Holy crap when I asked for and got Dark Albion I wasn't expecting the breath and scope of this sprawling setting book that you can easily get lost in. I received the review pdf copy of The Dark Albion Setting Book By Rpg Pundit & Dominique Crouzet this morning. I've been devouring it ever since, imagine if the War of Roses was being fought in a low magic but heroic world of witchcraft, sorcery, warfare and violence in the middle of one of the more complicated periods of English history. This is not our world. Not at all, your looking at a dark fantasy lens of our own history twisted by the authors into an alternative OSR setting.
Dark Albion is a sprawling two hundred and eight five page pdf book for any new school, old school, or retroclone rpg system. Everything about this book speaks volumes of it's alternative world “War of The Roses” setting. The pdf is incredibly expansive, we’re clocking in at two hundred eight five pages of wall to wall artwork and 15th century dark fantasy setting. The pdf includes some very impressive maps of London, the British Isles of the 1500’s, a fully realized setting book that smacks of a dark fantasy campaign setting seen through an Old English lens, and with heaps of history, background, and much more. The setting goes into details about its own world right out of the gate. This isn't D&D as you might know it. Instead this is a pseudo historical setting abiding along its own rules and mores. Society is front and center with changes spelled right out in the introduction chapter with headings like : the level range is low, social status is extremely important,the role of women, the church of the unconquered Sun, chaos cults & heresy, the non human is hostile and dangerous, the monstrous is found in lonely places, and differences between our world and our historical world. This is all laid out in a common sense fashion easy to read and it defines itself by its own standards. This book is wall to wall artwork, while much of it is public domain but here its used to great effect! The layout is very well done by Domique Crouzet and company. The text easy on the eyes on the flow of the product is easy to follow.
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Dark Albion tries to separate itself from its D&D roots and that's a step in the right direction of this product. Albion has frogmen and undead at the edge of civilization as rulers vie for the throne and each others throats. The PC's are placed right center stage if they wish to be with their DM's consent. The pdf of Dark Albion has some wonderful maps that make great player hand outs, & its perfectly laid out but with all of the fiddly bits and pieces laid at the feet of the DM for easy access. Everything here is totally different then what you might be used to in a conventional D&D game. Social status plays its hand in this society and a party is most likely going to be of the same social standing just to make game play easier. Women's role in Dark Albion reminds me of Chaosium's Pendragon, with a few exceptions. Young ladies are often chosen by the Unconquered Sun as clerics but this game defines clerics as warriors as well as priests of the Unconquered Sun.Clerics of the setting are completely redefined into the confines of the rich darkness of Albion, they're the only ones who can cast miracles and are of a martial persuasion. Not every priest of the Unconquered Sun can perform miracles only clerics. Women of lower status may be thieves but may not lead a gang or become the head of a thieves guild unless they were incredibly ruthless. Never mind the rarity of women warriors because your going to have to be of high birth and trained as a knight. They are there but very rare. Woman among the Scotsmen are thought of in a completely different respect, those that can beat a man are look upon as warriors. You look get a look into the nature of magick in this game setting and the women of this society, and magick is a study fraught with danger. According to Dark Albion:
"Women are just as capable, in theory, of studying magic as any man; however, the great Collegiums of Cambridge and Oxford only allow male students for the Magisterium. This means that any female Anglish magic-users were either self-taught or trained in private outside the official system. Among the upper classes, these ladies trained in the use of magic usually keep their art a closely-guarded secret, only revealed to the most trusted family or servants. In the lower classes, such women are usually the “wise women” of the town.It is a career fraught with danger, as the suspicion of chaos-worship or witchcraft is likely to fall much harder on a self-taught female magic-user than on a respected Magister of the Collegium"
The DA setting feels as if, the Roman empire never left England at all and bits of nature, magick, and definition of it are still lurking on the fringes of England along with a ton of the mythic and demonic. The demonic here is nasty,dangerous, and chaotic in some of the darkest ways possible. It seems to ooze out in places in Dark Albion just waiting to take full advantage of the idiotic politic of the War of the Roses. Chaos is just waiting to unravel society and damn the human race in Dark Albion.
This is a magick poor game setting in one sense, magic items are ultra rare and very hard to come across in this realm of the legendary and mythic. Only the rare wizard or magician is going to have any truck with these types of items. Because all magick flows from Chaos in one form or another. England and the Church of the Unconquered Sun work very hard to stamp Chaos out by any means necessary.
The details are very well done especially when you get into the Gazetteer of Albion, all of the locations of the 15th century environs of England are there and in place but vastly different then our world's War of the Roses's England.
This is a world of adventure and danger, you've got an England where zombies, undead, and all manner of horrors rise from the grave. If your expecting the usual dungeon crawling common to D&D, your in for a bit of a different type of adventuring.
From the Danger and Adventure section:
"Ruins abound from earlier peoples, be they barrows in Salisbury, in the depths of the great forest of Sherwood, the Pennine Mountains, the wild lands of Cambria, the swamps of the Wash, or the frontier brutality of the Northern Marches. Monsters of various sorts lurk in these dark uncivilized pockets. In the cities, cults of chaos plot, as well as more mundane thieves guilds. Bandits loot the countryside, some portraying themselves as «rebels» in these troubled times. Tales are told of treasure-hordes from ancient kingdoms before the time of the Anglemen, still waiting to be found in the depths of mountain caverns. Dragons and Giants exist, though they are dwindling and it has been centuries since either made themselves seen in the civilized regions."
And then we get into the Fae a bit with this little tid bit of an introduction to these alien and very strange race of yore.
"The Fae, the inhuman beings who once ruled this isle, were eventually overthrown by the Cymri they held as slaves, after the Fae had bred with some of them and given them secrets of magic; but it is said the Fae were not extinguished, only forced away into some other world; and in some magical places the border between the realm of Fae and the world of men becomes tenuous. From these places, the Fae may seek to bring chaos to the world of men, either raiding themselves, or sending forth Changelings (creatures that can mimic the appearance of a man) to do their bidding. Goblins too were once slaves of the Fae, and stories are told that the Goblins were not wiped out, but live on in vast underground cities deep beneath Albion."
I have to say that this is vastly different then what I was expecting and it feels almost but not quite along the same guidelines of Pendragon or Harn in a good way. The grittiness that's present in the Fantastic Heroes and Witchery rulebook is brought to the surface in Dark Albion. But this is a world of warfare and in violent flux. But is it a world that we can game in? Stay tuned for part II coming up Monday afternoon or evening as we look deeper into the world and setting of Dark Albion.
Thanks for this really great review! I should note, however, that Dark Albion is not technically a "book for the Fantastic Heroes & Witchery RPG". It is absolutely meant to be a system-neutral book for OSR play that you can use with ANY OSR game (or indeed, with little effort, with any fantasy RPG that you can mod to be gritty and low-magic). The vast bulk of the book has no explicit FH&W material, only the appendix at the end has conversion notes for FH&W. And there's also another appendix, the "Appendix P" rules, which present a totally different set of rules for a D&D-mod meant for Dark Albion, so FH&W isn't even the only set of rules explicitly covered in the book.ReplyDelete
I think FH&W is a great game, but it isn't the game I ran Dark Albion with and I don't want people to get the impression that you can only use Albion with it, or that Albion was made for it. The book is meant to be for any old-school system.
Great review. Note this isn't the United Kingdom, this is the British Isles, the UK comes much later.ReplyDelete
The changes have already been made to the review Tom. Thanks for pointing that out.ReplyDelete