Jeremy's Reviews Blog

Monday, October 03, 2005

Drat, a day late....

I said it would take a month to do those 3 books from Goodman games, it took 4 weeks, 1 day.

Anyway, they've been submitted to (well, Demon Slayer's is done and will be submitted today or tomorrow) but haven't been queued up yet. As soon as that happens, I'll put them up on ENWorld, too.

My geocities site suffered a slight setback, I installed WinXP over my old hard drive with Win 98 on it, and it seems to have eaten everything on my windows desktop.

Demon Hunter's Handbook (near final)

So, you want to be a Demon Hunter?

Just how you answer that question really determines whether or not this product is for you. If you said yes, or want to run a D&D game based around the concept of demon hunting, then this book is worth buying, though it's probably not the definitive work on the subjective.

While I'd be lying if I said I were an expert on this subject (Demons), I do have a semi-strong interest in the subject matter. I've read the Exoricist and books about the case it was supposedly based on, seen countless B-movies and trashy horror books involving demons and possession, and I own Tubular Bells 1,2, and 3. (In fact, "Introduction" from Tubular Bells 2 is my favorite song. Or tied with it). So I have semi-high standards when it comes to something like this.

Frankly, when I first heard of this book, I was expecting something of a "splatbook", along the lines of say, Mongoose's Quintessential Series or Green Ronin's class books. Which is neither inherently good nor bad, just somewhat formulaic. The reality turned out quite different. While it's got some crunchy stuff, it's really more a "theme" book, reminding me more of a Gurps Supplement than anything else, which in my view is a good thing.

The first chapter is on characters. This is a big section of the book (almost a third), but the crunchy stuff is minimal. 4 prestige classes, 1 variant core class. Most of the chapter discusses how various existing character classes can go about demon hunting.

The variant core class is the "Planar Cleric", basically a normal Cleric but instead of being able to turn undead, they turn outsiders.

The most interesting prestige class, I thought, is also the first, the "Bound Spellcaster". Basically, very very slowly, the character turns himself into an evil outsider. It's not bad, but at the same time, I'm not sure anyone would take it. It's for arcane spellcasters mostly, but essentially costs them 4 levels of spells. So basically a 20th level character with 10 levels in that cast would be the equivalent, spell wise, of a 16th level wizard (or sorcerer). Which means giving up the most powerful spells, 9th level ones. In return they mostly get physical enhancements (more or less turning into the half-fiend template, plus various sorts of damage resistance)

Beyond that prestige class, there's the Preserver class, which is a demon fightin' druid. Which I personally find ironic, but is plausible the way it's written up.

Also the "Righteous Sword", basically for paladins/clerics. Basically they get all sorts of extra smiting abilities.

The Reformed Cultist seems a mite powerful to my eye. They get the best Base Attack Bonus progession, the sneak attack abililty (maxing out at +3d6) or another goody at every level, and they get 8 skill points per level. On the downside, they've lost their soul and so can't be raised from the dead by any means. It's a Rogue class.

Chapter two pretty much contains the crunchy stuff in the book. It's on new Demon Hunter abilities. New feats, uses for skills, spells and equipment. Perhaps more importantly, rules for possession by outsiders and the exorcism of them.

Possession by an Outsider and exorcism pretty much works the same, game mecanic wise. Basically two skill rolls in a row have to be made. There are some additional complications, but that's the gist. Now, it's pretty simple, but for me, it passes the big test. Can it duplicate the definitive movie about possession, The Exorcist? The answer is yes, it does.

It also provides pretty decent guidelines for targets of possession. That's one of the puzzlers about demonic possession - if there are so many demons, why don't they possess everyone? Now in the real world version, I've read various explanations: coming in contact with mysterious idols, playing with a ouija board, buying a Slayer album, having someone say the devil can take them, and a few other ways. None of which made much sense.

There's a number of new spells, around 20. Not surprisingly, most of them have to do with smiting or damaging evil outsiders.

Some seem a bit odd, causing the soul to explode. Maybe it's just me, but I always though the whole sort of point of a soul was that is was unaffected by matter one way or the other. So it seems unlikely that they could explode and damage people. But maybe that's just me.

Most are pretty good, though. Many seem to remind me of spells from console video games, with lots of visual effects. For instance, "Heaven's Tears", which brings a celestial rainstorm. Or "Natures Retribution", where "Clenching your fist, you cause streamers of vivid green energy to come pouring forth from the ground..."

There's also the reverse of one of my favorite songs, "Heavenly Bells". Doesn't quite roll off the tongue like it's netherworld equivalent, but the spell causes evil outsiders to be annoyed and distracted.

As near as I can tell, pretty much all of them are in line with the ones from the core rules, in terms of damage and effect.

There's about 5 pages of new gear.

One piece of armor, the "Armored Ankle Coat". Basically a big long black coat. This provides minimal protection (+ 1 AC), but has very little drawback, either (basically the same stats as padded armor). The only real notable thing is it stacks with normal armor. Which means if you allow them in your game, everyone will wear them, since eh, free +1 AC. While not exactly a gamebreaker, they should have had some penalty when wearing it with armor, like the similar "Bishop's Mantle" in Arms & Armor 3.5, which besides the +1 AC, has a - 1 armor check penalty, and drops the max dex bonus by 2. Either that or just say that wearing a long black coat adds a +1 style bonus to AC.

Besides that problem, I would have liked to have seen a more realistic take on an armored long coat. Generally speaking, while it's true that light long coats provide no drawbacks, movement wise, once you get even slightlier heavy, they can be problematic. I have a long duster that I use as a raincoat and while it's not bad when it's dry, once it gets wet (and thus heavier and slightly sticky) it can be tricky to move quickly in it, not hard, but slightly harder. I think an armored version would be more like studded leather in terms of protection and ease of use.

A fair amount of new weapons. Most are sort of "gadget" weapons. Holy symbols with spring loaded blades, holy water shooting gauntlets, holy water containing bolts/arrows, and my favorite, the "Throwing Cross". Actually, it can be made in a version for any holy symbol, presumably except that of the Goddess of Nerf. (For whom a funny name I can't come up with.)

The weapons all seem pretty balanced, mechanic wise, and seemingly correct for how much damage they should do.

Lots of non-combat stuff, too. Lots and lots of candles, oils, incense, like a Pier 1 almost. These actually have a purpose besides stinking up the place and/or impressing women, they help
out various religious or demon hunting tasks. Some contain cleric spells, like commune, to get godly advice. Some help with exorcism.

Chapter three is about running a demon hunting campaign. Basically themes, types of campaigns, advice, and quite a few plot seeds. Most of this is pretty good stuff.
The fourth chapter is on organizations. Cults, Demon hunting organizations, that sort of thing.

Then there is a way to describe and build them. Not exactly stats, more like categories. Type, Goals, Size, and Resources. While I've seen more detailed ways of doing it, this does the job pretty well. There are a few samples of organizations.

The last chapter introduces a few new demon types and some NPCs.

Because most of the standard D&D demons tend to be the combat monster variety, as opposed to the subtle, seductive demon, this book tries to fill in with the latter type.

There's the "Sin Eater" and its superior form, the "Corrupt King". Basically they sort of implant impure thoughts into people.

Also the "Curse Bearer", which I'm not quite sure I get, but sort of tempts people with really cool stuff that also happens to be cursed. Like James Dean's death car, or a book of forbidden knowledge, or

You also get stats for some NPCs, including the covergirl, Magdalena. She's going for that Solomon Kane, brooding pilgrim look, albeit with a pointy hat, not the standard pilgrim hat. Curiously, while she's partly a paladin, she's Chaotic Good. A couple other demon hunters, including a kid who lives in an evil orphanage.

Besides Demon Hunters, there are some demon cultists. Including the headmistress of said evil orphanage.

It's a good book, but nothing in it really screamed "Wow, this is great!". Also one area that doesn't seemed to be covered is actually getting evil outsiders to fight. Pretty much every demon/devil of note has the ability to teleport or planeshift at will. While this generally gets sort of ignored to make winnable fights for PCs, if a DM plays an evil outsider intelligently, they are very hard to beat, unless this ability is negated. I thought this should have been addressed.

Another thing you would sort of expect in a book like this, is info on magical wards and protections and such like the pentagram. Now I can see why they might not want to put that in a book prominently, even though it's 25 past the old hysteria days, I think it might have been touched upon a little.

While I generally liked the author's writing (some parts were funny) and agreed with his roleplaying advice, I did differ with him on several opinions. For instance, he writes

"How much worse is a mortal who commits atrocities not because he seeks to honor his chosen god, but for no other reason than wealth or personal power?"

Personally, I would say none. If anything, I tend to think the wealth/personal power is at least understandable. There are a few other examples like that. While a book like probably actually is the place for philosophical arguments, I think both (or more) sides could have been presented, though this doesn't detract from the book's utility.

All in all, I'd call it a B. Content gets a 4, and while the style isn't bad, it's not remarkable, either, so that gets a 3, average.

Anyway, like always, if you have comments, questions, be sure to email them, since I can't read the comments here anymore.