Game: Deities and Demigods
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
Review Dated: 4th, May 2002
Reviewer’s Rating: 7/10 [ Good ]
Total Score: 42
Average Score: 6.00
Deities and Demigods is a 224 page, hardbound book and in those two hundred pages you’ll find an interesting mix, a frustrating mix. There are sections of filler that threaten to bring the quality of the book down. There is also just enough work put into this book to make it a worthwhile purchase for a GM. If you’re looking to Deities and Demigods as a way to add richness and flavour to the pantheons and religion in your Dungeons and Dragons game then you’re likely to pick up on all the filler and be a little disappointed. If, however, you’re aiming to run a game where the player characters are likely to go toe to toe against gods, aspire to divinity themselves or serve as the god’s own bodyguards and hitmen then you’ll find less filler and more killer.
The first chapter, Deities in your Game, is typical of the good-bad mix on the book as a whole. Very sensibly the book discusses various types of belief: pantheons of many gods, monotheism, dualism and even animism. It then goes on to ignore all but the pantheon approach. I thought the promise of text on the nature of divinity was an overly brave one (read: foolish) but the section actually makes a fairly decent stab at it. The nature of divinity really is a discussion as to where the gods came from; born with divine powers, gained divine powers or even did they manage to steal it? Some of the adventure ideas here are better skipped over than read though, otherwise you’ll end up struggling against the idea that divinity can be reduced to some sort of divine spark which can be pick pocketed or borrowed. Examples of filler text in chapter one include such unhelpful suggestions that gods who are actively hostile against mortals can be “overwhelming” at low levels of play. I can see it now, Orarth the Orc-Slayer, a brand new level-one dwarf fighter, risks being overwhelmed on meeting an annoyed Gruumsh in the dungeon. The true horror of this chapter is advice on how to build a pantheon. The key to a pantheon seems to be how many gods are in it and then how fairly you divide appropriate alignments between the character classes they might represent. That’s too bad if you’re trying to suspend disbelief and trying to ignore the fact that the deities conveniently map to the game’s mechanics rather than appeal to the people and cultures in the game world. The official structure of a pantheon casts the likes of the Asgardian pantheon in a poor light since it has too many brave and noble warrior gods.
The “Deities Defined” section, chapter two, is thankfully only twenty or pages long. It introduces the idea of Divine Rank and then goes on to waste space with divine abilities and re-prints of the size category rules. The divine abilities – divine feats, really – are awful. Without the Create Object ability your so-called god can’t create something out of thin air. Worse, gods with this ability can only create simple items. Create Greater Object is required for anything impressive and you need to be of Divine Rank 11 before you can have that. This means Bast, the Egyptian cat goddess, can’t magic a collar with bell for a favoured pet. A god with Intelligence 29 and Create Object can’t figure out how to appear a functional knife out of thin air even though he can magic the metal blade and the wooden handle separately. An goblin with intelligence 7 could probably stick a metal blade into a wooden handle. Not to get hung up on that example I could list plenty more; I mean, imagine, a god without the Divine Archery ability might actually miss a target in his line-of-sight and even with Divine Archery the target still needs to be in line-of-sight.
The concept of Divine Rank is tricky. In some respects it’s a useful and easy measure of how strong a god is – this is especially handy if you tie belief in the good into his or her strength. On the other hand Divine Rank means you can say stupid things like, “Thor is more divine than Poseidon.”
The meat of the book begins with the introduction of the D&D pantheon. If you’re into the high level stats then you can pleasantly flick through the professional layout and soak up all the numbers. If, on the other hand, you’re after more information on the given dogma of the god or how its avatar might be then you’ll be able to dig that out here too. I also like the inclusion of the religious icons for each deity. The icons are colourful and artistic and strangely more suited to the fantasy element of the game than, say, a simple pattern on some Templar’s tunic. Given the concept of Divine Rank this chapter is able to cover some of the lesser gods and demi-gods without diluting the main characters of the pantheon.
Along with the stats for actual gods and their avatars you’ll sometimes find mini-maps of their temples. I like this idea; it’s the sort of bonus that helps make the book. It’s the temples of the gods that are often the greatest physical presence of the god and its influence on the world.
After the D&D pantheon the three famous pantheons of Earth are covered in fairly good detail: the Greek (Olympic) gods, the Egyptian (Pharaonic) gods and the Norse (Asgardian) gods. This was a predictable choice, although I imagine only a few d20 games are set in fantasy copies of Greece, Egypt or Scandinavia, there are probably quite a few games where you might find people worshipping Loki or Set or even Hades. More common, perhaps, would be games where their super strong demi-god can be created by taking Hercules’ game attributes and changing his name.
For each of the pantheons there is a quick planar study, a cosmology. The Norse world tree, Yggdrasil, is shown with Midgard near the base and overlapping with the Ethereal plane and connected to the Shadow plane. For each pantheon there’s also a quick summary chart that maps the given gods and demi-gods to suitable domains, alignments, portfolios and favoured weapons for their clerics.
These three “real world” pantheons find the space to provide stats or comment on the sort of fantasy creatures you might associate with them and aren’t all that common in your standard d20 world. The Olympician section ends with stats for Cyclops and fauns for example.
Tucked away at the end of the book but just before the two appendixes there’s a tiny collection of “other” gods that don’t fit into D&D basic set and aren’t from Earth either. Whereas I know that a book can only contain a finite number of pages I still think it would have been nice to have a look at the likes of the Aztec pantheon as well. (Mind you, perhaps too many of the dragons from core D&D are too directly borrowed from that particular religion to make that example a likely reality).
Right at the back of the book you’ll pick up a few more spells and suggestions on how to ascend to divinity.
You don’t need to be the sort of player or GM who really loves to run games on the Epic Level to enjoy this book – but it’ll probably help. Despite all my criticism of Deities and Demigods I did enjoy it, at least, I was able to enjoy parts of it and that made it all worthwhile. It’s a nicely illustrated. If you want to buy one god book and you don’t know which, then pick up Divine and the Defeated and if you can’t find that then buy this book.