The Kreuzritter serve the Vaticine Church, swearing a fourfold oath of loyalty, charity, secrecy and faith. Yet delve a little deeper and you'll find there is more to them than staunch defenders of the faith (or religious thugs, depending on your point of view). There are reasons for why they are as they are, and they have their own agenda... based on a single question: why did the First Prophet condemn sorcery?
Chapter 1: Loyalty tells of their origins, their aims and objectives, their organisational structure and more. It begins with public knowledge, the information any Théan might know about the Kreuzritter or Black Knights. They started off as a bunch of healers set up in the Crescent Empire city of Zafara by a crusader and his wife, later expanding to include some peacekeepers to police the town and gaining recognition from the Hierophant as the Knights of the Cross (Die Kreuzritter) and being granted their distinctive badge of a black cross. They waxed rich and that, of course, attracted envy and hostility and eventually a successful attempt to bring them down amid accusations of heresy - so far, very much like the real-world tale of the Knights Templar. But we then move on to the secret history, with a firm warning that this should only be read by GMs and those playing a member of the Black Crosses. Basically, they were not wiped out as everyone thought, with connivance by the then Hierophant (yes, the one who had excommunicated them), and have continued for some 200-odd years after their supposed downfall. Various mysteries are revealed here which explain both how and why they became a secret society that stands firm in the shadows, defending the church, the faith and all mankind. We also read about the current way they are organised and how they recruit and train new members, and there's extensive discussion of their philosophy and beliefs (excellent resource for role-playing for the more reflective player!).
Then Chapter 2: Charity contains biographical notes on many members of the order - and some of their enemies - who will prove useful NPCs as the party interacts with the order. This is followed by Chapter 3: Secrecy, which has all the apposite 'rules stuff': a new Swordsman school suited to assassins, the special and unique sorceries the Black Crosses use (sparingly of course, as they hold sorcery to be evil!), various advantages of membership, and some extremely useful gadgets that members may borrow when undertaking a mission. This chapter ends with some rules for tracking, something Black Cross knights are extremely good at.
Finally, Chapter 4: Faith has sections for players and for GMs aimed at empowering effective use of the Black Knights in your game. It starts by discussing whether or not the Black Knights are evil. There are plenty of ideas about how to stay true to Kreuzritter ideals even when you are the only one in a party and may not, of course, even let on what you are. The GM section includes the dark secrets of all the NPCs introduced in Chapter 2, along with their stat blocks. There are also assorted secrets that you may or may not choose to reveal as the campaign proceeds, complete with ideas of how to use them in your game. There are also notes on running a campaign that focusses on the order, rather than having it as an adversary or just having a single member of the party belong to it.
This is an intriguing one. Starting out, as noted, as a pastiche of the history of the Knights Templar, it suddenly takes a sharp turn and builts a complete backstory and rationale that fits the setting of 7th Sea admirably well. A true secret society that most will never know anything about, you may question the book's use unless you have a player clamouring to join or want to run adventures involving them... give it a try and you could be in for some epic games!
[5 of 5 Stars!]