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Thread: Heroe's Handbook: Tieflings
Friday, 18th September, 2009, 02:54 PM #1
Heroe's Handbook: Tieflings
This book is the third in a series by Goodman Games expanding on the background and powers of specific races introduced in Dungeons and Dragons, 4th edition. Each book provides a look at the history and culture of the race in the context of Goodman Games' ┴ereth setting with additional chapters providing new feats, powers, paragon paths and magic items. While the setting material is for the ┴ereth, it is generic enough so that GMs may import the material into another setting with only slight alterations.
The physical appearance of the book is of a high standard. The full color cover depicts a tiefling engaged in battle against undead rising from tombs. This follows a theme of all of the covers in this series depicting the race fighting undead and apparently all three covers were originally painted as a triptych. The interior is black and white with most of the art executed in a similar style, with one exception that I find a bit jarring. The text is laid out in double columns with a good density. The tables are kept clear with a simple layout and counter shaded entries. The feats and magic items follow the layout from the core 4th edition products, but suffer just a bit from not being in color, as powers in the core books are color coded: green for at-wills, red for encounter, black for daily, and yellow for magic items. The lack of color is not a deal breaker by any means; it just requires the reader to pay a bit more attention to the descriptions. Other minor editing problems crop up, typically missing bold formatting, but they do not detract too much from the overall layout of the book.
Chapter 1: History and Culture
This chapter details the evolution of the tieflings from hellish eugenics experiment to the insular society they are today. After the devils lost the War of Divine Right, they realized direct conquest was not an option for victory. They adopted a new, covert strategy in a effort to tempt humans away from good and to set the stage for the return on the archdevils. During this time the devils used their mortal agents to establish communities of other mortals recruited into their service. These communities were earthly reflections of the Nine Hells, in their strict adherence to law and servitude. One cambion decided to try and fuse human and devil together into a species that retained the free will of humanity but were mystically tied to the archdevils they served. These were the first tieflings, and they were deployed in sleeper cells across ┴ereth to wait for the signal of the infernal invasion. The signal never came and the tieflings were left without their masters and over the years many of the communities have dissolved and now tieflings typically wander the lands. The history section is an interesting take on the implied background from the 4th edition core books, rather than have a fallen empire; here is an empire that never rose to power. Though it is not spelled out in the book, the failed infernal uprising must have been in the recent past as further in the book references are made to the fact the many tieflings still believe they are superior to the other races as they were created to rule.
The next sections discuss the psyche of tieflings and how the theme of unwilling servitude pervades their mindset. The central belief of all tieflings is that each of them is claimed by a lord of the Nine Hells, whether it is an archdevil, or some other noble. This idea of eternal servitude is contrasted with the need for tieflings to prove themselves and their free will.
Each tiefling, according to their beliefs, is claimed by a specific hellish lord, typically at birth. It is rumored that the soul is actually auctioned off in Hell before being born. These souls serve as a kind of currency and are traded between archdevils for favors. This claim is reflected by a mystical brand on the tiefling's body, which is typically revealed during a coming of age ceremony. These brands are physical indications of which archdevil has a claim on the tiefling and the society has changed to reflect these ties. Each archdevil is naturally distrustful of all others and this is reflected in tiefling culture. Many settlements, or diableries, are inhabited by members of one legacy or group claimed by a particular archdevil. The brand is so important that members of the community that exhibit different brands are typically exiled and this has lead to a weakening of familial bonds and more emphasis placed on the communal raising of children. The bond between parent and child is not completely gone as many parents try and influence the infernal bidding wars by performing specific rituals to ensure membership in a specific legacy. The efficacy of these rituals has never been proven. Most communities will then exile tieflings who manifest different brands, and here again family ties do surface as many send their children into the world well equipped.
Also discussed are tiefling demographics, including a brief look at what makes a legacy different from other social organizations and how they influence the larger tiefling society. Throughout most of the chapter the reader is given the impression that legacy based communities dominate tiefling society, but only one third of tieflings live in such settlements, another third live in family centered communities of mixed legacies, a quarter live in racially mixed societies, e.g. large cities. This leaves the remainder as adventurers and other wanderers.
In addition to the introduction of the brands this book has guidelines on altering the appearance of tieflings based on their legacy. Many of the changes are cosmetic, but each legacy receives mechanical options as well that are detailed in later chapters. Included at the end of this chapter are some tables that can be used to modify the appearance of a tiefling. Here a player can randomly determine (or pick) which legacy he belongs to (there are 15 listed), changes in physical appearance, specific curses (which open access to specific feats) and personality traits. These tables are a welcome addition to adding visual variety to a race that has a greatly varied number of progenitors.
Chapter 2: Archdevils and their legacies
This chapter details eight different legacies and the influence the archdevils have over them. In the previous chapter one of the tables for determining the character's legacy has twenty different options. While only eight legacies are detailed in this book, readers should have a good grasp of how each legacy is described and should be able to fill in the details of the missing legacies. Each description begins with a short fiction vignette describing a scene involving a legatee (member of a legacy) in action. Most of the fiction pieces describe tieflings of dubious moral nature, but there are three stories that have conflicted or good characters. After the fiction, a description of the archdevil associated with the legacy is covered, including how the devil views its tieflings, its position in the Nine Hells, and its relationship with the other archdevils.
The laws of each archdevil are covered next. These laws are four commandments that are enforced to various degrees depending on the archdevil's personality. The mark (brand) of the devil is discussed next including a description of the mark, changes in the tiefling's personality as they approach the time when their mark manifests, and a ceremony specific to that legacy used to reveal the brand.
Additionally, stigmas are discussed, which are physical changes that occur in the tiefling after the revelation of the brand, for example tieflings of Bael grow in height and weight, while those claimed by Lilith become less infernal in appearance. These changes become more pronounced at each adventuring tier and suggestions for each tier are offered. The stigmas are another excellent way to distinguish one tiefling from another and another wise decision on the designer's part is that none of these stigmas have mechanical effects. This allows them to remain relevant for role playing without penalizing the players by requiring them to spend feats, or unbalancing the game by granting characters undue advantages.
The organization of the legacy is next including a discussion of a typical diablerie, or safe house. The organization of each legacy reflects the personality of the archdevil progenitor; Bael's is very structured and epitomizes the Evil alignment, while Belphagor's legacy is much more individually focused. The last section will provide the most use for characters as it describes typical adventurers of the legacy and those rare tieflings who attempt to "break the chains" of their legacy. Ironically most of the groups do not produce many adventurers as they find little use for their powers and opportunities to corrupt others, which is the main goal of the archdevils. In addition to the eight archdevils is a mysterious ninth legacy, that of the unknown benefactor. This legacy is made up of tieflings who have brands that do not fit into any other legacy, and several possible origins are discussed for this legacy.
Each legacy is also provided with a paragon path focusing on the specialty of the legacy. For example, the Somnolent Adept focuses on impairing their foes with sleep effects mirroring the sloth of Belphigor [you spelled the devilĺs name differently in the previous paragraph]. Each paragon path follows the same format as all others with three features and three powers. The legacy description is rounded off with three feats specific to the legacy. The notable exception to this is the legacy of the unknown benefactor, with its description ending with the organization, so no paragon path or feats. All of the feats are well thought out both mechanically and thematically, and a particularly well done example are the feats of Lilith's legacy in translating seduction into effective combat actions. I do wish these feats were placed in the feat chapter, or had been indexed. The other problem I had with this chapter was the organization of the legacies. They are alphabetized by sin, which is not a problem in itself (at least it is alphabetized somehow), but it does lead to some confusion if one is trying to find a specific archdevil. Once again an addition to the table of contents or inclusion of a short index would have been helpful.
Chapter 3: Feats and Malisons
This chapter contains a wide array of feats for tieflings. A new type of feat is introduced, infernal inheritance, which allows a tiefling to draw upon the powers of a plane of Hell rather than a specific archdevil. A character can have only one of these feats at a time. The majority of the feats are in the heroic and paragon tiers of play. The heroic tier ones are evenly divided between general feats (mostly infernal inheritance) and class specific feats which enhance a specific class ability. A special type of feat, the malison, is introduced here as well. The malison is a curse placed upon a tiefling by one of the archdevils, typically for an offence committed by another archdevil. These curses proved a benefit and a penalty to the character, and can be granted outside of the normal feat progression. An example of the benefit/penalty is the malison Alluring Gaze, where the character can pull and daze a target until the end of the next turn, but after that the character grants combat advantage until the end of the encounter. The feature that makes malisons noteworthy is that they scale in power. Each malison has three tiers and as the character advances the power is replaced by the next tier's power. I think this is a very clever idea and look forward to further uses of the idea of scaling feats.
Chapter 4: Equipment and Magic Items
The last chapter is a short one devoted to tiefling specific magic items. There is a very good balance of items with most of the magic item slots getting at least one item each. All but one of the items are linked to a specific legacy for it origin, and the one item that is not is used by foes of a specific legacy, the snow mantle, is created by a celestial hound who is the eternal foe of Bei'thor. The majority of the items are high heroic and paragon tier items and are well designed to fit those levels of power. Once again like the paragon paths many of the items while not seeming to have combat application have had powers designed in such a way that allows their users to be effective, while not necessarily directly damaging.
Overall this is a well written book expanding the coverage of one of the new races introduced in Dungeons and Dragons, 4th edition. Rather than being something like an "Ecology of" article in Dragon, which would expand the generic goodness, this book places a different spin on the tiefling race. This book caters much more to either the conflicted/tormented character type or the tiefling who embraces his hellish heritage. Another clever idea is that of many of the archdevils masquerade as lesser gods in the setting as diabolism (worship of the archdevils) is severely frowned upon. The mechanics presented demonstrate Goodman Games' command of the mechanics of this edition, and as a DM, I would have no hesitation in allowing this product to be used in the games I run. In the interest of full disclosure I did receive a review copy of this book from the publisher.
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Friday, 18th September, 2009, 09:59 PM #2
Gallant (Lvl 3)
Thanks for the review. Jeff and I are both huge fans of the tieflings, and we had a blast writing this one.