Review: Fantasy Flight Games – Blood of Martyrs (Dark Heresy)

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Dark Heresy: Blood of Martyrs
Blood of Martyrs is a sourcebook for the gothic sci-fi, space opera system Dark Heresy based in the Warhammer 40K universe published by Fantasy Flight Games and written by Andy Hoare, Owen Barns, Robert Dempsey, Lee Gunby, and Michael Surbrook.
By Aaron T. Huss

Blood of Martyrs is the latest sourcebook for Dark Heresy, delving deep into the core of the Adeptus Ministorum, or Ecclesiarchy. While it may seem that this simply expands upon the Cleric and Battle Sister careers, it does much more than that by presenting players with the opportunity to play outside of the Inquisition. Blood of Martyrs not only expands upon faith-themed careers, but it also allows players to become Initiates within the Ecclesiarch setting out on a mission of faith (or righteousness or whatever Ecclesiarch theme they desire).

The book also opens up new possibilities for careers ranks that represent trials and tribulations with the Ecclesiarch in the employ of a Cardinal or within his/her diocese. There is a wealth of fluff to expand the Warhammer 40K universe and allow players to better understand the role the Ecclesiarch takes within society. This gives players the background and knowledge needed to become fully immersed within the Ecclesiarch as an Initiate (the Ecclesiarch equivalent of an Acolyte).


A big part of the Warhammer 40K universe is its fluff, and every Dark Heresy book has at least one section of fluff. A Million Worlds, One Emperor is the fluff section of Blood of Martyrs giving you a complete look at the Ecclesiarch from its beginnings to its current standings within the Calixis sector. This is highlighted by the longer period of time known as the Age of Apostasy where the Ecclesiarch has a waxing and waning foothold (during its “infant” years).

This section covers much of what is necessary to better understand the Ecclesiarch, Imperial Creed and the impact of faith within the Imperium. This includes a look at the high-level hierarchy of the Ecclesiarch and the main cardinals within the Calixis sector (known as the Sector Synod Cardinals). Throughout this section, the reader is drawn away from the life of the Inquisition and into the world of the Ecclesiarch and how its missions and quests are just as epic as those within the Holy Ordos. This plants the seeds for running an Ecclesiarch adventure or campaign rather than an Inquisitional one. These fluff chapters are always my favorite as the Warhammer 40K universe expands right before your eyes (metaphorically of course).


Now that you understand the fluff, it’s time to put that to use. Paths of the Righteous presents in-game mechanics for bringing the Ecclesiarch into your adventures and campaigns. This starts with three new Homeworld/Origins: Shrine Worlds (those who originate from one of the few shrine worlds), Famulous Protege (noble liaisons from the Order Famulous), and Monastic Upbringing (those raised directly within one of the Ecclesiarch’s facilities). Moving on there are a number of new background packages for a variety of characters (five total). Next are the Ecclesiarch alternative ranks which are a bit limited, primarily being focuses upon Clerics with a few other careers sprinkled in. While there are only six new alternative ranks, some carry the Faith Talent advance which can be taken multiple times throughout the rank advancement of that character. I should mention that these alternative ranks are pretty cool ranging from a strong willed confessor to the over-zealous witchfinder. The last new addition is the idea of creating Ecclesiarch cell directives, which basically give the Initiates a group-oriented focus as to what their strengths are (four total).


The Adepta Sororitas (Sisters of Battle) started life (within the Ecclesiarch) as the Brides of the Emperor. This section delves deeper into the careers within the Adepta Sororitas including the non-militant ones. While the Battle Sister is the standard build, alternative ranks are introduced which cover: Seraphim, Celestian, Sister Repentia, Sister Dialogous (similar to an Adept), Sister Famulous (also similar to an Adept), and Sister Hospitaller (the healers). This really expands upon the Battle Sister career similar to how the previous section expands upon the Cleric career.


Along with the Adepta Sororitas, The Inquisitor’s Handbook introduced the Faith Talent (talents which are triggered through Fate points and carry a faith or righteous theme). Blood of Martyrs drastically expands upon Faith Talents with around 30 new talents under three different categories. These categories group the talents into the underlining purpose of the action (such as protecting against His enemies) and creates focus for a characters “abilities” (using the Faith Talents). These are great new mechanics and really help to flavor an adventure or campaign that is primarily Ecclesiarchy-themed or one where the player’s are Ecclesiarchy Initiates.


Reliquary is a selection of new ranged and melee weapons along with some armor and various gear. Most of this is geared toward the new Adepta Sororitas ranks. In addition, there are a number of “servitors” that are used within the Ecclesiarch listed within. This includes arco-flagellant, penitent engine, archivist, and more.


Now that you have the fluff and the in-game mechanics, Ecclesiarchy Campaigns pulls it all together with some adventure seeds for running Ecclesiarch adventures or campaigns. This includes a look at the Ecclesiarch versus the Inquisition and how they view each other. To further flesh out these ideas, a full Shrine World, Piety of Seth, is fully described and detailed within the last several pages of the book. While I love the amount of detail, there is no map to correspond with the written descriptions which can make landmarks difficult to visualize geographically. Dark Heresy has this issue regularly and I would love to see further source material including a map.


If you’re ready to take your game out of the Inquisition and into the hands of the Ecclesiarch, then this book is a definite must have. If you’re looking to create unique Clerics and Battle Sisters, then this book is a definite must have. If you want to focus upon other characters and stay within the ranks of the Holy Ordos, then there’s still a bunch of great fluff in this book that helps to plant the seeds of encounters and various other tasks that can occur during a standard adventure or campaign. While it not only expands upon the Dark Heresy system, it also expands upon the Warhammer 40K universe bringing tons of value to the book itself.


Publication Quality: 9 out of 10
The Dark Heresy series is always filled with great content, beautiful illustrations, an easy-to-read layout, and a wonderful presentation. However, one thing which I would normally overlook is proofreading mistakes. Being a large publisher and capable of hiring great editors, a high number of proofreading mistakes should not be found, but there were many. Sometimes they got in the way so badly that I struggled to understand what the sentence meant. While it doesn’t seem like a big deal, a large-scale game producer should not have so many obvious proofreading mistakes. But do not let this sway your decision in determining the books quality. It still follows the high-standard all Dark Heresy books display.

Mechanics: 8 out of 10
I’m a fan of source material and options (especially character creation options). Blood of Martyrs does a fantastic job of presenting players with new options and background information. However, some of these new mechanics are implemented in a very broad fashion such as the Faith Talents. There are many available and the alternative ranks simply state that you can take any of them desired. While I understand the purpose, it can create characters that are less and less unique the higher they go in rank. Lower rank characters are very unique from each other, but the more they advance, the more options that are available that result in the same options available for other characters.

Another small complaint I have is that alternative career ranks still utilize the same skills and talents that other standard career ranks and other alternative career ranks have available. There are no new mechanics that make them different other than their starting bonuses, penalties and available options. As stated before, the higher in ranks the more the characters “look” alike. I love the new mechanics and they fit in perfectly with the way the system is designed, I just don’t like how the implementation follows the lack of uniqueness within higher-rank characters. It’s almost as if there are just too many options available for each character that makes it possible to create characters that are alike even within different careers.

Value Add: 9 out of 10
Blood of Martyrs is a great addition to anyone’s Dark Heresy collection. With the ability to choose from new career ranks and lots of Ecclesiarch options, it opens up a wealth of opportunities and takes the game in a new direction, away from its simple Inquisition roots. In fact, the biggest value add is adding the Ecclesiarch to the system and thus creating new adventure and campaign ideas.

Overall: 9 out of 10
Whether you’re looking to increase your Warhammer 40K fluff knowledge or want to take your game in a new direction, Blood of Martyrs covers so many aspects of the Ecclesiarchy. There’s so many things you can do with this book (player and GM) that it is pretty much a must have. New career ranks, more fluff, new backgrounds, new gear, new Faith Talents and a detailed Shrine World, Blood of Martyrs is a great sourcebook.

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