Jeremy's Reviews Blog

Monday, May 02, 2005

Blood & Relics Take 3 2nd draft...

Blood and Relics is a occult sourcebook for d20 Modern. This is actually the revised edition, which revises and expands the original. Since I don't have the original, I can't say what is different, other than it's about twice as big.

Nominally 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, other than taking a different approach to magic (aka FX in d20 Modern terminology) than normal.

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". Basically a person that makes a pact with dark forces for added combat prowess. I think he would be someone like Lance Henrikson from The Omen II or Bill Romanowski from the Denver Broncos.

And though I don't think it quite fits the setting, there is also a Witch class. 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.

Beyond the various new classes, there's a number of feats, including feats that are magical rituals. The Cultist gets "Profane Ritual" feats and the Believer gets "Sacred Ritual" feats.

The second chapter introduces "Spiritual Afflictions". Basically, they are ways a character can get tainted or corrupted by evil. Most of the 7 deadly sins are afflictions, plus a few more that seem more smurfly than evil.

Honestly, I'm not sure I like this, though this is probably personal bias. I tend to think that man (both singular and as a group) is resonsible for his own failings, not some sort of preternatural bogeyman. If you hate someone, it's your own decision, not because someone told you to or coerced you to.

But, it really does fit the source material.

There's also 3 pages of rules for demonic possession and exorcism.

The third chapter, about 25 pages or so, is on secret societies. Basically, you get a history and description of that secret society, where they fit into the "Blood War" and a prestige (or is that advanced?) class.

Two are basically different offshoots of the old Catholic Inquisition. One from the Spanish branch and one sort of reformed.

There's a secret occult force of the Israeli Goverment, the Isayet Omega.

And of course the Templars. Gotta have the Templars in a setting like this. This product takes the tack that the Templars were actually more or less Cathars, and in fact, founded by the Cathars. I'm not actually sure this makes all that much sense

It does have one very new twist. There's a group called the "Salem Seven". In this setting, it seems that the Salem Witches (from the famous witch trials) were actually agents of the Templars.

Any setting has to have villains, and in this, the Teutonic Knights take that role. Which fits them pretty well, I think.

The last chapter is a "Campaign Guide"

Somewhat amusingly, for a setting that basically revolves around the children of Jesus, the Common Era dating system is used for the timeline.

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).

This is actually funny, the font they used for headings has a really weird looking "M" and in fact it took me quite a while to realize it was an "M", not a "ITI". I thought some of the thigns were written in latin or something. Heh. Like "Exorcisiti", instead of "Exorcism"

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 very 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. I mean, it works, and in fact, was the basis for a very good rock album by Aprhodite's Child, but by the same token, loses it's "occultness" (in its hidden or secret meaning) because it's so mainstream.

Basically, the same reason that no one really finds Dracula all that scary these days. Sure, they still make vampire movies, but they are just largely an excuse for bad acting, action scenes and gratuitious nudity, they don't actually scare anyone. I know, that's not an exact analogy, since that is horror and this is occult which is different, but the same thing, the mystery, the unknown, is something of a key to both, I think.

Beyond that, 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". However, the setting is almost inconsquential to the usefulness of the product as a whole. And really, I dunno why I'm writing so much about my nitpicks with the setting, other than it's fun to rant.