Sunday, June 19, 2016

Review & Commentary On Dark Albion:The Rose War Cults of Chaos By Dominique Crouzet, RPGPundit For Dark Albion & Your Old School Campaigns

I'm going to start by saying that I was absolutely relentless when it came to getting the chance to review and look into Dark Albion Cults of Chaos By Dominique Crouzet, RPGPundit . This bad boy isn't even out .. yet. Let me start by prefacing by saying that in less then twenty four hours since I've gotten it and I sat up till four am going over the book last night  and its twisted content. If your expecting a monster manual,an adventure resource, a book crammed with dark & forbidden secrets well your in luck because its all & more. This is a book that is essential to not only Dark Albion but the Fantastic Heroes and Witchery rpg system along with many of the conventional OSR rpg systems on the market. This book can also work very well with original and Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 1st edition systems. This is because of the guidelines, fresh perspectives, and commentary that the author delivers. Cults of Chaos takes many of the tired old cliches of evil and corruption and gives the material a new slant with the engine of the Dark Albion setting.

 This is a book filled to the rim with public domain artwork but in this case it not only suits it but enhances the Cults of Chaos material. Cults of Chaos takes the themes in Dark Albion and notches them up by eleven. Corruption and depravity are brought into the light of Dark Albion and its a very disturbing covering everything from demons to the Elves of the setting. 
The artwork and layout is very evocative of older books and especially some of the pulp magazines of fantasy and science fiction.
 One thing right off the bat that I noticed is the OSR compatible label which indicates the conversion factor of Cults of Chaos is simple and easy.  There is a separation from most of the 'run of the mill' OSR products. This book like all of Dark Albion's setting and world are unique.
Dark Albion's setting is an alternative England during the War of the Roses. Here the central spoke of the empire is the government and state run church of Mithra.

All of this is set during the events of the War of the Roses via the events of real world history; the war and the empire is fractured which gives adventurers prime opportunity to exploit the cracks in the empire that the civil war has brought. But its those same cracks that Cults of Chaos gets straight into. These are the cults and dark forces that exist both within and without  the world  of Dark Albion. There are are monsters, mutations, madmen and magick all pulling the world of Dark Albion apart that Cults of Chaos exploits. 
We dive straight into the cover plate and the cracks of the demonic and the chaotic horrors within Dark Albion's society are front and center. This book expands upon and enlivens many of the ideas & themes that are found within the  Fantastic Heroes and Witchery.rule book. Namely the fact that Chaos and Hell are not only in league but indivisible in many respects. Cults of Chaos  is chaos at its rawest and brought within the context of the  Western Occult tradition. It is  brought to life with vivid black & white colour and with many surprising mature themes handled with a very deft hand in Cults of Chaos. This material is in the background growling waiting to to be brought to vivid life with all kinds of weirdness of the  quasi-historical setting in the book. Chaos is the driving engine of the factions and material in Cults of Chaos
 What this book actually is a supplement of chaos & terrror  that can be used with any of the retroclone or OSR games to create and maintain a dark cult from its beginnings to conclusion every aspect of a cult from maintaining the cult's operations, locations, factions, ideas, doctrines, applications, and much more. This is the dark rot at the center of a campaign world and it works for a mature treatment of a cult. This not only includes the demonic but the entire mythological kitchen sink. It includes everything from science fantasy star cults, Greek or Roman style mystery cults with Dark Albion ties, Viking or Norse god deities, to the horrors of Dark Albion Elves. Note that Dark Albion doesn't need Drow its Elves are the Fey of mythology and legend with a Lovecraftian twist. These are the life stealing, baby snatching, human sacrificing elves that lurk on the very fringes of human society and have since the beginning of creation.  The Elves  is existence done with style and a dangerous sense of the horror lurking just below life in Dark Albion. Cults in Dark Albion are not easy to deal with for adventurers and they are fully fleshed out.
 This is done by using random charts for every aspect of these factions including the dreaded Frogmen of France and there are all kinds of details that this book raises that can be applied across the board to other OSR games as well. This book is a framework and tool kit for cults and their activities but there's lots more to cover here.
 Cults of every strip are here in Cults of Chaos; rules and guidelines from sexually driven cults to cults of UFO style star cults all here  with a flourish  within the bounds of the world of Dark Albion. As I said earlier this isn't simply a book that can be used with Dark Albion but it could be used to build cults,factions, NPC's and more for other gaming systems from Lamentations of the Flame Princess to OD&D. This also includes alternative setting games such as Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea. All of this is done with both the old school tool box approach of random charts but Cults of Chaos also uses a hands on approach that gives life to its monsters so that a cult of Elves is explored from its creation, to the cult's destruction, and beyond. This is a style that I've seen used in other high quality products such as Pendragon and Atlas Games Ars Magica books. 

The ideals of social standing are used throughout to maintain the ins and outs of cult's activities on all levels of society so that there is a consistence to the play of the cult's activities. All  throughout a campaign this a dungeon master has lots of control over his NPC's . It also allows a DM to have complete control over what his players see and their interactions with a cult's activities over the course of a campaign. This is a very important way of dealing with the direction and flow of a campaign. All of this relates back to chaos the under pinning of Cults of Chaos.
There are consequences from messing with Chaos on any level this includes mutation, degeneration, damnation, and worse leaving its mark on NPC's, PC's, and even the landscape. This is a place where Chaos has been making in roads for thousands of years and the rot has led to purges in the realms of Dark Albion. The book begins to dive into this in the various cult's headquarters,ruins, and dungeons. This also begins to show the true extent of Chaos's hand in the wonderfully twisted 'Mutations' section. 
When cults of chaos begin to operate the taint runs deep in Dark Albion. The Inquisition is often called in for a good bit of that old fashioned witchcraft style burning and genocide. This is in fact an option for a campaign type for Dark Albion. Adventurers roaming the land purging chaos from Dark Albion society.
The Mutation section isn't vividly expensive but its scope is pretty nice allowing lots of the cult options.Mutations and chaotic corruption can be applied to NPC's and perhaps even PC's should game play come to that. There is more then enough material here to keep a campaign going for years.
At the heart and soul of  Cults of Chaos is the notion of the cult as the engine of Chaos itself. The idea that the rot and taint ripples into the very fabric of society and weakens it from within itself. This is both applied to the occult and magick within Dark Albion  a  theme not seen since the original Warhammer role playing game. Yet somehow it seems more easily accessible here because perhaps of the OSR drive and focus of both Cults of Chaos and Dark Albion
As RpgPundit has stated in the past;" 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." this spirit of multi play utility is something that we see over and over again in Cults of Chaos. This idea also spills into the adventure design and running phase of Cults of Chaos with an eye towards guiding the DM into a Chaos centeric themed campaign. This is something that could be used for running a Chaos cult within other old school setting such as Grayhawk or Blackmoor where the forces of Chaos would be right at home. 
This section of the book drives towards the creation and DMing of Chaos  adventures but brings it straight back around using Dark Albion as its the stage for all of the adventure drama. There are reasons for this.

Every section within this part of the book is dedicated to the creation and backbone of the NPC's. Antagonists that populate the cult of Chaos & its setting. Cults of Chaos does an extremely nice job of creating a whole cast of characters for your PC's to meet, interact with, kill and more. All of these dovetail into dungeon creation the next section in Cults of Chaos.

Because you get a whole smatterings of sample dungeon locations to drop into your existing old school or OSR games or as bench mark for designing your own. These are not the half finished sample dungeons we see in so many OSR products today but a fully fleshed out set of nasty and very dangerous  locations. 
These are dungeons that come in a fully realized setting book that smacks of a dark fantasy campaign setting. A place  seen through an Old English lens, and with heaps of history, background, and much more.

We even get an ace Elven dungeon location that gives even more insight into these twisted Fey bastards and their machinations.Its not a very flattering picture at all. These are twisted and highly dangerous monsters that are completely alien to the human organisms of Dark Albion. To me these guys make the price of admission worth it. But there is an entire appendix dedicated to the elves of Dark Albion. Let me also say that the cartography is excellent and up to the  Dark Albion rule book's standards. 
In case I haven't mentioned it all of these adventure locations are steeped not only in chaos's grip but Dark Albion's  low magic world of witchcraft, sorcery, warfare and violence in the middle of one of the more complicated periods of English history. 
Each of these three dungeons are essential set pieces that can be dropped into an on going Dark Albion campaign and range from low level to high for extra deadliness. Some of these dungeons have their own terrifying little twists to them. 
All of this adventure fodder material means that Cult's of Chaos's adventure locations and dungeons are actually domain changers in the sense that each of these places of corruption can and will be a thorn in the sides of NPC's and PC's holdings  and areas of control as they try and corrupt not only the locals but the land itself. 
 We even get an overview of some of the major cults of Chaos in the book these take the guidelines found in the front half of the book and actually apply them with gusto. There is everything from major displaced former Roman and Celtic gods to Lovecraftian space alien cults here. All of this is done with the same style and attention to detail that the Dark Albion line is known for. 
These are living and breathing deadly movers &shaker factions in Dark Albion and they are presented as such with no punches pulled. The material here is raw without being over the top at all. There is a sense of menace and style in the writing. 
A note on the magick of the Cults of Chaos book, its tied in with the book as tightly as you can get and that says it all. Places of power, dark rites, spells, and more are all explored here and the tool kit approach enables a DM to exploit this fact to its fullest. 
The old gods are not mocked here instead they've come home to cause havoc to all the forces of the Dark Albion empire and they're expanding according to the text.That's where your PC's have a chance to maintain the balance and make a difference in the world. This is explored through the various tools that are brought to the table here in Cults of Chaos. The gods of Chaos and the old mystery cults are pushing back with a vengeance; gods have assumed some very dangerous aspects.The church of Dark Albion  is dedicated to pushing back in spades but the civil war is playing merry havoc with the world.

All of the traditional enemies of mankind are here on display with lots of twists and turns from the Celtic deities to the Norse mythologies. Its all here given the treatment only Dark Albion can deliver!

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 as Chaos takes center stage and must be given its due. This sometimes comes in unexpected forms such as the cult of  Nodens. His cult is problematic and very dangerous in Cults of Chaos. He is given full treatment and a complete profile in Cults of Chaos. 

Rat Cults, animal cults, twisted takes on Old World themes are scattered throughout Cults of Chaos and it seems familiar but there is lots of originality that takes one by surprise. Such is the case with the star cults, a mix of occult zodiac weirdness, UFO science fantasy and a heap of trouble for the  PC's. 
You get your money's worth in this book with a whole range of toolbox style evil and madness waiting to be sprung on players. Seriously there is enough in Cults of Chaos for years of  campaigning. The stuff in the star cults chapter is demented, twisted, and very Lovecraftian. This is a good thing in my opinion and bases out many of the ideas that RpgPundit has been talking about over the years. 
Rounding out the latter part of the Cults of Chaos material on the Norse gods of Dark Albion's mythology and these guys are powerful players on the stage of the gods. They're not cults to trifle with, & they're dark brooding presences on the edges of civilization waiting patiently for the world of Dark Albion to fall so they can move in to loot, plunder, enslave, and worse. So damn delicious. 
We get a full range of materials from drugs to magic items, ritual objects, and more to round out Cults of Chaos. The bottom line is that even if I wasn't a fan of Dark Albion I would want to use this book and that's where Cults of Chaos shines. This is a book that has a fully fleshed out useful tool box at its core. There is some damn nice material here and for a DM whose already  a fan of Chaos and its use at the table the  bottom line is that this book is a must. 

I'd like to thank the authors for the opportunity to get into and review this book because Cults of Chaos is a twisted and much welcomed addition to a dungeon master's shelf. This book isn't a shelf warmer but a well oiled engine of corruption and adventure fodder waiting to happen at your table.
Note stay tuned because I will be doing more with Cults of Chaos coming up in the near future until then keep those dice rolling. 

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