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Thursday, 26 September 2013

Faiths & Philosophies


I was uncertain what to expect from Faiths & Philosophies when I first heard about it. After all, there has already been a whole series of books on faiths in Golarion, with each volume covering the gods of good (Faiths of Purity), neutrality (Faiths of Balance), and evil (Faiths of Corruption). Between the three of them, they cover all the gods of the Inner Sea, so what could Faiths & Philosophies cover? The answer is actually rather obvious, but it is something that often gets ignored by many campaign settings: the different forms that faith and belief can take and how those things don’t necessarily have to centre on a god or gods. Faiths & Philosophies looks at the different kinds of philosophies (including religions, but not limited to them) and belief structures that exist within the world of Golarion, from druidism and the Green Faith to spirit worship and even atheism. It also includes lots of little mechanical perks for players with characters belonging to any of these various faiths.

I’m really glad that a book like this exists as I often wish Pathfinder Player Companion and Pathfinder Campaign Setting volumes would include just a little bit more of what daily life is like in the world. I do wish Faiths & Philosophies could go into quite a bit more detail, in fact. It offers a tantalizing glimpse at the belief structures of the world, but since a lot of space has to be devoted to new traits, feats, archetypes, and more, it can really do nothing more than brush the surface of these things. Nonetheless, it does provide just enough information to inspire players designing characters and gamemasters designing campaigns. For that, if nothing else, it’s well worth it. And some of those new mechanical options are quite interesting.

Faiths & Philosophies opens with an overview of different “modes of belief”. These are broad categories that the various religions and philosophies fall under. They include communal (beliefs built on cultural, racial, or group identities), ecclesiastical (beliefs centred around deities), individualistic (beliefs rooted in the power of the self), and shamanistic (where shamans interact with many different divine forces instead of a single god). The book then moves into discussing specific belief structures, with two pages per belief type. These beliefs take up the majority of the book. First up is atheism.

Atheism is a bit of an odd thing for a fantasy world in which the existence of gods is pretty much undeniable. The gods show their existence and power regularly through the spells and abilities they grant to clerics and other divine classes. People often do a double-take on learning that atheism (of a form) exists on Golarion. The trick here is, of course, a slight redefining of the word. Atheists on Golarion do not deny the existence of the gods; rather, they deny that the gods are deserving of worship. This redefining has provoked some debate on Paizo’s messageboards in the past, and I found it amusing to see this book acknowledge this debate with a bit of in-world colour:
Though some scholars argue that the term “atheist” is incorrectly applied to these people—preferring terms such as “dystheists” or “misotheists”—such distinctions are lost on a generally religious society, and most accept the more common term.
One of the most obvious examples of atheism is the nation of Rahadoum’s “Laws of Man”, which forbids the worship of any gods within the country’s borders. However, there are several other examples, too. This section also contains a new feat chain based on Divine Defiance, which provides a bonus to saves against divine spells and spell-like abilities. The idea is that your distrust in the gods is so high that you are able to better resist powers that originate from the gods. The other feats in the chain all build upon this and require Divine Defiance as a prerequisite.

Other belief structures covered in Faiths & Pantheons include codes of honour (nicely demonstrating how belief doesn’t have to be tied to gods), druidism, pantheism (as atheism, redefined here to mean following a pantheon of gods rather than its real-world meaning where God is the universe), and more. Each section contains a few new mechanical options for characters. These aren’t always feats. There is, in fact, a large variety of different options offered. For codes of honour, there are expanded tables for people using the honour rules in Ultimate Campaign, covering the Ichimeiyo, Knights of Ozem, Prophecies of Kalistrade, and Red Mantis codes. The juju section contains a revised juju mystery for oracles (the juju mystery originally appeared in City of Seven Spears). The section on totemism contains several new druid domains. There are new archetypes (such as the Green faith initiate for druids and the arcane healer for bards), new inquisitor inquisitions, and of course, numerous new feats.

Amongst the more interesting sections is “Fallen and False Deities”, which looks at the followings of Aroden and Razmir, as well as the cults of the failed. The latter are cults that spring up around people who have attempted the Test of the Starstone in order to become gods, but have failed. Sometimes these cults are run by charlatans leading the gullible; other times, they are run by people who truly believe their faith can propel their chosen “gods” to divinity. An interesting revelation in this section is that a few of the very small number of people left who still worship Aroden have begun receiving spells and clerical power due to Iomedae taking pity on them.

Towards the end of the book, there are a couple of sections not focused on particular belief structures. These sections contain new spells and new magic items. The new spells are interesting as they all come from the Book of the Serpent’s Path, an in-game tome that collects tales of Old Mage Jatembe, one of Golarion’s most powerful historical wizards. The section also contains a nice little sidebar detailing the Book of the Serpent’s Path and the in-world debate about whether Jatembe created these spells himself or simply collected them. Jatembe was highly interested in nature and druidism, so it’s not surprising that these spells might “straddle the druid and sorcerer/wizard spell lists.” However, despite that direct statement in the sidebar, not one of these spells is a wizard spell. There are bard, cleric, druid, ranger, and witch spells. There is even one spell (jungle mind) that is an oracle spell, which is odd since oracles don’t have their own spell list and just cast cleric spells (it can’t even be explained by the spell being only for spontaneous casters as it’s also a druid and ranger spell). The lack of any wizard spells kind of supplies a meta-game answer to whether or not Jatembe created them, since Jatembe (whose statistics show up in Mythic Realms) was a wizard.

By far, my favourite part of the book is the centre two pages on “Wrongful Beliefs”. Written from the in-game perspective of Father Jask Hernbok, a priest of Iomedae, this missive warns the people of the world about the evils of following any belief except that prescribed by Iomedae. Alas, Father Jask is very zealous in his beliefs. These two pages are great fun to read, and add immeasurable flavour to the setting. They provide a wonderful look at how different religions coexist with each other while simultaneously providing a bit of comedy. The accompanying artwork is also fun and flavourful.

Another nice addition to the book is the inclusion of a number of faith traits on the inside front and back covers. I’ve often felt that the faith category for traits gets overlooked a lot in favour of religion traits. It’s good to see a few spiritual options that don’t require being a follower of a specific god in order to take them.

On the whole, Faiths & Philosophies is a useful book. It fills a niche that is not often filled. While I would like to see a book that covers this information in more detail, this book does provide just enough information to form the basis for new characters and campaign ideas, allowing players and GMs alike to fill in the remaining details as needed. Along the way, it also provides a number of interesting new mechanical options for characters.

2 comments:

  1. A note: "Pantheism" is not "redefined" for the book. They actually developed, wrote, edited, and published that section without ever looking the word up in a dictionary or on Wikipedia. Until it was pointed out on the messageboards, everyone at Paizo actually believed that pantheism is the worship of multiple gods. James Sutter has 'fessed up and apologized for what has to be one of the most embarrassing and easily avoided gaffes since the incorrect pronunciation guide for coup de grace. Basically saying, "We know nothing about this and don't care enough to do even the most rudimentary amount of research but feel qualified to write a chapter on the subject."

    Joana

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    1. Wow. That's...um... That's quite the gaffe.

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