The Good Son sequel to the Book of Vile Darkness, the cover to the Book of Exalted Deeds includes a warning similar to that of it predecessor. Apparently this book is so righteous, it is bad for you.
Why does this book exist? It is fashioned after the Book of Vile Darkness, a highlight of any 3.X sourcebook library and a powerful tool for DMs. A book notorious for its sexual content, discussion of torture, and unapologetic embracing of mindbending evil concepts.
The Spanish Inquisition is a historic example of good implemented to an extreme, reaping torture and genocide in a holy crusade. The Warhammer 40 000 humans live by a ruthless code dictated by their interpretation of their god-emperor’s texts. This empire believes destroying an entire planet’s population because a single traitor was found there is in the name of the greater good. To earn that warning, the Book of Exalted Deeds needs to bring this idea of demented good to Dungeons & Dragons.
At a Glance
The cover is in the tome style of the core rulebooks and, again, the Book of Vile Darkness. It features golden angel wings and a pattern of glowing white orbs that look exactly like marquee lights. This battery-powered bastion of good makes the content warning sticker look so completely out of place.
One of the early illustrations in this sourcebook features a half-orc paladin confronting a succubus couple in a naked embrace, by artist Matt Cavotta. It is an excellent illustration, with a bold choice to make the paladin a half-orc, an ugly race traditionally, confronting the beautiful seduction devils. Although we see the succubi from behind and they are mostly obscured by their bat-like wings, their posture gives away their shock and fear. However, as much as I can appreciate the artistic merit of the piece, I wonder if it was only included and placed so early in the book because it features the female succubus’ bare butt. Including the nudity was not necessary for the illustration to make its point, nor was nudity necessary in this entire sourcebook. This seems like one of the few areas that Wizards of the Coast could include mature material to justify the warning.
The Book of Exalted Deeds is a dream come true for fans of profile pictures. Dozens of characters of all classes strike their best pose for players looking for artwork to represent their character.
Feats and Prestige Classes
The options this book offers players workout wonderfully for players that want true goodness or religious worship to be major elements of their character concept.
The feats follow a couple of themes, namely granting bonuses to basic actions against evil creatures. For example, Sanctify Martial Strike gives extra damage to melee attacks with a specific weapon against evil creatures. Since most opponents a PC is likely to attack are evil, feats such as this offer a broad ability in a likely situation. One warning, Charisma 15 is a requirement for a significant portion of the feats. If Charisma is your dump stat, you lose a significant portion of the feat options.
The prestige classes have thematic and a mechanical trend. Thematically, most of the prestige classes are tied to the celestial paragons introduced later in the book. Mechanically, most of the prestige classes add paladin class features to non-paladins and grant bonus feats introduced in the feats section. Any base class can become a soldier of good by choosing one of these prestige classes, which tend to have exalted feats as prerequisites.
If you are interested in adding a decidedly good angle to your character, the Book of Exalted Deeds provides you the options but expects you to be committed for the long haul.
Take that both ways: the monsters are all good aligned and there are a lot of creative monster concepts, outside the anthropomorphic animals. Deathless is a monster type that the game greatly benefits from. Non-evil undead that represent holy souls tasked to the material plane in the name of good. New archons, eladrin, and guardinals make up for all the demons and devils running rampant. Divine wrath swarms are reminiscent of the biblical plagues, unleashing frogs, locusts, and other animals as weapons of righteous vengeance.
Expanded D&D Mythology
With all the Races Of books and monster supplements introducing new gods, the D&D afterlife feels overcrowded. Instead of new gods, the Book of Exalted Deeds offers celestial paragons, creatures of absolute good that have transcended mortality without quite reaching godhood. It is a nice departure to see divine beings above the existing celestial hierarchy that are not quite at the same level of power as the ultimate puppet masters of the planes. Best of all, a DM can take or leave the concept as he sees fit. Why celestial paragons never popped up in other sourcebooks is unclear and unfortunate.
Prepare For Arguments
One of the most debated topics on Dungeons & Dragons message boards are the parameters of the nine alignments. The Book of Exalted Deeds boldly outlines the lawful good alignment, taking a definite stance never before published in an official sourcebook. This stance, which could practically be presented on a handy chart (Lying: Unacceptable. Sex: Acceptable, etc) proposes that lawful good characters are nearly unplayable when paired with not lawful good characters. Yes, a lawful good character can be fanatical, but he can also be a good guy that’s honest and respectable, including respecting others choice to be less than honest if they feel the need.
Furthermore, many options are presented that need further definition. The vow of poverty says nothing about how much gold a character that has sworn this vow is allowed. Not even a vague mention of “they keep minimal gold, enough to get by”. Rules as written say a character who has vowed to live an impoverished life can have millions of gold pieces irrespective. It does say he can carry and use ordinary equipment, neither magic nor masterwork. Does that include a holy symbol? A spell book? Without these two expensive items, a player can not play a cleric or a wizard. Meanwhile, a character, like a monk, that already has class features to substitute for weapons and armour gains additional bonuses for vowing not to use them? The rewards are not to be laughed at, either. Ability score increases and bonus feats. This vow could debatably render certain PH base classes useless and others unbeatable tanks.
Who Is This Book For?
The Book of Vile Darkness is clearly for DMs. The Book of Exalted Deeds includes long chapters on new monsters and celestial paragons, material that has little use in the hands of a player. It also includes many prestige classes, magic items, and spells ideal for players, as well as advice on playing good characters. As stated before, I want my sourcebooks to be gears towards players or DMs, not a bit of both.
Then there are enigmatic options like the Vow of Peace, for pacifist characters. Even if you do not play kick-in-the-door style D&D, playing a character that not only is useless in combat but shuns those that participate has no place in this game. An NPC foil, fine, but a PC?
James Wyatt includes an author’s note in the introduction, the only one, I believe, in any Wizards of the Coast released D&D sourcebook. In it, he admits even he does not understand why his book has a content warning. Pick any sourcebook without a warning for the D&D library. The Book of Exalted Deeds is as tame as anything you could have picked, aside from the odd bit of gratuitous nudity. Maybe the sticker is a marketing trick, maybe Wizards felt that a sequel to a sourcebook with a warning needed one as well. All I can say is that it definitely did not.
The Slayer of Domiel prestige class is a holy assassin. It uses many of the class features of the Dungeon Master’s Guide assassin prestige class, but with a good flavour. The assassin is a popular, well-designed and supported prestige class that suffers from a strict evil alignment requirement, limiting its use. The Slayer of Domiel finally puts these options into the players’ hands.
The Risen Martyr is another inspiring idea. A prestige class with a level 0, this is a good haunt returned from the dead to complete its mortal mission. It functions very much like a template that grows progressively more powerful. A great alternative to raising a dead PC, although the prerequisites limit who qualifies for the class.
Celestial Familiar, Celestial Mount, and Exalted Companion are feats that give classes with familiars, mounts, and animal companions more options with a good flavour.
Ravages and Afflictions are specifically designed to affect evil creatures normally immune to poisons and diseases.
What do good characters do with captured evil magic items? Reselling them releases these vile items back into innocent society. Destroying them means responsible characters are losing out on the time-honoured tradition of profiting off the loot of the smited. The Redeeming Evil Magic Items rules cleverly deal with this problem. Some evil items can be converted to good items, to be used or sold as the good characters desire.
A player in my group has taken both the vow of non-violence and the vow of poverty. The vow of non-violence is not as restrictive as the vow of peace, allowing him to damage non-humanoids or cast non-lethal spells on humanoids. The vow of poverty means he can not acquire wealth. He is a wizard, which is where the spell book argument I mentioned earlier came from. We decided he was allowed to own a spell book.
These vows have presented some interesting role-playing opportunities, forcing him to barter for favours he could not afford, but have also caused complications. As exalted feats, the character must live by the code outlined in the early chapters of this book. As a result, a promise the character made to return a charmed kobold to his clan that his party did not agree with turned into a half hour argument about how to not release this evil creature without breaking the promise of the exalted character.
This book is inferior to the Book of Vile Darkness and in most ways fails as its sequel. The options it presents, however, make up for the lack of similar options in Complete Divine. If you are playing a class that is not traditionally religious, here are great options to represent a religious devotion in that character. If you are playing a class that is traditionally religious, here are rules for enhancing that devotion.
It is not a total loss. In fact, it has enough content around the themes of good and holiness that it can be quite a useful book if that is what you are looking for. Unfortunately, the warning sticker conjures up a set expectations that the book does not meet. A perfect example of poor marketing ruining a decent product.
If You Liked This Book…
You might like Complete Divine. I didn’t.
The Book of Vile Darkness does not have much in common with the Book of Exalted Deeds, but they are in the same series, so it is worth mentioning.
Savage Species is referenced in Book of Exalted Deeds’ monster chapter. If you want to go a step further and play a being of holy birth, it has options for you.
Date Released: October 2003
Date Reviewed: May 2007