HEIRS TO HERESY
The trouble with Templars Designer: Alan Behr | Publisher: Osprey Games
The Knights Templar have barged their way into a unique cultural position over the past 700 years or so, bridging the gap between the historical and mystical, the martial and the divine. This blending and blurring of reality and fantasy is exactly what Heirs to Heresy aims to capture in a tabletop RPG, and – for the most part – it succeeds.
Rather than being a catch-all book for generic Templar adventures in the middle-ages, Heirs to Heresy is written and designed around a very specific type of campaign. Every game you run with the system opens up on the morning of Friday 13th, 1307, when the Templar order was denounced as heretical traitors and attacked by the French military. Within a few minutes of getting to the table, the players are pushed into the boots of some of the 30 knights to survive the initial purge, and tasked with ferrying a legendary treasure through deeply hostile territory to the safe haven of Avallonis.
While this simple premise may appear to limit the kinds of campaigns you run, the kicker is that Avallonis is never strictly defined. Depending on how the GM runs things and how events unfold over the course of a few months of gaming, it might be a term applied to friendly ports in England or Portugal. Or, it might refer to the entirely magical city of Avalon, or a magical alternate dimension.
This gives a huge amount of scope for the GM to run just the game they want. You could have one campaign see a group of desperate Templars battling through the Pyrenees, fighting off ruthless but otherwise mundane agents of the inquisition, and then leap into another where the party are divinely-powered heroes who need to raid a dragon’s hoard to open a portal to an eternally-sunlit Avallonis.
As a matter of fact, an awful lot of Heirs to Heresy is left up to the GM to work out and decide on their own. Players who are already familiar with the stories about the holy knights and are keen to fill in their favourite theories will revel in this aspect of the game. If you’re a mere dabbler, however, all the blank spaces on the metaphorical map can feel like more of a burden than an opportunity.
Regardless of how you approach the backstory, the heart and soul of the game is provided by a snippy little ruleset that will feel fairly familiar to anyone who has played Dungeons &
Dragons or one of its imitators. Skill tests and other moments of risk are handled by rolling some dice – a pair of ten-sided dice added together, rather than the more traditional twenty-sided die – and adding a couple of numbers representing the character’s skills and stats.
Everything flows reasonably well, with combat getting a nicely detailed set of special actions and abilities that add a decent tactical element to proceedings. Thankfully, the designers have dispensed with the pedantic approach to armour calculations and proper gambeson usage found in some quasi-historical games, and made things much more exciting and user-friendly.
Indeed, the game operates on the core assumption that the Templar characters have a certain level of baseline badassery. The vast majority of enemies they face in the field of combat aren’t even treated as individual threats, and are instead grouped up into mobs of cannon fodder that the Templars can wade through like so much screaming, bleeding corn. Only important enemies, such as rival knights or named NPCs, even get the distinction of even getting their own spot on the initiative tracker.
Is this level of butt-kicking historically accurate? Of course not. But despite its medieval trappings, Heirs to Heresy never claims to offer that kind of experience. It’s set in the 14th century, but gleefully ignores any aspects of the time that would make the game less enjoyable. Sometimes this means drinking water from the village well without worrying about dysentery, and others it means shrugging off the prejudices of the time to have a party of Templars who better reflect modern sensibilities.
Sadly, the rulebook itself is a little rough around the edges. There are a few striking errors here and there, some of the rules are confusingly written and – while this may sound petty – the absence of a useful index is surprisingly irritating when you’re at the table.
Still, none of these are dealbreakers, and if you’re happy to fill in the details of your own Templarian conspiracy theories, Heirs to Heresy can be a great way to fill two or three months of medieval gaming.
❚ PLAY IT? YES A neat, narrow-focused RPG with an intoxicating blend of the fantastical and historical.