This article originally appeared in Pyramid #1
The Primal Order
Written by Peter Adkison and others
Cover by Robert Alexander
Published by Wizards of the Coast
232 pages -- $20.00
Whether from fear of controversy, or simple unwillingness to tackle such a complicated subject, some games avoid the topic, or gloss over it with only a brief mention.
Peter Adkison's The Primal Order (TPO hereafter), published by Wizards of the Coast, revels in religion. In fact, TPO is probably the single most useful book a GM can buy regarding the proper and effective use of gods and religion in a campaign.
TPO is the first in Wizards of the Coast's "capsystem" books -- that is, in addition to being a stand alone system, it contains integration and conversion notes for many different game systems. (In fact, one of these conversions has resulted in a lawsuit -- see p. 3.) Further releases are planned on such diverse subjects as the economy and the military.
TPO weighs in at a hefty 232 pages (plus assorted advertising goop in the back), and features an adequate, if unspectacular, cover illustration by Robert Alexander. The layout will be familiar to GURPS readers -- main text/sidebar format, but without the sidebars. Instead, that space is used for subheadings. While this results in a great deal of white space, it creates a very pleasing page and makes things quite easy to find. The interior art varies widely in quality, from amusing cartoons to mediocre fan art to high-quality, professional work. None of the illustrations are really bad enough to detract from the contents, and in many cases they add a great deal (especially the cartoons!).
The writing, editing and proofreading in TPO are fantastic. Adkison (the president of Wizards of the Coast) seems to have avoiding the delusion that most startup company president/chief writers suffer -- "My work doesn't really need editing or proofreading, I've caught all the mistakes.'' This is high-quality work, folks. It reads smoothly and well, with a touch of humor interjected throughout. This alone would set it apart from the usual crop of typo-ridden first efforts from most new companies. Wizards went one better, though -- the subject matter is interesting and useful!
The heart of TPO is the concept of "primal energy." This is what sets gods apart from mere mortals. While many game systems deal with divinity by simply greatly increasing hit points, attributes and spell strength, TPO makes a clear distinction between the divine and the human. Simply stated, anything done using primal energy -- whether it be picking a lock, shielding a friend from an attack, or blasting an enemy into smithereens -- is not affected by normal physical or magical barriers or spells. So no matter how strong your Dome of Invulnerability to Everything is, a single point of Primal energy will blast through it like Bill Clinton through a Big Mac. Conversely, your 48th level mage might have a Staff of Internal Rending that does 65d12 damage, no save, to any opponent. If your target is shielded by even the flimsiest of primal energy-based shields, the staff is useless.
TPO spends a great deal of time explaining how to deal with primal energy -- how much a god (or a demigod) has available, how much is generated each day by worshippers, how fast it regenerates, etc. This energy may be used in a number of ways, from tacking a single point on to a regular spell (to ensure that it hits and does maximum damage) to spending 1,000 points on Enhanced Omniscience. Plus, you get such fun section titles as "Bleeding Primal Flux from Captured Souls!"
After the chapters on primal energy, TPO takes up the subject of how gods interact with their various servitors, from exalted demigods and godlings down through minions, chancellors, priests and servitors. This section doesn't deal directly with worshippers, but rather with the heavenly (or infernal) hierarchy of the religion, plus such topics as artifact design, creation and cost. This is a subject that hasn't really been covered anywhere else (except occasionally in fanzines), and is worth the price of admission all by itself.
The next section attacks the various spheres of influence that a god might affect, from relatively small things like Actors and Books to huge areas such as War and Death. This chapter is too sparse -- there are only a dozen sample spheres given. I would have like to have seen them write up one or two paragraphs on each of several dozen more spheres.
Chapter 6, You Need Only Have Faith, is designed to help the GM construct an Earthly (or whatever the name of the planet is) religion. From religious philosophy to ecclesiastic administration, it shows how churches develop, interact and influence society. This section includes several sample religions to illustrate their points.
Getting away from the mechanics of religion for a moment, the following chapter offers a treatise on other planes -- what they are, how they work, and what they mean to a deity. In general, the gods don't interfere with each other's plane. This isn't from lack of ability, but rather a mutual agreement to prevent deity-vs.-deity combat from becoming commonplace.
Chapter 8 is a short recap of information that is mostly presented in other places in the book. It deals with divine rank, pantheon construction, "councils" of gods and divine warfare. There is also a 2/3 page throwaway attempt to discuss economic and how it relates to divinities, but this subject should obviously be left to upcoming products such as The Economic Order.
The final chapter of the book is The Do-It-Yourself Deity. This walks the GM through the entire god-creation process, step by step. It includes a number of random tables that experienced GMs will simply ignore, but might be of use to the novice (or the veteran looking for a truly strange pantheon to base a world around). It also covers character ascension -- that is, the promotion of a PC to godlike status. This is another of those great sections that should be handed to every GM who finds herself wondering what challenges to throw at those 1,000+ point characters. As Adkison puts it, they go from being big fish in a small pond to small fish in a multi-planar ocean!
The remainder of the book is devoted to game system conversions, sample deities, charts and tables, and the like. A somewhat perfunctory bibliography is provided, as is a glossary and index. The glossary is well done, but the index could have been easily doubled in size without going overboard.
The gripes I've mentioned so far are relatively minor. My one big complaint about TPO is that it is overwhelmingly aspected toward a fantasy campaign. While this doesn't make it useless to a high-tech or science fiction campaign, it does mean the GM is going to have to work a lot harder to set things up. It's a big universe out there, and having more information about it available would have been nice. Maybe that can be a new product -- Primal Fiction!
There has been one supplement to TPO to date -- Pawns: The Opening Move. Written by Nigel Findley (author of GURPS Illuminati as well), is essentially a bestiary of powerful creatures for use with TPO. The art is better, and the editing and writing are of the same high quality, but Pawns has far too much white space to be forgiven. Still, it will be a useful book to anyone running a high-powered, high-level campaign.
So what's next for Wizards of the Coast? A great deal will depend on the results of the Palladium lawsuit. If future releases are of the same high quality and overall usefulness as TPO, the company should have a good future.
-- Loyd Blankenship
Article publication date: June 1, 1993
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