Game: The Book of the Righteous
Publisher: Green Ronin
Review Dated: 17th, September 2002
Reviewer’s Rating: 10/10 [ Breathtaking ]
Total Score: 13
Average Score: 6.50
It was sacrilegious. I read most of The Book of the Righteous either in bed or here beside the PC. You just have to pick up the hardbound tome to know that the correct way to read the book is to rest it on an altar or pulpit, light a respectful amount of candles and share the carefully composed mythology with an eager congregation.
The back of the Book of the Righteous claims; “[…] the most comprehensive religious tome the d20 system has ever seen.” It’s an entirely justified claim. The same paragraph goes on to say, “While other books waste pages on god stats you’ll never use, The Book of the Righteous gives you a dynamic, lifelike religion that add depth to any campaign”. Interesting use of the word ‘dynamic’ but this claim is pretty much true as well. I love god books but I hate god stats; I love god books because I like to piece together the implied mythology and the relationships, if any, between the gods. The Book of the Righteous really does play straight into my Perfect Book zone. It’s always possible to do better and Green Ronin wasted no time in publishing an errata that’s more than an errata. The Tree of Life is a bit like a software patch for the book in so far as it fixes a few points and offers up some extra material all for free. As quickly as the Tree of Life came out, this review is just a review of the hardback book.
This is a huge book. 320 pages. That’s not the biggest tally ever but The Book of the Righteous has a strongly sewn spine and you can clearly see the groups of bound pages by looking down the top of the book. The Book of the Righteous also uses small and dense text. If the text size used was similar to other books in the $39.95 price range I guess that that we’d be looking at about 380 pages instead. The size of the book is an interest rather than an important gauge on whether the supplement is any good or not. However, I suspect that you can tell that I think the Book of the Righteous really is rather good.
You’re not a moron. Too many d20 products seem to be written for the lowest level of reader. Straight away I noticed just how the suggestions and advice was presented in the book; you’re assumed to be smart enough to be able to implement the mythology of deities and servants by yourself. For example, each religion has their holy days and these aren’t packaged with some made up date because you can’t work out a suitable date on the calendar yourself and instead they come with suggestions like “early in the year”. The issue with holy days is one taken straight out of the “fill in the blanks” aspect of the book, one that’s even marked with a special icon so you can see it coming.
The book is a member of a surprisingly small group of books which are “GM trying to run a campaign friendly”. There are generous photocopy permissions – all of chapter II and appendixes I and II as well. Chapter II lists the Gods in a quick table and includes what they’re the God of. For example, “God of Sea: Shalimyr” and “God of Healing: Morwyn” but “God of Slaughter: See Chapter VIII”. This means your photocopied Chapter II does not spoil any surprises for your players. The mythology presents the Gods as they initially battled against corruption, banishing corrupted powers to Hell and so your averagely informed townsperson will know who the God of Death is but isn’t likely to know who the God of Orcs is (since Orcs aren’t even mentioned in the most widely known creation story) and may not even know that there is a God of Slaughter. This mirrors the way real life pantheonic religions tended to be (Greek, Norse, Egyptian, etc [the usual suspects for RPG conversion]) and that’s alluded to in the Book of the Righteous. It’s not an accident. It’s a design.
The Book of Righteous presents a series of mythological stories. It begins with the creation myth and then as the book moves forward to look at the 20 churches contained inside it shares more of these stories. A “church” is the whole organised religion of the god or deities worshipped by its members and not an isolated building. The goal is to breath life in to clerics and other members of that religion. The goal is to give your cleric more material to work with than (and I quote) “I worship the God of Thunder” “Thunder is good”. And the book succeeds in this. It really and truly does.
I’ve said that each Church is introduced with some more myths but there’s very much more than too. Churches have a typical alignment, associations with others, servants and often a clearly defined purpose. The structure of each Church is clearly spelt out (for example, Pope at the top and people putting money into the coffers at the bottom) and doctrine to keep people inline and promote the interests of the faithful (or the faith itself). Doctrine is often presented as a list of quotes and commandments that you can bring straight into your game. For example, “There is no joy without suffering” sounds like a typical bite of doctrine from an organised religion too me. Churches have saints too and rather interesting, since this is a fantasy world, we can also see what the particular god thinks of their own church!
One of the subtle benefits the Book of the Righteous brings but one that as a picky GM I’m thankful for is that it becomes clear why a Cleric’s favourite weapon is their favourite weapon. It’s important to say though that this isn’t just a book for Clerics. In fact, the Book of the Righteous presents the Holy Warrior as a new class. The claim is that the Paladin class doesn’t really equate to a church specific Holy Warrior. The Paladin does good for the whole pantheon, the say, whereas the Holy Warrior is specific to individual gods. I could argue either way for on this point but I’ve seen worse. This addition means that the scope for prestige classes becomes larger. All the prestige classes in the book are religious bias, how could they not be? Not all of the many prestige classes in the book are cleric bias though. If you want to smite unbelievers in the name of Healing – then you can.
There are more than just prestige classes for those of us who like to see some new mechanics with new RPG purchases. In the appendixes you’ll find a long list of new special character abilities and these relate back to the introduction of a whole new class and the prestige classes which appear along with their church earlier in. There are also new feats and skill as well and the predictable list of new clerical domains (Beauty, the Dead, the Forge, Home, Inspiration, Justice, Night, Oracle and Truth). There are new spells as well.
The Book of the Righteous isn’t simply a good book because it has so much in it. You may never need to buy another god book again but that’s not really the point. The Book of the Righteous scores such a strong success because of the way it holds itself together with intelligently constructed mythology and then stays intelligent with its presentation and the implementation of this mythology to players and GMs alike. Such attention to game detail includes making it “as worthwhile” for a PC cleric to follow the God of Roads as it is to follow the God of Secrets. The pantheon’s creation myth stands up to the D&D planar uberscape too. In fact, the creation myth lends itself wonderfully to Manual of the Planes style maps where you can see globes, pillars and discs rotating around one another. Even in the creation myth itself you’ll find [bracketed comments] explaining just what the equivalent plane (or alignment) is. As well written as the book is I don’t think it’s possible to sit down and read it from cover to cover. What I found myself doing what reading through one church or mythology and then being inspired to see if or how that would tie in with another church and going off to read that section as well. There was much page turning.
I just could not help but be impressed by the Book of the Righteous.