Some role playing books are like a bag of gold pieces. You find it laying in a treasure horde, and eagerly scoop it up, happy to add more gold to your coffers. But once you?ve read them, you realize that this treasure was all too quickly spent, and you?re going to have to go make another raid for more gold. Every now and then though, you come across a product that is more like an abandoned mine. At first glimpse, it?s just a dirty hole in the ground. But as you explore it, and make several repeated trips to this mine, you start finding a few shiny bits of rock. Eventually you stop to appraise these shiny trinkets, and you realize that you?re sitting on a diamond mine. A Question of Loyalty: A Guidebook to Military Orders is that kind of product.
When I first looked at the product it left me cold. Ho-hum, I thought. It?s just a book about knights and templars. I suppose it might be useful if I wanted to run a low-magic crusader type game. But as I took my time reading, and began really looking at the systems developed in this book, I became more and more impressed with the wealth of material presented in this package. Clearly, if a crusader era, low magic game is what you?re looking for, then this is the product for you. However, even if you aren?t interested in crusades, or even knights and paladins, there is still a host of useful material for almost any campaign.
The color cover artwork by Ryan Rawls, Joshua Raynack and N.C. Wyeth is fitting, depicting a group of knights in matching livery. The cover is laid out in the by now familiar ?faux-tome? style, with leatherized texture surrounding the artwork. Gilded lettering, an ?embossed? seal and faux keyhole complete the design. It?s well done, and would certainly fit right in on a bookshelf next to the latest offerings from WotC. One page of credits, one age of advertising, and one page of Table of Contents/introduction lead off before we come to the bulk of the book.
It?s been said that RPG products live or die on crunch. Colorful flavor text is great, but if I?m not getting something mechanically new, then why bother? In this respect, A Question of Loyalty: A Guidebook to Military Orders does not disappoint. There is crunch aplenty in this book, and while it?s presented in the light of Alea?s default setting of Terra ? a Crusade era, Earth-like fantasy world, there are plenty of great parts that could be easily transplanted into any world. Appropriately enough, chapter one lays out the new rules used in A Question of Loyalty: A Guidebook to Military Orders. First up is the Class Template.
A Class Template functions much like any other inherited or acquired template. It is a set of statistics/abilities that are added to a qualified character in exchange for a Level Adjustment. The difference between a Class Template and a regular template is that the abilities gained via Class Template are applied to the character as he levels up. This is an excellent way to mirror the concept of a military order without having to design a prestige class. With Class Templates, any PC, no mater their class can operate as a member of the order, without dipping into multiclassing, or switching to a variant class. Want to play a Rogue with a heart of gold who serves as a scout for a group of Templars? Just add the appropriate Class Template and you?ve got a whole new twist on the character. For me, templates are one of the most creative parts of the d20 system, and this novel use of them is a real winner. As I said before, while the Class Template system is perfect for modeling military orders, it can be applied to far more than that. The system would also work well for modeling guilds, and even adventuring groups with a special focus. I know I?ll be getting a lot of mileage from this concept.
Another winner in chapter one is the system for Banking & Loans. Once again, this is a perfect fit for a book dedicated to military/crusading orders. Raynack rightly includes a brief history of medieval banking, noting the historical use of banking and lending by the Brotherhood of the Temple of Solomon. It?s always nice o see that an author has done his homework before presenting a book dealing with the subject. I have seen banking systems that require the DM to possess a degree in Business Administration to run. A Question of Loyalty: A Guidebook to Military Orders? system is much simpler, and ultimately more useable and fun. Aside from serving as a moneychanger, the main role of a bank is to offer loans. Loans are handled through the existing Skill, Feat and Level systems. Want to borrow 500 gp from your order? Take 5 ranks in the Loan skill. Pay it back and you get your skill points back to spend elsewhere. Want more money? Offering a Feat as collateral in conjunction with a few ranks in the Loan skill allows you to overdraft your account even further. Still need more cash? Take an Overdraft negative level and you can accrue some truly impressive debt! The system is simple and elegant. It is worth nothing that it does still require some monitoring by the DM. An unscrupulous player could take the Loan Feat in order to have cash to use now, then pay it off when he needs the Feat to qualify for a Prestige Class. While this may be a trifle unbalancing in some games, bear in mind that the PC is still operating without a Feat during this time. As long as the DM carefully monitors the use of this system, there should be no problems.
Sadly chapter one does contain a few clunkers. The Reputation & Fame rules are a nice idea, but really just boil down to the DM choosing to apply a situational modifier to social skills if your reputation is well known. And since situational modifiers aka Favorable & Unfavorable Conditions are a part of the core rules, this system doesn?t really offer anything new. The Multi-skill Check suffers from the exact same problem. While it makes sense that a few ranks in Survival might help someone making a Heal check in the wilderness, there?s no need for a new rules system to handle this. The section on Skill Synergies in the PHB specifically notes that the DM can add new synergies at will. Why complicate a perfectly useful system?
Chapter two dives right into the military orders themselves. Each of these features an appropriate Class Template full of new features for your characters. While many of these orders are based on standard, historical groups, there is plenty of accommodation made for fitting them into any fantasy game. Again, I was pleased to see the author using accurate history to lend flavor to his rules here. The Brotherhood of the Temple of Solomon historically was destroyed by tales of witchcraft. Here the author allows Knights Templar to chose to become dedicated foes of witchcraft, or worshipers of the dark forces themselves. The rules for this are well done, and could add a lot of interesting twists to a group working as part of this order. There are several purely fantasy based orders detailed as well. Need a military order dedicated to fighting undead? Try the Order of the Perpetual Day. There?s even a ?blank? order Class Template ready for DM?s to fill out and design their own military order.
Chapter three delivers thirty-four new feats, including a new class of feat ? the Order Feat. These feats are only available to a member of the appropriate military order. In the cases of some of the more powerful feats, like Divine Physician which allows you to cast any spontaneous cure spells as a free action, PC?s will need to be high ranking members of the order to qualify. The feats seem well balanced. While there are some such as Sudden Strike (add your initiative modifier to attack rolls vs. specific opponents) that are quite strong, they are all balanced with appropriate restrictions and limits.
Chapter Four sees the introduction of two new ten-level Prestige Classes ? The Grandmaster, and the Knight Commander. Both of these are really designed for high level play. The Grandmaster in particular being suggested as an Epic Prestige Class! This is completely appropriate. The Grandmaster is designed to be the head of a particular order. This character by his very nature must be a legendary figure. A PC can only enter this class if the previous Grandmaster is dead ? a ruling that evoked first edition nostalgia for me as I recalled the old named character levels and descriptions of challenging for rank. The Grandmasters abilities make him he supreme leader of his order. He can inspire his troops, and improve their combat abilities, even as they die to protect him. The Knight Commander is quite similar to he Grandmaster, but rather than a worldwide leader, the Knight Commander is instead the highest ranking member of an order in a single city. His abilities mirror those of the Grandmaster, with a few minor differences. Realistically, although it isn?t required, a PC should pass through Knight Commander before taking on the role of Grandmaster. These prestige classes are very much in the style the d20 designers originally intended. They are meant to evoke the atmosphere of a specific group, rather than just a set of new powers to tack on to a character. The roleplaying hooks connected to even becoming a Knight Commander of Grandmaster are truly grand. Not to mention the possibilities inherent in holding such a position.
Chapter five presents Remedies & Poultices, which are great ideas hampered by a clunky rules set. The concept behind these various liniments, compresses and poultices are to offer low magic games, or groups without a dedicated healer some access to rapid healing. It?s a great idea, and the actual concoctions themselves are well designed. Each mixture is detailed with the method of application, and the time needed to make it. The varieties of mixtures each allow healing for a specific type of wound. Falling damage requires a different treatment than wounds caused by acid, which in turn must be treated differently than burns. It?s a good idea, and one that makes sense in a world without a cleric to just ?kiss it and make it all better.? The problem is that these substances can only be created with a Multi-skill Check as detailed in Chapter One. It seems like the Mutli-skill Check was only designed for use with these materials. Here?s really no reason for it. Each of these potions could have just as easily been created with an appropriate Craft skill check.. Considering the the makers Heal ranks are sued to determine the duration and effectiveness of these substances, I just don?t see why Raynack felt the need to tack on a clumsy new system to their creation. It feels artificial. Fortunately, it?s a simple matter to just dump this system and use the standard DC?s listed with a normal skill check.
New Spells are outlined in Chapter Six, as well as a new system of Spell Augmentation. Spell Augmentation allows as caster to use special materials (usually herbs) to slightly enhance the effectiveness of a spell. These effects can only be brought about by a PC that has the appropriate class feature instructing them in this ability, or by a highly skilled scholar who researches these variations on casting. Each spell is listed, in standard format, along with the following additional information: The DC required to research the augmentation; the components required to effect the augmentation; alternative components that can be used with added difficulty, and the augmented effect each caster will receive modified by the caster?s level. It?s nice to see that the author included augmentations that will apply even into Epic level play. The spell augmentation system is a real gem, and will combine nicely with other d20 products that offer unique spell components to enhance spells.
Appendix one describes four new monsters, and two modified versions of the Vampire Template from the MM. The monsters are clearly designed for Alea?s default Terra setting. The Jackal, Dire Jackal, Scarab Beetle, and Spawn of Anubis all have an Egyptian flavor to them, as do the new Vampires. The Egyus Vampire summons different animals, and creates different spawn. It also has a different slate of weaknesses. Likewise the Romus (Roman) Vampire summons different beasts, and can assume different forms from a standard MM vampire. Again, the weaknesses are changed as well. These variant templates while clearly designed for a ?Cleopatra? style Rome vs. Egypt campaign could be a real surprise for any group of adventurers who think they are dealing with a ?normal? vampire.
Appendices two and three contain three maps. Two of these are aerial views of a keep and a castle. They contain no legends and are ready for a DM to label and drop into his existing campaign. The third map is an overland view showing an area controlled/contested by Templars and Teutogens. Again, it seems clear that this map is designed with Terra in mind, and has been labeled appropriately. The labels are vague enough that an enterprising DM could file the serial numbers off and use this map in his own campaign as well. It?s worth noting that each of the maps has been included as a high resolution JPG file. This will allow easy modification in any image editing software.
While most OGL disclaimers are fairly dry reads, it?s worth pointing out that Alea has embraced the OGL concept fully with this product. Under the open game content section on page 44 is mention that this book is to be accompanied by an ?Alea Publishing Group Reference Document? or APGRD. This file would contain only the open content found in A Question of Loyalty: A Guidebook to Military Orders, and is designed to allow publishers easy access to this material. While my review copy did not contain this document, this is an admirable feature, that really encompasses the spirit of the OGL, and I applaud APG for their efforts.
If you?re itching to run a Crusaders game ? don?t waste time. Buy this book now. There a mass of great information in this file, making it a must have if you are playing such a campaign. If the crusades aren?t your thing, this book still offers a lot of bang for your buck. Five bucks gets you a great system for designing new military orders, guilds, etc. as well as some excellent crunchy feats and a simple and elegant banking/lending system. While the spell augmentation system is slightly flawed by the Multi-skill check it?s easy enough to salvage, and useful enough to make it worth doing so. OL isn?t a shiny bag of easily grabbed gold. It?s a demanding read that you?ll need to mine to truly harvest its riches.
<br><br><b>LIKED</b>: The banking system is simple and elegant. The Class Template concept is a great way to build custom classes, especially for troublesome classes lke Paladin that otherwise have problems with mlti-classing.<br><br><b>DISLIKED</b>: The Multi-Skill check sysem is clnky, and unecessary. It adds uneeded complication to an otherwise great idea. The rules for Reputation and Fame were likewise more complex than need be. Good ideas, but clunky implementation.<br><br><b>QUALITY</b>: Very Good<br><br><b>VALUE</b>: Very Satisfied<br>