Six months after the release of The Complete Thief’s Handbook, TSR finally released, in June of 1990, PHBR3: The Complete Priest’s
Handbook. Written by Aaron Allston, this title was unlike the other books in
the series, and a lot was expected of it. Of all the core classes, the most
effected was the Cleric, with the inclusion of Spheres dictating spells, this
book had to bridge all of the products that had been released previously, and
in this task, the Priest’s Handbook went above and beyond the call of duty,
becoming not just a Player’s aid, but one that was used by the DM as well. One
could almost say that the Priest’s Handbook should had had a blue cover,
instead of the brown!
Priests, Gods, &
Unlike the other Complete Class Books, this one focuses on
world building; and this chapter immediately get down to business of helping
you create a pantheon. Even in published settings, the gods can sometimes be
ignored, and they really shouldn’t be. Besides evil gods which the players may
come into more contact with, the NPCs need gods, including ones that don’t
matter much to the players . . . at least on the outside. What this book seeks
to do is help you make a more advanced world with more opportunities for
adventure. If you are starting a world from scratch, or just trying to make up
for the fact that you don’t own some supplement that examines the pantheons, this book has you covered. It also has a worksheet at the end of the
chapter that helps you organize your thoughts, which is always helpful.
Its primary concern is with giving your world background. An
epic past, detailing things that had come before!
Again, more world building, but this chapter details, not
specific gods themselves, but how they are seen. It does not force you to make
every campaign world controlled by pagan deities, which is available if you
want, but it offers more suggestions. Religion can be philosophical only, or
one god can control every aspect of faith. Through Faiths we can insert
conflict, and it is nice to see such a detailed chapter. TSR did a fantastic
job of offering multiple options, which really sets it apart from later supplements,
and it doesn’t stop there!
Of all the classes in the Core PHB, it is the cleric that
leaves the players wanting. As the PHB is a reference book, many people who use
it, don’t actually read it. You learn the game by playing the game, not
necessarily by reading. There is a little itty bitty passage in the first
paragraph that tells you the powers of a generic cleric, and it is so short and
sweet that many players who have played this game for years still haven’t seen
it, what one does see is some large lists of suggestions that are all dictated
to the player by the DM. A good question is if the cleric really gets to pick from that stuff at all, or
are those suggestions all within the domain of a priest? Where does a cleric
fit into the system? Is he just under the paladin? This is all lines of
questions which must be figured out by the Dungeon Master.
There is also an old joke which refers to the Cleric as a
medic. I don’t think that anybody thinks that that is really true, as the
cleric is a competent fighter, but TSR and players did want this class to be a
bit more advanced. Sure, he was the only character who could restore lost hit
points, but he should also be role-played. He is a teacher of faith! He is a
religious and pious man, and one can’t properly play that if one has no
religion to be found in the game.
This is a poorly named chapter which makes this book such a
workhorse. At this point in time, the reference manual for gods and goddesses
was still the 1e Legends & Lore, which is a great book! However since the
2e system altered the class by adding Spheres of Power, the DM was left to
figure this stuff out on his own, which isn’t impossible, but not something
that a new DM could easily do. It also goes back to the Lazy DM who didn’t
create religions, or a table which didn’t own or care to own a book that’s only
purpose was to talk about gods.
This book was an incredible tool while playing Greyhawk. Personally, when
playing a setting, I just want to use the original boxset material, everything
else I create myself. I never owned anything beyond the original Greyhawk box,
so all of the gods and goddesses were up to me to flesh out, and it was this
chapter that made it possible to do so with consistency. That is the beauty of
a generic product!
I have also used this product as a player, not all DM’s want
to work on this stuff, so I could easily submit powers for an adventuring
cleric that was balanced enough so that any DM could say yes to, without
worrying about me pulling any munchkin tricks later on.
As a DM, it helps us quickly make gods which
are aimed towards the mundane aspects of my worlds, or Gods for the Every Man.
Religions which probably aren’t all that well suited for adventuring, but adventurers
will run into them from time to time in their own travels. It saves time and
gives the illusion of a complete world.
This chapter also gives us a very useful template for
creating our own religious aspects, which quite often, a template is a more useful
tool then the charts themselves! It allows the users to be creative more
productively, which is definitely the case here. You can either use the
material as written, or create your own, that is, once again,
offering options to the user, which makes this book so useful!
At this point, the book begins falling in line with the rest
of the books of the PHBR series.This
chapter gives players ideas for stepping outside of the bounds of the PHB, but
in a fair way, to make a completely unique character. Of all of the player
classes, I think that it is pretty safe to say that each character really is its
own kit anyway, but this helps us with themes which can be interesting. It is
sometimes a rare thing for a player to willingly play a cleric. Sometimes he is
press-ganged into it by the other players as the group really needs one, or the
campaign is getting so difficult that they may need more than one, so players
who don’t normally want to play this class, have options which get them
interested right away.
I think that it also separates clerics in our worlds even further, a
barbarian priest who can get plants to grow in the inhospitable north would be
seen with greater reverence than a priest who does the same in a fertile
environment. Also, within one church, clerics of the same deity would have
different jobs and bring different sets of skills to the table.
This chapter also returned to players the Monk class, which
had been initially edited out of the PHB, not because Mom said so, but for
budget reasons, and the limited amount of space which Dave Cook had to work
I’ve mentioned this before. Today this chapter sounds silly,
but at the time, and for new players, this chapter is a game changer. It is easy
to roll up a cleric, and play it exactly the same way as the last one. It is
the rare player, indeed, who plays the cleric as it is supposed to be run. Of
all the core classes, this one depends heavily on the role-playing aspect of
the game, because he probably doesn’t have the same thought process or beliefs as
the player does. Even how he interacts
with the other players would be different. Is he going to heal the heathen fighter
whose been stricken by disease? While he may not demand payment in gold, he
will demand payment of something else. He may heal his body, but he will also
want to heal his soul.
Besides different styles of role-playing, this chapter gets
more involved than the version in the Fighters and the Thief’s Handbooks, as a
cleric’s power doesn’t truly come from himself, but from a deity, and, if he
displeases the deity in any way, he may lose his powers until he appeases the
god once again.
It also makes suggestions for power structures found within
a church, as well as suggesting that the DM create a calendar, and/or add
religious days and festivals which would be important for this class to observe.
Thus, we go pretty deep into aspects of this class, which really set it apart
from all the others.
Yes, all classes involve role-playing, but role-players love
this class! Thus, this chapter is helpful to even advanced players of the game.
The last chapter of the book helps flesh out items which
were only briefly defined in the PHB, such as the holy symbol, but it also adds
some new weapons which were brought up within the book, or added some weapons
that were left out of the PHB.
Since the Monk class is restored to 2e, martial arts were
also restored, and this was the 2nd Editions first attempt at doing
so. This system isn’t perfect, but it is functional! I played a fighting monk
as written in this book and had a blast! I personally don’t think that AD&D
has ever found a decent way to handle hand to hand combat, as it is an elusive
thing, but the system invented by Aaron Allston is sound, as it can be used in
two ways, to either knock-out or to do harm. What makes it such an elusive
mechanic is that hit points are not defined (which I see as a good thing), but
in unarmed combat, a hit is most definitely a hit. What Allston didn’t do was
add a critical hit chart, which I’m sure that Mom wouldn’t approve of, as we
always see in Kung Fu movies, instant kills and broken limbs, which breaks the
rules of AD&D, as we don’t want to be forced to deal with violence in our
games if we don’t want to, but this is something that can easily be fixed by
the DM if that is the style of game that he wants to run, and he can still use
this chart to get the job done.
I have heard that a later book in this series called The
Complete Ninja’s Handbook offers a better matrix for handling this sort of
thing, but I’ve not seen it, nor have I used it myself. This table has always
been good enough.
This books original function was to replace or help the
DM/Player modify the information found in older books. This predates the 2e
Legends and Lore book by only 2 months, but compared to PHBR3, Legends and Lore
is a very limited book.
The Forgotten Realm’s book, Adventures, does a great job of beautifully
updating and identifying the gods, but honestly, it can’t compete with this
book's generic usefulness; it replaces it, as well as
religious based supplements found in later products. Is it as fun to read? No.
But it is still a superior product to those who are on a budget or wish to
handle these details themselves. I also want to point out that the information within
this book is not aimed at any specific civilization, so it can be used for any
time period, and any setting. If the players wish to space jam, or dimension jump,
by using the tools in this book, a DM can very quickly set parameters and prep
an entire world in one session.
This book not only clarifies rules, mechanics, and items
found in core products, but it also offers options and suggestions so that it
doesn’t leave one hanging in the wind. It asks questions before your players
do, it allows content to be created during play, and it is can be used by both
players and DM. When a reference book does this much, it is no longer just a supplement,
it is core. It is a great companion to the Dungeon Master's Reference series, & a must have for
world-builders of all skill levels.
At the time that this book came out, I think that we all
bought it, but we all didn’t quite understand just how much was actually in
there. Even today one can say that it is still ahead of its time. The Generic
aspect of the book can cause it to be dismissed,admittedly, it isn’t a beautiful book to look at and there was confusion
about if it was written for players or for DM’s, which led to both ignoring the
thing. It was a book that expected to be read prior to adding it to the
game, which turns people off as well, but if you can get over the cosmetic
aspects, and sit down and read it, you will see it as the tool that it is.
Unlike the Fighters, the Thief’s, and the Wizards Guides, which I see as supplemental,
I consider this book to be a core rule book. In later years, setting guides
sought to replace this title, but they never have.
Back in the day I’d give this book a C-, I played under more
than one DM who disallowed all of the PBHR books right off the bat because they
hadn’t read them nor did they have any intention of doing so. Once the players
who had read it began DMing games, THEN it became more and more excepted.
Today, my opinion of it has definitely improved. Instead of
grabbing Forgotten Realms Adventures when dealing with religious matters, I
grab this book first and foremost. It is faster and more accurate, and allows
more creative freedom to those of us who now consider it core. I give it an A-,
it isn’t all that useful if you aren’t playing with 2e rules, as the most
important aspect of the book was to supply you with suggestions for spheres,
and it did predate the Tome of Magic, so those spheres are not included in this
title (which really isn’t that big of a loss as far as I’m concerned). It isn’t
perfect, but it is a title that is in the stack of my prep material. Can it be
used to prep 1e games? I would think so. I, like many AD&D users blend the two
editions together. I would think that the formula and worksheets would be
backwards compatible, even if you aren’t using the NWP-system, which this book
really doesn’t depend upon too heavily.
What Aaron Allston did was write one of the most complete
and helpful titles in a DM’s tool chest, and it isn’t just this title either,
as he also wrote PHBR1 The Complete Fighter’s Handbook, as well as the RPG
Masterpiece, The Dungeons & Dragons Rules Cyclopedia. For some odd reason,
Wikipedia does not credit him for PHBR3, but he is listed as the only writer in
the book’s credits, so why Wikipedia left this title out is kind of a mystery
As far as PDF vs. Hardcopy, this book is readily available,
and not collectable in any way. I wouldn’t spend more than $15 on it, but I
would highly recommend the hardcopy. It is one of those books that I find
myself reaching for more often than I give it credit for.