Wizards of the Coast: So much material has already been written about the gods and religions of the Forgotten Realms. How did you begin to compile all the bits and pieces of this well-developed campaign setting?
Sean Reynolds: One thing that I had to do as the developer for Faiths and Pantheons was to check the material written for this book against the text in the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting. When the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting was being written, we deliberately made some updates to some of the deities to reflect new options in the D&D rules and to deal with strange elements that had crept into the deity information over time. Some of these changes weren't overt in the campaign setting deity listings, so Eric and Erik had no way to know that we had made these changes--it was up to me to make sure that these subtle undercurrents came through in any new information we presented.
Eric Boyd: This time around it was actually easier than most projects, because Julia Martin and I had already collated most of the "in print" Realms material relating to deities during the development process for Faiths and Avatars, Powers and Pantheons, and Demihuman Deities. So most of the research for Faiths and Pantheons consisted of consulting the latest sources plus those three compilations.
Erik Mona: I'd already read the first trilogy of 2nd Edition god books, so I had a pretty good foundation. Eric Boyd and Julia Martin did a lot of the super-heavy lifting--tracking down ancient Polyhedron articles or old Ed Greenwood convention handouts--back when they were doing this the first time around. That left me to pick and choose what I needed to look up as I went through my chosen deities. My desk was piled about two feet high in Forgotten Realms books. It was what they call "research intensive."
Wizards: What new material will players already familiar with Toril's religions find in this book?
Erik: I'll let the other guys talk about the juicy prestige class goodness and the monstrous deity statistics. Personally, I accepted the job because I thought it would make an interesting challenge. Under Rich Baker's guidance, the Forgotten Realms in-house design team had just finished working on the campaign setting, and had applied a new sort of vision to the Realms that I found very appealing from a design perspective.
The setting had been around forever, with design work coming from hundreds of different staffers and freelancers. Often, that's a pretty big burden, since few of those people were working from the same blueprint. It's sometimes difficult to work in a world that spans the Dark Elf Trilogy and Once Around the Realms, for instance.
The new design ethic was to focus on building the Realms into an interesting campaign setting for players and DMs, above and beyond an adherence to old material so far out of date a modern-day graduate student could have been in grade school when it first went out of print. So I did my best to infuse deities like Deneir, Selune, and even poor little Cyrrollalee with interesting, occasionally challenging ideas that they hadn't been exposed to in the long history of the Realms. When ground has been covered eleven times before, it's really tempting to just parrot older material, changing the exact wording but not worrying too much about updating the gears that make that material work. For Faiths and Pantheons, I tried to tear some of these gods (particularly some of the lamer ones) to their core concepts and build up from there. That's not to say they're so different as to be unrecognizable--they're the same deities, but some of them have new, hopefully interesting aspects to their characters and motivations that haven't been revealed until now.
The rules junkies will have a lot of things in this book to make them salivate. If I did my job well, the roleplaying and world-builder types will find a lot to be happy about, too.
Wizards: There are a number of playtesters listed in Faiths and Pantheons. How do playtesters interact with text that's primarily historical overviews and statistics?
Sean: Most of the playtesters involved were checking the new prestige classes for this book. We did have a couple of people that looked at it for continuity with previous material, but because Eric worked on the last iteration of the deity books and Erik does a lot of research before he writes, we were confident that historical accuracy wasn't going to be a problem.
Wizards: How did the new D&D game rules impact the design and development of this book? Were they more help or hindrance?
Eric: The generic "cleric" really came alive in 2nd Edition AD&D with the concept of the specialty priest. However, without the underlying principles of balance found in the 3rd Edition, many of those specialty priests ended up very unbalanced from a play perspective. In my mind, 3rd Edition allows the creation of all manner of custom clerics (or other characters), but in a very play-balanced way. You'll see that influence on the prestige classes found in Faiths and Pantheons, and that respect 3rd Edition was certainly a great help.
Third Edition also had a big influence on the design of the deity avatars. Deities and Demigods lays out a comprehensive system for determining the abilities of deities, and that product played a crucial role in the design of the various avatars found in Faiths and Pantheons. You won't need that product to use the statistic blocks given in Faiths and Pantheons, but it will help individual DMs do their own write-ups for the "non-big-30" gods.
Erik: They were more of a help, in my opinion too. I always liked the idea of specialty priests from the first time around, but more than anything else they probably exemplify the play balance problems of 2nd Edition. (My experience with the RPGA's LivingCity campaign, where specialty priests are perhaps the most common class, seems to prove this.) For Faiths and Pantheons, it was easy to play with ideas for prestige classes that wouldn't be appropriate, in terms of power or even concept, for a 1st-level character.
Also, 3rd Edition gives us a renewed focus on adventuring and actually playing D&D as opposed to sitting around a table and talking about the game. I found that certain gods, particularly about half of the halfling pantheon and human gods such as Lliira and Deneir and Oghma, really weren't all that interesting in the dungeon or on the battlefield. That's fine to a point--Lliira's a pacifist and the bulk of her clerics should remain so--but there was a lot of deific "dead weight" in the pantheon that screamed out for a new angle to make them appropriate patrons for a series of game supplements.
Sean: Because this book was designed by two people that aren't on Wizards' R&D team, they were at a disadvantage when it came to designing the rules material simply because they weren't constantly involved with the design process of the new game. There are many unwritten rules for D&D designing--things to avoid and things to remember that aren't in any of the books--and without that in-house training, it is easy for an outside designer to run into problems. Fortunately, Eric playtested the new D&D while it was being developed, Erik studies hard, and they're both unafraid to ask questions.
As Erik said, play balance was a big issue for this book. The 2nd Edition AD&D kit system made it very difficult to balance certain abilities, and the priest kits were very popular because they inadvertently were a little more powerful than other classes. In the new D&D's prestige class system, we can always compare the power of a prestige class to the power a character with standard (Player's Handbook) classes would have at an equivalent character level to see if something is out of whack. So, while designing this book for the new D&D was a lot more work and a delicate balancing act, at the same time we're confident that the result is something fun and still playable.
Wizards: In gathering together the incredible number of major and minor Faerün deities, which ones stand out in your mind as being underdeveloped when you first considered them but who gained much from your creative input?
Erik: I had a lot of fun with the halfling pantheon, which I saw as homey and lame but which I now think is pretty darn interesting. For a god who has had so much influence on the setting, I found that Bane had remarkably little development, so he was pretty fun to do, too. Lliira, whom I confess I really hated, was probably my favorite challenge. (I practically begged Eric and Rich to let me take a lot of the gods other people might view as "also rans.") I actually wrote up a huge section on Lliira--far more words than anyone would ever want, with an associated prestige class and everything. Looking at my outline, the goddess of joyous dancing probably didn't deserve that much space, so I had to scale back.
I approached every single deity I wrote from the perspective of, "Would I play a cleric of this deity?" If the answer was no, I did a fair amount of tinkering.
Eric: Having worked on the gods of the Realms for many years, I find it wise not to pick favorites. That said, I think most, if not all, of the gods have evolved in this book to varying degrees and in interesting ways. I'm particularly glad to see Erik's influence on this book, as he has brought a new perspective to many of the deities.
Wizards: The chapter on temples is amazing--the detail given to the Abbey of the Sword, the Darkhouse of Saerloon, the Leaves of Learning, and the Wyvernstones of Hullack is extremely impressive. What guidelines determined that level of detail in a product that's more sourcebook than adventure book?
Erik: Well, first off, when you get Boyd on a book, you're never going to have a shortness of words or detail!
Secondly, the temple section gave us a chance to get out of the mire of deity statistic blocks. (Believe me, you'll be a lot happier we did them for you once you get a look at their girth.) I did only one temple, the Darkhouse of Saerloon, which gave me a chance to change scale from the divine to the personal. I had a good time writing about the family that runs the Darkhouse (a secret temple to Shar built on a lighthouse island), about their personal relationships and motivations.
Eric: Erik worked up a "temple template" that specified the basic form and we both wrote to that template. Like the temples that appeared in Powers and Pantheons, these temples are intended to serve as bases for your campaign, to which the PCs can return time and time again for knowledge, healing, equipment, or even adventure. We deliberately set the temples in the eastern Heartlands, where most campaigns begin, and focused them on some of the core gods of the setting: Malar, Oghma, Shar, and Tempus.
Erik: I worked up the basic outline for the temple section based on what information I always look for in RPG products I plan to use in my game. Hence, there's a section on temple relations with other temples in the area, a host of adventure hooks, and a detailed section on how to break into the temple. At the end of the day, despite the DM's best efforts, some dastardly players are going to want to loot these places, so I figured we might as well arm DMs appropriately for the challenge!
Wizards: Faiths and Pantheons is loaded with impressive prestige classes. Which do you think players will consider the most exceptional ones?
Erik: My favorite is by far the techsmith of Gond, which I'm fairly certain will be loved by many and hated by a few. In a world teeming with golems, gunpowder, and constructs, it seemed ludicrous to me to mire the Wonderbringer and his servants in a sort of tinker gnome paradigm, constantly inventing "wondrous" Rube Goldberg wood and twine inventions that don't work or that simply aren't that cool. (Whee! this sword squirts water!) So, the techsmith embraces technology (such as it is) in a way we've never before seen in the D&D game.
Playtesters got a kick out of the auspician, a servant of Tymora or Beshaba who has extraordinary influence over the whims of luck, and DMs will love the ocular adept, which gives the old beholder cultist from the color illustration in the original Forgotten Realms hardback a whole new shtick.
Eric: My personal favorites are the dweomerkeeper, the horned harbinger, and the wearers of the purple. The first class allows followers of Mystra to truly wrap themselves in the glory of the Weave, while the other two reflect the lingering influence of the Crown of Myrkul, headpiece of the dead god of the dead, and the teachings of Sammaster, a fallen Chosen of Mystra. I really like the mantle and cloak of mysteries powers evinced by dweomerkeepers, which take advantage of the metamagic possibilities of 3rd Edition in a unique and interesting way. As a DM, I can't wait to unleash an army of undead led by a horned harbinger on overly confident PCs. And the wearers of the purple demonstrate how even a godless cult can have truly terrifying followers.
Sean: I'm fond of the arachne for Lolth (you can't go wrong with something that really shows of the wickedness and weirdness of her worshippers), the doomguide for Kelemvor (death clerics that hate undead are a fun quirk), and the waveservant for Umberlee (who is just plain weird). Each has some really neat abilities, and (for the arachne and waveservant) they're not someone you'd want to see across a battle line.
Wizards: So, what didn't make the grade? In other words, what materials did you decide to forgo in this particular book?
Sean: The book ran long, but we ended up increasing the number of pages in the book (partially because the sales of the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting convinced our business guys that folks would be willing to buy a bigger book if they thought it was worth the money, and this one is still jam-packed even after the page bump), so nothing really needed to be cut. We had to drop a prestige class that wasn't working out the way we wanted and adjust a temple site that relied on that prestige class, but overall the end result is just about everything the designers wrote.
Erik: The really long Lliira write-up I've already mentioned was a sad loss. In the early stages of the project, I started tinkering with what I was calling the scions of Karsus, whacked-out folks who wanted to track down copies of the Nether Scrolls and make themselves gods à la their hero, Karsus. I might come back to that idea, eventually, but I never was able to make it gel.
Eric: We couldn't provide the level of detail to the more minor gods that the major gods received. However, gamers will find plenty of good information on these less-well-known deities, far beyond what appears in the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting. The only reason for this is space: The book will be quite long as it is and there simply wasn't room to cover every deity in exhaustive detail.
Wizards: What are you personal favorite contributions to the book?
Eric: I find prestige classes to be one of the most interesting aspects of the new D&D game, so I really enjoyed working on that section. However, my favorite section is probably the temples, as those settings really came to life in this book.
Erik: I slipped in a few things for careful readers with good vocabularies. I tried to give a lot of my gods "subtexts"--little stories going on beneath the surface. I think my favorite contribution to the book has to do with Oghma and Denier, and was brought to us by one of my favorite Realms gods of all time, the late, much-lamented Leira. The lady of lies has one more trick up her dead sleeve, and it might just prove to be a doozy.
Sean: I tweaked the ocular adept (beholder cult prestige class), the techsmith (Gondar prestige class), and the waveservant to implement some cool rules features appropriate for the theme of those classes, and I'm particularly happy with how they turned out.
Wizards: What are each of you working on next?
Eric: Write-ups of the human ethnic groups and dwarven subraces for a future Forgotten Realms sourcebook that should be very popular with players and DMs alike. I'm particularly excited about the humans chapter, as this will be the first time that the human ethnic groups of the Realms are explored.
Sean: I'm finishing up a secret project with Monte Cook. After this, I start work on a Forgotten Realms regional sourcebook, then go on to develop the Forgotten Realms races book (of which I wrote a part a couple months ago). After that . . . I can't say.
Erik: After a nasty year of freelancing with Faiths and Pantheons for Wizards of the Coast and writing parts of Legions of Hell, Jade Dragons & Hungry Ghosts, and all of Armies of the Abyss for Green Ronin's d20 line, all on top of my normal job of editing Polyhedron and the Living Greyhawk Journal section of Dragon Magazine, I'm tired. I'm going to sleep for about six months. If anyone wants me to do freelance work for them after that, they're welcome to call me.