Thursday 18 April 2013

Champions of Purity

Alignment has been a long-standing part of the Dungeons and Dragons game, and now Pathfinder. Different editions have treated it in slightly different ways, but at its core, it’s remained essentially the same (well, 4th Edition D&D altered it quite significantly, but for the purposes of this article, I’m tracing the evolution up through 3rd Edition and into Pathfinder). To be honest, I’ve never been a fan of the alignment system. I feel it’s archaic and the game would be better off without it. However, I do understand why it’s still there. It is, in many ways, an iconic part of the game, something that identifies it and sets it apart from many other roleplaying games.

Alignment certainly does have its uses. Some people may roll their eyes and laugh (and I’ve literally seen that done—after hit points, alignment is usually the first thing detractors of D&D/Pathfinder attack) at the idea that nine designations can cover the entire breadth of possible personalities. Of course alignments can’t do that. But what they can do is provide a starting point to build a personality around. This can be particularly useful for gamemasters, who often need to come up with personalities on the fly. Looking down and seeing “lawful good” printed on the page gives an initial focus to build a personality around. It can’t possibly tell you everything about that character, but it can give you a broad idea.

Alignment can cause a lot of argument, though. Ask ten people their interpretations of an alignment, and you’ll probably get ten different interpretations. The rulebooks of various editions of the game have tried to detail and describe the alignments, some doing it better than others, but disagreement can still abound. It’s not as much of a problem these days, as the game has become less strict about enforcing alignments. Gone are the days of experience point penalties for acting out of alignment—and good riddance to them! Few people are one hundred percent consistent in their actions and those old rules enforced unnatural characters (particularly with those of lawful and/or good alignments, since those alignments were the most rigid).

There have been a few supplements over the years that have added additional material and discussion to the alignment debate/interpretations. The 3rd Edition books, The Book of Vile Darkness and The Book of Exalted Deeds went even further, making alignments (evil in the case of Vile Darkness; good for Exalted Deeds) the focus of the books and adding new character abilities, spells, feats, and game effects tied to alignment. Now Pathfinder enters the fold with Champions of Purity, a book focused on characters of the three good alignments. It offers advice for playing good alignments, along with new feats, traits, spells, etc. for good characters.

There’s a lot more fluff descriptive text in Champions of Purity than in most recent Pathfinder Player Companion books, which have been heavily focused on character options. In this particular case, this is a good thing (and not just because I tend to prefer fluff to crunch). As I’ve stated, alignment interpretation can be divisive, so this book needs to take the time to avoid creating more divisiveness. The book has the tough job of giving clear-cut descriptions of each alignment, whilst also not alienating players and GMs who might have slightly different interpretations. As such, the book does fall short of its goals a few times, but for the most part it does a good job. The relatively smaller amount of crunch material also helps avoid alignment becoming too central to every character’s abilities and avoids an arms race for who can get the best alignment powers, something The Book of Vile Darkness and The Book of Exalted Deeds suffered from, due to having to fill up much larger amounts of space. Champions of Purity’s shorter 32-page length is much more suited to this type of book.

The book opens (after the usual “For Your Character” overview) with a discussion on “Why Be Good?”, providing some basic motivations for good characters to go out and adventure. Very often, adventure motives are rather greed-orientated, with characters adventuring to find loot and get paid. Even most published adventure modules hook the PCs in with the promise of a reward. But this chapter draws attention to the most problematic part of this money-centric view of adventuring. Shouldn’t good characters be doing these deeds out of, well, the goodness of their hearts? Why would good characters expect or want payment, especially payment from helpless villagers who might not be able to afford it? This chapter offers several non-treasure-related motivations for good characters, helping players come up with reasons why their characters are out adventuring in the first place. As is often the case in Player Companion books, these reasons may seem pretty obvious to experienced players, but for players new to the game, unsure of how to play their characters, these options can be very helpful. There is also a sidebar in this chapter, emphasizing the importance of everyone in a group being on the same page regarding how much of a role alignment will play in the game, and stressing that alignments are “shorthand codes” and that one alignment can cover many different types of people—an important thing for some people to recognize.

Following this come the most important sections of this book: discussions on each of the good alignments, starting with lawful good. Each two-page section provides three sample “philosophies” for characters of that alignment, illustrating how one alignment can cover numerous character types. Each section also includes advantages and challenges of playing the given alignment, and in-world opportunities and allies for characters of that alignment. Finally, each section ends with three new traits that can be selected by characters of that alignment. These sections do an excellent job of laying out exactly what it means to play good characters, showing the differences between lawful good, neutral good, and chaotic good, without straight-jacketing players to rigid concepts. The advice will be invaluable to newer players unsure of what the alignments are supposed to mean, and can also be useful for more experienced players.

From here, the book moves into a brief overview of the races, organizations, and countries of Golarion that are considered good-aligned, the people and places good PCs might want to be associated with. Following this is the section of the book that is least successful. “Good Characters in Bad Situations” lays out the ethics and moral quandaries that come from having a good alignment, as well as provides an overview of evil regions that good characters could still come from. Unfortunately, while the chapter does a good job of describing the kinds of moral problems that can arise, it offers very little in the way of advice for overcoming these quandaries. It gives an example where adventurers kill a group of goblins, then discover a bunch of goblin babies that are now parentless (and has a wonderful picture to go along with it). What should good characters do? It goes on to state that some characters might want to find the babies a home, others might prefer to leave the babies to fend for themselves, while others might believe that killing the babies is the best solution and the most merciful. Of course, there should be no easy solution to this quandary; indeed, multiple solutions can be justified, each with its own individual problems. However, the problem here is that this section never looks at the implications of each possible solution it offers to this example, implying that with the right justification, you can do anything you want—which kind of defeats the whole purpose of being good. I really expected a more in-depth, thorough examination of these kinds of problems as these can form major events in a campaign. They are much too important to gloss over the way this chapter does. That said, I do like that the chapter opens with a very clear statement that not everyone likes including moral quandaries in their games. Some people play the game to escape such problems (having too many of them in the real world), and players and GMs alike should be aware of what everyone’s expectations are when starting a campaign.

At this point, Champions of Purity moves into more “crunch”-focused material, much of which is interesting and useful and some of which is less so. Virtuous Creed is a new feat that allows you to select a heavenly virtue. These virtues work similarly to monk vows in Ultimate Magic (although they can be selected by any character). Characters abide by certain restrictions in order to gain a benefit. Virtues include humility, courage, freedom, purity, protection, and mercy. Much like the monk vows, the benefits gained are fairly minor and many people may not consider them worth a feat, especially since you can lose the benefits if you fail to live up to the ideals of the chosen virtue. However, they are flavourful and can add a new dimension to characters.

There’s an interesting system on redemption. When can an evil character trying to become good really be considered good? When does that character’s alignment actually change? In this system, evil characters must go through a selection of “penances” in order to become good. Falling back on evil acts during this time can negate penances already achieved. The number of penances characters need to complete depends on their hit dice. Higher hit dice characters have to complete more penances. I’m not entirely convinced that tying penances to hit dice is the best route to go for this. It does tie into the idea that more power equals greater evil (the detect evil spell returns results based on hit dice, for example); however, is this really necessarily the case? Isn’t it possible that a powerful individual could be only mildly evil, and thus capable of redemption much more easily than a low-powered individual who is thoroughly wicked but just hasn’t had the chance to accomplish anything with that wickedness? Hit dice, I think, can provide a starting point, but I’d advise GMs to be willing to adjust things based on individual circumstances (the book does advise GMs to increase the number of penances for “exceptionally evil” creatures, but lacks similar advice for less evil creatures). Luckily, the redemption system is pretty loose, and the GM has a lot of say on what even counts as a penance (the listed penances are just examples and are quite varied), so GMs have quite a bit of wiggle room if they choose to use the system.

Champions of Purity also has quite an extensive collection of new abilities for various character classes, managing to get in a little bit for just about everyone. There are new subdomains, rage powers, evolutions for summoners’ eidolons, rogue talents, alchemist discoveries, and so on. All of these are focused around being good (and generally require a good alignment). I find the alchemist discovery change alignment to be a bit questionable. This discovery forcibly changes a target’s alignment to good for ten minutes per level. I’ve often found it odd (and a little disturbing) that the game doesn’t generally consider mind control to be an evil act. Even though this discovery makes the imbiber good, it’s still removing that person’s free will, which is a very questionable action. Luckily, the ability actually acknowledges this and states that some good faiths outlaw its use. Apart from this discovery, however, there are a lot of very interesting abilities throughout the book. I particularly like the flavour of the sacrifice self rogue talent, which allows rogues to provide an adjacent ally with the benefits of their evasion ability (by essentially shielding their allies and taking the damage instead). I also like the addition of new witch patrons and hexes for good witches. The witch class has suffered a bit from a disproportional number of hexes geared towards evil characters. The new ones in this book help redress that balance a little.

Of course, there are also new spells and magic items in the book. Accept affliction is a wonderfully flavourful spell, allowing casters to transfer curses, diseases, and poisons from their targets and into themselves, useful in those situations where spells like remove disease, remove curse, or neutralize poison either fail or are unavailable. I also like the inclusion of the seraphic pistol. I know firearms are a controversial part of the game and not everyone includes them in their own games, but for those that do, it’s good to have a few magical firearms available along with the swarms of other magic weapons.

Overall, Champions of Purity is a very good examination of good alignments. Although it doesn’t always go as in-depth as I’d like (particularly in the “Good Characters in Bad Situations” chapter), it does provide useful guidelines to players of good characters, particularly players new to the game who might still be confused by this odd thing called alignment. It also contains lots of new character options that are flavourful and generally useful. I’d go so far as to say that Champions of Purity is one of the best alignment-focused resources I’ve seen for the game, certainly much better than its 3rd Edition counterparts.


  1. I'm now interested in whether it's counterpart in evil discusses "sins" a good character has to go through to become evil. In Pathfinder (and in life) there seems to be a belief that one evil action can make you a monster but a dozen good actions are required to make you a decent human being (not even a saint). It makes sense when dealing with people, once burned twice shy and all that, but mechanically just isn't as appealing to me as it makes evil a stronger force than good.

    Best look at Champions of Corruption to see if they caught that too!