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Sunday, 30 August 2015

Your Templar Primer

The writer Graeme Davis is probably best known as being a co-designer of the seminal British fantasy RPG, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. He has of course worked on other books for other lines for other publishers, most as line editor for Colonial Gothic for Rogue Games. Amongst his other books is a number of sourcebooks for Osprey Publishing of which Knights Templar: A Secret History is one. Part of the publisher’s Osprey Adventures line where fact and fiction coalesce, this short guide is the second in the series that began with Ken Hite’s The Nazi Occult, continuing its exploration of myth, legend, secret histories, and conspiracy theories. Although the matter of its subject, that of the Knights Templar, is older and as presented in Knights Templar: A Secret History, far better intentioned, than that of The Nazi Occult, there is just enough of a connection to cross over between the two. Well, of course there is, the Knights Templar, their history and their legend is just too big a conspiratorial confabulation not to touch upon the Nazis…

This being a book about the Knights Templar means that the book starts with a conspiracy of its own. This is the death of the historian, Doctor Emile Fouchet, who was investigating the foundation and history of the Templars in an attempt to uncover their secrets before died. His notes, compiled by the author, are what form the basis of Knights Templar: A Secret History. The notes begin with the origins of the Templars before their foundation date, and then explore their foundation and rise to power before the French monarchy brought them low with charges of heresy. More importantly, it examines their ties to the Cathars and the Albigensian Heresies that informs their philosophy and creed and their objectives—a united peaceful state free of religious strife, but also the vessel of their teachings—the Holy Grail. This is what drives them again and again, first in the Near East, then in France followed by Scotland, pre-Colonial North America, and back to France for multiple attempts, to manipulate the affairs—ordinary and outré—of governments, secret societies, and more. All the while following or protecting the Grail.

These attempts are where Knights Templar: A Secret History begins to get interesting because what it sets up is a three-way hidden war between the Knights Templar, the Vatican, and the Freemasons. Spread throughout are juicy little details such as their survival in New France, how Benjamin Franklin aided the Templars despite his Freemasonry, what might have really going on in Rennes-le-Château, the Templars' links to the Habsburgs, and all that before coming almost up to date with Dan Brown. After all, one could hardly expect a discussion on the Templars to ignore The Da Vinci Code and pleasingly, Knights Templar: A Secret History does not do that. What it does do is relegate the Prieuré de Sion, The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, and The Da Vinci Code to nothing more than a sideshow, a smokescreen at best.

Knights Templar: A Secret History covers its subject matter quickly and easily. It is illustrated with a range of solid artwork and is accompanied by both a timeline and a bibliography. The latter is necessary given the brevity of the treatment. This is not to say that the book fails to cover the salient points of its subject matter, but rather that there is relatively little room for depth. It also means that there is no room for the application of its subject matter in gaming terms, so there are no plot seeds given or campaign ideas. Indeed, unlike other entries in the Osprey Adventures line, there are no suggestions as to what games might be applicable for running something based on Knights Templar: A Secret History.

Knights Templar: A Secret History is best used as an introduction to one of the biggest of conspiracies, and then as a source of ideas. A good overview then, but not much more.