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Rappy’s RPG Reviews: Testament, Part 3

16 Nov

Welcome to the third and final piece of the Testament review. Here, we’ll be going in full steam and taking a look at the remaining chapters, from 7 to 25 and reaching our final verdict. Is this title anointed by the Heavenly Host, or cast down into the Pit of Despair? You’ll just have to stick around to find out!

Clay, Crafting, and Childbirth: Magic and Magical Items

Chapters 7 is a big factor in the supernatural aspect of the Testament setting: magic. Appropriately enough for a setting so focused on piety and deities, the chapter begins with five new Cleric domains – Desert, Fertility, Heaven, Pestilence, and Thunder, if you were curious – that are keyed toward the deities of the ancient Middle East, and Jehovah in particular. There is also a note on forbidden magic: namely, the fact that core D&D spells dealing with planar travel or etherealness are a no-go. Still, these big judges on the final score of the title, so let’s get to the actual meat here. Some of the new spells are pretty obviously based on specific legends, such as the 1st-level Israelite Cleric-only spell Challenge of the Lord being a reference to David and Goliath, the 8th-level Cleric/9th-level Sorcerer and Wizard spell Curse Unto Generations taking inspiration from to far too many Old Testament ragequits by Jehovah to count, and Water to Wine being a surprisingly New Testament-style spell for an Old Testament campaign. There are also a good deal of spells that call directly upon Jehovah or an appropriate deity, typically for boons, curses, or portents.

So, with all those blights and blessings, is there anything left for a non-priestly spellcaster? Thankfully, yes! For your Hery-Kheb, there are a fair dose of spells dealing with both truenaming and birds (yes, bird magic), your Qedeshot has a fair deal of fertility rites and attraction-related spells in addition to the does-what-it-says-on-the-tin spell Cramps, and four new “Wall of” spells (light, song, stars, and thunders) provide some rather novel ways of protecting yourself while also producing additional qualities such as deafness or the humiliating side-effect of forcing your opponents to hold hands and sing to get through your wall of celestial song-energy-stuff.

And what of magical items? Well, you loot hounds needn’t worry, as there’s a nice amount of new material. The start of that new material is in the form of new weapon special qualities, ranging from the Counterstrike and Multiplying Criticals qualities that increase your potential damage output to more magically-inclined ones such as Idol-Linked (which allows the weapon to receive a touch spell via a nearby idol of a deity worshipped by the wielder) and Serpent (wherein the weapon turns into a viper, in the vein of the story of Moses vs. the Egyptian court khery-heb; you know, the one where the Nile manages to turn to blood after already being turned to blood). Armor aficionados get sufficiently less special qualities, but still have some nice toys in qualities such as Holy and Unholy armors (defending against their opposite party) and the cooling, sand- and- wind-rebuking Desert armor quality.

As for full-fledged magical items rather than magical item qualities, most present are geared toward a specific nation; the Babylonians get incenses (basically potions you burn and sniff rather than drink) and the Egyptians get mekhets (small amulets giving minor bonuses to some sort of skill or ability), for instance. One could also say that the Israelites rule the artifacts, as most of them present – the Ark of the Covenant and its contents, the Bronze Serpent of Moses, and the cloak of Elijah, for instance – belong to them; of course, there are also some items that belong to the other nations in this category as well, such as the Egyptian book of Thoth, so it’s all good.

A Monstrous Assemblage

Ahh, chapter 9, the Biblical Bestiary. As anyone that frequents this blog knows, I love me some monsters. So, what exactly does this bestiary provide? Well, let’s break it down by nation, since the book proper does the same.

Israelite Monsters

Angels: As a game invoking Biblical lore, it shouldn’t be surprising that the headliners of Testament are the Heavenly Host. What may be surprising, though, is just how strong they are. While D&D’s closest seraph (fire angel) analog, the solar, is CR 20, the seraph here is CR 25. The CR 22 cherubim (storm angels), CR 13 mazzalim (guardian angels), and CR 10 malachim (messenger angels) are no pushovers either, each having some rather nasty abilities.

Demons and Devils: On the other side of the coin, the demons and devils you are more likely to combat dont’ reach the same lofty heights. Sure, the desert spirit Azazel is CR 22, but the CR 5 possessor demon, CR 10 tempter devil, and CR 15 ruination devils don’t have quite the same bite as the angels do.

Dragons and Giants: So, if the demons and devils aren’t quite your style, what is a high level Israelite to fight? Well, for starters, you have the sin dragons, CR 2 to 21 (depending on the age category) dragons that can bring forth possessor demons, breath unholy flame, and generally ruin your day. If dragons aren’t quite your taste, there are also the CR 6 nephilim giants and the half-nephilim template, both of which allow you to have an enemy that can gain class levels to be at whatever level you need. The nephilim also have a subset, the undead rephaim that attack with a corrupting touch and a necromantic moan that produces echoing fear of the Biblical Flood that claimed the life of the rephaim.

The Big Three: Quite possibly the most imposing beasts here, however, are the earth-shaking CR 24 Behemoth, the flood-spewing CR 22 Leviathan, and the somewhat less impressive CR 11 (at youth, at least) “king of birds” known as the Ziz. One might say that these three monsters are the ultimate Israelite challenge, being the ancient Jewish figures of land, sea, and sky. Of course, you’d definitely have to advance the Ziz to its full 26 hit dice to get it on par with its land- and sea-dwelling brethren.

The Oddballs: The sea goat is an intelligent CR 15 goat-headed whale with prophecies written on its horns that both loves the prophets of Jehovah and is the favored prey of the Leviathan. The CR 3 shamir can tear apart any stone or metal, and was used in the building of Solomon’s Template. Together, they fight crime form a baffling oddball duo that doesn’t quite fit in any other category of the Israelite monsters.

Babylonian Monsters

Anzu: The CR 10 anzu are loyal but greedy griffon-like creatures used as servants by the gods of the Sumerians, Persians, and Babylonians. While usually acting as an ally of adherents of those gods, the anzu can also be a challenge to face due to their overzealous treasure hording.

The Bull of Heaven: While Gudanna, the Bull of Heaven, may not be quite as powerful as the Israelite mega-monsters at a mere CR 13, he is a fierce creature. This giant bull is an ill-tempered creature mentioned in the Epic of Gilgamesh as divine punishment. It holds much of the same purpose in Testament, being loosed on any poor sap that offends the Babylonian pantheon.

Demons: The disease-spreading lamashtu and vitality-draining lilitu are both CR 10, providing two equally strong but differently operating demons from the mythology of the Fertile Crescent region. Stronger are the CR 13 imhullu, Sumerian “robber gods” whose mighty giant-like shapes roil in the storms they herd like cattle.

The Death Dragons: Death dragons are the grandchildren of the Babylonian dragon of strife and chaos, Tiamat, being born of her sons Dahak, Zahak, and Labbu. They have the same Challenge Rating expansion as the sin dragon, and are arguably even more frightening, bringing desolation and corruption with their ability to defile the land and breathe forth disintegrating energy.

Humbaba: Another monstrosity faced by Gilgamesh in his eponymous epic, the mighty Humbaba has a paralyzing aura, fear-inducing roar, and can breathe gouts of flame at his enemies, all in defense of the cedar trees of Lebanon that are held sacred by the god Anu. He also must have some sort of typo in his Challenge Rating, as he is listed as CR 12 in spite of having immense power and 40 hit dice.

Scorpion Guard: The CR 9 scorpion guards (or aqrabuamelu, for those into using their original name) are popular figures in Mesopotamian mythology, appearing in temple reliefs and various stories that include, unsurprisingly, the Epic of Gilgamesh. Scorpion guards are tauric entities with scorpion features replacing horse features, and guard desert temples and the lands of the gods with ferocity. If their venomous stingers and crushing pincers aren’t enough to dissuade you, they also have a keen expertise in human weaponry.

Canaanite Monsters

The poor Canaanites, always on the short end of the stick, only get two new monsters listed, both of them insectoid and CR 5. The akilem are cattle-sized locusts born of the plague god Reshep, while zebub-spawn are disease-spreading, fist-sized fly-children of the god Baal-Zebub. …Yeah, the Canaanites don’t get much.

Egyptian Monsters

The Egyptians are last, but not least, in this bestiary. Of course, they aren’t the least only on the virtue of the Canaanites being given a shorter stick, but still! The Egyptians get two monsters in the form of the radiant CR 9 phoenix and the serpentine CR 3 Apep-spawn, as well as the Accursed Ka-Spirit template that represents accursed undead sorcerers barred by the gods from reaching the afterlife.

In addition to the monsters, there are also three animals – the wild cattle, aurochs, and another interpretation of the hippopotamus – and tables that present D&D Monster Manual critters that are as fitting for each nation as the newly-presented beasts.

Civilization and Culture

Chapters 10 through 24 covers culture, religion, geography, and other facets of each of the nations in this title. While I could go on about how there are charts that let you tell your Purim festivals from your Parmutit months, or the bok making the entirely correct statement that the Israelites were henotheists rather than monotheists, but I’ll instead just note that most of these chapters are good. The exception would be the deities and NPCs…not their stats (such as Cain being a 20th level Fighter/Sorcerer, or Moses being a 20th level Levite Priest/Prophet/Paladin), mind you, since those are fine in a fantastical game. No, what I’m talking about are the listed alignments. For instance, Jehovah is Lawful Good. This…is the same Jehovah of Exodus 20:5, Numbers 11:1-2, Numbers 31 in its entirety, most of the rest of Numbers, Judges 19, and numerous other passages, right? If he manages to qualify as Lawful Good, I’m rather puzzled why the Baal gods (Baal-Peor and Baal-Melkart) are stuck as Lawful Neutral. Similarly, Israelites are pretty much always listed as some flavor of Good – Elisha, the prophet who summoned bears to massacre kids for calling him bald, is Lawful Good! – while non-Israelites are typically listed as some flavor of Evil.

The End

The final chapter has some advice on gamemastering a Testament campaign. That’s…pretty much it.

Final Thoughts

Pros

*Monsters!

*Pretty much anything you want to know about ancient Egyptian and Middle Eastern cultural practices can be found in here..

*Lovely utility spells and abilities.

*It’s a rather different flavor of D&D from standard swords and sorcery, which may appeal to you.

Cons

*The book is a 3.0 title, meaning it needs some hammering out to be up to code for play in 3.5 D&D.

*Abrahamic faith is intrinsic to the setting, which may put off some.

*Israelites get more the book’s gifts than any other nation.

This is a toughie. Testament is not poorly written, nor is it really imbalanced beyond a few places. It isn’t low on materials overall. Hell, it’s not even particularly controversial. Still, it’s very much a niche title, and it needs a bit of mending to fit the system’s 3.5 upgrade. For my final verdict, I’d have to give Testament a solidly above-average 7/10.

 
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Posted by on November 16, 2011 in RPG Reviews

 

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