One of my first reviews, since lost to the annals of time, was of the RPGObjects title Blood and Relics. It is simultaneously what spurred me on to continued blogging way back when, as well as the reason I wanted to rewrite a lot of my old RPG reviews in the first place. It was sort of like remembering your first bike ride: you have a fondness for your successes, but you also remember hitting the rocks and falling face-first into the mud as well. While I do believe it was the first time I successfully managed to channel snarky comments into an overall positive review, at the same time it still had some subconscious underpinnings of my Baptist heritage. When reviewing a religiously-charged roleplaying game supplement, that subconsciousness was a no-no; even if I hadn’t been officially Southern Baptist since around high school, I still had a bit of it clinging on in the back of my head. Thankfully, I now live on a religious diet that consists of Good Omens, Internet blogs mocking silly fundamentalist fiction, and Carl Sagan, so I don’t exactly hold my fundamentalist mindset of the distant past as an anchor or a sacred cow. So, without further adieu, let’s get out the steak knives and barbeque sauce as we cut into Blood and Relics. Again.
“We’re on a Mission From God”
Created by prevalent RPG writer Charles “Chuck” Rice, who they say can be summoned from the Aether by offering three good Captain America comics and a character sheet, Blood and Relics is self-described as a d20 Modern supplement for “Gothic conspiracy”. A sort of bridge between horror and and mystery novels, Gothic conspiracy as presented in B&R draws heavily on the Religious Big Three (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, if you haven’t been paying attention the past few centuries) and themes set out by titles such as The Da Vinci Code and just about every Antichrist movie ever made, with a little Indiana Jones thrown in for good measure. While not entirely wed to the game rules presented, a lot of Blood and Relics focuses on a key concept formed into a mini-campaign setting of its own: that there is a quite literal holy war going on between the forces of light and darkness, with many ancient relics and holders of mysterious powers in the middle of it all. This concept is apparent right out of the starting gate, with the first game rules presented being character allegiances for the Seven Deadly Sins and Seven Heavenly Virtues of Catholicism, as well as Higher (deific) and Dark (demonic) Powers. While admittedly given to religious symbolism, I can’t say that these would be useless in a non-religious campaign setting either. After all, you don’t have to be a priest to have a philosophy based around the virtue of Patience, nor do you have to be a succubus to have a lust for…well, Lust. Even adherence to the Higher Powers are not tied to a world where the gods definitely exist. I mean, really, just look at the real world for evidence of that.
Right after the notes on allegiances, you will find that chapter 1 provides new advanced classes, just like most d20 Modern supplements that have at least some genre focus. There are seven advanced classes in total, with three of them focused mainly on the Light, three on the Darkness, and one that sort of straddles the gray material in between. Let’s put a spotlight on them for a moment, shall we?
Believer: A servant of the Higher Powers, the Believer is basically a modern-day prophet. While not gifted with the divine magic of the d20 Modern Core Rulebook‘s Acolyte, the Believer does have a similar gift of turning away the undead and fiends, as well as the ability to perform sacred rituals and heal damage or maladies through the laying on of hands. They also have “spiritual fortitude”, which renders them stronger than the average person against demonic abilities such as possession.
Cultist: Team Evil’s equivalent of the Believer, the Cultist is a virgin-sacrificing, baby-eating, good old-fashioned mustache-twirling villain. The cultists can control the undead that Believers shun, perform dark rituals, cast arcane spells if they offering devotion and/or blood to whatever dark power they adhere to, see in the dark, sacrifice people to gain a black cat, raven, or imp as a twisted version of a Mage’s familiar, and eventually gain command over a squad of henchmen.
Dark Warrior: The Dark Warrior is a willing one-man – and a few dozen or so demons – legion, fueled by pure, unbridled power (and not in the way Charlie Sheen is, either). In exchange for acting as a vessel for some foul things of the underworld, the Dark Warrior can increase his damage output, physical prowess, and stamina, as well as pull out the fun party trick of “replicate the head-turning scene from The Exorcist) through the power of his possessors. …You know, stated like that, it does sound similar to how Charlie Sheen gets his powers.
Grave Robber: The villainous pseudo-archaeologist whose modus operandi is “take everything that’s not nailed down and run”. In addition to a few old classic qualities such as gaining informants/contacts and henchmen, this advanced class is a rather interesting collection of novel abilities, including the Grave Robber being more likely to succeed in a fight or task if the object he’s after is particularly pricey and the ability “Cannon Fodder”. With Cannon Fodder, the Grave Robber can use one his henchmen as a proxy when he would normally take damage; sure, it hurts his ability to attract more followers, but sometimes you just really don’t want to get hit by that booby trap when you’re having a good day of plundering.
Monitor: Remember the semi-immortal Guardian of the Grail from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? The Monitor is basically an advanced class made specifically for his type of character. They gain immortality and strength…but only as long as they are within the confines of the place they are meant to guard from the forces of darkness. In other words, while a Light rather than Dark advanced class, this is definitely supposed to be for NPCs rather than active player characters.
Relic Seeker: Indiana Jones, Lara Croft, and Jake Cutter: these three individuals are at the heart of the Relic Seeker advanced class. An archaeologist-cum-adventurer, Relic Seekers have abilities that focus on evasiveness, ingenuity, and getting out of situations that seem damn near impossible to overcome. What more can I say, really?
Witch: Last but not least in the advanced class lineup is the Witch. The are the shades of gray in the so-called “Blood War”, with neither the Higher nor Dark Powers and their followers being particularly fond of them. While Witches do gain a familiar and potion brewing as per the Mage advanced class, they don’t get proper spellcasting as such, and have the ability to shapeshift into certain “dark” creatures such as black cats and owls. The rest of their powers are pretty much all based around enhancing potions to levels a Mage can only dream of, save for one: namely, the 10th-level ability “Object of Desire”. This is a very classical mythology/faerie glamour style of special quality that makes it so that the Witch appears to be a youthful middle-aged individual even after she passes up that age category.
After this set of advanced classes, there are four skill notes: three uses of old skills, and one completely new skill. The former are, interestingly enough, all uses for Knowledge Skills. These allow you to use Knowledge (Arcane Lore) to work with profane rituals, Knowledge (Theology and Philosophy) for sacred rituals, and Knowledge (Behavioral Sciences) to act as a therapist or psychologist in the event that your fights with the supernatural leave some less physical types of scar. The new feat, Prophecy, is tied into the fact that the campaign setting focuses on religion and the occult, but has no proper magic as such (and, as a result, no divination). Depending on how your cosmology works, the idea of prophecy as a skill that one can hone over time may or may not be particularly useful. It’s one of those skills that you can take or leave, really.
Rounding up this first chapter are the feats. While a good chunk of the standard feats presented focus on leadership or boosting your Prophecy skill, there are a few stand-alone gems as well. The Conviction feats in particular are fascinating; they take a character’s allegiance and turns said allegiance into a tangible game effect outside of the allegiance system. For an example to make that less confusing, let’s say we have a Charismatic Hero/Believer that has selected his allegiances as Generosity, Humility, and Peace. This qualifies him for the feat Conviction (Asceticism), which gives him both a boost to most uses Charisma-based skills thanks to his thinking of others before himself and some morale bonuses against corruption and environmental hazards. At the same time, though, the character’s charitability gives him a permanent knockdown of his Wealth score and turns the aforementioned Charisma-based skill bonus into a penalty when dealing with a character that has Avarice as an allegiance.
Finally, you have the Profane and Sacred Ritual feats and their offspring. These are basically spells and incantations condensed into feat form, and grant a range of different abilities. Some examples include…
Black Calling: A rather twisted profane ritual, in which 9 months are spent paying homage to The Omen and having a human give a virgin birth to a powerful fiendish entity.
Death Harvest: Human sacrifice + dark powers = grow your own zombies. Hooray!
Exorcism: Why am I even wasting space on this? You know what an exorcism is, silly!
Sentinel: Your god gives you super-hearing and super-sight. Not quite “faster than a speeding bullet”, but hey, you take what you can get.
From a personal standpoint, I don’t quite get why these are feats instead of incantations, since incantations are a perfectly serviceable system. Of course, this isn’t to say that you can’t make these into incantation, and if you truly like them a feats, you have a variety of rituals to choose from.
Wow, all that on just the first chapter? Don’t worry, things will get a bit less meaty from here on in, so join me back for Part 2 of this review!