In Heirs to Heresy, you are one of only thirty remaining Knights Templar. The year is 1307 and the King of France has ordered your arrest. It is up to you and your fellow knights to get your order’s sacred relics out of Paris and to safety.
Setting And Background
A campaign of Heirs to Heresy begins in Paris on Friday the 13th of October 1307. The GM chapter suggests three potential destinations: England, Portugal, and Malta. As such, a campaign will usually take place across 14th century Europe. The book provides a map of this region as well as some information about certain nations and their attitude towards the Knights Templar.
The reader and players of the game are firmly encouraged to not take any of its contents as historical fact. The GM is given a list of potential “truths” about the Knights Templar of their campaign (such as how they rose to fame and the real reason the King of France targeted them), based on existing conspiracies. Moreover, the GM has the choice of whether to include magic.
The background paragraphs are approachably written and the campaign creation sections are presented in a way that makes it easy for the GM to mix and match locations, factions, and the nature of the order and its relics.
Attributes And Skills
A character sheet is made up of Attributes and Skills. Attribute scores are assigned using one of two arrays, and Skills are bought with points. Additional stats, such as a character’s attack modifiers or health, are derived from Attributes and Skills.
The Faith Attribute is particularly important.
Faith represents your character’s belief in the higher powers of the universe, and it determines how many Faith points you can have. Faith points can be spent in-game to your character’s advantage, for example to gain re-rolls, add your Faith to a roll, or make special items or powers stronger.
Flavour And Relationships
Players are asked to consider the background of their characters, particularly how far they have travelled, how spiritual they are, and whether they have seen combat - all concerns that can shape how they react to the challenges met throughout the campaign.
Each player also answers relationship questions about two other characters.
An especially interesting part of character creation is that each player tells the GM what the ideal scenario would be for their character’s death. I think that’s a really cool tool for showing how the player sees their character’s trajectory and values, which the GM can use to shape the campaign.
When a character’s failure would be interesting, players must pass Tests. These are done by rolling 2d10 and adding a relevant Skill and Attribute.
If both dice roll the same number, that’s a critical success. Criticals are the only way to gain Advancement points (which let you power up your characters’ stats as well as other things).
In regular combat, player characters have two actions per round, used to move, attack, use skills, defend another character, etc.
There are two types of enemies: Mobs and Fearsome Foes. Mobs only act if a player character’s action is unsuccessful, whereas Fearsome Foes have two actions the same as player characters. Initiative order is created each round by drawing tokens from a bag. Additionally, there are rules for Mass Battle, where each army tallies up Army Points depending on a number of factors and divides these between units.
Each player is in charge of a specific unit, trying to reduce the points of opposing units to 0. Additionally, one player is the Army Commander, who has special orders they can issue to any unit. Mass Battle takes place on a battle map divided into zones and is designed to feel like a strategic board game.
There are rules and tables for determining the obstacles of travelling on and off road, and for deciding how safe camping near and away from other people is.
Playing The Game
The game mechanics are easy to learn and character creation is quick and straightforward.
There are no classes or similar character types in this game, but characters can be made more distinct and specialised with Gifts (special abilities gained as the campaign progresses).
The game is stacked in favour of the player characters, and combat, especially against mobs, is quite easy. That said, it never feels like there is no challenge, and the random initiative order helps to keep the players on their toes and the enemies dangerous.
For tests out of combat, players are encouraged to aid each other, which is both a fun mechanic and sets up character interactions. From a GM perspective, the introduction session provided by the book is quick to read, easy to run, lets the players become familiar with the key mechanics, and sets the stakes for the rest of the campaign.
Planning sessions beyond the introduction requires a good bit of research and preparation if you want the 14th century set to shine, and the book only provides general guidance. But if you are interested in (or knowledgeable about) this part of history, this could be a very satisfying game to run.
Controlling enemies and other NPCs are made simple with concise info boxes for each type, and by the fact that outside of combat, no NPC has a stat-block. They simply roll 2d10 + the number of player characters in the scene.
Our main issue while playing came from Mass Battle. Units deal damage based on their commanders’ Battle stat, but the book does not provide any guidance on how to decide these for enemy army units commanded by NPCs, who do not have stats.
Moreover, as there are no dice rolls involved in Mass Battle, playing through one felt like once the Army Points were calculated and divided, the outcome was already determined, regardless of the orders given.
Discomfort With Premise
The Foreword to Heirs to Heresy informs the reader that the Templar iconography has often been co-opted by hate groups and that neither these groups nor any other expression of hate is welcome to or in the game - an explicit statement that is both good and necessary in a game with this kind of subject matter.
Any game of Heirs to Heresy will, of course, be entirely fictional. Most characters will not be based on historical figures, and the GM can add any number of magical rituals and creatures.
That said, the game is set at a specific time, to tell a story about a specific set of people, which makes it worth considering the historical framework. Specifically, the religious climate of the time and the implications this has for the world view of the player characters, the heroes of the story whose goodness, as per the premise, stems from their specific faith.
If any of this kind of framing is uncomfortable to you, then you are unlikely to enjoy the game as written.
Heirs to Heresy is an easy-to-start and simple to learn the roleplaying game with a focus on combat and journeying. If you like the questing and fighting parts of Dungeons and Dragons but either would like a more historical setting (with the possibility of some, albeit rare and difficult, magic), or would like a system that accommodates the same kind of martial play but with simpler rules, this is a good option.