“The Power of Christ Compels You!”
Heading into chapter 2, we are introduced to a new game mechanic: “spiritual afflictions”. This is really one of the few spots where the specific type of religious conspiracy/Heaven vs. Hell setting that runs more covertly through the generic occult conspiracy of Blood and Relics bubbles violently to the surface, presenting itself plain and clear for all to see. Spiritual afflictions are similar to the Taint from Ravenloft; they are not diseases of the body or the mind so much as they are of the soul, a corrupting tendril of influence from the things of darkness. Some of the generic afflictions include self-explanatory things such as Despair and Doubt, used to weaken the opposition’s resolve, as well as varying “ranks” of the Seven Deadly Sins – for instance, Wrath/Hatred starts with the Irritability affliction, progresses to Animosity and then to Hatred, before finally blossoming into Genocidal Mania if left unchecked. Spiritual afflictions are utilized by fiends to inititate possessions, which are presented here in a very Exorcist fashion, complete with spinning heads and projectile vomiting. Personally, I would never use spiritual afflictions in my own settings, but I have no animosity toward it. It would probaly work well in a system heavily focused on religious mythology, active gods, and such.
It’s a Secret to (Almost) Everyone
Ahh yes, secret societies. Truly, they are the foundation block of the conspiracy genre; somebody’s gotta do the conspiring, after all. Each secret society has levels of initiation, granting special requisition right, “secret mysteries”, and access to an organization-themed advanced class (they’re stated as prestige classes, but they have 10 levels rather than 5, so for the purpose of clarity I’ll refer to them as advanced classes as per the d20 Modern terminology). There are seven in total; we’ll look at each, and their prospective advanced class, in brief.
Frater Torquemada: Spawned by Tomás de Torquemada – you know, that charming friar who became the leader of the murderous mania of the Spanish Inquisition – as a group that felt normal fiend-hunting methods wouldn’t win the Blood War, the Frater Torquemada are torture-happy psychopaths that few of the followers of the Light Powers are willing to associate with. Their secret mysteries focus on fear and dealing damage, appropriate for what their job is. The advanced class for the Frater Torquemada is, fittingly, the Inquisitor. The advanced class focuses on torture, granting a character the ability to deal damage with a touch attack, grind out confessions, draw out suffering instead of outright killing an enemy, and forced allegiance changes through “aggressive contrition”. Religious extremists are an inevitability in a campaign that focuses on wars surrounding religion, and the Frater Torquemada certainly take up the torch…and pitchfork…for the role.
The Doctrine: The flipside of the Catholic Church, the Doctrine is a representative of those that learned from the disasters of the Inquisition. Members of the Doctrine are young go-getters who are less tied to the church’s dogma than their elders, more concerned with the welfare of the Pope and the defense against the Dark Powers over whether or not they ate their communion wafer with their tongue facing the right direction. Their secret mysteries focus on gaining access to secret Papal libraries and general enhancement of knowledge, and their advanced class is the Exorcist. As the name implies, the Exorcist advanced class focuses on exorcising fiends as well as a fair amount of defensive abilities. All in all, the Doctrine are mostly just your bog standard non-evil paranormal Catholic Church, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing; gaming conventions tend to easily find their uses, after all.
Isayeret Omega: You don’t really see a lot of non-negative Jewish secret societies in the media, do you? Well, here’s one, a subset of the Israeli military that is focused on combating fiends and the undead in an effort to stave off the end of the world. As befitting their military status, their secret mysteries focus on teamwork in combat and some damage boons, and their advanced class is the “more damage, more defense, more victory” Omega Knight.
Knights Templar: Of course the Knights Templar are here, they’re in pretty much every conspiracy game ever. Here, they have their “Holy Blood, Holy Grail” mode on, taking the position of defending the bloodline of Jesus against the Dark Powers. Their secret mysteries revolve around history and swordplay, and their advanced class is the pretty much entirely swordplay options-focused Knight of the Old Table.
Salem Seven: Like the Isayeret Omega, the Salem Seven are less traditional conspiracy fodder and more something specifically geared toward the mini-campaign setting and version of history that Blood and Relics sets down: namely, that Salem really did have witches in town, but that they were murdered not because of their spellcasting, but because they aided a Templar and his Sang Real charge. The modern Seven (seven clans named after seven leaders from the original Salem coven) are allies of the Templars in their cause, as well as in league with the Isayeret Omega in their search for the world-ending “Dark Legacy”. Both the secret mysteries and the Coven Enchantress advanced class specifically focus on augmenting the abilities of the Witch advanced class from chapter 1.
Seers of Fatima: Yep, yet another Catholic secret society. The Seers of Fatima are based around real-life claims that the Virgin Mary gave three prophecies to three children in Fatima, Portugal during 1917. The secret mysteries for the Seers and the Prophet of Fatima advanced class focus primarily on the Prophecy skill. Gasp, what a shocker! And next you’ll be telling me the Seers follow the Pope, who is Catholic, no less!
Teutonic Knights: Last, but not least, are the Teutonic Knights. While the Frater Torquemada aren’t nice guys by any measure, the Teutonic Knights as presented by Blood and Relics take it further. They are the only secret society out of the seven to actively work with the Dark Powers rather than against them, and their blood feud with the Templars and the Sang Real doesn’t exactly help things. They’re rather overtly geared toward their role, too; in addition to secret mysteries that beef up profane rituals and the control of the undead, their advanced class is the menacing Black Knight. The Black Knight focuses on plague and disease, being both immune to and capable of spreading forth pestilence as well as wound infliction, sneak attacks, and several abilities associated with swarms of vermin. It kind of reminds me of the Cancer Mage from D&D, only more physical.
Odds and Ends
Our final section, focused on Gamemastering, starts out with the stuff that is specifically tailored to Blood and Relics in and of itself. If you want to play a game in this specific mini-setting provided, you’ve got some sound advice on the intent behind it as well as a timeline of all the major events of the conspiracy. If you don’t, then I can’t imagine you being that inspired reading about Sojourner Truth being a Sang Real or Pope John Paul I fighting literal demons for 25 days straight. More likely to be of use all around are the selection of artifacts right after. These are pretty universal items, from magical tomes and sacrificial daggers to Excalibur and the Spear of Destiny. The only “classic” Judeo-Christian artifact not present is the Holy Grail, due to the whole “San Greal < Sang Real” thing going on in the setting, but it’s easy enough to find stats for that item if you really want it in your own religious conspiracy/high fantasy/whatever-you-wish-to-do-with-it setting.
Finally, we have what is always my favorite section of any title: the bestiary/enemy selection! First off, you get to meet the non-deific big bads that are the Caeder. The key villains of the campaign setting layed out previously, the Caeder are servants of the Dark Lord and can be summed up as weaker equivalents of the classic demon lords and dukes of hell. Indeed, the Lord of Vanity, Absolla, is only CR 7, which is weaker than some of the generic fiendish hordes as presented in standard d20 Modern titles. Only slightly stronger are Celestan, Lord of Vermin, and Marcus Adrastas, Lord of Deceit, both of whom are CR 12. If you didn’t guess, it’s pretty much presumed that Blood and Relics as a campaign setting will be played at lower levels. Of course, if you are keen on going past lower levels and into apocalyptic territory, Blood and Relics obliges with a scaling system of enemies with the Four Horsemen. Progressing upward, you can find yourself facing the CR 15 Conquest and his mighty bow and arrow, CR 16 War and his brutal sword, CR 18 Famine and his hand of starvation, and the mighty CR 20 Death and his powers of…erm…death.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are the CR 5 apocalyptic steeds ridden by the Four Horseman (essentially akin to nightmares) and seven servitor demons connected to the Seven Deadly Sins. Most of these are settled at CR 3, but can be advanced into greater threats through class levels. The exception to this are the gluttonous bloat fiends, which are CR 4 rather than CR 3 thanks to the extra oomph their crushing bulk and nearly bottomless stomachs, and the larva-like slug fiends, which take their aspect of Sloth to heart by not giving enough of a damn to take class levels. You also have the Fiendish Vessel template to grant a fiend’s abilities to a human or animal, as well as two cultists (one of whom is a vampire, no less).
I’m almost tempted to give this book two separate verdicts: one for Blood and Relics the generic sourcebook and one for Blood and Relics the campaign setting. At the same time, though, while the book does have aspects of both, neither takes hold enough to make a conclusive whole, so I’ll just stop babbling and get on with it already. There are some parts where it almost seems like there should be more setting; for instance, there are explicit mentions of Islam and Hinduism as other followers of the Light Powers, yet neither gets a secret society or anything of the sort. I can’t really give many negative points for that, though, as what space was taken away from the book as a setting contributed to the book as a sourcebook, with fairly solid new advanced classes, well-designed monsters, and a host of optional rules that could see good use in an occult, conspiracy, or religious-themed campaign. In total, I give Blood and Relics an 8/10.