Review Dated: 5th, January 2003
Reviewer’s Rating: 5/10 [ Perfectly acceptable ]
Total Score: 5
Average Score: 5.00
AEG’s Good – isn’t.
AEG’s Good – is just about acceptable. When the sun’s shining I tend to see the acceptable side of the supplement, on most days I tend to see the “just about” side instead. The numerical score for this review isn’t as important as the text but I dithered between two possible scores. In the end “Good” received the higher of the two possibilities.
The problem is that the book doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do. There can be no doubt; AEG’s Good should be about good. They could have talked about the nature of good, the forces of good, the role of good in the Planes or even fallen into the traditional hole and produced a book filled with power-ups for good aligned characters.
If this had been AEG’s Dedication then it would have been a much better product. If I wanted a book that had lots of reasons to be entirely devoted to a cause then I would have been pleased with this purchase. I would have rolled my eyes that yet another supplement was filled with power-ups but at least they would be on topic power-ups.
There is an attempt to fix this. “Good” tries to define good as a dedication to a dangerous cause. You need to be heroic to qualify for Action Points. To be a hero, so says this book, there needs to be danger. If you build a school for a village, a hospital for sick children or miss your own coronation because you’re leading a wagon train of food supplies into a famine struck area then you’re not a hero. That’s their argument and it doesn’t sit well with me. To be a good hero you need to pick a dangerous cause and stick to it through thick and thin. You need to swear to protect the village from the hobgoblin horde and then never flinch from your obligation – that’ll earn you Action Points. You need to commit yourself to throwing out the evil and corrupting Western influence from your homeland and then do all that you can to oppose this powerful force – that’ll get you Action Points. Oh. So you spotted that loaded example? I think it makes my point; dedication doesn’t make you good. You could equally argue that fanaticism often cuts too close to evil and that a trademark of a genuinely good person is the flexibility and willingness to put the cause of others first. Is it not a sense of conscience, a genuine concern for others, empathy, unselfishness or even basic kindness that defines a ‘good’ person? At this point in the review I’m in danger of having written more on the nature of good than actually appears in “Good”.
AEG’s Good begins by asking why people want to play the good guy. The conclusion is that people want to be the hero. They want to have trustworthy friends. They enjoy the company of others. Evil people don’t have friends. Evil people have untrustworthy minions. I suppose this is true in part. You need to forget about charismatic evil people though. Unfortunately the team of writers latch onto this idea that good equals heroic and a hero battles on regardless. They latch on this idea with a fervour that rather suits the book they ended up writing.
Chapter one looks at the characteristics you’d expect from “Chaotic Good”, “Neutral Good” and “Lawful Good” people. They conclude chaotic good characters rush to defeat evil and lawful good characters take a long time to assess the situation. There is the suggestion that by getting fixed on the idea that a few can suffer to benefit the many a Paladin will begin his descent to Blackguard. Good characters, they say, can expect loyalty from their friends whereas evil ones can’t. It strikes me that if you’re good only appease your friends then you’re an insecure Neutral. There’s a quick discussion on the idea of a “low good” and a “high good”. Low good is appropriate for people who genuinely do the right thing but remain practical. High good is rather more alien, best suited for Outsiders who’ll unquestioningly smite the evil. It is a very D&D’s idea that your alignment isn’t so much to do with your ethics as it is to do with what side you’re on in a cosmic war between powers. Tolkien’s Gollum wouldn’t stand a chance in this sort of world. The Detect Evil registers an evil. The angelic Outsider, Paladin or good cleric smites the monster and collects the experience. Job done. In fact, if our “heroic Paladin” had sworn to do away everyone the Ring had corrupted then Bilbo and Frodo had better start running too.
The book moves onto safer grounds – a collection of classes. The Alternate Paladin lets you play a Paladin of a specific deity rather than general “Good”. I think this is a much better concept for a Paladin. “Good” implements this by creating a set of new classes, The Avenger or The Defender. Hmm. Okay. There are too many prestige classes out there to worry too much about clashing names. The exception to that would be clashing with a core rules prestige class. You can play a Dwarf Defender who became a Dwarf Defender! Think how much space on your character sheet you’ll save! The Priest is another new basic character class and is a divine spell caster without the Cleric’s combat savvy. There is room for this sort of character in the system.
Chapter two introduces rules that allow powerful heroes to cleave their way through unchallenging minions and make for the master villain instead. These rules are light-weight enough to make them worth using and kick in at an appropriately high level. There is still dice rolling and so it’ll appeal to those gamers who like to get crunchy. They can provide a guide to the sort of challenge rating difference where abstracted combat is appropriate. That’s good for those of us with a preference for keeping the dice rolling down.
The same chapter explains how Heroic Traits allow good-guys to earn Action Dice. I don’t see why dedicated evil people can’t earn Action Dice either. It’s a simple system, that’s good, simple systems are the best. Your Heroic Trait is a specific goal or cause (which must involve danger) and if you stick to it you’ll earn Action Dice. You can spend Action Dice to improve your dice rolling. The name “Action Dice” makes it crystal clear how the Action Dice are intended to be spent. All the examples are for increasing your chances to hit things or upping the damage when you do. I doubt many people will be spending their Action Dice to ensure that their Wilderness Lore check is made. No, Action Dice are a cinematic game mechanic and have been designed so that players may enjoy success in the limelight of action.
There are a few pages of feats. They’re pretty good on the whole even though many of them are nothing more than a simple booster feat. I object to the way the alignment prerequisite is shoe horned in. Take “Hero’s Calm” for example, the benefit reads “Once per day, you may opt to take 10 on any skill check, so long as conditions are met. Instead of rolling, simply declare that you are using this feat.” The prerequisite is “Any good alignment”. Oh! Come on! Why? Is it because it’s called _Hero’s_ Calm? Can’t evil people be calm? Is there a second feat “Villain’s Calm”? If so then that’s just a rip off. There are plenty of these “Hero’s X” feats that need not be restricted by alignment and are. Hero’s Calm isn’t an example of a good feat either. It says that the hero can take 10 when the conditions are met – but it doesn’t say what those conditions are! Are they the usual conditions required before a character can Take 10? If so, what’s the point of the feat?
The new prestige classes range from good enough to pretty good. All 12 are ten level classes and thoroughly described. I’m not fond of the likes of Celestial Herald, the “un-player-characterable” Divine Healer and mystery killing Truth Seeker. There’s nothing more likely to ensure that a game devolves to nothing more than a series of fights than a PC who can tell when he’s being lied to. I do like the White Magician, Nature’s Champion and Paladine. I do worry that the Paladine isn’t complete though even though it most likely is.
The third chapter is about magic. There’s more here than just new spells. The introductory section is about summoning. Extra rules are provided to increase the complexity of summoning. I quite like this. You can boil it down to that if you’re lucky then as a good aligned summoner, you’ll summon a good aligned creature that’ll approve of your cause and want to help out. Such a creature enjoys moral bonuses and performs better. It’s more likely that you’ll just have ripped a hostile or indifferent creature out from the safety of it’s home. At the very least it’ll not be on top form and worse it’ll try to disobey you. I will niggle at the decision to print two nearly identical tables when simply extending the first through 0 to 10 would have sufficed. It’s always a bad sign when the book’s got me in the mood to find these niggling worries.
Then there are the expected new spells. There are new spells, items, weapons, artefacts and even a scary tattoo. Plenty of them. 10 pages of new spells and 13 pages for the items and weapons.
I like “Heroic Legions” the forth chapter. Here you earn Faith Points by devoutly following the ways of your religion. The book, not short of space apparently, runs through all the domains in the core rules and lists a minor, major and exalted deed for each. It also includes examples of a minor, major and mortal transgression for each. Typically, an exalted deed involves killing something. An exalted deed for worshipping a deity with Fire in its portfolio could be the killing a CR 15 water elemental. Bizarrely the suggested exalted deed for the animal domain is the taming a CR 10 magical beast. Taming it? So the goddess of nature likes to see her wild animals tamed? GMs may need to tinker with these suggestions. Fortunately “Good” makes it easy to tinker. “Good” makes it easy to use the very many new domains introduced by supplements. The book presents a list of generic deeds and transgressions first. Phew! If you insist on ignoring the teachings of your church and god then you’ll earn yourself bane points rather than faith points. You can spend faith points every now and then and in different quantities to benefit from different things. If you spend enough of your faith points to earn yourself a minor boon from the goddess of nature then you might find yourself with one use of ‘calm animals’. Banes are much more fun. Every now and then those people with negative faith points (bane) can expect something nasty to happen. This is their divine punishment. The good news is that the punishment moves your faith points back up and towards zero. This chapter includes boons and banes for Evil and Death. It’s worth noting that “Good” does include advice on how to adopt this system if you’re not running the high fantasy epic that most supplements seem to be written for. Rather, it’s advice on which characters might qualify for boons and banes as in accordance with how active gods are in your world. If your gods are very active (battling Titans or something) then every character class might enjoy (and risk) earning faith points. In games where gods are far off and distant then perhaps only Clerics and Paladins (they suggest Druids too) might qualify. The Faith Point system seems to forget about the Priest class introduced earlier on but it’s no big thing, it’s easy to conclude that for these mechanics clerics and priests are synonyms.
Oh yeah. The chapter’s called Heroic Legions because it finishes with details on religious groups and a few more good gods. The Heroic Legions are as much specific examples as they are guidelines to creating your own group.
The book finishes with a bunch of monsters. Elementals and the powerful Evangels dominate the small chapter.
The book doesn’t do what it needs to do. With that weight around its neck it is never going to be a good book. “Good” isn’t without merit though; it’s nicely presented and illustrated. Text density is good. As a supplement it has some worth. The Action Dice system can be used as a cinematic mechanic and the GM can award the dice as he sees fit (rather than worry too much about silly definitions of heroism). The boon and bane system is a great way to bring the presence of gods into a game without having avatars striding around. I think I’ll find the book more useful as a supplement for evil NPCs than good characters though. Oh well.