PrinceofNothingReviews: Dark Albion Pt. III: I think the “grudge” here is from people who felt they owned the OSR only to find that its moved past them now, and they’re suddenly living in Pundit’s World.

Thus continues this interminable endaevour. We’d let off at the Gazetteer and we shall finish that and see how far I can go. I’d given it up before it got good and that is a damn shame. Dark Albion can be a bit lukewarm at times, but its immediate environs are more along the type of fantasy I enjoy. The fortress city of Calais represents the last holdout of Albion on the mainland, besieged by vicious frog-men. The existance of a state ruled by evil frog men is rendered somewhat more plausible by its near annihilation at the hands of  various Crusades and its alliance with chaos-worshipping Burgundy (in his depiction of the proto-dutch/belgians as treacherous daemon-worshippers, Pundit could have used some creativity instead of this dogmatic adherence to historical accuracy imho). Eire is a barely described land of evil fey and barbarians (Kent lives here!). The land beyond Hadrian’s wall is an eclectic mixture of scottsmen, murderous Anglemen bandits, cannibal worm god worshipping Picts that are fond of poison (goddammit that is the stuff I am talking about), a goddamn lich living in hermitage castle and an Orkney Islands ruled by possibly undead Morgaine Le Fay and her northmen/pirate retainers. This is all excellent stuff.

One point of criticism that I will level is the nature of Chaos in this setting. A comparison with Warhammer Fantasy must of course be made; in Warhammer Fantasy Chaos was a serious threat to all of mankind, a force of nature that would lie dormant for some time, gnawing at the roots of civilisation and eroding those within, waning and waxing, before it would pour out into the world, slaying thousands before being turned back, leaving ruins in its wake and basically growing stronger every time it rose.
In Dark Albion Chaos is just kind of there, and though France fell to it, most of human civilisation seems to have done a decent job resisting it. It killed the Arcadian/Roman Empire of course, but you don’t get the same kind of menace from it at this point in time, with most of Europe, Rus and the Middle East being in solely human Law worshipping hands.
In Dark Albion the historical elements take precedence over the fantastical elements, this might be to your taste or it might not. Again with Frogland, Dark Albion cannot seem to make up its mind whether magic is rare or not, with the Frog Men wielding magic, magic items and whatnot via their sorcerer priests, again this is fine, it only becomes thematically jarring when it is transposed against depictions of Iberia and Savoy, nations that do not differ much or indeed at all from their historical counterparts (I am sure a historian could find some fault with when exactly the Moors retreated from Iberia or what particular faction held Grenada I mean Garnatah but this is trivial).

The rest of Europe bears, as far as I can tell, a reasonable resemblance to medieval Europe, Rus is Rus, the Turk still wants to sink its claws into the bickering borderlands (Vlad Tepes! Ahoo! Ahoo!), the Hussite heresy is a stand in for protestantism, this is all history, very interesting history, but again, I have immense trouble reconciling historical doppleganger earth with a France ruled by Evil Frogmen. This stuff needed a bit more magic to spice it up a notch. I think a fantasy europe threatened by chaos worshipping turks would have done wonders (or something along the lines of the Kushan from the manga Berserk, recommended for anyone actually wanting to play this beast of a game btw).

With Wallachia Pundit gets more into the spirit of things, with Vlad Dracul getting murdered, retaking his land with an undead army and a possibility being given for the player characters or some other band of heroes having to take it back by direct orders from the Pontifex. Pack your stakes bitches. Die monster! You don’t belong in this world! Yeah!

Iceland is thought to be the edge of the world and holds a gateway to hell(!),Rus is boring old Rus with the prominence of the Orthodox church nigh annihilated (it doesn’t even get its own silly name like the Blazing Sun or the Reborn Sun or the Eclipsed Sun or something), the Turk is the Turk, worshipping Law and getting its own clerics (Sufi). I am confused as to why Dark Albion mentions Janissaries but mentions only they are elite soldiers trained from birth, without the whole slavery thing that made them so dreaded. Again, I have the same reservations about this section as I have about the setting of Dark Albion itself so we can move on.

Dark Albion is nothing if not completionist in its approach thus we are blessed with a chapter on the Laws of Albion. Though Tarno recommends roleplaying any trial, he provides a barebones system that is perfectly suitable to determining the outcome of any trial based on the opinion of the court, the mob and the amount of pounds the players spend on a good lawyer. An interesting form of trial is used with Bishops, the Trial by Commune, where Clerics communicate directly with the deity to determine guilt or innocence. Uh…how the hell has the Unconquered Sun not taken over all major trials yet? We can determine your guilt based on trial by combat or we can commune directly with GOD AND GAIN INFORMATION ON YOUR INNOCENCE OR GUILT FROM THE CREATOR AND FINAL ARBITER OF ULTIMATE TRUTH. Clerics are rare but jesus.

Again, Dark Albion’s interpretation falls into line with other historical depictions of medieval law. A police force does not really exist. small cases are handled by the community (Common Law?) or putting a bounty on some asshole, and laws prevent one from wearing certain types of clothing, colours or weapons to avoid fraud and impersonation(I am going to remember that one next time I run a medieval role-playing game, that will fucking show those asshole PCs). Likewise, it is emphasized that anyone traipsing through a city or the peaceful countryside without authority to wield a weapon is going to get in trouble incredibly quickly, with the authorities simply charging players with felony or banditry should they pull this shit. And of course, we can trial by combat, find sanctuary from persecution in churches, experience the absurdity of being imprisoned and charged for it and so on and so forth. I think its one of the most comprehensive treatises on medieval law I have seen in a game, and it effectively conveys a medieval atmosphere. The law section is good stuff, even if you don’t set your game in Dark Albion.

Shit is looking up. Dark Albion still suffers from thematic and writing issues but we will see if it compensates for it by its comprehensive approach to medieval fantasy simulation. Join us next time.

 

 

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11 thoughts on “PrinceofNothingReviews: Dark Albion Pt. III: I think the “grudge” here is from people who felt they owned the OSR only to find that its moved past them now, and they’re suddenly living in Pundit’s World.

  1. Chaos Turks? Booorriinng. A weird band of faun/satyr creatures worshiping a chaos(sabbatic)-goat in the middle of Albion’s not-Sherwood would add a bit of interesting “rotting from within”. Villagers ditching babies in order to save themselves from raids, brave not-Nottingham fighting to keep the whole thing from going belly-up while suspiciously nursing a blackened hand consumed with greed, and by the Sun did someone see a capricious goat creature stealing booze and women while donning the habit? Is Chaos working from within the church itself?!

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    1. The rot within is a classic, of course in Albion’s case Clerics are beyond corruption and shit I don’t know if detect evil is allowed or not. I fucking hope not. Also i find it rather heart-warming that despite its flaws discussion of Dark Albion is at least firing up the ole creative spirit in you guys. Good stuff. Doesn’t happen on YDIS enough.

      Listen, I don’t care if you make them Chaos Turks or hordes of stone-carved half-men from the mad proto-aboriginal shamans that left their shadows in the dreamtime and are now stuck in deathless limbo until they split the two and remake the world anew but my fucking point is in Warhammer Chaos was big and scary and threatening and in Dark Albion its historically an inconvenience, on par with bandits or perhaps a band of stinking northmen. I’ll give it credit for killing the occasional empire from within but so could bandits (a lot of bandits).

      So far Albion has thrown a decent number of fey, i wanna say fauns are in there but I’m not sure. Evil fey is a big thematic thing so I’m gonna guess yes.

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      1. YDIS isn’t really the place for creativity. Just an endless stream of complaints. I agree though, I like talking shop (games) much more. Maybe more degenerates will start blogs and build an alt-osr or maybe we’re sleepwalking in pundit’s matrix.

        I get your point. I just thought the huge hordes of chaos at the doorsteps of the Empire featured mainly in the battle game and the rpg was more about being paranoid that your neighbour was going to sprout tentacle arms and eat your face in the middle of the night.

        Clerics are beyond corruption? How did not-France fall to Frogmen then? Aie, that puts a wrinkle in using chaos as a legitimate threat against the PCs. That was always undead’s problem for me. To make them even remotely interesting there needed to be so many that everybody couldn’t just get behind the clerics and mow them down with their turn ability. Undead apocalypse is cool only a finite amount though.

        If not Chaos, maybe the fey will cause some havoc then!

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      2. [WF+Choas]

        That is true but its nature as a looming threat is more pronounced, which is what I am getting at.

        [France]

        The number of clerics is only a fraction of the total number of priests, so they are very rare. France fell to Frogmen and evil chaos worshipping humans through a combination of sorcery, treachery, diplomacy and frogmen.

        [Fey]

        A big point of Albion is that the Elves or fey were chaos worshippers and creatures of chaos. Unfortunately they have fucked off to Faerie. Hints of their impending return are scattered throughout the manuscript.

        Undead make for good thematic enemies in general, but only if used sparsely. Nothing screams, shit is fucked up like a tomb full a’ Wights. Man that makes me want to run Return to the Tomb of Horrors. What a great adventure.

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  2. Let me guess, the whole bit about ‘trial by combat’ is pretty ho-hum… the reality of trial by combat is really interesting, including some crazy marital combat in which the husband has to fight from a waist-deep pit. I can’t picture Pundejo actually bringing interesting material like that into anything he writes.

    As far as the fey being chaotic beings consigned to an otherworld, that’s pretty much standard folklore. Uncle Gary’s drow were a lot more like ‘default’ elves than Tolkien’s Mary Sues. The best fictional iteration of these sorts of elves is Poul Anderson’s ‘Broken Sword’.

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    1. 1. That is fucking awesome. I personally would have gone for some sort of trial by combat where both combatants are blindfolded and armed with cauldrons filled with boiling oil.
      2. The description of trial by combat includes a provision wherein nobility is allowed to use armour and a sword whereas peasants are restricted to clothing and a club, which is nice. Overall I agree, the trial by combat section could have used more exaggerated medieval trappings. The section on Crowners and murder investigations is fun though. I agree with your assesment, or more accurately, I agree with my own assesment, that Pundit’s work as a whole tends towards the bland and unexceptional. In the case of Dark Albion I am curious to see whether sufficient scope, utility and depth can compensate for a lack of creativity and bad writing.
      3. With Tolkien the elves are more akin to Angels, or perfected versions of mankind. You are preaching to the choir, Broken Sword is fucking great (and i just finished Swords against Wizardry! The Lords of Quarmall and Stardock are great fucking stories). The Melnibonéans are a good contender in spirit.

      I started in the Left Hand of Darkness and so far I am pleasantly suprised; what a great book.

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  3. That WFRP-lite tone you mention makes more sense if you know that PunPun really digs Fighting Fantasy : the gamebooks, the RPGs ans especially their kitchen-sink setting “Titan”. His review of AFF 2nd edition a few years ago was accurate and refreshingly enthusiastic. It made me want to check it out (and fund the kickstarter for the french edition) and now it’s my system of choice to play with my daughters. Actually from what I have read here Dark Albion could be made into a very fine series of gamebooks (kinda like J.H. Brennan’s “GrailQuest”).

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    1. Titan kicks ass. Its vanilla sword and sorcery but its like the greatest vanilla stolen from the larders of a pantheon of bloated hedonist chef-gods. I have not yet figured out in just exactly what way one could best use Dark Albion, I think it would be a tragic waste not to incorporate the future history of the Rose War and the medieval noble houses smackdown simulator but I have not read all of it yet so I will withold judgement.

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      1. The gamebook thingy is only an idea. The best use of DA is a torture porn time machine flick (think A Uruguayan Canuk in King Edward’s Court) an/or a french hardcore porn frog petting zoo. I know it because I did not read it and therefore have no truth-based prejudice.

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