There’s an irony in the fact that the cleric, as a class, relies very little on religious devotion. If you’ve ever made a joke about clerics with no ranks in Knowledge (religion), you’re aware of the all-too-appropriate label of them being just another kind of wizard; after all, there’s no way to build faith into the class mechanics, right?
Enter Necromancer Games’ Necromancer’s Grimoire: The Book of Faith.
From a technical perspective, the Book of Faith isn’t bad. Just over three dozen pages long, it has full nested bookmarks, which is a plus. However, there’s no way to copy and paste the file (or the printer-friendly file), which is a bit of a drag. I do give it props for having a printer-friendly file, which eliminates the background and one page of ads at the end, but unfortunately it not only retains all of the interior illustrations, but still has them in color as well – if you have to leave the pictures in a printer-friendly file, you should at least make them grayscale.
It’s worth mentioning that the artwork is all of a single type here, being pictures of stained glass windows. As those are universal symbols of churches, it’s a pretty good fit for the book, though some other kind of imagery would have helped as well. The pages themselves are set on a tan background, so as to look more like actual pages from a tome.
After some opening fiction and a quick foreword, we’re taken straight into the book’s main offering – the priest, a new base class. Initially, the priest looks something like a divine wizard, having the lowest BAB and Hit Die progression, as well as being proficient with very few weapons and no armor. Things get more interesting, however, when you look at the priest’s spellcasting ability.
Unlike normal slot-based spellcasters, the priest has something called favor (points). Each day, they can choose a number of spells from the cleric spell list to ready – the readied list of spells then becomes roughly the equivalent of a sorcerer’s spells known list. A readied spell can be cast over and over…but each casting has a point cost in terms of favor, and once their favor is gone, the priest cannot cast anything else until they rest and regain their favor again.
There’s more to the class than this, of course. As the priest levels up it gains the ability to intrinsically know what will and will not please their god, gains the ability to work miracles, cast spells not readied (for greater favor cost), hold confessions, and more. The class is very tightly focused, and its class features serve to give it a much more religiously-minded bent than the “casting, channeling, and bashing” cleric.
While I think that would have been enough, the class then gets an expansive flavor section of flavor text, talking about things such as what’s known about priests on a knowledge check, how they get along with other classes and organizations, and a lot more. While I thought this was good, I wish at least some portion of this had devoted more space to expanded mechanical options – the lack of any archetypes or favored class options were noticeable in their absence.
It’s after this that we come to a section on measuring favor and piety. Like favor, piety is a new point-based system for the priest. Whereas favor is gained routinely and the amount of it rapidly swells by level, piety is gained much more rarely. The section here discusses how piety points are gained, and doing so is no small feat – basically, you need to make a positive advancement in your religion in order to gain piety. This isn’t something you can write off either, as piety has game mechanical effects; for example, you get bonus favor per day if you have a high piety score. There’s more that it effects, as several of the priest’s class features deal with piety as well.
Favor is also covered. While favor is gained as part of the status quo, a priest can gain (or lose) favor depending on how they act, with the threshold here generally being a bit lower than for piety. This is quite different than for most spellcasting classes, as being devout can have immediate impact (gaining favor) on your combat efficacy (using the gained favor to cast spells). A table summarizes how much favor is what degree of a reward at what level.
The book’s third section covers miracles – miracles are a class ability of the priest (categorized as spell-like, which I think was a mistake; I didn’t see anything about their effective spell level, for instance, and I don’t like the idea of these being subject to dispel magic) that are similar to spellcasting. Only so many miracles can be known at once, and they have some fairly strongest costs to use.
The major difference between miracles and spells is that the former are often very large in their area of effect (though the exact area tends to depend on the priest’s piety). A priest with a high piety score, for example, can use the Affect Crops miracle in a five-mile radius. Most miracles tend to have a correspondingly high duration as well. Of course, with a high casting time and a prohibition on how often they can be used, virtually none of the listed miracles (just under twenty) are useful in combat.
The last part of the book introduces the devoted apostle prestige class, which I found myself not caring for too much. The problem here is that this class has, as part of its prerequisites, that you have some piety already, so on the surface only priests can take this prestige class. At the same time, however, it increases your caster level, but not your favor per level, which means that a priest’s spellcasting ability takes a hit. The prestige class has several functions that are based around piety, both gaining it have having certain thresholds of it activate class abilities, so I’m inclined to think that it’s meant for multiclass priests (as it has a cleric’s BAB and Hit Dice), but I’m less than certain. It does have a nice flavor text section, however.
Overall, the Book of Faith does a fairly good job of presenting a new sort of character that has a closer tie to their religion than the existing divine spellcasting classes. While it requires a greater sense of their in-game religion, and requires the GM to play an active role as their god (in terms of awarding piety and favor), the priest much more easily fills the role of a character with a close relationship with their god, which has a direct impact on how well they can tend to their community. It’s unfortunate that the prestige class doesn’t do quite as good a job at finding its niche, but even then it’s not a total write-off. Altogether, this is a book that provides some concrete facts towards finding faith in your game.