Wednesday, July 10, 2019

The Complete Priest's Handbook

I think I may be too long out of the AD&D bubble, because I can't for the life of me discern what the point of this book is supposed to be. For what it's worth, it seems to be trying to be comprehensive, giving rules for 60-odd types of specialty Priest, but there's a treacherous part of me that suspects that all this wouldn't have been necessary were it not for AD&D's half-assed character customization.

Certainly, I have failed to appreciate the necessity of giving nuanced descriptions of the followers the Priest receives based on their choice of religion. A priest of Lightning gets "three third-level priests and six first-level priests of the same priesthood and one fifth-level warrior, two third-level warriors, and four first-level warriors." Whereas a priest of Thunder gets "three third-level priests and six first-level priests of the same order, plus three third level fighters and six first-level fighters to act as guards."

Why are you doing this, Complete Priest's Handbook, especially when you already established that the followers a priest got depended on the player's preferences, the circumstances surrounding their stronghold, and what made sense for the game? The book is only 128 pages. Why waste two paragraphs per entry making the game less flexible? You surely weren't in need of extra padding.

(Then again . . . Lightning AND Thunder . . . maybe ideas were running low)

Nonetheless, I guess there might be some utility here. It's a ready-made guide that allows players to jump into any of a number of fantasy religions without anything being more than incidentally unbalanced (as opposed to letting the player deliberately game the system by choosing the right combination of abilities a la carte).

And the surrounding advice about creating a religion and working out a priest's role in the campaign world was . . . okay. It lacked anthropological insight and seemed, at times, to draw too heavily on medieval Catholicism, but if you're starting from square one, it's a decent enough place to start.

The only thing left worth mentioning is that this book has all the same gender and racial problems as The Complete Fighter's Handbook, but that's not a surprise since it's the exact same author. A lot of the kits are one-to-one correspondences with the Fighter kits (such as Amazon Priestess, Barbarian Priest, Outlaw Priest, Noble Priest, Peasant Priest and, sigh, Savage Priest) and the Amazon has the exact same baffling "men underestimate me" weakness. The Savage Priest is . . . slightly less racist, possibly because being in touch with mystical forces and cleaving to an otherworldly morality is what Priests are supposed to do anyway.

I'm convinced the author meant well, but missed the execution. In the section with the Specialty Priest builds, gods would fall into one of four categories - usually male, either male or female, usually female or . . . always male. (To be fair, there is also exactly one "always female" god - the goddess of wisdom, but it certainly didn't fit a trend). I couldn't begin to tell you the logic of how these work, but for this enlightened 21st century reviewer, they seemed to be mostly arbitrary, with just a bit of gender essentialism put in ("The strength-god is male." Okay, tough guy, whatever you say.)

The funny thing about this series so far is that I have such positive memories of the red books as a group. That's why I went through so much effort to get a nearly complete set (that damned $35 Complete Barbarian's Handbook) But to varying degrees they've all been disappointments so far. Not entirely useless, but not the indispensable game-changing reference guides I've been remembering. I guess it's true that you can't go home again.

UKSS Contribution: There are a few cute details in this book. Like the suggestion that priests of the God of Metalwork oversee the minting of coins. Or that priests of ELEMENTAL FORCE have a duty to officiate weddings. But I'm going to go with something brought up in a discussion of how Priests might have to participate in holidays and festivals - Vine Day.

Vine Day is scheduled after the last of the grape harvest comes in and is a celebration of all things wine. It's basically fantasy Mardi Gras. Since Mardi Gras itself has a lot of gaming potential, I figure off-brand knock-off Mardi Gras should be almost as good.

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