It’s very hard, in my opinion, to design deities and religions that really grab a player. Most of the time, a particular deity is just source of spells and domains, and their church is where you go to buy healing potions and the odd resurrection. Making the institution feel more fleshed-out than that requires a fairly substantial effort in highlighting the myriad nuances of church dogma, practices, beliefs, and other functions, which is a lot to do.
Gods of Mor Aldenn, Ehlora, from Headless Hydra Games, takes this idea and takes a sharp right turn, giving depth and focus not to the religion as a whole, but to a single specific church belonging to it. It’s an interesting idea, allowing them to narrow their focus considerably. So how well then does it work?
The PDF is eleven pages long, with a page for the OGL and a page advertising the setting’s blog. The remaining nine pages (including a sidebar for the credits) are dedicated to the church in the city of Mor Aldenn dedicated to the goddess Ehlora. In what I consider to be a plus, the PDF has full, nested bookmarks despite its brevity; a tip of the hat to Headless Hydra Games there.
The PDF is surprisingly graphic, despite its dearth of illustrations. Beyond the company logo and the picture in the ad at the end, there’s only a single illustration here, of Ehlora’s holy symbol. However, the product is never dull to look at thanks to some ingenious graphic design. All pages have a red border at the bottom and a dark border showing a small piece of a map at the top. Headers are in red text, and there are frequent sidebars that are white text in a red box, or red text against a white background. Additionally, stat blocks frequently appear in gray boxes.
The overall effect is that while none of these effects is particularly noticeable, they create a very vibrant look without impinging on readability. The product gains the illusion of being thoroughly illustrated without actually being so. It’s a very skillful move on the part of Headless Hydra Games, as it keeps the book visually distinctive without going overboard on what must have been a small art budget. Other small publishers should take note, here.
The book’s contents strive to pull off the same sense of giving you more while not actually having that much, but here the success is more limited. Ehlora herself gets about a page of text before the focus shifts to the Mor Aldenn church. Unfortunately, there’s almost nothing given about the actual building itself - no map, no history, no details of what services are available or what resources it has. Instead, the book focuses heavily on the scant handful of clerics who dwell there.
The head of the church is detailed fairly well, receiving a full stat block as well as some background on how she came to be where she is, as well as outlining her current sketch – e.g. what her goals are now, what she will and won’t do, etc. It’s a pretty good write-up for an NPC, and it’s clear that she’s meant to be the product’s most practical focus in terms of interacting with your PCs. The previous head of the church, now a mad old woman, is also detailed somewhat, but the reasons she went mad and what it really means now are downplayed in favor of letting the GM decide how to use her in a game.
The two generic acolytes receive stat blocks but no real character development before the book moves onto some adventure hooks. Three are given, one having a stat block for an antagonist, before the book gets serious about new crunch. There’s a sidebar with a new feat for the faithful of Ehlora, and then we receive eight new spells, mostly minor in nature.
There are a few other things here, such as a brief overview of Ehlora’s holidays, typical spells a cleric of Ehlora would likely know, etc. but this pretty well covers the product. My overall impression was that it wanted to put its most practical face forward, leading with things that would most directly impact the PCs in your game. It does a pretty good job of that, but focuses on that so much that it sacrifices a lot of wider applicability – the new spells help to broaden its focus, of course, and there’s some sense of what these clerics actually do for their city, but it’d have been nicer if we got a sense of history about their church (if not their religion), a map of the building itself, maybe some detail about the two acolytes (despite being only two of them in a church that has a total of three priestesses, they don’t have individual names), etc.
The bottom line is that, while the two major NPCs feel fairly real (and I’m being generous in regards to the mad old woman character), everything else is so sparsely covered as to be barely there. We have only a minor sense of the goddess herself, not much of this specific church, but a fair amount about the woman who administrates it. That’s not bad, but it’s not enough either. Gods of Mor Aldenn, Ehlora isn’t a bad product – I rated it as highly as I did because I like what’s here – but it feels like an incomplete one.