Divine Foes By Jesse Thacker

Style
Divine Foes is a short PDF supplement for the Divinity system. The layout is a simple 2 column affair with a good sized font and no real art save for a background design on the pages themselves. The pages are designed to look old and faded, with a vaguely arcane symbol imprinted in the centre. While I like the virtual aging of the pages, I’m not a fan of the background image. While subtle, it draws my eyes away from the text and makes the PDF more challenging to read than it needs to be.

Anyone familiar with the Divinity line will find the design of this product familiar. It has the same cover scheme and layout of the other supplements and fits nicely with the overall brand image. It’s also published under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License, which I always like to see.

Substance
As could be expected from the title, Divine Foes is a collection of five potential foes to challenge divine or godlike player characters. Each foe is given an extensive writeup that includes a description, tactics, plot points, and powers. Only the power section references game mechanics or crunch for the Divinity system, and it’s very brief. For example, the full mechanical writeup for the first foe, the Falfin, is ‘Transformation 9’. Because the game mechanics are such a small piece of this supplement, it’s a good idea mine for other games with a similar scope like Nobilis, cosmic level supers, or epic level D&D.

Before I briefly detail the 5 threats, I’ve got to say that I’ve a bit of trouble with this supplement’s themes. When I think of Divine Foes, I picture personalities. Loki, Set, Ares, Lolth, and other wicked divine foes who work against the best interests of the established pantheon. Divine Foes goes a different way. None of these threats harbor any specific malice against the PCs. They’re more divine hazards than foes.

Take the Falfin, for instance. The Falfin are a mysterious race of bio-luminescent, flying, triangle things that are fond of clinging to trees and swarm planets that are just beginning to develop sentient lifeforms. When one approaches a sentient mortal, it will launch itself in an attack. If the mortal knows nothing about religion or divinity, it will bombard the mortal with visions of divine responsibility and turn it into a fledgling god. If the mortal already has religion, the visions will be about how the mortal’s god is failing in it’s duties in a horrific fashion, causing most mortals to commit suicide through self mutilation. Those who manage to resist are granted divine powers, including immortality. If a deity approaches a Falfin, they just get ignored because the Falfin are only interested in mortals. And, once sentient life on a planet is well established, they flitter off into the cosmos, looking for another planet to seed with gods.

I find the Falfin interesting, and the writers provide some intriguing plot hooks for them, including one wherein the numbers of Falfin in the universe are dwindling, which the Gods fear heralds the end of divine energy in the universe. Heady stuff, but not what I would consider a foe.

By contrast, the Norequi are definitely a direct danger. A sun worshiping race that was extinguished by their star going supernova, the Norequi spirits combined with their fledgling sun god to form this massive, flaming comet that streaks through the universe, seeking out inhabited planets. When it finds one, the comet breaks into thousands of spirits which descend and transform any sentient life it finds into images of the deceased Norequi. Should a Divinity try to intervene, they form up into their massive, flaming sun god and proceed to battle it out.

How awesome is that? The Norequi have a definite cross campaign appeal. Be it D&D, supers, or even Doctor Who, a GM could get good mileage with these as antagonists.

Then we move onto Whimsies. Whimsies are empathic space blobs, not unlike Metroids who are basically mindless, fast breeding vermin. Only, if you kill one of these fragile things, the others flood your mind with negative emotions, driving you into a homicidal or suicidal frenzy. A big enough of a swarm can even affect gods.

I could see using Whimsies very effectively in a sci-fi game, especially with psychic protagonists. They seem picture perfect for Traveler or Star Trek. I’m not as sold on them as Divine Foes though. The plot points provided give a variety of ways Whimsies can be used in a divine game, but considering they are so frail that they’re likely to be destroyed by accident, if a properly aspected deity decides it’s time to go blob hunting, I can’t see them as a credible threat.

Theosophages are perhaps the most clever idea in the book. Essentially, all things end, and deities know that. So, they create doomsday clauses, wherein they and their loyal followers can escape an apocalypse by going to a different dimension or a higher plane. Moving on, if you will. That takes a lot of energy, which is stored and saved for the coming Judgment Day.

If the divinity isn’t prepared to move on, or Judgment Day fails, or the apocalypse is averted, sometimes that energy mutates and warps into a Theosophage, which is a swarm of darkness that hunts down and consumes anyone involved in the apocalypse scenario, including the deity and any other deities who got involved. It’s theorized that they are some sort of mechanism to ensure that giant store of energy isn’t misused, but frankly, I just think they’re ironically delicious. A Theosophage would be such a glorious end to an epic level D&D game. The PCs have managed to avert the coming, prophesied apocalypse, despite divine interference, only to have inadvertently spawned a Theosophage. It’s busy killing gods, while they come up with a plan to stop it before it comes after them.

Finally, we have voidwyrms, which are space worms who crunch on metallic ore in meteorites. They have a lot of trouble with gravity wells, so when they get caught in a large gravity well, they chew a hole through reality to escape to another dimension. The hole is generally only big enough for them to fit through and seals up quickly with no lasting damage. Unless, of course, it’s mating season, wherein massive hordes of these things come together for a frenzy of destructive copulation. So many group up that they create a gravity well that they all need to escape from, causing a huge patch of reality to become shredded and torn. This causes reality to collapse in on itself, forming a black hole. Oh, and they have a really nasty bite. If they can chew through reality, they can chew through you.

Again, I view this creature as more of a sci-fi threat than a divinely inspired antagonist. One of the plot points has a villain taming a pair of voidwyrms to use as attack dogs, complete with leashes and special bits to discourage them from chewing through reality. Slap a laser on their heads and it’d be perfect for Doctor Evil.

All in all, there are some very clever ideas in this supplement, ripe for mining and tweaking. However, only two of these creatures, the Norequi and Theosophage, strike me as genuinely Divine Foes. Whimsies and Voidwyrms are more just environmental hazards and the Falfin are only really an issue if the deity is trying to expand worship onto a planet that has the beginnings of sentient life but no established Pantheon. And even then, they’re only dangerous to worshipers, not the divine being. Rather than trying to confront the Falfin, just wait. They’ll leave after setting up their new Pantheon, and you’re free to invade and conquer.

That’s not to say these creatures don’t have their place in a Divine game. They’re very flavorful and exotic, giving unusual and epic spice to the world the gods are working within. They’re well written and well presented. As such, they deserve to be used. They might not be what I consider foes, but then neither is everything written up in the Monster’s Manual.

This review was first published in rpg.net by Jesse Thacker