Game: Encyclopaedia Divine: Shamans
Publisher: Mongoose Publishing
Review Dated: 29th, April 2002
Reviewer’s Rating: 9/10 [ Something special ]
Total Score: 10
Average Score: 5.00
The popular Encyclopaedia Arcane series slyly morphs into the Encyclopaedia Divine. It’s absolutely right to do so, not all Dungeons and Dragons spellcasters use arcane magic, some are gifted their spells through their relationship with the Gods. Shaman, however, do neither of these. The shaman are able to produce spells through their relationships with spirits and these spirits are neither gods nor ghosts. Actually the spirits might be gods, they might even be older than the deities that form the basis of the D&D world or it might be that a shaman can actually gather power for spells through deities after all but it’s not really clearly discussed in the encyclopaedia and that’s my only real grumble with it. In the spirit domain and spell chapter, though, you will see that some deities do share spirit domains.
The Encyclopaedia Divine: Shamans starts with a good overview of animism belief so you don’t need to be especially knowledgeable to be able to use this form of cleric in your game correctly. There are a couple of examples of the sort of things spirits can reflect, where the spirits live and how someone might become a shaman… and why they might become a shaman. More often than not the spirits choose the shaman rather than a want-to-be-shaman successfully contacting them.
The Shaman is introduced as a basic character class. As you’d expect from a Mongoose book the mechanics of the class are nicely worked out and fairly balanced. You’ll be able to introduce the Shaman into your game without falling victim to that old trap where the new character enjoys an inherently more powerful character base. Along with the basic Shaman class there is a near-template for the Guardian spirit. A Guardian spirit is the first a Shaman ever makes contact with and therefore forms a special relationship between. Any sort of spirit can become a Guardian spirit and so these rules let you turn almost any sort of creature into such a spirit, in theory anything – a concept, a fear, an idea – could be a guardian spirit but of course you can’t check a creature supplement to get their hit dice to convert in the first place. The choice of Guardian spirit (which could be either the GMs or Players) is an important one since not only is the spirit effectively an extra NPC for the game but it’ll also grant the shaman some extra ability. A shaman with a cat guardian spirit will benefit on her move silently checks whereas a shaman with a heroic forefather guardian spirit may enjoy a plus one to his damage rolls.
There are also three shaman prestige classes. The Touched are those who hear the voices of the spirits whether they like it or not. It’s not quite clear why the Touched are a prestige class in their own right and not just some normal shaman with a problem but I suppose you could say that they have this extra special affinity with the spirits which is why the spirits seem torment them so and why they’ll develop all the bonus abilities the prestige class brings. It’s a level-ten prestige class. The Spirit Warrior is a more understandable choice for a prestige class, I get the feeling that it’s supposed to be a ten-level as well but the 10th line in the table is missing. I particularly like the requirement for this class that states that the qualifying character must have been reduced to zero hit points in hand-to-hand combat. The Whisper of Ghosts is the prestige class that plays on the overlap between spirit spirits and the spirits of the dead. The Whisper isn’t a Necromancer as such, he doesn’t bind and control the spirits of the dead, he asks for their aid and support. That said, the Whisper may attempt to turn or rebuke the head but not destroy or command them.
I happen to think that the Shaman presented in this book is better than the Druid from the core rules. In many cases the Shaman is a far more suitable base for a magically talented character with a connection to the wilderness than the druid is. Even better, there’s no reason why your Shaman has to be connected to the wild. Your shaman can equally chat to spirits of buildings, bridges or even cities. Your shaman can request the aid of techno-spirits, the anima of your spacecraft or laser rifle.
In the Secrets of the Craft chapter you’ll find the increasingly common re-examination of previously described skills so that they might be reapplied to the new class. Concentration is now extremely important for the Shaman’s trance. Diplomacy becomes vital when talking to extraordinarily powerful spirits. There’s the standard new knowledge but also the smuggled in Apothecary profession. You’ll also find the ever-present list of new feats. You might bemoan yet more feats but since the Shaman is a new character class and introduces the hitherto ignored spirit world there is both scope and demand for them. They’re pretty good feats too, a mixture of general, spirit and even metamagic.
In addition to the re-described skills and feats you’ll also get a short list of powerful rites. The rites present those times where the Shaman interacts, communicates, appeases, benefits from and works for the spirits through their religious connection to them. Rites are magical and require a caster level, however rites are not awarded automatically by the spirits to the Shaman advancing through the levels. In this way the rites and rituals required by the Shaman are an extremely useful GM control and storytelling focus. If your shaman PC wants to advance then he’s going to need to learn these rites somehow.
Spirit Magic is different from both arcane spells and the standard clerical method of casting. A shaman has a very much more limited number of spells at hand than a Cleric but does not need to decide before hand which spells he’ll go out “equipped” with each morning. By talking to co-operative spirits on the spur of the moment the Shaman is able to produce a spontaneous spell. This is great providing there are co-operative spirits around. Spirit magic makes heavy use on the ability to summon spirits and in this chapter you’ll find succinct rules for working out how to do that. It’s the small touches that help this section. The benefits in terms of a reduced DC for contacting the spirit by waiting to an auspicious time of year or by being in a trance mean there are game mechanic reasons why a roleplaying reluctant player will be lured into making the extra effort required to portray a good shaman.
The shaman does have a shorter list of spells than the cleric but this book provides about eighteen new domains, with a mixture of new spells and old ones from the core rules. The heading of Ancestor Domains throws up a nice twist by then sub-dividing into core character class domains. For example, if your shaman is working with the spirit of his pick-pocket great grandfather then it is likely he’ll be able to cast spells from the Rogue Domain. If the shaman also happens to have some levels in the Rogue class himself then there’s the extra granted power of +1d6 damage to the sneak attack.
The spirit chapter itself presents only a few examples of spirits; Oak Spirit, Wolf Spirit, Rain Spirit, Diamond Spirit, Household Spirit, Hate Spirit, Shade or Hunter. These are really examples though, the spirit chapter introduces the new monster type: spirit and then provides the template to create more. It’s one of the best templates I’ve seen and there’s even a Spirit Advancement Table so you can create your own Level Seven spirit, work out what extra feats it may have as well as the standard abilities and attributes it’ll possess.
There’s plenty of advice in the help for games master section as well. Rather than just being some words of wisdom, though, this time round some of the GM aid comes in the form of actual mechanics – such as the Spirit Insight table – or a brief system that enables the super quick generation of spirits.
Even though there’s no real rules for those shamans who might want to try and contact deities (so your Norse shaman can throw the runes and beseech Odin, or your Celtic shaman implore Lugh for advice) I thoroughly enjoyed the book. Although shamans may be less common in fantasy games than necromancers or demonologists and although the spirit magic system isn’t so radically different from the usual system than chaos magic rules are, the book is currently my favourite Encyclopaedia from the series.