Alignment: Lawful neutral, lawful evil, or neutral evil
Symbol: An iron gate with thorny vines growing over it; the vines bloom with black roses.
Discipline: A Black Thorn Knight may trade access to one martial discipline of his choice for access to the Black Seraph discipline.
Oath: During the course of their training, potential Black Thorn Knights are tasked with growing a rose bush; the flower blooms black and vibrant and is watered repeatedly with the Knight’s own blood. When the Knight is deemed ready by the order, a devil (traditionally an erinyes) is summoned to accept his oath. The fiend hears the Knight’s oath and swears a counteroath on the behalf of Hell, vowing to provide all due support and power to aid the Black Thorn Knight in his mission. A single rose is plucked from the bush the Knight grew and rooted in soil watered with blood from both the Knight and the devil; that rose is spirited away to Hell, there to be kept by the fiend as the visible symbol of his fealty.
“By my blood and soul do I swear myself as an ally to Hell against the many-faced forces of Chaos. I will revenge myself against those who wrong me, with an eye for an eye and blood for blood, and teach those who come to me seeking the tools to avenge themselves. From me my enemies shall experience neither mercy nor redemption, and I shall drive Chaos before me as the wolf drives the herd to stampede, until the day that I die or its taint is removed from the world.”
Allegiance Benefit: In addition to access to the Black Seraph discipline (exchanging a discipline of their choice), Black Thorn Knights enjoy a +2 profane bonus on saving throws vs. spells and abilities that originate from chaotic beings, as well as a +2 profane bonus on saving throws vs. mind-affecting spells and abilities.
A Black Thorn Knight who violates his oath (see above) loses access to his saving throw bonuses until he atones by sacrificing a sapient being to Hell, or else by punishing himself with fasting and flagellation for seven days. A Black Thorn Knight who ceases to meet the alignment requirements of his order, or who violates his oath and fails to atone within thirty days is in breach of his infernal contract – they lose access to the Black Seraph discipline, the rose kept in Hell withers and dies, and the Black Thorn Knight is marked for life as a debtor to Hell. Any lawful- aligned outsider or Black Thorn Knight in good standing who sees the Knight instantly knows them for an oathbreaker, and devils in particular know the nature of their crime.
A Black Thorn Knight may still leave the organization in one of two ways. He may breach his infernal contract (see above), or he may invoke the exit clause to leave peacefully, requiring (1000 x level) gold pieces worth of service to the Black Thorn or an equivalent donation. Leaving peacefully in this fashion does not guarantee further peaceful relations; indeed, most would-be retirees of the Black Thorns rightly fear death at the hands of their compatriots or agents of Hell.
Description: The Black Thorn Knights take the defense of civilization and lawful powers against chaos as their mission. If this was the full extent of the story they would not possess the fearsome reputation that marks this order; in pursuing the defense of law they actively seek out and destroy chaos, allying themselves with infernal powers to do so.
The Black Thorn is an ancient order, with roots reaching back almost to the dawn of ‘civilization’ as a concept separate from ‘wilderness’. Passed between the Knights is the story of the Black Thorn, a learned sage versed in both natural and arcane magics. When his fledgling city was threatened from without by the hordes of the Abyss, he made a mighty pact with Hell that saved his civilization and his world from the ravening hordes of demonkind. From this legacy the Black Thorn Knights arose, first as the guardians of the Black Thorn himself and then as an order in their own right, sworn to ally with Hell against the forces of chaos in all of their forms.
It is important to note that the Black Thorn Knights do not technically serve Hell. Certainly many of them choose to, and the phrasing of their oath leaves a lot of room for interpretation based around the word ‘ally’; they often cooperate with infernal powers and maintain contacts with diabolic cults that consider them close friends. However, the Black Thorn as a whole are expected to pro-actively hunt chaos and to spread their particular dogma of revenge without direct infernal aid. Most often a devil with an agenda will recruit local Black Thorn Knights by invoking their oaths, though the situation sometimes reverses itself with a devil otherwise occupied on a mission being sidelined to help the dark Knights with their own tasks.
The Black Thorn does not choose to keep itself a secret and has a checkered reputation throughout the worlds in which it operates. On the one hand their dedication to law and order is undeniable, and severe penalties await a Black Thorn Knight who flagrantly defies local law without ‘just’ cause. Evil and some neutral nations invite them as enforcers or mercenaries. Good-aligned nations are justifiably wary of them, but the Black Thorn considers the conflict between good and evil to be irrelevant in comparison to the chthonic war between law and chaos and, for the most part, behave themselves while in the employ of such nations. Their darker internal rituals and long-standing habit of trafficking souls still see them blacklisted in many places, and they run into frequent conflict with good-aligned churches wishing to contain their hellish taint.
Ultimately, the Black Thorn Knights are seen as industrious, loyal, capable individuals who can be trusted to follow their word in as ruthless, pitiless, and efficient a manner as possible. They recruit warriors who believe in law and order, or who come from lands ravaged by chaos, and the Black Thorn refuses to make apologies for opposing chaos regardless of the morality espoused by its adherents. From fortress-temples deep within defensible lands, they plot and scheme to turn back demons and celestials alike, destroy chaotic undead, conquer chaotic nations, and secure the forces of law and order for future generations. If others choose to frown upon their methods, the Black Thorn shrugs and carries on as it always has, confident that they are a necessary evil – or long past the point of caring.
Common Tasks: Though the Black Thorn is an ancient and widespread order it practices very little top-down leadership, instead preferring to assign a region or general task to a Knight (“Accompany the Brookbane Seven,” or “Guard the portal beneath the Bridge of Bones,” for example) and let that Knight accomplish the general mission of the order on their own initiative. Partially this is confidence in their training – the Black Thorn expects its Knights to be pragmatic, intelligent, and capable of sound judgment. A great deal of this hands-off approach, however, is due to the knowledge that other powers of law or evil will approach their Knights with opportunities, which the Knight then takes in order to indebt these individuals and organizations to the Black Thorn. An idle Knight is quite frowned upon, and they’re expected to find their own work.
Available Services: As a storied organization with direct connections to Hell, the Black Thorn is capable of trafficking in many magical services for its members – discounts on enchanted weapons and armor, access to indebted fiends, favors traded from (and to) infernal churches, and more. A Knight is expected to show results for these resources and may find them revoked if he is incompetent or, worse, lazy. Perhaps significantly the Black Thorn offers an avenue to buy and sell souls, and sometimes offers a way out for unfortunates whose loved ones have been entrapped in blood bargains; more than one Knight enters into training with the Black Thorn’s promise to purchase a loved one’s soul from Hell and grant it back to the victim in question. The order is very understanding about these situations and doesn’t mind facilitating such charity (even consistent charity) from its Knights if they continue to provide faithful and effective service.
Path of War, © 2014, Dreamscarred Press.