Thursday, November 3, 2011

Badges of Faith: Wear with Pride

I have felt for some time that magical items for clerics in fantasy RPGs springing from the stock of the world's first role-playing game were generally less than they could be -- not simply in number, but in terms of interest and creativity.  Moreover, the presumption that only clerics (and other religious classes or sub-classes) would have a use for holy items represents a failure to make the game world as rich and interesting as the real world when it should meet or exceed that thresh-hold. 

Mike Welham has addressed this dearth in Rite Publishing's new Thirty Badges of Faith.

Click through cover to purchase

For me, this product addresses what is above all a world-building issue: historically, ensigns proclaiming one's religious beliefs and allegiance have been not merely valued, but invested by believers with real power.  For instance, it is no accident that vampires cannot abide the sight of the cross, and in Bram Stoker's Dracula, they may be wielded by anyone, and not simply by clergy with a special turn ability.

Welham offers for the PFRPG a minor magical item that fills this need perfectly.  Badges of Faith are worn about the neck (Pathfinder magic items are limited by their "slot," that is, location on the body) and grant a passive power to the wearer once they perform what amounts an act appropriate to the religious nature of the badge to "actualize" the power.  A further act of piety -- the completion of a clerically imposed quest -- "invests" the bearer of the badge with the fullness of its power.  (Cleric also have further possible benefits from badges of faith.)  Finally, the benefits of the badge stands beholden to not transgress a specific prohibition which will result in the permanent loss of access to the badge's power and the bestowal of a curse as divine punishment.

The mechanical benefits of these badges makes them appropriate to many different domains and deities, thus offering the wearer with an interesting variety of magical assistance.  This deserves to be highlighted: The badges follow the design principle of making loot part of the game's plot. The GM who adopts badges into his or her game is not only giving players a new kind of magic to enjoy, but gaining a spur to future play, encouraging certain actions in play and discouraging others.  With 30 badges to chose from, chances are good that you will find a badge to fit the needs of your campaign and your characters, but even if the perfect badge is not here for you, these examples herein will provide the necessary guidance for you to design a custom badge.

A couple of notes about the physical design of the pdf: there are a few places where line breaks or extra-spacing would make for easier reading: mostly a design issue, but at least in one spot an editorial one.  I find the font that is used for headings to be unclear and hard to read when used at the size found in individual badge names.  I am a fan of the use of old, public domain art in pdfs, and I think that most of the choices here in BoF are good, though a few probably could have been improved with more searching of old book archives.  A final picayune problem: putting a number sign in front of the title gives the impression that this is a number in a series (i.e., Number 30 in Rite Publishing's line of Awesome Artefacts!), when the series title is simply indicating that there are 30 badges.  The author is to be congratulated on the thought and imagination that went into the work.