Living up to their motto of 'Truth Before Adversity,' the Invisible College works - sometimes in secret and sometimes hidden in plain sight - to ensure that no knowledge or discovery is lost dispite the efforts of some members of the Church to quash that which seems to transgress their views.
Beginning with a short story about how one man's discovery of the spectrum seen through a prism led to a brutal attack on his laboratory, the Introduction explains the current state of affairs, with the Inquisition eager to quell any idea they deem heretical while scientists naturally wish to push the limits of knowledge ever further. In order to protect both people and ideas, the loose organisation known as 'the Invisible College' has sprung up - sometimes issuing warnings to unsuspecting scientists, sometimes whisking them away to safe havens where they can continue their work, sometimes arranging for ideas and inventions to enter public knowledge in defiance of the Inquisition. Sometimes devices are kept secret, and used in their struggle.
The first chapter, Hypothesis, decribes the history, background and development of the Invisible College. There are a core group, some two dozen folk, who until a scant few years ago were popular heroe, as science was a fascination for many outside of laboratory or university circles. The Inquisition attempted to blacken their names, but met with limited success. Some of these folk are still able to operate more or less publically, others are living the life of fugitives. Each is described in some detail, with his background, ideas and inventions - so if the characters encounter him or his ideas, you'll be in a good position to relay the necessary information. Their work covers the whole gamut of knowledge: medicine, astronomy, physics, chemistry, mathematics, psychology as well as more practical inventions. Rather nicely, only 21 are provided, leaving scope for the GM to provide 3 leading scientists of his own devising.
The next part covers the 'private agendas' of both the College and some of its leading figures... and carries a warning that those who are not playing members of the Invisible College might do better skipping this bit. Even those who are might prefer to discover this information during play rather than by reading it all at once. It explains the early history of scientific thought on Theah, leading up to the formation of the Royal Fraternity for Scientific Minds in Avalon (later the Royal Association) which eventually formed the nucleus of the Invisible College - its original purpose being more to censor knowledge and ensure nothing dangerous became public, rather than its current role which developed over the past seven years as the Vaticine Church stepped up its opposition to so-called 'heretical' research.
Then we hear about the ways in which the Invisible College works: cataloguing all new discoveries, watching out for potential members and inventions that are potentially dangerous, and keeping an eye on the Inquisition. There are also details of the Five Mysteries - the main College-wide research projects - which are only known about by those involved. This chapter ends with notes on the College's underlying philosophy, its organisation, and ways of functioning; along with its relations with other organisations throughout Theah... and details of some of the safe houses available for members' use.
The second chapter is called 'Theory' and deals with some of the most important folk in the College, the ones that characters are likely to hear about or meet. These include scholars, supporters and the key figure, Alvara Arciniega and his followers - brilliant but unpleasant and practitioners of something called Blood Science. Sorcerers are advised to avoid him...
The next chapter, Experimentation, contains the rules necessary to run the Invisible College in your game. Characters may start play as members, or seek out the College during the course of the game. There's a new Swordsman School, the Bonita School, available to members; its style is based on defending oneself against several opponents while watching for an opportunity to escape. Characters may also take the Skill of Professor, and several College-based backgrounds such as having a theory or invention to their name - they are encouraged to develop their idea so that it can feature during the game. There is also a bunch of advantages. There are detailed rules for inventions, so scientifically-oriented characters can work their way through the process during play. There's a whole selection of inventions - sensible and bizarre - for you to make use of as well... and for those who wish to try it, full details of the operation of Blood Science.
The final chapter, 'Proof,' is divided into sections for players and for GMs. The players' section includes notes on how to develop and play an effective scientist-hero or on creating a character suited to playing a supporting role - bodyguard, spy, artisan or courier - in the College. The GM section lets out even more secrets, including statistics and background notes (including their dark secrets) on key figures in the College; details of Blood Science and the White Plague that even College scientists don't know yet... and full details of the Inquistion's organisation and methods of operation.
This is an excellent sourcebook for adding depth to a game, taking it beyond mere swashbuckling piracy and derring-do and providing, if nothing else, a 'cause' for those who do wish to swash their buckles!
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[5 of 5 Stars!]