The Shrine Maiden Review
by Grant Howitt
The Shrine Maiden is a complete class for D&D 4e from the Oath Brothers development team released as a PDF file for $5 at the time of writing.
The initial front-page artwork is lovely - a little cyberpunk, perhaps, but it's nicely coloured and attention-grabbing. It's almost a shame that it's so well done, really, as it sort of suckerpunches you into thinking that the art inside might be okay. It's not. It's just, you know, not - a fact that saddened me somewhat. I wished that there was a way to turn art off in PDF files, as it was watering down my enjoyment of what is an otherwise excellent product. There are catgirls - catgirls. Where are they in 4e? And the girl on page 26 looks as though her hair is going up her nose; the eyes are wrong, the shading's off, it's dire. I'm sorry. But I encourage you to solider on through these as you come to realise that the class is well worth the effort.
Aside from the art, the book is neatly laid out and uses the standard 4e layout of powers, abilities, paragon paths and the like, which is professional and brings it in line with existing Wizards products, so no issues there.
The fluff is, thankfully, sparse. I'm always wary that, when reading such supplements, the authors will want to tell me, not show me, about all the hard work they've put into their pet project, and I have to wade through pages of rather dull history. There are no "history of the Shrine Maiden" boxouts, no fluff that tells us how they should act - just a brief description of their duties and, like any good supplement of this ilk, lets us know about them through their rules.
The Asian themes alluded to in the subtitle of the book are certainly present, although my shaky knowledge of world cultures seems to indicate that the Shrine Maiden is predominantly Japanese, following the Shinto tradition, and the various powers and weapon choices back that up. The author has kindly inserted a glossary of terms toward the end of the book to help decode the more impenetrable Japanese lingo, but the writing style more than explains the terms used without breaking the flow of the text.
There are also two Asian-esque gods inserted at the back of the book, which are ideal if you are using a Shrine Maiden in a predominantly Western campaign setting and want some far-away mysticism to get involved with.
The power listing for the Maiden is a treat to read. They bring an esoteric grab-bag of powers, swaying from warlord-like ordering attacks from allies to healing like a cleric, sidestepping into Invoker-like battlefield control powers and wizard-style movement buffs.
Many of their abilities revolve around making sure that defenders do their job, and I can imagine the pairing of a Shrine Maiden and a Warden would be hideously effective. It does limit them a little if there aren't any defenders in the group (which is unlikely, but they're not tremendously glamorous classes to play) but their range of powers is more than enough to accommodate that eventuality.
A lot of their stuff doesn't even do damage, which makes me very happy. Even though the tenet of "everything does damage" in 4e works well in practice, it can leave characters poorly-defined. Their Encounter 1 power "Binding Incantation" just immobilises the target until the end of your next turn - no damage, no special effects, they're just stuck to the ground. Tremendously useful if your rogue is trying to get into position.
And it continues. They have a range of blasty powers, sure, which never did it for me - but the list keeps on offering up surprises, such as the rather incongruously named Pow! Right where it counts (Daily 5) where you "forget your maidenly training" and just belt someone in the nads for massive damage.
Or rebuking demons rather than undead as a Channel Divinity power, the ability to speak any language at-will at level 7, setting up teleport gates to bamf around the battlefield, propelling your allies wuxia-style towards your enemies, or the pretty standard-looking Encounter power Repelling Mantra, which sneaks the fantastic words "push 20" into the end of the attack description.
There are a full complement of feats, paragon paths and magic items at the back of the book. The paragon paths are varied and well-thought-out (especially the Tiefling-only Yoki Maiden, who uses both divine and infernal powers), and the feats offer various quirky stuff your can tack onto your Maiden, generally relating to racial abilities and giving them a divine theme.
The magic items are very Asian in theme, offering light armour such as kimonos and robes, magical sandals and various Japanese weaponry. Also included is the Odachi, a honking great sword traditionally used on horseback but here included as a 1D10 damage Reach weapon for use by tiny girls. Something about reach weapons unnerves me - probably bad memories of spiked chains from 3.5 - but, in a curious way, the rest of the book is written in such a charming way that I'm willing to go along with it.
I was thinking about alternative "skins" for the Shrine Maiden class, so the user could fit the rules (if not the background) into a more Western game; and it took me ages, but I couldn't. The rules, the flavour and the overall feel of the character is inextricably Eastern, which got me thinking - this class alone is a good reason to start a new oriental adventures game in 4e.
Think about it; Rogues become Ninjas, Fighters become Samurai, Wizards become Wu-Jen, Invokers and Druids command wild spirits, and Clerics...well, they can sort of move aside, really. It's an easy re-skin, and the Shrine Maiden carries with it enough power to give an oriental feel to the whole game.
Shrine Maiden is a great class, and a product well worth the low asking price.
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