It is the nature of human beings to seek after the meaning of life and for many that means a belief in higher beings, deities if you will. The people of Théah are no different, and this work discusses their beliefs and explores how they can be used to effect in your game. To start with, people found solace and guidance from many gods until a man came declaring himself to be the Prophet of Theus, whom he said was the one true god and creator of everything. This caught people's attention and a whole religion grew up around his teachings, one which grew, flourished and fragmented over the centuries. Four main branches of this church are reviewed herein: Vaticine, Objectionism, Ussuran Orthodoxy and a newcomer, the Church of Avalon.
Chapter 1: The Word begins with a history of the Vaticine Church. It all began with the First Prophet, a fairly mysterious fellow, who travelled around with Nine Witnesses explaining about Theus and how he wanted people to study his creation and avoid sorcery. Three hundred years after the First Prophet was murdered, a Second Prophet appeared to address a church that had waxed fat in temporal power, rivalling many nations in wealth and influence. He came from the Crescent Empire with his own Nine Witnesses in tow and told them that the church had become corrupted. He laid out precise rites and rituals that should be followed, and urged people to avoid all seven deadly sins... but perhaps it was when he said people ought to avoid alcohol that they began to question what he said. The common people loved Theus but doubted that he wanted them to give up all earthly pleasures. Worse, the Second Prophet urged believers to separate themselves from the world by going back to the Crescent Empire with him. Forty thousand followed him... to their deaths.
As it was the Crescent Empire that had killed them, a Crusade was launched against them. There also was a lot of dissent amongst the various sects that believed in Theus, which were called together by the Imperator Corantine who demanded that they all agree on a common framework of belief and gave them a year to sort one out. They made it, just, and the Vaticine Church was born. It flourished and grew, establishing a hierarchy across the face of the globe, even as nation-states rose and fell. About seven hundred years later, someone claiming to be the Third Prophet appeared in Castille. He claimed that the church had again lost its way and needed to eschew sorcery and part ways with the Crescent Empire. Now there were a lot of people from the Crescent Empire in Castille and this soon led to the Second Crusade as war erupted. When it was over, the King of Castille built Vaticine City in honour of the Third Prophet... and said Prophet began an Inquisition to seek out heresy within the church. A minor squabble over which diocese a monastery belonged ended up in yet another war, with the Prophet saying the church should now be based in Vaticine City and the Hierophant still holding firm to his seat in Numa in Vodacce. Castille won out. The church flourished again... until the Objectionists arose, in Eisen, led by one Lieber who declared that you didn't need priests to worship Theus. There was fighting over that, too.
It's a magnificent sweep of history, ending with the state of the Vaticine Church in the present day, its organisation and a wealth of other details including vestments and ceremonies... and then we start in on a history of Objectionism which covers their development and beliefs including several sub-sects with differing opinions. If that's not enough, we next read of the rise of the Church of Avalon, a breakaway movement driven by politics (or at least the need of an Avalonian king to find someone on whom he could sire a child) rather than a difference in belief, and also about Ussuran Orthodoxy (although that's quite well covered in the Ussura sourcebook).
Next, Chapter 2: The Faithful contains an array of senior churchmen to use as NPCs, with background notes and sketches to help them come to life. This is followed by Chapter 3: The Sacraments which covers game mechanics and other details needed to make the church an integral part of your game. Perhaps you want to play a Priest or a Missionary? There are full details, along with new advantages and backgrounds, new Swordsman schools for the more, ah, vigorous proponents of the faith and some new equipment.
Last but not least, Chapter 4: The Light has a Player Section that looks at playing priests and also members of military religious orders and a GM Section that, amongst other things, explains who Theus really is! Or does it... Like many things in this game, it is ultimately up to the GM to decide, but there's a lot of helpful material here. There are also notes on running relgious-based campaigns, pagan religions and the low-down on all those NPCs we met earlier. Finally there are a selection of maps including Vaticine City, the Great Cathedral of the Prophets and a few generic religious structures.
This is a well-constructed religious system with loads of potential for making your game come to life. There's nothing like belief for getting some good role-playing going, especially with players who take the trouble to understand what their characters believe and who are willing to take it further than a note on the character sheet. OK, so in some places it is a bit derivative, but to just label the Vaticine Church the Catholics under another guise and so on does them a disservice. Embrace these as the faiths you'll find on Théah, rather than treat them as a pastiche of real-world religion, and make this aspect of life feature in your alternate reality.
[5 of 5 Stars!]