This installment of Open Design's Divine Favor-series is 20 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving 17 pages of content, so let's check it out!
Even though I'm all for shades of grey moralities, I friggin' LOVE paladins - ever since I managed to roll one up in the 2nd edition days of old, I enjoyed playing them and their inherent potential for tragedy and heroic sacrifice. I am also a proponent of the idea that paladins don't have to be lawful stupid and in fact, never had an unpleasant paladin character in my campaigns - they led by example.
Following the format of Divine Favor, we kick off with a two-page discussion of the core-competences of the paladin-class before delving into alternate class abilities, the first of which is the divine aspect, which replaces divine bond: He gains powers depending on aspects of his deities domains and his levels, which range from bonuses, to halos etc. 5 abilities per domain, the domains covered include Community, Glory, Good, Healing, Law, Nobility, Protection, Strength, Sun and War. While I like the idea per se and the respective abilities felt balanced enough, divine aspect is not as modular as I would have liked it to be - subdomains don't get their own abilities and no guidelines to create your own divine aspects are provided, making the ability far less useful than it could be. What about the polar crusader or the noble lion-asathi with the lion mount and animal domain?
Next up are Stigmata, a rather brilliant idea - instead of stripping a paladin of all powers, they are a way for the DM to punish a paladin for breaking his code of conduct. Basically, they are extraordinary abilities that offer a penalty, but also a minor bonus. At least in theory. 4 sample ones are provided (unfortunately not much) and I also have to report, that in practice, their penalties are not offset by their benefits: Excommunicated provides an SR of 11+ the paladin's level against ALL divine spells. Wait, wut? Depending on the adventure, this stigma may actually make him STRONGER! The same goes for tormented sleep - the paladin must sleep 10 hours per day and takes a penalty against exhaustion, but may, one a week not go to sleep for 48 hours and yet regain hit points, spells, abilities etc. That's not only immensely strong at the climax of adventures where time's of the essence, but also undermines a basic premise of the vancian spellcasting system and even point-based magic systems like SGG's Zauberer and the Psionics system by Dreamscarred Press. Classic example of good idea, bad execution.
Next up are the new archetypes, of which we get 5: The Heavenly Beacon exchanges smite evil and aura of justice with inspire courage, greatness (9th lvl) and heroics (15th lvl). That is, he loses his most iconic attack and aura of justice for a paltry version bard abilities. While the abilities per se are not bad, there is an SGG-archetype, the Chantry, that does this much better and cooler. Not sold. The Holy Sword exchanges spells for fighter weapon training. Ok, I guess, though nothing to write home about. The Metropolitan is the first truly ingenious paladin archetype in this book and unfortunately remains the last - a paladin devoted to a city who replaces detect evil with blindsight and gains smite denizen. Great idea and I can already see a ragged street saint prowling the Great City... on the other hand, though, is the execution of the rules rather boring - making more complex rules, a city-sense, anything really, could have made this archetype an awesome divine watchman of the city. The Questing knight takes perhaps the oldest trope for the paladin and gains the ability to find the object of his quests and commune etc. Nothing wrong there, but nothing I'd want to play either. Finally, we get the Templar-archetype, who gains the abilities to protect areas via hallow and magnificent mansions. Good idea. Only: He can cast sanctuary. AT WILL. That means that at all times, creatures will have to make will-saves to attack a templar. This is insanely overpowered.
Next up are 4 codes of conduct: Vow of Abstinence, Vow of Poverty, Vow of Honesty and Vow of Servitude, all of which provide some bonus spells to add to the spell-list for the restrictions they impose on the paladin's actions. And the actions of his allies. For all the vows specifically mention that the paladin has to act like a jerk and impose his beliefs on others: Paladins with Vow of Honesty correct the lies of their allies, paladins with vows of abstinence can't look after their drunken comrades: "She must also refrain from associating with others who regularly pollute themselves with substances (alcohol, drugs, overly rich food, sexual relations)." While "regularly" is open to DM fiat, it would probably fit in with 90% of adventurers... Worse, instead of providing an lead-by-example-mentality, the restrictiveness of the vows plays right into the hands of all the people who hate paladins for being the jerky-goody-two-shoes-characters. While mechanically, there is nothing wrong with the vows, the fact that their restrictions are imposed on other players makes me loathe them. I vastly prefer how the Book of Hallowed Might handled vows and oaths in the 3.5 days of old. Another part that won't ever see use, probably also because I consider adding some spells for the oaths to be the most boring design decision possible.
The final section of the pdf provides us with 14 new feats for divine characters and paladins especially: Divine Initiative is only the first of the feats with which I have a problem: It adds one's Cha-bonus to initiative, thus probably surpassing improved initiative and stacking, making thieves potentially lose to clerics and similar divine casters. Not so well-thought out. Additionally, two of the feats have "Vow of Honor" as a prerequisite. There is no "Vow of Honor" in Divine Favor: Paladin. There is no "Vow of Honor" to be found in d20pfsrd. I'm too lazy to look further for the vow and assume it just has been cut from the pdf, making two of the feats essentially useless. Apart from these gripes, I don't have anything against the other feats - they don't feel overpowered. Neither are they truly compelling, though. Essentially, they are forgettable and will not see any use in my campaign.
Editing and formatting are ok, although I noticed an editing glitch of the highest caliber with the missing vow prerequisite. Layout adheres to OD's two-column standard and the artwork is appropriate stock-art. The pdf comes with bookmarks. Let's sum it up: Discussion of the class's strengths and weaknesses: Okay, useful for beginners. Divine Aspect: Good idea, no subdomains, no guidance. I prefer RiP's divine channeler. Stigmata: Good idea, bad execution. Archetypes: Mostly bland/boring, one non-standard one, one insanely overpowered class-feature. Codes of Conduct: Boring design choice (additional spells), imposes morality on other players, thus annoying them. Feats: Okay, nothing to write home about, one with power-creep, two that can't be used as written due to missing prerequisite.
Oh boy. I'm so pissed I paid money for this. While I didn't like every pdf of the series, I did love the inquisitor and oracle ones and at least found some good pieces in the druid and cleric-pdfs. Here, though: Nothing. I got nothing. A small archetype and an ok alternate class feature, which I consider moderately interesting just don't make up for the amount of SUCK herein. This pdf takes everything bland about the paladin and amplifies it. Worse, it actually encourages a playstyle that led to the bad reputation of the class in the first place. If it had done so with rules that are interesting, perhaps even genius, I wouldn't have minded - you're speaking of a DM who had EXALTED paladins in his campaign (yep, Book of Exalted Deeds - horribly broken, but can be counteracted with roleplaying restrictions) and even though they were annoying, they led by example. This pdf does e.g. not address not killing humanoids. Non-lethal abilities? Peaceful solutions? Perhaps an alternative for smite that doesn't kill, but subdues? An ability to slowly convert people to good, perhaps by granting bonuses to allies who behave accordingly, thus granting an incentive? Nope. Instead, the rather bland options impose overly restrictive moralities upon the whole party, include a severe editing glitch in the feats and make me angry.
This pdf has officially replaced Advanced Feats: Might of the Magus as my least favorite pdf by Open Design. I got nothing positive to say about this apart from the fact that all other Divine Favor-pdfs are vastly superior. My final verdict will be 1 star.
[1 of 5 Stars!]