This is the next in the long line of WotC products that codify standard mechanics of the D&D world. The Manual of the Planes dictated then and forever how to describe planes and the various arrangements and adjustments one could make to the existing D&D core universe, as well as simply adding or taking away small parts. For example, there were sidebars on how the Ethereal, Astral, and Shadow planes were balanced, and how upsetting that balance a little bit would mean changing those spells. The Manual of the Planes had that level of detail and commitment.
Flash forward to Deities and Demigods. It's sad how much this book fails to capture exactly what the Manual of the Planes got right. Much hullabaloo was made before this book came out about how it was made with close cooperation with the Epic Level Handbook designers. So, right off the bat, they're comparing deities with high level characters. Essentialy, these gods are high-level characters, with, say, 20 outsider HD and the opportunity to pick from a list of special abilities, called salinet abilities (I prefer what another reviewer called them: super-feats). Not that there shouldn't me some comparison, but I think that Deities and Demigods should have more to do with the places where these deities live, the planes. The page count was already (oddly) limited to the exact page count of the Manual of the Planes, so why didn't they look at that book more?
My first impressions of the book: It's alright, but when WotC puts a product out like this, they're basically saying, "This is the standard you have to follow." For most of 3rd edition, all of WotC's "be-all, end-all" products: The class books, the Manual of the Planes, the Forgotten Realms and Greyhawk books, Oriental Adventures and the Core trio all were varying degrees of good, but were overall good buys. The buyer got something for his money, usually more than he payed for. Well, in Deities and Demigods, let the buyer beware.
I don't know why some other reviewers are making a point of the abscence of other real-world pantheons. I thought D&D3's whole mantra was the casting off of the bonds of historical representation in favor of fantasy. I'm not complaining about the lack of an Aztec pantheon like I'm not complaining about the lack of a Bec-du-Corbin in the Player's Handbook. Do any of you second edition veterans remember all that was sacrificed on the altar of realism? How about first edition veterans that had their monks removed from the second edition Player's Handbook because it wasn't Western enough. Personally, I don't mind the lack of other deities. I don't even particularly like the inclusion of the current real-world pantheons, save for my fleeting preoccupation with the biggies: Odin, Thor, Set, Hercules, and Zeus. Forgive me if I don't see the importance of including Hestia, Nike, Tyche, Imhotep, Aegir, Balder, Forseti, Frey, Freya, Frigga, Heimdall, Hermod, Njord, Odur, Sif, Skadi, Sutur, Thrym, Tyr, and Uller. I wouldn't expect statistics for Genghis Khan in the Epic Level Handbook, so why are pantheons expected here? I won't complain about the lack of real-world pantheons.
I'll complain about the lack of the core D&D pantheon.
It's the only thing that WotC is really entitled to codify. They own the rights to Boccob and Moradin; they created them. They have access to the original creators and know what the creators' intentions were. With real world pantheons, you always run a high risk of angering someone. So why exactly are statistics for Eadro, Merrshaulk, the Great Mother, or even Maglubiyet? Those are the deities for Merfolk and Locathah, Yuan-Ti, Beholders, and Goblins and Hobgoblins, respectively. Big races! But any of those are shunted back in favor of--sigh--Kurtulmak. The only reason I can think to put Kurtulmak in the book is so that the Dwarves and Gnomes can have a good racial enemy. This is when I get angry.
Don't mind me, but I'm about to go off on a tangent: Goblins get the shaft. Day in, day out, goblins get the shaft. Goblins are a higher CR than kobolds, 1/4 over 1/6 Add to that hobgoblins, another race worshipping the same deity (that has to be indicitive of Maglubiyet's power), a race that doesn't have racial negatives. Actually, now that I realize it, kobolds and orcs both have -1 to attack rolls when in daylight. To put that in perspective, that means any war with orcs or kobolds is either fought at night, or when the orcs and kobolds can afford to lose many thousands of troops. Goblins and hobgoblins have no such penalty. Kurtulmak (Rank 15) and Gruumsh (Rank 16) have basically one driving force: their respective race destroying its racial enemy. It's evident from reading the descriptions of these gods, along with the descriptions of Garl Glittergold (Rank 18) and Corellon Larethian (Rank 19), that they consider Kurtulmak and Gruumsh slightly dangerous at best and irrelevent at worst: whatever they are, they're not threats. How do they feel about Maglubiyet, commander of hobgoblins and goblins and, according to the Manual of the Planes, the eternal adversary of Gruumsh in Acheron? Nothing, apparently. There are only three mentions of goblinoids in the book:
1. pg. 67 - Erythnul can turn into a bugbear (but they serve Hruggek, so it barely even counts), but it's random, not his choice at all.
2. pg. 70 - Garl Glittergold in his snazzy tights gets a +1 to hit goblinoids
3. pg. 83 - Moradin, whom I'll not make fun of 'cause he's cool, gets a +1 to hit, again, all goblinoids
That's it. I tried to look for more, which leads me to my last and greatest point, based on no personal drive of my own, but instead a good and just drive for all that is sacred to books, especially roleplaying books. I couldn't find an entry for goblins of any sort in the index.
That's for a very simple reason.
There's no index.
Consider this for a moment. Here we have a book, jam-packed with information, but utterly devoid of an index. Sure, it has a table of contents, but an index would help you associate various parts of the book that were separated yet have something in common, in short, an index's job. And this is after the index for the Forgotten Realms Campaing Setting, a thing truly beautiful to behold, a 4 1/2 page mammoth in a small font (the best index I've seen since Newman Ivey White's index to his two volume biography of Percy Bysshe Shelley--it took up almost a third of the second volume, pages and pages and pages, organized painstakingly). How could such a travesty take place? Is this, again, due to the page limitation forced by the dark and brooding lord Manuel-ufta-Palans? Or is some depraived WotC employee behind this? I can see it now:
"We've got a new book coming out!"
"Oh? Does it have an index?"
(Evil laughter joined by all)
So maybe that dramatization is a little bit overboard, but it's the only way I can think that such a grave error made it to the printers. How can you forget a thing like the index? "Hey, wait, couldn't they put that index on the back of page 221?" you ask. Sure, but they want to adversise a product in this book. A product that's already out, no doubt. Of course, these people have to make money, even though the best things in life are free. That's my review of this $29.95 book.
p.s. Okay, some good things. Let's see... Illustrations by Sam Wood, Arnie Swenkel, Glen Angus, Matt Cavotta, and Brian Snoddy were, in that order, great, even though I'd have liked more than one by Tony DiTerlizzi. It's also got artwork by Jeff Easley, but I'm trying to be positive, so just pretend I didn't mention his name. Also, I've decided that Wayne Reynolds looooves to draw feet. Look at the feet in any of his works (especially the ones where a person's standing on the ground) and look. Do you think that hurts, the way the ankle's twisted like that? Oh, and a last note on Matt Mitchell's Egyptian stuff: Creepy, but in a good way. Also, the planar work on the real world pantheons wasn't necessary, but appreciated, tying into the Manual of the Planes a little bit. And the non-statistic roleplaying advice was very good, and appreciated. I'm very glad that there's not a way for players to automatically qualify for godhood after reading this past year's issues of Knights of the Dinner Table.