Game: Agents of Faith
Publisher: Living Imagination
Review Dated: 23rd, August 2003
Reviewer’s Rating: 7/10 [ Good ]
Total Score: 7
Average Score: 7.00
Gods are real. They reward loyalty and those who follow their teachings with power, with divine spells. This is true in a typical D&D style fantasy game. Your character is as wise as mine, your character is as devout as my mine and your character spends the same amount of time in the local temple as my mine, we worship the same deity in the same way. My character is able to wield the magical rewards of his loyalty by casting spells and yours cannot. Is this fair?
It might not sound fair but most people can probably guess that the spell caster here is a cleric and the other is not. That’s why my character can cast divine magic and yours can’t. Is this even possible? Does a god take the time out to review every one of their followers and decide whether they’re a career cleric or not?
Okay. It’s not about possibility. It’s about character class choice. This is really a game balance issue. If fighters could cast divine magic then clerics would suck (in the bad way). We make allowances for the system. It would be better if we could change the system or use some supplementary rules that rewarded divine loyalty with divine blessings and which maintains perfect game balance.
Agents of Faith is not such a book. It comes pretty close though. It comes close enough for my tastes and I’ll use these rules. Why isn’t Agents of Faith such a book? It doesn’t quite maintain perfect game balance; characters will enjoy more feats, perhaps just one, potentially twice as many as they might otherwise would. The system that metes out or restricts these new feats is a roleplaying one not a game system one. The usual d20 mantra of not balancing mechanics with roleplaying will sound. I think this is a weakest link rule and that’s why I’m perfectly happy to use Agents of Faith without modification.
If you’re ready to work with organised religion then you’re able to get the most out of Agents of Faith. If there’s a church, cult, religion or mojo that’s organised enough to conduct (probably magical) initiations then you’ll be able to distinguish between worshipers and initiates. Worshipers believe in their god, gods or pantheon, some will believe strongly, others weakly and maybe a few just as they die. Initiates will typically be strong believers and for this system they’ll have gone through an initiation (ah, English language, how clever you are). In reward for this, in divine favour, they’ll enjoy a bonus feat. It’s not any old feat; it’s the lowest level feat for on their deity’s list. If our initiate does well, pleases the church, doesn’t displease the deity then she may gain promotion to Chosen. The figure 1 Chosen for every 100 Initiates in tossed into the ring. Wheel in another bonus feat and, as with feat before, the arrival of this one doesn’t cost any XP. It’s entirely up to the roleplaying circumstances. The progression goes on, a few Chosen might become Anointed and fewer still Anointed become the de facto ruler of the church, a High Priest or Priestess (aka Ascended). In a rather satisfying pointer, it’s noted in the High Priest requirement doesn’t demand the character to reach the ranks of the Anointed, just that they’ve been initiated. This allows for surprise promotions from within the lower ranks of the church and does well to reflect those churches where the deity herself may select the High Priest.
There’s absolutely no danger of running out of suitable bonus feats for these churchmen. Agents of Faith includes over 200 divine feats. A divine feat is associated with a Cleric Domain and restricted by level. It’s possible to advance up the Evil feat tree or the Animal feat tree. It’ll come as no surprise to find that Agents of Faith offers up a new collection of Domains too; 11 in total. There are the obvious new additions like the domain of Love or Vengeance, less obvious ones such as Blood and Poison and out of the blue domains like Electromagnetism and Corrosion. It’s only natural and acceptable for the book to populate these new domains with a sufficient quantity of new spells.
The prestige classes in the book, as the introduction warns, are pretty extreme. They cover some of the most specialised areas of churches and religions and some of the most fanatical followers. It’s good that GMs are encouraged only to use these prestige classes with caution, it’s better than saying nothing at all but it still leaves us with slightly rough mechanics. We’ve the 10 level Crusader, Pacifist, Planar Sentinel, The Reaper, Sacred Marauder, The Sacrifist and the 5 level Proselytizer.
As an Living Imagination book we can expect to find some more Rituals. I think most Living Imagination fans will have Spellbound or even the full campaign setting by now and will be able to use them. If you don’t have the rules necessary to get the most out of the Rituals then you’ll enjoy the summary of how the system works in the back of the book. It’s unlikely you’ll have to abandon the Rituals if you want to use them and in any case the chapter is fairly self-contained.
I’ve been using the word “church” to mean organised religion but there’s also the physical building too. Agents of Faith makes a quick tour through holy areas; temples, cathedrals, etc and then discusses what might actually make a physical location sacred or not.
The supplement balances crunch with game meal nicely, this seems to be fairly typical for Living Imagination, and there’s a decent GM discussion chapter. Agents of Faith goes “Behind the Alter” to investigate the best way to deal and structure pantheons, cults, life, death and even resurrection.
The first appendix in the book might catch you out. The Spirit Domain has been carved off from the bulk of the new domains and accompanying spells because it doesn’t quite fit the mould. It works best if, as the name hints at, you’re working with the concept of a mortal spirit and one that might leave the body at the time of death.
It’s strange. Agents of Faith biggest lure, for me, was the attempt the work out some sensible game mechanics for worlds where gods are real and reward their faithful. I have no problems with the system offered. Nevertheless, it’s more likely that I’ll pick out the 200 divine feats and use them by without the religious structure suggested by the book.