The Knights of the Rose and Cross are one of several secret societies in Théah, societies that cross international borders and pursue their own agendas. The Introduction takes pains to comment that the information about the Knights given here are but one view of the society, and it is up to the GM to determine what is the actual truth in his game. This is what might be discovered by diligent investigation by individuals or the party, but it is unlikely that outsiders, or even regular members, will be able to find out all their secrets. To the casual observer, the Knights appear to be a mere gentlemen's social club, but of course there is much more for the discerning eye to discover...
Chapter 1: The Order makes a start, beginning with a section called The Public Face. The Knights do not hide away after all, and this section covers what most Théans know about them. This information should be available to any character who is interested enough to search it out. The society first came to light in 1613 with the publication of a pamphlet that explained the organisation as being a secret band of gentlemen dedicated to three Vows: to bring justice to the unjust, to protect those who cannot protect themselves, and to serve those who wore the sacred seal of the Order. The origins of this pamphlet, and the several that followed it, were unexplained, moreover it said that those who followed the Rose and Cross were invisible. passing unknown through society. The Vaticine Church was not impressed and went to great lengths in their unsuccessful attempts to track down whoever was behind it all. A few high-profile rescues of individuals from danger followed and then one day over one hundred highly-placed men put on badges bearing the rose and cross symbol... and by 1617 the Order was recognised by the Hierophant. Speculation continues, as they are still very secretive: you might know where one of their Chapter Houses is, but unless you are a member you may not enter. Like any such group, it's attracted those who want to publicise their secrets, and the work of one such investigator is presented here. Make of it what you please.
The next section is The Private Agenda, which comes with a warning that it ought not to be read by those whose characters are not members of the Order. It is far more ancient than the first public appearances of 1613, and here is a run-through of its origins and history. The Knights were both warriors and scholars. Students of history will note that the early history of the Knights of the Rose and Cross is similar to that of the real-world Knights Templars, woven through the history of Théah to make it appropriate to this setting, and of course continuing into more modern times, the Knights still being active in 1668. The actual nature and structure of the Order is discussed, along with details of life as a Knight. Ranks, secret codes, legends and more are covered, and this is followed by an entire section on the Order's resources. This includes a listing of chapter houses throughout Théah.
The next chapter is Hero, which contains details of many prominent Knights and other notables connected with the Order. Each comes with background details, stat block and role-playing notes, and there are sketches of most of them too. This is followed by Chapter 3: Drama, which provides apposite new rules material. There's a swordsman school available only to Knights, new advantages and even the game mechanics for establishing a chapter house. Other rules cover the extreme athleticism of the Knights, leaping roof to roof is commonplace - it would seem they enjoy parkour! Here are the rules for epic aerial, or at least rooftop, antics. The chapter finishes with notes on some unusual artefacts in the Order's possession.
Finally, Chapter 4: Knight contains material for Players and for Game Masters. The Player section peeks behind the scenes of the design process that went into the Order of the Rose and Cross, as well as a look at alchemical symbolism and chivalry as it is known in Théah. The GM section includes a brief scenario and other plot ideas, a complete chapter house, and a few secrets only briefly touched upon in the rest of the book. In essence, there's a complete quickstart campaign for those who want to run games in which the Order features large, indeed is central to the party.
There's a lot here to take in. It would be easy to dismiss it as derivative, but it is a lot more than that. Those who would adventure at sea have the Brotherhood of the Coast as a framework, the Order supplies similar structure for those who would swash their buckle on land. Knights don't need to search out adventures, they come to them almost automatically - and if there's any paucity of opportunity, a quick word with the Order's hierarchy will soon suggest something worth getting involved with. Indeed it can make a complete campaign with the party all members, perhaps working their way up through the ranks. Well worth including in your game as epic background, even if your players do not wish to become Knights, and if they do... it is the stuff of which 7th Sea adventures are made!
[5 of 5 Stars!]