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Defenders of the Faith
A Supplement for Dungeons & Dragons
Reviewed by Shane Ivey, ©

Format: Game
By:   Rich Redman and James Wyatt
Genre:   Fantasy
Released:   March 2001
Review Date:  
RevSF Rating:   8/10 (What Is This?)
Since launching 3rd Edition Dungeons and Dragons last year, Wizards of the Coast has come out with a steady supply of useful supplements dedicated to expanding the game's possibilities. The Hero Builder's Guidebook made character creation as newbie-friendly as possible; Sword and Fist fleshed out two character classes that are often one-note wonders (monks' abilities are so rigidly defined that individual characters can be indistinguishable, and fighters... well, let's just say, "Do you want some hack with that slash?"); and the Psionics Handbook opened up an entirely new avenue of magic and character development.

Defenders of the Faith, a thin-but-meaty bookful of tips and options to flesh out paladins and clerics, fits the pattern. Like monks and fighters, paladins and clerics have traditionally seen little variety in powers and style of play, pigeonholing characters intractably as only old-school AD&D could do. Clerics were there for support, with the healing spells and the undead-turning, and paladins, like monks, were fixed into a particular set of abilities and restrictions. Thankfully, third edition D&D went a long way toward spicing the classes up and allowing for variety and individual styles. Defenders of the Faith takes that first step further. In the process, it becomes perhaps the most indispensable D&D3 supplement to date.

Clerics and Paladins

The first chapter of Defenders, "Clerics and Paladins," is an analysis of the classes as they usually stand. Rather than introducing new rules or variants at the beginning, it looks at the unique role clerics and paladins typically play in a party and offers straightforward advice on roleplaying styles and combat tactics. The tips on spell selection are good, helping players make the most of their characters' abilities and potentially saving new players a lot of study-and-calculation time. There are also tips on handling divine intervention in combat, but they could have used a little expansion: some notes on infernal divine intervention would have been nice, as would a few more suggestions on other forms of intervention. The short section on new magic items is also handy, if a little cursory. There's not a lot new there, and it could have done with fewer stats and more notes on how the different sorts of magic items might fit into various religions.

The roleplaying advice is generally useful, but it is particularly good for paladins. The advice in Defenders of the Faith makes them less one-dimensional than they are too often assumed, and it encourages players to use cunning and discretion rather than brute force and the subtleties of Detect Evil. (What's that? You mean you can't go around murdering every character who registers as evil? Astonishing!)

Churches and Organizations

The second chapter, "Churches and Organizations," fleshes out what ought to be a central part of the life of every cleric and paladin, the church. Or cult, or coven, or chapterhouse, or whatever. That's the point: every religion is unique, and every form of worship ought to be unique. With examples of religions for each alignment, including a sample religious establishment for each that the DM can use as a model to develop others, this may be the most valuable part of the book. You can take or leave the extra rules, after all, without affecting the core of the game; but the notes in this chapter will immediately serve to translate raw stats - class, alignment, deity, and spells - into a character's values, behavior, and self-concept. This chapter ought to be required reading for every DM and, at the least, for every player looking to play a cleric.

Prestige Classes

Every D&D3 supplement offers an assortment of prestige classes (most of which will never get played in your game), and Defenders is no exception. As usual, the new classes sometimes sometimes seem redundant (isn't the "sacred fist" class just a slight variant on the monk?) or so specific in function as to be nearly useless in play (the "oracle" can scry... she can really, really scry). Otherwise, though, they offer some interesting alternatives to the basic classes. The hospitaler offers some of the powers of the paladin with the extra feats of the fighter; the holy liberator is a paladin-like champion for chaotic religions; the contemplative allows for an change of pace for the high-level cleric without giving up spell abilities or the priestly nature of the character. The prestige classes won't get used often, but with about a dozen new classes to choose from, at least one or two are likely to make their way into your game as player characters or NPCs. Either way, they will add variety and spice to the players' experience.

Divine Magic

The final full chapter, "Divine Magic," offers more than fifty new spells and several prestige domains to add flavor to the cleric's abilities, helping differentiate clerics' powers further than simply good vs. evil or law vs. chaos. The new spells can also enhance the cleric's offensive abilities, with spells like briar web and sword stream, making them more directly useful in combat and giving them the option to be something other than the party nursemaid.

Monstrous Clerics

A too-brief appendix on "Monstrous Clerics" fills the last few pages of Defenders of the Faith, taken up mostly by one-paragraph notes on the personalities of the gods of drow elves, kuo-toans, giants, and so on. The quarter-page devoted to the interaction of clerics with elementals and evil outsiders is especially short, which will frustrate DMs looking to use evil clerics in the game. Still, that only amounts to wanting more of a good thing - a full chapter dedicated to the topic would have padded out the book beyond the 96 pages that seem standard for softbound D&D supplements, no doubt jacking the price up higher than its already-steep $19.95. I would have liked to see the extra details, but I don't know that it would have been worth paying a few more dollars. With scant notes on the topic here, maybe they're saving the good stuff (the evil stuff, that is) for another supplement.

The Final Word

Let's face it: clerics and paladins have always been a little boring. Paladins tend to be Round Table wannabes, and clerics are the next-best fighters, the second-string spellcasters, and the resident medics who usually only shine when there's healing to be done or ghouls to be turned. But none of that makes clerics any less necessary to the game, or paladins any less attractive to players who want a little extra heroism in their heroes. Defenders of the Faith makes itself indispensable by giving them personality and style. Few campaigns will center on psionics, after all, and the core rules do much already to make things more interesting for monks and fighters; but every game will have a cleric, and they're much the same as they've always been. This book makes them many times more interesting and engaging, and that makes it a solid buy for anyone playing D&D.

Shane Ivey is producer and TV editor for RevolutionSF.

 
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