"Anger of Angels"
by Sean K. Reynolds
128 pages, Malhavoc Press (under the Sword and Sorcery imprint), $13
Electronic PDF, Black & White Interior, Color Cover
Anger of Angels is a 128-page sourcebook for the d20 System that sets out to describe the Great War between the hosts of Heaven and Hell of the Judeo-Christian cosmology, and allows DMs and players to run a campaign drawing upon elements from that war. As might be expected, this is a tricky subject to cover, and a fine line must be walked to avoid offending people of various religious beliefs. For myself, the book is not offensive, but I cannot predict your reaction to it, so just consider this fair warning that the book may give you difficulties. I will not dwell upon it again.
This is a review of the PDF version of the book; the printed version is due out in December 2003. It is not a playtest review.
The book is primarily aimed at setting forth the abilities of Angels and the part they play in the war between Heaven and Hell. Sean Reynolds suggests that the book might be used in four different types of campaigns, as follows:
- The Angelic campaign, where one or more of the PCs are Angels and the campaign typically deals with defeating the minions of Hell.
- The Mentors campaign, where Angels are supernatural advisors to the PCs and often send them on missions for the powers of Good.
- The Standard campaign, with the book being used to supplement the powers of Angels and Celestials encountered during the course of play.
- The Adversaries campaign, with the players taking on the roles of characters opposed to Good, and the Angels in this book being used as the primary opponents.
Anyone wanting to play or run the Angelic campaign will find the Anger of Angels book to be of great use, as most of the material is of use for that sort of campaign. I feel that for the Mentors or Adversaries campaigns, the book is of much lesser use - the game systems used to describe angels really give too much information that cant be actually used.
By the time you look at the Standard campaign, it is very uncertain as to how useful Anger of Angels will be to you; most likely it will help inspire you to create a few more angelic-related adventures, although it is of proportionately greater usefulness if you have player characters descended from a celestial, that is, an aasimir or half-celestial.
The book is divided into ten chapters, with an introduction and appendix.
The Introduction: Angelos and Daimons sets forth what the book is about, and also has a disclaimer that the book neither intends to endorse any religion nor show disrespect either. For some reason, I found myself more uncomfortable reading the introduction than at any other point later on.
Chapter One: The Great War (3 pages) describes the historical roots of the war between Heaven and Hell, with the fall through pride of Samael, one of the greatest of the angels, to become Satan, the Adversary.
Chapter Two: Angels (31 pages) is the core of the book: it describes the various attributes of Angels and, to a lesser extent, Demons. Eleven types of Angels are presented as races that players can choose, and there are various considerations given to the matters of Free Will, Immortality and other aspects of running Angelic characters.
This chapter is very impressive indeed. The concept of bound and free angels is an extremely useful one; the former being a devoted servant of one god, the latter not having a specific patron and instead seeking to do Good in various ways.
The eleven "races" of angels are as follows:
- Cherubim, the Guardians - winged leonine creatures who are patient, observant and protective, often given the task of warding the pathways into Heaven from the fiends of Hell. They are the guardians of places and creatures.
- Dynamis, the Soul Wardens - humanoid in form, they are charged with searching the planes for lost souls and guiding them to their destinations.
- Grigori, the Watchers - the observers and teachers of Heaven's forces, watching over mortals and assisting them as they climb out of barbarism into civilization; you can think of them as the scholars of Heaven.
- Hashmalim, the Lords - who are the guardians of the world itself. Their job is to maintain the natural order of the cosmos, including such matters of how spells and gravity work; defenders of Law against Chaos.
- Kalkydrim, the Phoenixes - angels of the flight and the sun, who have the possibility of rising from the dead.
- Malakim, the Virtues - Heaven's soldiers and champions, rather single-minded in their love of battle and defeating the forces of Hell.
- Memunim, the Dreamers - the dispensers of dreams, a race of angels that are humble and somewhat subservient to the other angels.
- Ophamin, the Wheels - Heaven's messengers, angels of fire and motion that appear as wheels or rings of fire.
- Parasim, the Knights - the Cavalry of Heaven who are active, restless and impulsive, as well as being born horsemen with special abilities to reinforce that role.
- Principalities, the Stewards - the stewards of religion of nations, often acting as advisors to the great rulers of the world.
- Seraphim, the Most Holy - the highest order of classical angels, appearing as celestial serpents with shining scales and six bright eyes. The seraphim often act as diplomats rather than warriors.
Following these races, a selection of 15 other "races" of angel are each given a brief treatment, so as to help to inspire you to customize your own types of angels.
My brief descriptions of the angelic races really doesn't deal justice to the space Sean Reynolds spends on each one; each is detailed in a manner similar to the 3.5E Player's Handbook, with each race's personality, adventuring role, appearance, abilities and other traits being covered with some thoroughness. I'll say this: they are certainly different from each other and the abilities they are given do much to distinguish them from each other.
As one might expect, the angels are quite powerful, although Reynolds has done his best to keep them at a level that would be playable in a standard D&D campaign. All begin with Outsider Hit Dice and by the time their Level Adjustments are added in, they have Effective Character Levels ranging from 5 to 13.
It's worth noting the artwork in this section: for the most part it is black and white watercolors that are quite attractive and evocative.
For me, this chapter is one of the highlights of the book. It is extremely well done, and even though it would be of most use for the Angelic Campaign, it does have application to the other types.
Chapter Three: The Campaign (14 pages) is a mixed bag. Aside from defining the types of campaigns you could use the material in this book for, it also gives notes on angel society and politics, the personalities of angels, details on how prophets, saints and martyrs fit into the picture, as well as what souls are good for. This last explains why the war between Heaven and Hell can grow so heated at times, for souls can be used as source of power!
The chapter concludes with notes about using the material in this book for a campaign that does not use the Judeo-Christian mythology, and with examples given as to using it with the Egyptian, Norse and Greek mythologies. This material is extremely useful and allayed my fears of this book only being useful for a Judeo-Christian campaign.
I really like this chapter. It gives much information that is useful, the detail on angelic personalities is simply brilliant, and would be useful in any campaign.
Where the chapter fails is mainly in not covering certain areas well enough. Although various types of adventures are described in the text - and more in the sidebars throughout the book - it really doesn't deal enough with how an angelic campaign differs from a standard D&D campaign. Why would an angel be concerned with amassing the wealth and magic that is standard for normal games? A lack of discussion of other rewards for angels and related issues is a great flaw in this chapter, and as a result, of the book as a whole.
Chapter Four: Planar Geography (10 pages). This chapter details the layout of Heaven and Hell, and how the mortal world relates to both. As one might expect, it is basically the geography detailed in Dante's Divine Comedy.
I was less than impressed by this chapter. Plenty of locations are mentioned, such as the Wood of the Suicides, the Rivers of Hell, and the Pit of Abbadon, but for some reason I did not find it captivating. I feel that a DM would have to do much more work to really flesh out these areas. On the other hand, it is a good resource for knowing the basics of each location.
Chapter Five: Angels of Note (6 pages) details the eight archangels. Surprisingly - and thankfully, from my point of view - game statistics take a back foot here: only the race, alignment, classes and levels of each angel are given. Instead, the chapter relates the history and personality of each angel, as well as clerical domains for those who want to use them as a form of deity.
After the archangels, about thirty more angels each get some small amount of description, just enough so that you know who they are and what they've done. This is an excellent chapter, evocative and with good ideas for campaigns.
Chapter Six: Organizations (6 pages) describes a number of organizations of either angels, demons or both working in co-operation.
This, again, is a mixed-bag. The Brotherhood of Pure Spirit, who hold that the children of angel-human partnerships to be cursed and forbidden is quite good and interesting; the Heaven's Hands who basically want to "promote good" and venerate angels, whilst not believing angels are gods, is too weak and pointless for my liking.
Chapter Seven: Angelic and Fiendish Feats (14 pages) returns the focus to the game mechanics of the d20 System with a vengeance. There are 45 new feats detailed here, almost all of which have the requirement of either being an angel or fiend or being descended from one.
One notable exception to this rule is the Fiendsensing Blindness feat, of which the idea is that when you can't see - either through blindness or just by closing your eyes - you can perceive fiends as if you had Blindsight. I love this ability as I find it really evocative.
Some examples of the feats follow: Ever Vigilant, which allows an Aasimir or Tiefling character to no longer require sleep, like their immortal forbearers. Glorious Halo gives an enhancement bonus to Charisma through a halo that surrounds the angel, and Nomina Barbara is a fascinating feat: your true name is difficult to pronounce, thus giving you a bonus against spells that attempt to use your true name against you, such as the various summoning and banishment spells.
Some of the feats are fairly minor in effect and are mainly effective for adding character to an angel; none of them seem terribly overpowered.
In addition to the normal feats, a new type of feat, the Dominion Feat, is introduced here. There are 28 Dominion feats, each of which represents a powerful concept in the universe. An angel with one of these feats gains a title related to the domain, and the effects of these feats are relatively powerful. As one might expect, these feats may only be taken with the consent of a deity. The ideas behind these feats are brilliant, and they are one of my favorite features of the book.
A few examples:
An "Angel of Hope" becomes immune to all morale penalties and gains a +4 morale bonus to saving throws; in addition, once per day the angel can use good hope as a spell-like ability.
An "Angel of the Flaming Sword" can make whatever weapon wielded equivalent to a flaming weapon; if the weapon is already of that type, it becomes more powerful. In addition, the angel may cast flame strike once per day.
Additional uses of the once per day effects may be gained by accepting temporary negative levels (similar to those incurred by wielding a weapon wrongly aligned for you).
Chapter Eight: Prestige Classes (8 pages) is dull by comparison, detailing five new prestige classes, all of which can only be taken by angels: Angel of Death, Angel of Destruction, Angel of Fury, Angel of Terror, and the Fire-Speaker. All of these classes have only five levels.
The first four may only be taken by angels serving a patron deity, and emphasize various roles that an angel might take when serving their deity. The fifth is a class particularly concerned with messages and fire, gaining abilities in both areas.
The classes are well presented, but generally only have a lone stand-out ability, mostly just gaining spell-like abilities.
Chapter Nine: Magic (14 pages) deals, as one might imagine, with new magic items and spells. This is the section of the book most useful to standard campaigns.
Only a handful of new magic items are given, all of which flow naturally from the subject matter. A few of them are items of great evil, such as the heart of flaming sulfur, an item that replaces the heart of its recipient with one of pure evil. There are some nice adventure seed items here, including the Holy Grail, the item that has formed the basis of many a quest. Seven new clerical domains are given: Chant, Fiendslayer, Grail, Heaven, Martyr, Prophecy and Righteousness. None of them are particularly noteworthy, although all have merit.
The remainder of the chapter - 8 pages - gives the descriptions of various new spells, although some are reprinted from the Book of Hallowed Might. I particularly like the Key to Hell spell, which sends the recipient of the spell directly to Hell, albeit with a magical aura that protects him or her from most of the fiends that inhabit that domain. As one might imagine, the recipient may not attack others whilst under the protection of the spell.
The spells are well constructed and evocative; the one spell I have issues with is the Hell's Hounding spell, which is identical to a Melf's Acid Arrow spell, except for the fact that it deals fire and evil damage. Why do I object to this spell? Only because it is a 2nd level Cleric spell! If this spell had been 3rd level, I would not have objected.
Chapter Ten: Creatures (16 pages) details a number of celestial and fiendish creatures - primarily the latter. The best of them are the Nephilim, unfortunate offspring of angels and humans who are cursed to become creatures of evil. There is one good type of Nephilim, the Gibborite, who are blessed with great size, strength and wisdom. However, they are doomed to devolve into one of the evil forms of their race: Emim, Raphaim or Avvim.
The creatures in this chapter are either basic creatures or creatures with added templates; the Nephilim are of that sort, as are the Outcast, Rebellious and Fallen Angels, which represent different states of angels who have fallen from grace.
One creature that did not get included was the Balsam Blessed Child. What is this creature, you ask? Well, I don't know, and that's the problem. It is from Monte Cook's Book of Hallowed Might, and several spells and abilities in this book have the ability to summon one: this is a greatly annoying lapse by the author. I hope it is rectified in the printed version of this book, or the stats of that creature become available on Monte Cook's webpage in due course.
The book concludes with a select Bibliography and References section. This is very nice indeed. It does not actually list many texts (and leaves out Dante's Divine Comedy and Milton's Paradise Lost, to my amazement), but Sean Reynolds does give notes on what influences have come from which reference. Much to my amusement, the fantasy author Steven Brust gets a mention for his To Reign in Hell; Brust is one of my favorite authors and it's nice to see him given a mention.
Anger of Angels is an excellent sourcebook for the abilities and goals of angels. It has a lot of useful material in it, much of which is evocative and inspiring. Where it fails is in an important matter: there is not enough material on the details of actually running a campaign where angels are the main participants. Adventure ideas and hooks there are aplenty, but I feel more needed to be done to turn this into something more than just D&D with angels.
Those areas which are badly done are overwhelmed by the amount of useful material, however.
ORIGINALITY: Not Applicable
Much of Anger of Angels is sourced from existing mythology, so I do not believe originality is an applicable rating. In regards to other d20 System products, it is highly original as I know of no other that deals with the subject.
SIMPLICITY / CLARITY: 5
The Malhavoc Press authors tend to have a very good grasp of the game mechanics and how to explain them: Reynolds has not disappointed here. I found the book to be extremely clear and readable.
The font used for the bulk of the work is slightly smaller than I would be happy with. It is clear enough to read, but I fear for other people's eyesight. This may just be a legacy of my printer, however. The art is evocative but not obtrusive in the manner of some other works - particularly the Core Rulebooks - and is nicely set aside from the text. Sidebars with additional information are also clearly distinguished.
Do you really like angels? If so, then this book is definitely going to be useful to you. If not, then such will not be the case. The price of $13 for a 128 page PDF file seems fair, but your interest in the subject matter is going to really determine how valuable Anger of Angels is for you. I have given it a median value for this reason: if you are not running a campaign with angels as the protagonists, this book is not of great use.
I think Anger of Angels is an excellent supplement to the d20 System. I had not considered running a campaign using angels as the protagonists before, now I consider it a definite possibility. Unfortunately, this only serves to highlight a flaw of the book: there isn't quite enough time spent on the actual basics of running such a campaign. All the mechanics for running angels are there, but there are still areas skipped over or missing entirely, as I have noted previously.
The book also gives good ideas for adventures if you are not running an angelic campaign, but the value of the rest of the book drops suddenly for such campaigns as most of it is focused on the angelic campaign style.
Thus: a really good book, but one that may be too focused in topic to appeal to the majority of players and DMs.