etc. What has happened here? The archetype is so close to working nicely, but as written, is just horribly, horribly broken. I’d allow this abomination nowhere near my table.
The Fairest Lady of Love and Song’s two new domain feats that allow you to expend domain abilities to create unique effects – rather cool ones, if I may say so! Lacing spells with channel energy as damage is a concept I like, as is inciting permanent megalomania. Hedge Knight cavaliers replace mounts and cavalier’s charge with an option to temporarily make armor or shield magical, choosing from a wide array of possible spontaneous enchantments and at 11th level, may combine full attack with total defense – interesting take on the mount-less cavalier! Speaking of cavaliers – they get a new order with the Order of the Nightengale: These knights may grant temporary hit points with inspiring poetry and are buffed by permanent heroism (which can be suspended to temporarily become its greater-version) as long as they have a love. Awesome RP-potential there! At 15th level, they may also force all creatures within 30 feet to take the same damage they do – though the cavalier may not willingly fail saves while the ability is in effect. It should be noted that the ability is faultily called “spell” and has NO SAVE, which means that there’s some potential for exploitation going on here. Other than that (at this level) none too serious complaint, a nice order.
We also are introduced to 6 bardic feats (one of which you’ll know from 101 bardic feats), on allowing you to duplicate dimensional lock via bardic performance, antimagic field summoned/called creatures, inflict damage to aberrations or steel your will against will-save-prompting effects. Nice feats.
Next up would be Our Master of Thunder, who comes with a (YES!!!) Legendary Curse that depicts the consequence of speaking the deities names in vain – loved this one in 101 Legendary Curses, still love it. The first archetype in service to which we’re introduced to would be the Hawk of Vengeance, an inquisitor archetype with a full BAB and no spellcasting..and it may also execute coup de graces as a MOVE action – OUCH! Rather cool – instead of killing adversaries, these inquisitors may elect to instead withhold damage to instead main/scar etc. their targets, the effects requiring a CL-check to heal. Rather cool, though I wished the pdf had a table of more varied effects regarding the consequences of maiming/scarring etc.
Rogue Genius Games’ Dragonrider also gets support in the guise of the windrider, who may choose just about any flying creature. They also cast spells as a divine caster and use the ranger spell-list. Essentially, the class is a more versatile than the standard dragonrider in its mount-selection. There also are two new feats, one of which lets you create a net of thunder and lightning on your weapon or add the thunder/lightning to attacks, Sphinxes, Griffons, Hippogriffons and Birds of Prey, Manticores, Pegasus, Chimeras and Perytons are included among the steed choices. Nice one for flying-heavy modules.
The final deity would be the Grand Wright of Heaven. Via a domain feat, clerics may grant items 3 temporary charges, which you can expend in increments to activate items as certain actions sans expending charges – thankfully with a caveat that leaves the final say to the DM. The first archetype would be the Relic Seeker (though it’s called Artisan of Hallow Vessels once in the text), an inquisitor who gains SR against curses instead of detect alignment and is particularly adept at finding and identifying items. Not that interesting.
Artisans of Hallowed Vessels, a type of rogue who is particularly adept at crafting magical items (and counts as with a caster level etc.) and also get a pool of points that scale and refresh with levels (but don’t accumulate – not spending = your loss!) – these may be used as substitutions for gold when crafting. The archetype also gets an array of rogue (and advanced rogue) talents, themed around item creations Doing the math for this one took FOREVER. While the archetype shares some characteristics with the artificer that can become problematic for very WBL-strict campaigns with a lot of downtime, I did not experience a significant detriment to balance as long as a DM isn’t too careless with it. So yeah, while the archetype could be slightly abused, I do think that in most campaigns, the class will not prove to be problematic – so yeah, kudos. One thing that’s somewhat a pity – this would also have been a nice opportunity to fix the broken crafting of mundane items .
The pdf closes with a short 2-page introduction to Questhaven.
Editing and formatting are okay – I noticed quite a few minor glitches, from missing blank spaces to similar glitches. More than I’m accustomed to by Rite Publishing. Layout adheres to RiP’s two-column full-color standard and the pdf comes with full bookmarks for your convenience. Artwork contains awesome holy symbols in full color for the deities and also features some nice b/w-pieces you may know from other supplements.
This pdf is a joy to read, and, much like the best of Steven D. Russell’s writing, not only contains glorious prose, but also several distinctly high concept-ideas: From the mostly awesome feats to the cool deities to the archetypes, there is no filler material herein. Everything breathes inspiration…and potentially, this could have been 5 stars + seal of approval.
Unfortunately, it’s my sad duty to report that unlike most offerings by RiP, this one feels a bit…rushed? From the more pronounced editing glitches to some downright broken design decisions and oversights, there are quite a few glitches in here, some of which unfortunately even impede the usability of the respective content. Universally, these gripes could be fixed by just about any DM, but that doesn’t change that the flaws are here – this is a glorious book in its concepts and the deities are surprisingly cool and should provide ample ideas to scavenge. But it also is a book with some flaws. In the end, this is a study in contrasts – from superb, blinding light to darkest shadows, this book oscillates between full blown hit and terrible miss and as much as I love the writing and the cool concepts herein, I can’t rate this higher than 3 stars, try as I might.