||Secret Societies is a 104 page pdf product that provides a comprehensive guide to secret societies - their use, nature, beliefs, history and much more. It's a topic that's not been covered in any detail in d20 so far, and as such the pdf provides a fresh new look at an intriguing idea with a lot of potential for use in game. Written by Landon J. Winkler Secret Societies is a pdf that encompasses three genres - fantasy, modern and science fiction - and all three genres are considered throughout the course of the pdf.
The product zip files come with a screen and a print version, the latter with only the borders and background removed, but with all the art still contained within the pdf. Layout and editing is good, with only a few minor errors noticeable when reading through the text. The art is good as well - a little bit grainy when viewed on a high resolution screen, but otherwise it presents a good look at the concept of secret societies. Most of the art appears geared to a more modern approach, while the text itself appears more geared towards fantasy. Overall, though, all genres are considered, each providing a number of different options for a particular genre.
Secret Societies is divided into five main chapters, the first being a brief introduction. The second details secret societies in gaming and covers an extensive range of topics. The third provides a comprehensive guide to six real-world secret societies with ample detail on using these societies. The next chapter takes a brief look at a wide range of other societies taken from the real-world, while the last chapter is a guide to creating secret societies for your game.
The pdf certainly covers all areas of secret societies, and provides enough detail to make these societies work in your d20 game. In some areas the text could've been more succinct, particularly when describing the goals, motivations and principles of the various societies presented (although these are supposed to be secret so perhaps these aren't even thoroughly known), but otherwise this is an extensive product which most DMs and players will find extremely useful for its mainly flavor content and ideas (there is some crunch or game mechanics in the form of several feats and six new prestige classes).
Secret Societies in Gaming - this chapter provides extensive and solid advice on running secret societies in a game. Topics covered across three genres include such things as the teachings of a secret society, revealing secret societies in game, control levels of secret societies or the extent of their control in any given game world, PCs as part of secret societies, secret societies as enemies, neutrals or even PC-run, and various other topics such as conflict in secret societies and society expansion. I found this chapter thoughtful, well-researched and absorbing with plenty of good ideas and useful material. Perhaps a bit vague here and there, but a lot of good material that focuses on roleplaying and advice. A lot of the advice fits the standard concepts of secret societies but is placed on a more solid and formal footing. DMs can get extensive ideas from this chapter for use in game.
Six Secret Societies in Depth - As the title of the chapter suggests, this chapter looks in depth (and it means in depth!) at six real-world societies. These are the Assassins, Aum Shinrikyo, the Freemasons, the Knights Templar, Mossad, and the Thule Society. This is a fascinating read, and I wish in some places the author had included more details and in others less. The material is well presented and well researched, with little a stone unturned. Each entry for a secret society covers a wide range of topics including society philosophy, history, symbols, advice on using the society in game and different ways in which to use them, running the society in fantasy, modern and science fiction settings, plot hooks and ideas, and an example society based on the real-world society.
It's thorough, detailed and with lots of neat ideas, although in some cases much of the material can appear as irrelevant to gaming, but still interesting from a historical perspective. The wealth of material allows one to customise these societies to fit into any setting, and the large number of ideas allows for any number of different avenues of approach when dealing with each society. Given the background information there's more than enough to provide DMs with all they need to run a good secret society based on these, or even using these as is. One of the lines that stands out from the pdf is 'a secret society consists of people' and this chapter gives good real-world examples of what that means.
Each entry is also presented with a prestige class. These were somewhat uninspiring and mechanically 'bland' and certainly could've done with more unique ideas (the Thule Sorcerer is probably the best for its unique 'spellcasting' system). Loading a class with bonus feats or spell-like abilities doesn't make for a unique class and I would've appreciated something more from these classes. Nevertheless, these are but a small portion of an extensive and imminently useful chapter with some fascinating material.
Societies in Brief - This chapters looks at an extensive range of other societies, including a brief few paragraphs on each society describing their nature, origins and goals. For those that couldn't get enough ideas from the preceding chapter, this adds plenty more. In some sense this is even more useful than the previous chapter since many of these societies are smaller and not as overwhelming as the larger ones of the preceding chapter. DMs that wish to use these in villages or small towns will find loads of ideas and advice. Some of the societies presented (more than 25) include the Bavarian Illuminati, the Knights of Malta, the Men in Black, the Merovingians, and the Yakuza.
Creating Secret Societies - This last chapter looks at creating secret societies and covers this aspect from three different angles - customising a real-world society, handcrafting a society, or generating a random society. Good advice is given, and in the latter case numerous tables are provided to determine such details as complexity, age, and which events have been relevant to the societies' past or history. I found this extremely useful and even creating random societies comes up with some interesting concepts.
This pdf provides numerous examples and extensive details on creating secret societies and using them in game. Those interested in a little mystery, intrigue or extensive subterfuge that secret societies entail will find this a very useful product. While one may not want to use a secret society as such, this pdf contains so many ideas that the material here can easily be used in a non-secret society manner. Given that the pdf caters for three different genres, the material is even more useful.
LIKED: Extensive detail, fascinating examples and complete details on all aspects of secret societies. The pdf succeeds very well at creating a compelling guide to conspiracies and secret societies. A very good pdf with tons of ideas and background material for use in a wide variety of games. Good artwork and presentation.
DISLIKED: The prestige classes were uninspired and could've been done better, and there were one or two places where the text could've been more succinct.
QUALITY: Very Good
VALUE: Very Satisfied
[4 of 5 Stars!]