Strike Down Evil with the Sword of Enlightenment
This source book for the D&D game is intended for mature audiences and provides players and Dungeon Masters with inspiring subject matter that will broaden any campaign. Included is a detailed look at the nature of Good and the complex challenges that face those who join the eternal struggle on the side of the moral and just. Along with exalted feats, prestige classes, and spells, the Book of Exalted Deeds also provides descriptions and statistics for a host of creatures and celestial paragons to ally with virtuous characters.
When I think about the essence of heroism and D&D, I immdiately think of the classic illustration "A Paladin in Hell" in the 1st edition AD&D Player's Handbook. The lone paladin, even with glowing aura, might seem doomed facing off against a stream of fiends - but you know what? I always will put my money on the paladin.
The Book of Exalted Deeds (2003) is like a love letter to that image. It's inspired by the similarly "mature audiences only" Book of Vile Darkness penned by Monte Cook. Wizards of the Coast understandably wanted to present the other side of the coin, so they produced a sourcebook that holds up Good as something noble and heroic, something worth striving for. Why should the despicable villains get all the attention? Shouldn't those who sacrifice themselves to destroy evil also gain allies and tools with which to defeat evil? Heck, yes. And this book succeeds in providing these, pointing the game back towards its roots, where good was never (well, not usually) stupid.
Playing a Hero. The book begins by detailing what it means to be good in an imperfect world, with discussions of sin, law, chaos, and the meaning of exalted acts. Variant rules follow. Think you can qualify to become a saint? Want to exorcise demons, or martyr yourself, or accept a vow of pacifism, or cast aside wealth in exchange for spiritual benefits?
It seems foreign to the traditional "let's beat up monsters and steal their loot" of D&D, but these rules are a valuable addition to the game. You'll want to examine them closely before making sure they fit in your campaign, both from a thematic and balance basis, but they're a flavorful accompaniment that rewards heroes mechanically for a challenging roleplaying choice. (Then again, maybe a mechanical benefit for doing good deeds goes against the whole point of doing good deeds for the good of it. But hey, that's your call too.) Rules for sanctified weapons are also provided, along with nonlethal weapons and holy relics.
More interesting, perhaps, are the Exalted feats, which reward heroes who cleave to the cause of good, and whose benefit vanishes if the hero ever willingly commits an evil act. These feats are key for any player who wants to model a holy hero in the game. Picking one of these feats really means something - it's a symbol as much as a benefit, and the exalted nature of the feat means that the character is striving toward a particular role-playing challenge. Either way, these feats vary in power and effectiveness, and each needs explicit DM permission to use.
A Class unto Itself. Common wisdom dictates that the prestige classes in the Book of Exalted Deeds are the best part of the book. Over 20 prestige classes are presented, of which two are 3-level PrCs, one is a 5-level, and the remainder cover a full 10 levels. Several of these allow a character to gain more Exalted feats at the expense of a slower progression; some tie the heroes to a patron deity or other powerful celestial creatures. A hero can gain better access to exalted spells, in some cases, or amplify their magical weapons.
Overall, the prestige classes are a well-rounded and interesting lot, well balanced and fun to play. They are backed up by a host of new spells and spellcasting options. There are nine new domains that focus on good, a "good" spell descriptor, and certain prohibited schools. New exalted magic items also join the fray.
Exemplars of Heaven. Chapters 7 and 8 cover new monsters and celestial paragons. The paragons include Chaotic Good eladrin paragons of the Court of Stars and Neutral Good paragons of the Upper Planes. Named celestials have sample champions, and there are "saint" and "sanctified" templates included for both PCs and NPCs. New archons, non-evil undead, eladrin, guardinals, and even an "apocalypse frog swarm" fill out the list of new monsters. It's also nice to see that the aleax, the bariaur, and the moon dog are back from previous editions.
A Poisonous Rose by Any Other Name... The Book of Exalted Deeds reflects its dark counterpart, the Book of Vile Darkness, in organization as well as subject matter. In fact, I'll argue that the supplement's only real weakness is that it follows the pattern perhaps a little too closely: the rules may go a bit too far in making sure that every evil option has an opposite. Take poisons and diseases, for instance - their divine counterpart are named "ravages and afflictions." Changing their name doesn't change their nature, though, and let's face it: poison is poison. This bit of sophistry is about the only minor quibble in a fine and useful supplement.
Overall? This is an excellent book. If you have any interesting in playing holy or good heroes, it's well worth checking out. While written as a counterpoint to ineffable evil, Exalted Deeds ends up shining forth as a fun and worthwhile game supplement.
About the Creators. James Wyatt is a novelist and former minister who has worked at Wizards of the Coast since the year 2000, long after he began writing for Dungeon Magazine. Christopher Perkins joined WotC in 1997 as editor for Dungeon and is a 15-year veteran of Wizards of the Coast; he is also the most prolific adventure writer in Dungeon's history. Darrin Drader is an author and game designer with over 40 published works, from roleplaying games to articles to fiction.
About the Product Historian
History and commentary of this product was written by Kevin Kulp, game designer and admin of the independent D&D fansite ENWorld. Please feel free to email corrections, comments, and additions to firstname.lastname@example.org.