Saturday, February 25, 2017

What Do I Know About Reviews? Uncertain Faith (Shadow of the Demon Lord)

Fantasy roleplaying settings where priests get specific, unique powers from other spellcasters often eventually detail individual gods and the priesthoods that follow them. One of the traps that a lot of these supplements fall into is a discussion of the god themselves, avatar stats, and actual facts about what the god has done in the setting.

Often left out are myths that aren’t confirmed and my actually be contradicted by other sources, day to day practices of the priesthood, factions within a religion, and “ground up” details on the faith.
Giving the players some roleplaying hooks for ideological conflict, rather than full blown moral or existential conflict, is often glossed over. Some settings eventually get to this material, when they have been around for a while and have a metric ton of material, but it doesn’t seem to be the main thrust of information on clerics and gods.

Uncertain Faith is not a book about gods. It’s a book about religions, how they got started, and how they have developed.



How is the Holy Book Gilded?

I’m not going to lie; I consider this book the most attractive in the entire line of Shadow of the Demon Lord products. It has “faux parchment” in the background, but it is distinctly different than the parchment backgrounds of other books in the line. There are flourishes all over the book, and the overall effect is an illuminated religious text from the middle-ages. There are the standard amount of illustrations for the larger sourcebooks in the line, often depicting gods and their servants. The book is 60 pages, and it is gorgeous.

Introduction

I’ve been skimming past the Introduction sections in a few of these, as it literally just introduces the content and explains what the book is going to be about. This introduction deserves a little more note, as it goes into how religions develop, their good points, their bad points, and why people adhere to them, as well as their place in society. It’s a rather deep bit of introspection that’s worth reading for anyone running a campaign setting that has a religious element to it.

The Old Faith

This section details the Old Faith, the gods that are part of that designation, different, customized priest novice path for the gods of the Old Faith (as a whole and individually), and some of the changes in the religion over time. Especially interesting in the origin of these gods, how the faith evolved over time, and how they relate to other religions. It may have just been me, but I got a much clearer picture of how these religions function in the setting after reading this.

The Honored Dead

This section goes into Dwarf religion, which is ancestor worship. Not only does it detail an ancestors specific priest novice path, it goes into the origin of the dwarfs in the setting, and why they don’t have much use for the gods.

Bias warning, but for some reason, ancestor worship for dwarf characters has always resonated with me, and I like the ties to the Dark Gods and the more thematic ties a dwarf would have to them.

Witchcraft

This section also provides a tailored Priest path for the novice level for practitioners of Witchcraft, as well as detailing the origins of Witchcraft, when it split from the Old Faiths and what the differences are, and what Witches actually believe in the setting. This is another area where I felt that I understood a distinction presented in the core rules much better after reading this book.

The New God

Between the Inquisition and information presented in Exquisite Agony, the Cult of the New God has gotten a lot of page count. Instead of delving too much into the “secret origins” of the religions, this goes a lot into structure, different orders, and potential rifts in the church. It introduces a nice political element to the religion that some of the others don’t have, because they don’t have the same kind of structure about them.  There is a Cult of the New God specific Priest Path, and something else I like about this section is that it details the positive aspects of the faith as well as the negative. Since it gets used as a plot point quite a bit, it’s nice to see what the local priests and good folk would see, instead of the political movers and shakers and obsessed inquisitors—although they get mentioned as well.

The Dark Gods

Dominated by Grimnir, this is essentially the Norse pantheon. While I like the influence that the faith has on orcs and jotun, given the heavy reliance on archetypes and the forms that faith imposes on divinity in the setting, I would have preferred more implication of various Norse gods than specifically invoking the name of beings like Baldur or Loki. The Gothi path is also introduced, which is a priest of the Dark Gods, but heavily invested in battle and fate rather than day to day administration of the faith.

Other Faiths

This section goes into deities that aren’t as widely worshiped or aren’t as influential as the main faiths detailed in the book, or are specifically proscribed by almost all the other faiths (such as worshipping Diabolus or the Cults of the Demon Lord). Not everything is that grim, however, as there are also regional cults like the worship of One-Eyed Pete, patron god of pirates, who mainly just wants his followers to pour out some alcohol for him before they get into their cups.

The book also goes into some other ancient beings like Oceanus, the Spirits of the Woad, Genies, and Small Gods.

Magic of the Gods

There are a number of new spells for a wide variety of traditions, tailored to spells that reinforce the beliefs of various faiths. Like some of the other spells that have been introduced, some of these spells do similar things to other spells already presented, but they put a specific twist to the spells that are better tailored to a specific faith.

There are also a number of relics specific to some of the faiths of the campaign setting. Many of these items have myths associated with them to further tie them to a given faith, although the veracity of the myths associated with them vary widely.

False Wonders

Like many of the large sourcebooks, this one includes a thematically appropriate adventure. In this case, it has to do with a sacred shrine, an exorcism, and an investigation of what really happened as opposed to what people assumed had happened. I’ve talked a lot about the signature twists of Shadow of the Demon Lord adventures, and this one doubles up on the twists. What appears to be happening is actually darker than it appears, and there is the potential for terrible things to happen even if the PCs “solve” the scenario and do go the extra mile to make sure lose ends are tied up.

Divine Disfavor

There isn’t much of a downside to this book. I had some quibbles with actual Norse names popping up, mainly because so much of the setting uses its own names and just “hints” at real world elements. If you are absolutely uninterested in faiths or the divine, I would assume this sourcebook would have less utility.

Miracles

The discourse on the importance and place of religion in a fantasy setting, and the modeling of the faiths from the ground up, in a setting that doesn’t assume that gods are as valid as the faiths that follow them, are useful reading for anyone running fantasy campaigns. For anyone running Shadow of the Demon Lord specifically, the added roleplaying hooks for knowing more about the faiths and their relationships to one another are great. The adventure is solid, setting appropriate, and requires investigation and roleplaying.



Revelation

I love how this product came together. I think anyone running a fantasy campaign, not just Shadow of the Demon Lord, can benefit from some of the information in this book. Even porting these deities to another system and campaign setting would be a solid use of the material.

Additionally, this book does something that people writing heavily thematic settings often fail to do. Shadow of the Demon Lord is very dark and grim. While this book isn’t all rainbows and happy endings, it serves as a reprieve from some of the darker secrets of the setting without repudiating that tone. Its oddly hopeful in many places while still reminding you of the reality of the setting. It lets you take a breath and realize that there is good in the world, before you jump back into the muck and decay.

I recommend this book not just for people playing and running Shadow of the Demon Lord, but anyone interested in religion in fantasy settings in general.

***** (out of five)

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