An RPG Resource review
Somewhat expecting a whole d20 game involving the agents of heaven and hell, I was pleasantly surprised to find that this is a genuine d20 sourcebook, for use with Dungeons and Dragons (or, with minor modifications, a contemporary or future d20 game system). It opens with the author explaining what it's all about, and stating plainly that as he's a 21st century American, it is pretty much rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition in which he lives, although there will be some references to other belief systems... and indeed there are, although more those from history (Greek Olympian gods and the deities of Ancient Egypt for example) than other contemporary religions such as Islam or Hinduism, let alone the imaginary pantheons developed for various D&D settings.
Presentation is excellent, with a colour front and back, and black and white interior. The zipfile it arrives in includes a small text file that explains how to minimise printing costs and time, by switching to black & white mode (if you can) or a laser printer for the interior, send it to print in chunks rather than all at once, use draft quality and even to leave out the 2 pages of advertisement! Read on screen, the text does tend to blur somewhat (a common PDF problem, exacerbated by the use of a serif font). Artwork is good, both the cover and some very evocative greyscale paintings within.
The first chapter, The Great War, describes how the relationship between god - or gods, depending on whether your setting is monotheistic or has a whole pantheon of gods - and angels began, with the angels created before mortals yet subordinate to them in the scheme of thingsÃƒÂ¢?Ã‚Â¦ albeit more powerful in many ways, and immortal. Not everything in Heaven is quite as wonderful as it might be, so what the Christian mythology calls The Fall took place, as some leading angels rebelled and were thrown out unceremoniously. Setting up in the Other Place, the rebels have continued to wage unrelenting war on the forces of good.
What's interesting is the relationship between deities and angels, and between different angels, particularly if you have a polytheistic setting. While the denizens of Heaven may be generally regarded as 'Good' they often differ as to just what that means or how it may be best accomplished. There's a delightful description of the type of heated debate that angels engage in - being perfect, they naturally assume that once they have stated their case, the logic must be so compelling that anyone who hears it will, once they've had time to think about it, be convinced. So they state it the once, smile sweetly and wander off, rather than banging on about whatever the bone of contention is, coming back a century or so later confident that their audience must have changed its mind!
The second chapter details the different sorts of angels that you can have, and how they function in game terms. Plenty of meaty rules to get your teeth into, but it sits rather oddly before material about how to use angels in a campaign. Although the main focus is those beings D&D would describe as 'Celestials' there is sufficient about the fiendish fallen variety of angel to show how they fit in to the overall picture. Not all angels work for a god, however, not even the 'good' ones. We see how angels have both their inherent type - as Celestials - and may add character classes to that to create unique and memorable beings.
Chapter 3 is probably the best bit of the whole book. Here various types of campaign in which angels might feature are explored - from the 'all the PCs are angels' to a conventional fantasy campaign where angels are just another 'monster' that pop up from time to time. Some of the in between concepts are the most fascinating. Perhaps the characters have acquired one or more angel 'mentors' who offer help and advice, or even involve them in heavenly politics, sending them on missions to further the ends of their patron deity.
Here we also see the first of a whole series of 'adventure seeds' - just a couple of paragraphs of suggestion that are capable of spawning whole campaigns never mind individual adventures. There are also notes on mortal-angel interactions, how to develop distinctive angel personalities, and ways in which familiar mortal religious concepts such as prophets, saints and martyrs might work in game terms. The role of the mortal soul is discussed (and now I know why souls get tortured in Hell!), and you can also find out how to become an angel.
It's even possible to incorporate this material, with judicious modification, into a contemporary or future D20 game system. The D20 Modern setting Urban Arcana or Spycraft's Shadowforce Archer are both potential homes for some angelic activity, if you wish to add this dimension to the magical and supernatural goings-on that take place there.
Chapter 4 looks at the geography of both Heaven and Hell, so those wishing to visit either will be able to find their way around. This is followed by a chapter containing a collection of notable angels, primarily those who feature in Judeo-Christian mythology, but there's plenty of scope for seeing how to create suitable ones for whatever mythology you care to use.
Chapter 6 contains several organisations that involve angels. Primarily religious in nature, there is scope for both angel and mortal to become involved at appropriate levels, and these groups may operate inside or outside organised religion. There's scope for many schisms and theological debate, if that's your style; or of course - as often has been the case in the real world - members of established and breakaway religions may settle their debates at swordpoint!
I particularly like the Council of Wings, a coalition of angels and fiends who have decided that enough is enough, and that the constant warfare between good and evil must stop to preserve mortals on the Prime Material Plane.
We then return to the more rules-based material, the expected fare of feats, prestige classes, spells and magical and wondrous items. There are some interesting snippets in there, in particular the items which may turn up in some unexpected places. A couple are already being planned into my campaign... And finally, we wind up with an array of creatures and a handful of NPCs.
Overall, there's a lot in here, and it will repay detailed study and careful thought to be able to build the angelic aspect into a campaign. It is definitely something that has both been somewhat neglected so far and will give added detail to the religious life that goes on in your campaign, even if angels are rarely if ever actually seen.
One of the best bits is the creative use and extension of existing d20 rules to show how angels can be built into any campaign, in a modular manner that enables the same mechanics to work equally well however pivotal or marginal angels are going to be. It's a fine example of 'how to' write a rules-based sourcebook, even if you aren't very interested in angels themselves.
The main drawback, for D&D players at least, is that there is a lot of work to be done to take the Judeo-Christian monotheistic slant and mould it into something that will work with the more usual plethora of deities to be found scampering around most campaign settings.
In 'real world' religions, the god or gods are rarely alone, they have a host of supporters, servants and hangers-on over and above those mortals who choose to worship them. Now you can add the same depth to religion in your campaign world.
[4 of 5 Stars!]