The premise is simple: four vampires are not only trapped in their undead state but held by the power of a sentient and malignant artefact, the Crimson Altar... you may drop the lot entire into your game, or use any of the individual vampires as something with a bit more personality than your average blood-sucking leech, as stat blocks at a wide range of levels are provided to meet just about everyone's needs.
At the moment there are just four Brethren (well, one is a 'sister' rather than a 'brother' but you know what I mean), but apparently the number can fluctuate if they invite another vampire to join or one is laid to final rest. Each has their own objectives as well as their allegiance to the Crimson Altar of Kulan-Wyr, which has seduced them with promises of ultimate freedom to act as they please. A lot of thought has gone into each one, with a background that shows some of their life before they became vampires as well as the interests and ambitions that they have retained or developed in unlife. Each was obviously quite a powerful 'character' (or NPC) before becoming undead: having levels in classes such as bard, wizard, fighter or rogue (the precise number depending at what level you require them) and the skills to match. A lot of the time, they go their separate ways - just as well, one of them alone poses quite enough threat never mind if they all ganged up on a bunch of characters all at once! Their diversity of interests will suggest various ways in which they may cross your characters' paths. For example the former wizard one likes collecting esoteric reference material while the rogue still likes stealing - either might have their eyes set on an item your characters covet or already possess. And one does go in for the sort of mindless debauchery of the 'classic vampire' and may attract the attention of the authorities or the more publically-spirited sort of characters.
Even better is their mindset. They aren't given to overt attacks, but are more likely to make life difficult for any characters that they feel are beginning to intrude. Framing them for crimes, sending them on pointless quests or even setting up an enthralled vampire (with his own lair) to take the fall for any suspicions of vampiric activity your characters might suspect: all these tactics and more are in their armoury. They don't care for it to be known just what they are, but have plenty of resources other than purely vampiric abilities with which to defend themselves when the need arises. Each has their own base of operations - probably in the same township for ease of cooperation - as well as access to the remote ruined fortress where the Altar itself is hidden. And of course the Altar has its own plans and ambitions...
Indeed the Crimson Altar has its own dark history and it may be this, rather than the well-camouflaged activities of the Brethren, that first attracts your characters' attention. It doesn't just like blood sacrifice, it needs it to further its aim of breaking down the barriers keeping Death itself away from the living world, hoping that one day sufficient sacrifice will have been made. How close it is to its objective is left to you to decide. It has its own skeletal guardians, which are also detailed, should anyone get close enough to pose a threat. There's also a run-down of standard vampire habits and tactics before each of the four Brethren is presented in copious detail: everything you require to run them not just as adversaries in combat but as full-fledged participants in the alternate reality you're creating in your game world.
Finally, if all that has not already been presented has not spawned enough ideas of how to incorporate the Brethren into your game, there's a whole section of encounter suggestions. They work better, though, if you study the individual vampires' backgrounds and ways of operating, and embed them in a township that the characters frequent long before any hint of the presence of such evil beings comes to light. Who knows, the characters might even ask the one that ostensibly earns her keep as a sage about the vampiric threat! Plenty of scope is provided in all the encounters, and each lays out options and all that's necessary to run them effectively in a clear and concise manner.
All in all, this is an excellent resource and could provide materials for several adventures if not an entire campaign or plot arc... beautifully-detailed Bad Guys who not only provide opposition but become an integral part of your game world.
Return to Brethren of the Crimson Altar page.
Reviewed: 25 October 2010