Monday, October 19, 2015

Using The Dark Albion OSR Setting Book & Stars Without Number For Your Old School Science Fiction Campaigns

Its been a very long while since I've dipped my oar into the Dark Albion OSR setting book by Rpg Pundit. The book is a dark fantasy campaign set within his dark and twisted version of a fantasy England and Europe during an alternative War of The Roses campaign. The work is sprawling, massive, a work of passion and love. And its been created to work with just about any of the editions and retroclones of OD&D and AD&D on the market. The fact is that its a bit intimidating but that's never stopped me before tackling OSR books.

As I said the book is expansive and creates an entire Dark European realm of incredible detail and filled to the brim with adventure possibilities. But the various D&D clones are not the only rule sets on the block. Lately I've been looking at Stars Without Number From Sine Nomine Publishing  by again because its sitting on my shelf staring at me. Stars Without Numbers handles hard science fiction very, very, well. It includes everything  you need straight out the gate to run a campaign from character classes to space ship rules. It also includes a free version for download. It will work with Dark Albion very easily and there's a reason that I bring this mash up in point of fact. I've recently been reading the Russian science fiction classic   Hard to be a God (Russian: Трудно быть богом, Trudno byt' bogom)  a 1964 sci-fi novel by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky set in the Noon Universe.  Its a dark and bloody universe that the book was set in and its myth soaked, tyrannical planet of the novel reminded me of the setting of Dark Albion.
According to wiki, 'the novel follows Anton, an undercover operative from the future planet Earth, in his mission on an alien planet that is populated by human beings whose society has not advanced beyond the Middle Ages. The novel's core idea is that human progress throughout the centuries is often cruel and bloody, and that religion and blind faith can be effective tools of oppression, working to destroy the emerging scientific disciplines and enlightenment. The title 'Hard to be a God' refers to Anton's (known as his alias Don Rumata throughout the book) perception of his precarious role as an observer on the planet, for while he has far more advanced knowledge than the people around him, he is forbidden to assist too actively as it would interfere with the natural progress of history.'  Dark Albion is a setting that doesn't play it safe and never talks down to its audience, its by Kasimir Urbanski aka Rpg Pundit. The setting is dark, weird, and plays with the author/designer's passion as both historian and rpg designer so its the same with 'Hard To Be A God'. The novel goes for the audience's jugular vein and its relentless in both its setting details, message, and work as a piece of science fiction. The system of Kevin Crawford's Stars Without Numbers easily works with Dark Albion drawing as they do from the same well of the D&D system.  As always there might have to be some modification on the dungeon master's part but for one experienced in this sort of a thing this should be pretty easy.

The darkness of the Dark Albion setting echoes the details and fire of the setting itself. This is a Europe where the myths and legends of an alternative historical  age are in full effect. This is a mythic place where the forces of Chaos and Hell nip at the heels mankind at every turn. The flames of ignorance threaten to turn into the bonfires of war at any moment. The visuals of the Hard To Be A God film from 2013 are stark, brilliant, and have some of the same style. The film is worth seeing for the visual reference into itself. Here's the film Hard To Be A God's trailer.

The stakes in the novel have never been high for a society and Dark Albion plays on the idea of the soul of mankind being at the center of its campaign. The PC's are movers and shakers of society regardless the social strata that they find themselves in. All of this is of course a thought exercise because I already have a campaign in play but in terms of match up this isn't a bad marriage at all. This  campaign could be carried out using any of the retroclones with Dark Albion. But the inclusion SWN I thought lent a certain ring of science fictional respect and yet maintained the weirdness of the Dark Albion book itself. This is not a campaign idea for the faint of heart. Its a dark look into the underpinnings of a planetary society on the edge with a razor to its throat and its waiting for just the right push. Science fiction and dark fantasy never play it safe but for a break from the hum drum of the usual this might make an excellent alternative. I'm filing this one away for a future date.

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