Hello, everyone! This review is long overdue in light of the trip I took at the beginning of the month, but here is the review for Demon Cults & Secret Societies!
Appropriately enough, Demon Cults & Secret Societies funded on Halloween night 2016. Thoroughly impressed with Tome of Beasts earlier in the year, I anticipated similar quality. Since I am more interested in Fifth Edition than Pathfinder, I wrote this review specifically focused on the 5e version (though most of its thematic content should remain the same between both versions).
Like my other experiences with Kobold Press’s work, my copy of the book was professionally composed and formatted. My only complaint is that I would have organized the book’s new game elements together, but they are arranged in a logical way, divided among the sections in which they become relevant.
As the book’s introduction indicates, Demon Cults & Secret Societies is somewhere between a traditional campaign sourcebook and prewritten adventure, but it takes a novel approach which I have not seen in other books I’ve read. The book introduces 13 different organizations, their goals, their beliefs, stats for notable figures in the cults, and other relevant game rules elements such as spells or magic items. Interestingly, this is similar to the method I was going to use for Primordial Power, so it’s encouraging to see that the professionals at Kobold Press are using the same organization strategies.
Shadow of a Missing Volume
Though Jeff Lee wrote Demon Cults & Secret Societies with the Midgard Campaign setting in mind, at the time of writing, this book is frustratingly absent for Fifth Edition D&D. The setting, scheduled to arrive in 2018, is not necessary to use this book for your campaigns, but it is frustrating to only glean details on the setting through flavor text available in other supplements by Kobold Press. With luck, Kobold Press will soon remedy the situation, but unfamiliarity with Midgard may prove disappointing to readers until it rolls out next year.
Not Just Demons
Demon Cults & Secret Societies offers a wide range of villainous factions which can last for as much of a campaign as you wish. Though the title of the book implies that the cults are primarily devoted to the fiendish, in here you’ll find that a wider range of villainous powers is represented in some capacity, such as Aberrations serving the Black Goat’s Flock, or the Creed of All Flesh’s ranks of the undead. The focus is, naturally, on demonkind, but a talented storyteller can draw inspiration from the book to inspire their other villain factions for their campaigns.
The book offers several opportunities for adventure hooks organized by a suggested party level, typically summarized by a single sentence, and then expounded upon in greater detail. These hooks seldom include specifics for combat encounters or adventuring locations beyond key details, but instead, leave the details in the hands of the Storyteller.
Antipaladins and Doomspeakers
For a heroic campaign, players will find very little of use in Demon Cults & Secret Societies, but in an adventure more amenable to dealing in shades of gray, a Paladin may find themselves in a situation in which they must betray their oaths. This chapter offers two Antipaladin Oaths which function mechanically as Archetypes for the existing Paladin class, the Oath of the Crawling Beyond(an antipaladin Oath more oriented towards Aberrations) and the Infernal Oath(an antipaladin Oath more oriented towards Fiends). Naturally, a player should work with a Storyteller if these class options seem interesting or relevant.
Demon Cults & Secret Societies is a robust sourcebook for potential factions in your own campaign worlds or in Midgard, and its unique, loose format to communicate these villains’ goals and adventures which feature them makes it a solid book for a Storyteller to pick up. While it doesn’t hold a candle to Tome of Beasts in terms of mechanical content, it can serve as a great source of inspiration for your future campaigns. At present, it ranks at #2 on my list of books for Storytellers, practically a tie with Book of the Righteous. Between the two, if you’re looking for something exclusively for yourself as a Storyteller, I’d recommend Demon Cults & Secret Societies, but if you’re looking for something to share with the whole table, I’d instead advise you to look to Book of the Righteous.