Hmm... an Editorial on that contentious question: semi-naked female characters. Traditional game fare, perhaps, but provoking comment. Being of the female persuasion but pragmatic rather than sexist, my only complaint is that if I were participating in a fantasy adventure I'd want a decent layer of armour between me and the monsters - and that doesn't mean hiding behind the nearest paladin! A few bare-chested blokes would be nice, to maintain balance, though.
The first article proper introduces a Shaman character class for Pathfinder. Opening with an evocative narration of a shaman performing a divination (not for the squeamish, she's using rabbit entrails!), the class is described as very druid-like, recognising the spirit with all components of nature. They are shape-shifters and healers, whilst the most powerful can send their very essence forth from their mortal body on a spirit quest. Spell lists are limited, but unlike most divine casters a Shaman does not have to prepare but can cast any spell he knows, up to his limit, when he chooses. They have a bond with an animal spirit, which takes the form of the animal in question and acts pretty much like a companion. As they gain in levels, they learn Totem Secrets - such as the ability to use entrails for divinations (or a less messy alternative involving interpreting the flight of birds) - and gain other abilities. Quite a fun class, particularly in wilderness adventures or when there are lots of barbarians around, although I'm not sure just what benefits there are over choosing a druid. Probably more style, and the variety is always good...
Next comes Daughters of Lilith, an article about the ecology of the succubus. Written in academic style, ostensibly with research assistance by a wizard called Oziel, it looks at the possible origins of succubi and moves on to dicuss their appearance and behaviour... even their growth and development from childhood. The concept of succubi celebrating their birthdays is quite unusual, as is the startling fact that apparently very few are actually able to bear children themselves, despite their tendency to engage in fornication whenever they get the chance. There's also a sidebar on the male equivalent, the incubus... overall, this is not an article for the prudish although it's all in the best possible taste. You may want to consider your group carefully as you decide how much (or if at all) you will incorporate into your game. If you do decide they'll be suitable, there are several neat plot ideas laid out, while the rest of the article is quite ripe for plundering for ideas. And there are a few new powers, feats, actions - and a quite scary curse spell - for those who enjoy adding variant game mechanics to their monsters.
Then comes a thought-provoking piece on mystery cults as a way to make the religions encountered in your game world more interesting. There's plenty of historical precedent, and they don't even have to be evil - just a group which prefers to hold worship rituals in private. Public worship may also happen in overt temples, and even participants in mystery cults may not be required to hide their membership - they just don't talk about what happens in their ceremonies, and may have secret doctrine that is not shared with outsiders. The article then runs through the basics of designing such a cult, along with suggestions as to how to use it to effect in your game.
The next article is a look at Clerical Conflicts, by Tim and Eileen Connors. Within the alternate reality of your game world, the deities your cleric characters revere are real (whatever your views about religion in the real world might be), and they have the potential to make personal demands on their followers. Even if the deity doesn't intervene directly, the church or other religious organisation may well give that cleric orders. These can lead to powerful opportunties for role-playing and character development, as well as being a potent way to introduce plot events... and the real fun begins when the organised church wants something different from the desires of the deity they ostensibly serve! Plenty of ideas are presented here, along with notes for the Pathfinder ruleset. The ideas will work whatever system you prefer, of course.
This is followed by an article asking a question that's puzzled me over decades of gaming: Why No Monotheism? Real-world religions include several monotheistic faiths, most of those with a pantheon of gods are confined to ancient history. Yet fantasy games have pantheons of deities galore, or at least gods who do not insist that their followers never, ever worship anyone else. The author comes up with some compelling reasons for why things are the way they are in the heavens of your favourite games... and presents ideas for how you can, if you wish, have a monotheistic religion and still have a good game without offending your more religious players!
Next comes a whole bunch of Divine Archetypes. Why should clerics have all the religious adventures? Lay followers can be as devout, gain special abilities, and serve their god in far more active ways than attending temple on the relevant holy days. You might also use some of these to ensure that all members of the party feel fully involved in a campaign that centres on the divine... rangers specialising in hunting undead and incorporeal spirits, fighters with celestial companions on the battlefield - there's even a fighting style for monks called the 'angel fist' to play with. I wish I'd had access to them a few years ago when running a campaign in which the characters formed a party of missionaries sent out on behalf of a deity to explore and convert unknown parts of the game world!
What else? There's an enlightening interview with Bill Slavicsek, some intriguing backgrounds in magic for the AGE ruleset - alchemists, druids, illusionists, and seers - while Skip Williams muses on heavy armour and flat-footedness in his rules query column. Then we meet the Scriveners of Allain, a bunch of scribes for D&D 4e, who have formed a cult practicing secret rituals based around glyph magic... and noted for their talents at taking revenge on those who have wronged them! Treasures from the depths under Midgard, the saints associated with the worship of Mavros, and a really creepy wizard's familiar which bonds to the wizard's very flesh follow, with strange goings-on in the Pathfinder Society and amidst Zobeck's bandits rounding out this issue... an issue well worth the reading, with masses of things to spark your imagination and make any campaign divine!
[5 of 5 Stars!]