Jeremy's Reviews Blog

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Blood & Relics Take 3 (Rough Draft)

Blood and Relics is a occult sourcebook for d20 Modern. This is actually the revised edition (I think), which revises and expands the original. Since I don't have the original, I can't say what is different.

It's a setting, but most of the rules (the classes and such) can be adapted to regular d20 Modern with no problem as far as I can tell. The setting itself is fairly straight forward in it's basic premise - it's set in the real world, except that there is an occult (in both meanings, magical and hidden) war going on between the forces of good and the forces of evil. This is called "The Blood War" (somewhat unoriginally, but does fit their naming scheme of their line of books).

One the evil side of the Blood War you have the Dark Powers, apparently called the "Caeder". These are more or less your stereotypical demon or "fiend" (in D&D/d20 terms). On the good side, you seemingly have most the monotheistic religions, plus, in a twist out of the DaVinci Code, Jesus's offspring and the Templars. (Really though, this theory goes back ages, to at least "Holy Blood, Holy Grail", possibly earlier, it just gets dusted off every few years. ).

The first chapter of the book, and what I think is the most readily useful part, is on new character options.

First off is several new allegiances (basically the d20 Modern version of "Alignment", basically the same thing but vaguer), based mostly on the 7 deadly sins and virtuous virtues.

More interestingly is a whole bunch of new advanced classes. This is really the best part of the product.

The first two classes are similar, but sort of opposites. The Believer, which would be a follower of the good forces, while the Cultist is a follower of the evil. They are perhaps a bit too much like clerics for my taste.

There's a trio of thematically similar classes - the Grave Robber, the Relic Seeker, and the Monitor. The Relic Seeker is essentially Indiana Jones, both in terms of what he does (tries to get ancient goodies for museums and such) and how he does it (dodging and ducking and such). The Grave Robber is one who sells the stuff or keeps it instead of putting it in a museum, and his class abilities are more influence based - evil minions and the like. (Pretty much all the bad guys in the Indiana Jones movies are this). Monitors are secret guys that prefer to keep ancient stuff away from others to keep them out of evil hands. (These are the mysterious guys often found in the Indiana Jones movies. Also The Mummy. They ride out of nowhere and shoot at everyone)

I think it's missing a Lara Croft type. I think she keeps all the stuff she loots (at least, I think, I only made it about 15 minutes into the movie before suffering stomach pains and having to stop. But I think that's how she's so rich), but unlike the Grave Robber in this, she is quite nimble and quite trigger happy.

Also, there's something called a "Dark Warrior". I think he would be someone like Lance Henrikson from The Omen II.

And though I don't think it quite fits the setting, there is also a Witch. Which seems more like a classical witch (say Circe or Medea) than the Wiccan sort of Witch or the Martha Stewart/Leona Helmsley/Elton John sort of witch.

The PDF itself is solidly done. I did notice that that the Cultist seems to have a web address in his Class skills. (Apparently they are web designers, like the Heaven's Gates people).

Half the art is by Marcio Fiorito, whose stuff I always liked. I'm not familiar with John Longenbaugh, the guy who did the rest of the art, but I like his art a lot, too. So it's a nice looking pdf.

Final Thoughts

I have mixed feelings about this. I think the rules part is pretty good, and it certainly gives writeups of a whole lot of secret societies and real world relics and such, and is useful for a general real world occult sourcebook for d20 Modern. But the setting just doesn't feel right to me. Not something I'd use, anyway.

I don't quite think the setting hangs together well. For one, it's awfully traditionally Catholic at it's heart. The whole basic set up, 7 deadly sins, 4 Horsemen and all that. Which is fine as far as it goes, if somewhat cliched.

But, then it uses other mystical religious groups, most notably the Cathars, but they don't really fit in well. Their theology is too different, too alien from the setting. And the 7 sin stuff doesn't really fit them, either.

Personally, the whole 7 Deadly Sin stuff turned me off. But beyond that, the setting is just sort of "eh". But really, the setting is almost inconsquential to the usefulness of the product as a whole.

The Book of Immortals (Mongoose, first draft)

So, you want to be an Immortal? Well, you could try the method Master Shake suggests, and jump off a mountain, like they did in that movie, Highlander (which was actually a documentary). Or buy the "Book of Immortals" from Mongoose. Just which option is less painful is hard to say.

Let me say that a as a slight disclaimer, that I really am not a fan of Mongoose products (though they have occasionally put out some gems). I had sworn off them after buying two extremely poorly edited products from them, the original OGL Conan (with 100s of editing errors) and OGL Horror (similarly poorly edited). But then I heard in a thread on a message board about how they had changed, and blah blah blah, I should give them a second chance. So I did, with the Book of Immortals, a subject I had been very interested in.

I was a very big fan of Basic Dungeons and Dragons. This was set in a place called the "Known World", which was later called "Mystara" (along with some additions like the Hollow World). It was sort of an odd fantasy world, with a fair amount of strange stuff. One of the quirks about the world was that it had no "gods" per se. But it did have "Immortals". Immortals were essentially gods, but they had once been mortals. But through their actions, generally great deeds, they acheived godhood.

There were two products with rules for these Immortals. That is, how they operated, and how PCs could become immortals. BD&D had a somewhat higher scope of play than AD&D. PCs were generally expected to become rulers of a stronghold in the Companion Boxed set (around 15th level), then planar travellers in the "Master Rules", which was I think from 24th to 36th.

In some regards, D&D 3rd edition has that higher scope of BD&D. Character in 3.x can go up to 20th level, then qualify for "Epic" levels. So, I've been hoping for a product that would let PCs become Immortals, or gods. Preferrably an official one, but one from another company would also be cool. (Or so I thought).

Enter Mongoose's "The Book of Immortals", which at first glance would be exactly what I was looking for. And in some ways it is, in some ways it really isn't.

First off, the Mongoose sort of Immortal is actually not really a god. They are somewhere between gods and epic level characters. Closer to the epic level end, though in some cases, not even that.

Immortals in BD&D were essentially just a really powerful character class (the Immortal) and had a range of levels from 1 to 36. Immortals gained levels by gaining more "Power Points", more or less like experience points, but which were also used to fuel their powers (in fact, using too many could drop them down a level). These points ranged from 300 for a starting Immortal to 6,000 for a top of the line one.

Mongoose Immortals have just 5 "steps", Aspirant, Wielder, Illuminated, Immortal, and Transcendent. Mongoose Immortals go up a step by acheiving "Victories" and overcoming a "Great Challenge". Powers are basically powered by an Immortals "Aura", which is a number which is based on the Immortal's rank and the number of "victories" they have. The "Aura" ranges from 1 to about 50.

The powers that a Mongoose Immortal gains are called "Gifts". These are further broken down into 4 areas; Artifacts, Attributes, Numen, and Powers. An Immortal's "Aura" has to be invested in these. Also, most of these require the use of one of two new skills just for Immortals, Infusion and Channel.

Artifacts are just really powerful magic items. They are built with power points. They just use normal magical abilities in the DMG for the most part. Magical weapon and armor abilities cost 1 power point per +1 of the ability. So a +5 sword artifact would cost 5 power points be +5, then you could make it flaming for another power point (as flaming costs +1) or vorpal for another 5 power points. You can also imbue them with various other abilites, these generally cost a number of power points equal to the caster level, though some types of artifacts have a better ratio than others. (For instance, rings are easier to imbue with woundrous magical abilities than weapons or armor).

Each artifact starts off with 5 power points, and the Immortal can invest more of their Aura into the artifact. The aura to power point ratio isn't fixed, it depends on a roll of the infuses skill. It can range from 2:1 to 8:1 power points to aura.

Attributes are kind of like feats or powers. They actually range from being able to cast 5 levels of a certain type of spell to gaining a +1 bonus to AC and attack roles defending a certain country, to becoming a plant.

These don't seem to be balanced very well. For instance, getting a +1 attack bonus and AC while defending a certain country seems about as powerful as a standard d20 Feat. Maybe not even that.

On the other end, you can gain flight. Or eternal youth. Some attributes really suck, some are fairly powerful. None are especially earth-shaking. (I was kinda looking for Immortals that could create planes, create species, create worlds and planets and even suns)

Numen are basically flunkies or minions or allies. Not an especially powerful one, either. An evil Immortal might get a Succubus as a flunky. Which while nice, doesn't seem terribly high powered or unusual - in fact, nothing more than you might expect a higher level character to have as a cohort or minion...

Powers are kind of shape the fabric of reality stuff, though most of the things are pretty minor, result wise. For instance, an Immortal could heal himself or a colleague. Or create weapons out of wind (or some other element).

So really, Mongoose style Immortals are not really gods or near gods or even godlings. Because it uses a system parallel to that of the level system, it's hard to quantify their power, but it seems about as much as an epic level.

Now, not all Immortals can get all powers. Sort of a catch. An immortal apparently needs a "Wellspring" or a "Covenant". The Wellspring is like a sacred area or something, while the Covenant is a pact with someone. These also give Immortals other powers, too. But these depend on another rating.

See, this is one of those things I find a bit irksome about this book. It's complicated, and you get all these schemes to earn abilities that are outside the whole level system, which adds a lot of extra book keeping. You have to keep track of an Immortals victories, their "title", their wellsprings and covenants and the various "tap" levels of same.

The looks

It's an okay looking book. Not particularly fancy, sort of no frills-ish, but not nearly as spartan as some splat books. The font used is kinda big.

While I wouldn't say the layout is bad, exactly, there are lots and lots of tables and such. These are scattered all over the book. It would have been nice for these to have been reprinted at the back.

I guess they have improved the editing - I didn't notice any glaring typos (though to be honest, I didn't really look hard). Weirdly, though, there are constant references to "Core Rulebook I" and "Core Rulebook II", which is a d20 license requirement that was changed a couple years ago (you can now refer to the PHB, DMG, MM, etc).

The art is okay, if somewhat amateurish looking. I don't mean that as an insult, it just doesn't look like art you would find in a professional product, more something like a fanzine or something from an artist just starting out in their career.

While not a terrible book, it just isn't a very good one. The first time I read it, after finishing, I thought to myself "D'oh! I just wasted $30". Which is unfortunately true - while it's got some okay deas, it's just something that I would never actually use. While technically the rules are probably playable, they are just a mess.

Also, the writing in the book is kinda boring. Maybe it's just the subject, sorta, I know books on philosophy tend to make me sleepy. But it was a real struggle staying awake while reading this book. (Actually, like a philosophy book, this used a lot of jargon I couldn't keep straight)

Lastly, just not what I was looking for. At most, these Immortals are only slightly more epic than epic.

To be fair, the original Immortals rules for D&D were by Frank Metzner, and the revised were by Aaron Allston. Both perhaps legendary designers. And they were aiming at a setting which didn't have "Gods" to begin with, so they didn't have to try to position something between a "God" and a really tough dude.

I think I'll probably just try to convert those for what I'm after and find another home for this book.