Part II of my review:
There are quite a few new cults beyond these, those – for example, the Chosen of the Demon Bat, who represent, at least at first glance, the servants of Camazotz. Led by a derro alchemist and a masked oracle, with an advanced fungal cave giant, the cult’s elite is interesting and we even get a unique CR 18 demon bat, Vespertillo – once a high-ranking servant of Camazotz, the mighty demon has been exiled to the material plane and an unholy alliance with the mi-go! This makes the overall feeling of the cult rather distinct. The cult gets a decent, if somewhat unremarkable feat that nets a bonus to concentration when injured while casting. We also get a new hazard with fungal pods and a variant form of strange spellbook with the ebon shards. The cult also gets a thematically-fitting staff as well as magical lenses and there is a new swarm, a poison that renders you unconscious and a spell that calls forth bats or birds to act as spies. Two vehicles are included, the fungal flyer and skittering skiff. I liked this bait and switch approach to a cult that starts as straightforward and adds a complicating twist.
The Creed of All Flesh is tied to the concept of the intelligent darakhul ghouls in Midgard and their subterranean empire…and those mrtals that crave the flesh of their brethren. Considering how cool the notion of darakhul is in the first place, it should come as no surprise that I consider the darakhul-themed cult as depicted here and interesting. On a mechanical perspective, I liked the notion of a DR that can either be bypassed by magic or while in daylight, and the options previously presented in Midgard supplements that are copiously used in the NPC builds help to set them apart. The execution of the respective campaign-sketch is also pretty damn creepy, so yeah, theme-wise, a resounding success as far as cannibal cults are concerned. With magical broths and jerky, a mace-like rod that can attempt to swallow and bite creatures and a nasty tome, these are nice. I am particularly partial to the lavishly-illustrated Greater Festrog mount-undead. One of my favorites herein.
Speaking of the living dead: As you all probably know by now, the Red Goddess Marena would be one of my favorite deities in Midgard; in the vampire-rules principalities of Morgau and Doresh, her worship is open and serves to justify the vampiric rulers; in essence, they are a sort of anti-Catholic-church, one based on a doctrine of tainted life and suffering as a promise for an elevated existence beyond the shroud of death, though here, it is not in some afterlife, but as a reborn vampire. Combine that with elitism and the notion that the deity has elevated the worthy and we arrive at a nice blend of the, by today’s standards, concept of divine providence for rulers and vampiric themes. Marena also has covert agents, the blood sisters, who act beyond the confines of the vampire-ruled home-bases of the cult. (As an aside: Evil blood-magic nuns are just badass…and with the stats herein, you can use Kobold Press’ “Blood Vaults of Sister Alkava” with minimal fuss – the stats of the sister are included herein, alongside a potent vampire mesmerist, the stats for the church’s Grand Inquisitor…and yes, before you ask: Marena is also a goddess of lust. Her servants thus control brothels…The cult also includes two new blood magic spells to add to the arsenal presented by Deep Magic, the sanguine spear, a spear of frozen blood drawn from the dead, and the stigmata of the red goddess, which causes bleed to the caster, but also buffs. The incantation bloodline strike is amazing: Capture a target of a bloodline and make it thus a conduit to target other members of it. Classic and well executed. An dagger to exsanguinate and a magic scourge complement the supplemental section. The monsters associated with the cult include the blood familiar and blood zombie templates as well as the blood pudding creature.
Whereas the blood sisters are basically an organized orthodoxy that is, theme-wise, in line with organized religions, the sanguine path, the second blood-themed cult within, takes a wholly different route: While the connotations of sexuality and hedonism as well as blood consumption remain, that is mostly due to our cultural associations with blood and sexuality, which are inextricably linked. Anyways, the cult is focused more on a theme of hedonism and oracular power, with sacred prostitutes generating a mythological resonance with e.g. the cult of Ishtar, though such associations, ultimately, should not be taken as an indication that the cult is benevolent. It’s not. Leaders that contain vampires, red hags and blood hags should make that clear. There are two feats to supplement the cult, which are both highly specific and focused on enhancing blood-based divinations, which makes them less useful for PCs. The bloodwhisper cauldron is an artifact that provides some spells and which can 1/year generate a wish (not italicized in the book). Blood strike allows for the transfer of a spell or affliction to another member of the bloodline. The creatures include the Blood-bound template, which grants power, but at the price of withdrawal from the elixir that bestows these powers…
The final cult within this tome would be the weavers of truth, which may be the last cult herein, but certainly not the least: The cult is devoted to Pazuzu and basically acts as a magical think-tank of firebrands and misinformation, with deception-focused clerics, charlatans and the batlike echo demons making them a formidable cabal of adversaries that probably will need to be fought less with blades and more with roleplaying. This is in particular represented by the absolutely glorious Incantation of Lies Made Truth, which can make for an absolutely mind-boggling twist as an occult ritual. I also absolutely adore the carriage of whispers, a hybrid magic item/vehicle that allows a passenger to influence those it passes – which can make for an amazing showdown, in which the PCs turn from celebrated heroes to outcasts, as a whole city suddenly becomes ever more hostile, but this has VAST potential in my book.
Editing and formatting on a formal and rules-language level are very good, if not perfect: I noticed a couple of formal glitches, missed italicizations etc. as well as a few components where the rules-language could have been tighter. Layout adheres to Kobold Press’ gorgeous two-column full-color standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The pdf contains a ton of really amazing full-color artworks, though fans of Kobold Press may be familiar with some, but by far not all of the pieces. I cannot comment on the physical version of the book, since I do not own it.
Jeff Lee, with additional design by Jeff Gomez and Mike Welham, delivers one massive book of interesting cults. While I do not consider all of the cults herein winners, particularly the doomspeakers and the Shub-Niggurath cult being somewhat less interesting than they should be, I found myself enjoying this book overall. In particular the Red Sisters and the Weavers of Truth make for some truly evocative and formidable adversaries, with the unique blend of the chosen of the demon bat coming in close behind them. I also found myself inspired by the cultists of the burning rune and my take on the old cults and new ones should by now be pretty apparent. In short: This is per se a very good book regarding its ideas and the plentiful statblocks for NPCs and monsters add further value for the GM. That being said, the rules-components beyond these left me less impressed. The antipaladin chapter, while okay, did not exactly wow me and the supplemental material stood out most when it focused on the story, rather than combat utility – the rituals and incantations are infinitely more interesting than the regular spells and items. In the mechanical aspect beyond NPCs/monsters, I’d consider this to be a 3.5 – 4-file, at best.
However, the book, as a whole, makes for a compelling reading experience, with a ton of truly cool storylines to scavenge and modify and something for pretty much all tastes inside. While not perfect, my final verdict will acknowledge the book’s intended focus and cool ideas and thus clock in at 4.5 stars, though I can’t round up from that verdict.
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here, on OBS, etc.