Blackthorn and Tremere 5th edition

On this forum, I occasionally hear that Heirs to Merlin can be used as a 5th edition book, except for the way Blackthorn is represented. Can someone explain this exception? I have read Heirs to Merlin (HtM). I have not finished Against the Dark (AtD), though I own it. But I still do not see how Blackthorn (as described in HtM) violates the spirit of Tremere magi.

Note: I have only really played 5th edition, so I may need a little hand holding for 4th edition to 5th edition changes.

Many people here seem to think that 5e Tremere are “good guys” because they just want what’s best for the Order and ignore that their authoritarian methods are still the same. Blackthorn are set up as unambiguous “bad guys” while 5th ed Tremere are more set up as ambiguously-good guys.


In addition to the general "Blackthorn are unambiguous bad guys, 5th edition Tremere are rather more nuanced and interesting" issue, there are a number of specific ways Blackthorn doesn't really match the 5e Tremere:

  • Blackthorn is secretive about bizarre stuff - phrases like "It is generally believed that there is a strict hierarchy within the covenant, but the details are not known to anyone outside it" and "Goliard filia Flumen is, apparently, the leading light of Blackthorn. If she is not the leader of the covenant, the members are engaged in an elaborate charade to make sure that people think she is" don't fit 5e Tremere's vision of a military organisation with a clear command structure. In addition 5e Tremere have a tendency to be clear and open about their overarching goals (even if they don't publically share every tactical detail) because they want to persuade people that they're right and should join them (see e.g. AtD 24 on Openness).
  • 5e Tremere support Hermetic governance and law working well. They may often have slightly different views as to what "working well" means to other magi of the Order (see their various attempts to "reform" the Theban and Hibernian tribunals, and the set-up of Translyvania), but the inquorate mess that was the Stonehenge tribunal under Blackthorn's domination prior to recent changes is definitely not it. You can sort of argue that Blackthorn didn't actually like the previous situation (I don't think it's that clear cut), but they don't seem to have done much to solve it, which they probably could have done by encouraging the seeding of a few more covenants themselves.
  • Linked to the previous point, 5e Tremere (as portrayed in Against the Dark in particular) tend to prefer deal making to maintain co-operation over brute force domination - see the discussion in AtD pg 24 about Coercion vs Co-operation and on pg 56 about mediation at tribunal. Whilst 5e Tremere may use Coercion to some extent, Blackthorn seems to be nothing but.
  • Their history with Taglyn (founding the covenent, then later when it was convenient for them invading it, taking it over and driving out the survivors) doesn't seem very 5e.

In my game, Blackthorn is where the vampire Tremere (hinted at in Against the Dark) incident took place. Blackthorn still has the psychic scars, and the rest of House Tremere are giving them room to heal and fix things up.

Though after all this time, IMS Coeris is looking to discretely assist them without looking like they are undermining fellow Tremere.

As ever your mileage may vary in your saga, but I found it interesting to play around with the idea of Blackthorn being "unambiguously" the bad guys. The player covenant was deliberately set up by Voluntas provocatively close to Blackthorn, with some newly gauntleted magi who weren't likely to be especially tactful in the face of belligerence. Unfortunately for this plan to get Blackthorn to further trash their own reputation, one of the magi who came from elsewhere was adept at politics, and undermined everything by being reasonable. It turns out that when neither Julia nor Golias are part of discussions, nothing outrageous happens.

1 Like

I don't think we should exaggerate the difference between editions. Tremere was never unambiguously the bad guys. After all, players were supposed to play magi of all twelve houses side by side in a covenant, and with unambiguous bad guys, that could never work. It is rather the players, with their modern and fairly democratic mindsets, who find Tremere rather offensive and make them bad guys. What 5ed does is to give more and better advise on how to resolve the ambiguity and make Tremere playable.

The challenge in playing Blackthorn by 4ed canon is not a 5ed update, but to figure out the role Tremere will have in the saga in general. Tremere remains difficult to play constructively with the other houses, and ambiguities remain to be resolved. Most sagas work around this by not playing Tremere at all, but when you decide to play by Heirs of Merlin that's hardly an option.

I agree with @Rhodri that Blackthorn could be the bad guys even if Tremere is not, but that gives a different ambiguity to work out. Have they gone completely rogue? Or do they somehow fit into the Tremere scheme in their own peculiar way?

(There is a second point which is difficult with 4ed canon. Stonehenge have about five redcaps who serve every covenant every other month, and they retire very early. Thus they do not get their two free seasons stipulated in 5ed and they do not use longevity rituals which have become standard and a lot more powerful since 4ed. They all have leap of homecoming devices. Do they really get them all custom made? Or do they warp quickly? This is of course easier to fix, but it requires some thought.)

In fact my players seem to have come to the conclusion that it is Julia and Voluntas they need to watch out for, not Blackthorn!


I seem to remember that I had that impression when I read Heirs to Merlin too. Julia did not stop her quest for more power when she had broken Blackthorn's dominance.