In this month's exclusive interview, Chris Thomasson, designer for the new Complete Champion emerges from the hidden corridors of a forgotten tomb to discuss the latest sourcebook! In the interests of better involving the player community with the D&D website, questions for this interview were solicited in part via the message boards. Our thanks to everyone who took the time to submit their queries.
Wizards of the Coast: To start with semantics: how are you using the term "champion" in the context of Complete Champion? Aren't all PCs champions in a sense?
Chris Thomasson: All characters have the potential to be champions; this book is focused on the divine, specifically divine magic and the religions of D&D --the goal we had was to make those elements of the game more accessible to characters other than paladins, clerics and druids. The idea of "champion" is more of a champion of faith. That doesn't mean you have to smite evil for Heironeous or heal the sick for Pelor. It just means that, despite your chosen flavor of adventurer, you're doing a god's work.
Wizards: The term "champion" calls the paladin to mind, for many people. Does Complete Champion focus on their expansion, or are there options (alternate class features and the like) for other classes to become such champions--such as, for players who enjoy the paladin conceptually but wish to play the mechanics of another class?
Chris: Yes, that's the idea. You can be a rogue and serve Pelor--and join Pelor's church, and go on the church's missions to gain tangible rewards for doing so... but you don't have to be Lawful Good and follow the code of conduct. That said, the church has some rules, and if you break them, your reputation (and consequently the benefits of membership you receive) can drop. We did this by using the affiliation rules from the Player's Handbook II. We also included divinely flavored alternative class features for all the core classes, as well as a number of feats, prestige classes, and organizations the characters can join that are related to sects of different churches.
Wizards: When it does come to paladins, folks are curious about their rigorous moral code: does Complete Champion look to modify or address the paladin's code in any way, or present similar codes applicable to other classes?
Chris: Not so much. The thing about the paladin's code is that it's supposed to be a roleplaying tool, primarily. It's not supposed to be a way for power-hungry DMs to toy with, or worse, screw over, their paladin players. In my opinion, a good DM doesn't give the paladin a moral choice that damns him either way. He presents the paladin with a way to be a hero and further the cause of his god in a dark world. For example, the villain who threatens to slaughter 100 innocents unless the paladin kills an innocent child is just designed to screw the paladin character. A better situation would allow for the paladin to successfully rescue the innocent child and the 100 innocents... and then bring the despicable villain to justice. A paladin should only lose his paladin-hood if the character knowingly makes a bad decision. Adding more codes of conduct just seems like it would muddy the waters further. I'd rather just encourage DMs to be fair and remember that this is a cooperative game. Making life difficult for the paladin like this only encourages him to seek another group or quit the game altogether, and that stinks. That said, the church write-ups and the new organizations in the book do have guidelines for what it means to be a member, and tangible benefits for following the group's rules.
Wizards: What inspired creation of the book--what areas of the game were you interested in expanding and exploring beyond, say, Complete Divine?
Chris: Well as I said, we really wanted to make the religion of D&D something all characters could use. The thing about clerics and paladins, specifically, is that right out of the gate you have an affiliation with an in-game organization. Certainly, you can use the option to not choose a deity when you make such a character, but I've only met a small handful of gamers who don't pick a church for their character to represent. This gives your divine character built-in roleplaying potential. As one of these characters, you should know, in theory, a little bit more about your motivations and inspirations, as well as the kinds of quests that really get your character going. In theory. The truth is that while clerics and paladins are light years ahead of the game in roleplaying potential right out of the gate, we've never really told D&D players how those churches function.
What's their doctrine? What sorts of world events really get the church up in arms? What do they care about? So in Complete Champion, we really wanted to give all character classes access to the rich roleplaying potential of church membership, and then we really wanted to give some more information on what it means to be a member of, say, The Ruby Temple (Wee Jas's church). We did the same thing with the organizations of the book, trying to appeal to multiple character classes, and we also thought it would be cool if churches of similar ideologies formed alliances, and what those new combined organizations would look like. And, of course, we wanted to give players a ton of new mechanical options for their characters.
Wizards: With the book's prestige classes: 11 are introduced, with the mythic exemplar showcased in the excerpts. What areas do the prestige classes explore: ways to refine a cleric's relationship with his deity, or more in bringing some of the divine to other roles? For instance, champion spellcasters or "holy rogues"? Any personal favorites among the group?
Chris: All of the above. I'm really excited by the prestige classes and how they're presented. The groups the prestige classes are tied to are really compelling and well designed. I wish I could say I'd been part of writing that chapter! Many of the prestige classes are accessible by non-divine characters. In a couple of cases, we also tied more than one prestige class to the same organization (which in turn is tied to one or more churches). So the fist of the forest, forest reeve, and holt warden are all members of one organization, the Guardians of the Green, but they're all vastly different. We thought it would be cool if more than one member of an adventuring party could be members in an organization, but pursue its goals in vastly different ways.
My favorite group is probably Pelor's Shadow Guard, and the shadowspy and shadowstriker prestige classes tied to it. The idea of the god of the sun having, basically, a secret service really makes me happy. This group just really does things to the interaction between the churches of Pelor and Heironeous that makes them more real for me. This group is going in my next campaign.
Wizards: A large segment of the book concerns, appropriately enough, churches and religion. How does Complete Champion approach churches as active organizations within PCs' lives, different than simply assigning your PC a deity? If you were to join one of these churches yourself, which would have the most appeal?
Chris: If you've ever just filled out the "Deity" line on your character sheet and never looked at it again, raise your hand. Or if you've never bothered to fill it out, raise your hand. I know I've done it. I've gamed with countless other players who have, too. My favorite characters have all been touched by the divine. I make them devotees of a deity and members of a church to ground them in the setting, give them a roleplaying hook, and most importantly, immerse myself in the world, from day one. The churches in this book try to do that for all characters. You can pick a church, become a member, regardless of class, and gain some benefit for being a loyal follower. It's not going to be for everyone, but at the very least, I hope it inspires players to come up with other organizations their characters can join so that they can experience that level of immersion that makes D&D so rich and stimulating creatively.
For me, I'd probably join Fharlanghn's Way, for two reasons: Lots of travel opportunities, and no one knows how to spell or pronounce the name of your church, which I would find endlessly amusing.
Wizards: Complete Champion also introduces new organizations. In what ways do these differ from churches, and what do PCs gain from participation?
Chris: The new organizations are unique from other products in that they often combine two churches together to form these subsects, I guess you could call them. So followers of different deities can join and pursue similar goals. They're also very active, but their membership is also less rigorous. If you're a member of a church, you're going to likely be approached to pursue its agenda. If you're a member of one of the organization, it's likely going to be a little less formal. The organizations also don't use the affiliation rules from Player's Handbook II, while the churches do. Joining the church, which requires more participation and loyalty, will give you some tangible rewards. Joining another of the organizations won't. But you could join both: Be a member of The Shining Light of Pelor, for example, and then join Pelor's Shadow Guard. Hmmm... that might be my next character.
Wizards: Complete Champion provides more "divine" options in terms of spells and feats. In addition to divine feats (introduced in Complete Divine) and reserve feats (introduced in Complete Mage), a new category: domain feats, are presented. How do these function, and what sorts of abilities do they offer?
Chris: Domain feats are feats tied to a domain. Each feat gives the character access to an ability (usually spell-like) flavored to the domain. A character can only take a maximum of two domain feats, and they have to be thematically linked (such as, they're the feats tied to domains of a single deity). So you can't take both the Good Devotion and Evil Devotion feats. These feats basically indicate that a character has dedicated himself to a specific cause and calls upon its power to aid him. Characters devoted to a specific deity will find these both flavorful and useful. The abilities granted are pretty cool.
Wizards: Another segment of the book concerns quests. How do these differ from the standard adventure hooks? How do quests connect with PCs' particular alignments, deities or religions? And what types of locations will PCs experience on these quests?
Chris: The quests are really a way for DMs to take advantage of a PC's connection to a church. If you're a member, your church is likely going to ask for your assistance from time to time. These quests will take you wherever your church wants its presence needs felt. They can take you anywhere. We offer some sample quests, but I think DMs will be pretty inspired to come up with more of their own.
Wizards: And, of course, when completing a quest or other divine adventure, champions are surely glad of the spiritual rewards... but what of the more earthly? What rewards do these quests hold in store for them--as well as, in general, any new magic items or even new holy symbols they might hunt after in other adventures?
Chris: Quests offer their own rewards, since they're adventures after all. And what could be more rewarding then furthering the cause of your deity in the world? Oh, right. Phat lootz. The book features several new magic items, presented Magic Item Compendium-style, that are divinely flavored. Keeping the rest of the book in context, these are not just cleric or paladin items. They're usable for a wide variety of characters, for the most part. But I'm especially excited by the new holy symbols. We've got one for each core deity, but it's pretty easy to create one yourself.