I will be reviewing two Castles & Crusades books covering gods and pantheons, the now out-of-print Of Gods & Monsters (OG&M) and its recently published replacement Gods & Legends (G&L). I will explain how they are different, how they are similar, and why you might want to get them (OG&M is still available in PDF format).
The gods play a huge role in my C&C campaigns through the abilities they provide their followers (originally inspired by the AD&D 2nd edition concept of specialty priests). When I began my world development using C&C my pantheons made use of the AD&D 2nd edition Legends & Lore book and the powers they bestowed on their followers, as well as the information from OG&M (both books had James Ward as their primary author, so this made sense even if the books were published decades apart). Those books were indispensable in laying out the foundations of my game world (even though I am now beginning to strike out on my own).
Sadly, although OG&M was published in 2012, it has been out-of-print for a while, and even though Troll Lord Games (TLG) had spoken of making a 2nd edition of OG&M years went by and nothing happened. But then, a few months ago G&L suddenly appeared. A lot has changed between the two books and although I really like G&L, I am saddened by the dropped and forgotten material from OG&M. Let me provide some detailed examples.
Of Gods & Monsters:
OG&M lays out 20+ pantheons: Aihrde, American Indian, Aztec, Celtic, Dwarves, Egyptians, Elves, Gnomes, Greek, Halflings, Humanoids (Bugbear, Goblin, Hobgoblin, Orc, etc.), India, Japanese, Norse, and Romans. Each section provides:
1. An introduction to the pantheon
2. Deity entries
3. Magic items each god uses and may bestow upon a follower under unique circumstances (typically 2-3 items per god)
4. Spells (unique to the pantheon, around 10 new spells per pantheon)
5. Bestiary (unique to the pantheon, around 3-6 monsters per pantheon)
It has a great balance between crunch and fluff. I have read other reviews where the reviewers thought the rules were all over the place and some of the spells were clearly not balanced and were too weird. There is some truth to this. Still, some of the spells in this book stand out as being truly unique and I have seen nothing like them in any other source. With this book now out of print and with the spells not appearing in the soon-to-be-published C&C Adventurers Spellbook, these spells are now lost and forgotten unless you get this book as a PDF. Let me give you an example of a couple of the spells.
There is a 6th level gnome spell called Avocado Justice (p.83). “A special banner is created, with a warning…something like, ‘don’t attack us [or] you will be sorry.’ Those who see the banner save versus their wisdom. If they fail…wherever they are standing they are permanently turned into a growing avocado plant.”
I had an NPC gnome illusionist who the PCs met and they saw a nice garden of avocados in front of his cottage. No one else thought anything of it, but I did tell the gnome PC in the group that the plants might once have been intruders who tried to enter his house and steal his magical secrets. I have made this a spell that one of the gnome gods in my pantheon provides those who worship him. It has a truly unique character and just feels like the quirky thing that a gnome might do.
Here is another unique 8th level gnome spell called Mass Eating Rather Than Dying (p.83). “The material component is a dead number of gnomes. On the death of a gnome, during the duration of the spell [1 minute/level], instead of dying, the gnomes find themselves back home in front of a large table filled with food and they have one hit point left. The spell only works during a battle and not from dying of disease or old age. Being accidentally bit by a poisonous snake would clear the poison out of the system of the now comfortably eating at-home gnome.” Again, I think this is a really flavorful spell. I think it would be fantastically cool if as a TPK has occurred – and we lost several gnome characters – for them all to appear back home for one final feast before they die. I can see players trying to abuse a spell like this, but then again, the wording of it allows me as the GM to put restrictions on it if need be. This is also a spell that one of my gnome gods gives to his followers.
Gods & Legends
G&L lays out 27+ pantheons: Aihrde, Dwarf, Elven, Halfling, Gnome, Humanoids (Bugbears, Gnoll, Goblin, Orc, Hobgoblin, Lizardman, Kobold, Giant, Ogre, Troll, etc.), Dragon, Fey, Centaur, Merfolk, Sahuagin, Celtic, Greek, Egyptian, German, Norse, Slavic.
This book has an elaborate introduction by Davis Chenault that provides advice on how you might use the gods in your world. This can be a quite useful section for GMs that want advice and guidance on using gods, alignment, holy symbols, etc.
The rest of the book is made up of the pantheons. Whereas EG&M provided a deity entry, magic items, spells, and a bestiary, this book just provides deities. No magic items. No spells. No bestiary. Just gods. And the format changes depending on the pantheon. Fantasy pantheons (i.e. dwarves and elves) provide background descriptions that are several paragraphs long. Whereas for the human pantheons (i.e. Celt and Norse), it is just a list of deities and powers with no deity descriptions (the Earth pantheons to be found in this book are the ones to be found in the Codex books that TLG publishes, so all the deity information is to be found there).
In my game world the Codex books are core books and there are molfar, seidkona, berserker, and drachentoten found everywhere, so this is not a problem for me since I own and use the codex volumes. However, for GMs that do not have the codex books, you will have a lot of game stat information to use but nothing provided explain or flesh out and add context to the stat dumps and so those without the codex volumes may feel frustrated.
A comparison of the gnome section from OG&M (top) and G&L (bottom)
So, where do we stand?
G&L is focused just on deities, pantheons, and guidance on how to use them. The fantasy pantheons are well laid out and provide a lot of information for those that need to drop a fantasy pantheon into their world. The pantheons based on our world, however, are massive stat dumps with no context or narrative support. I will use it as a quick reference, but for detailed information, I will head to the relevant codex books I own. GMs that don’t have them may well feel frustrated by the Earth pantheon sections.
Artwork. As for the fantasy pantheon deities in G&L, although there is a lot of great new black and white artwork. However, some art is also recycled. This can be annoying for those of us with both books that got used to associating specific art pieces with certain gods that James Ward wrote up for OG&M and now seeing them used for completely new gods written up by Davis Chenault for G&L.
OG&M as of this writing is only available as a PDF on DriveThruRPG. What it lacks in more robust write-ups on fantasy pantheons, it makes up for with unique deity-specific magic items, pantheon-specific spells, and culture-specific monsters. If you looked at the rough list of pantheons I mentioned for each of the books above you will notice that a large number of real-world pantheons have been dropped (e.g. America Indian, Aztec, India, Japanese), you now only have real-world pantheons represented if there is a TLG codex book for that culture.
For me, OG&M is just as important as G&L. I think the material they have dropped from OG&M and allowed to remain out of print is a real shame. I have no idea if TLG plans to keep the PDF of OG&M available (I hope they do), but in case they don’t, it might be worthwhile to go take a look at it and use it to add in the missing Earth pantheons and to add magic items, spells, and monsters to each of the pantheons that are missing from G&L. TLG may have intended G&L to replace OG&M, but I think OG&M has a purpose and place, indeed, OG&M will probably remain the main source and reference for my C&C games due to the gods, magic items, spells, and beasts, and G&L will probably function as the supplement to it as I will use it to mostly to just add a few more deities to my current pantheons.