Thus continues this interminable endeavour. 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 existence 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 evil that would lie dormant for some time, gnawing at the roots of civilization and eroding those within, waning and waxing, before it would pour out into the world, carried by its human slaves, slaying hundreds of thousands before being turned back and leaving ruins and devastation in its wake. Every time it rose once more it was stronger.
In Dark Albion Chaos is just kind of there and though France fell to it, most of human civilization 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 even 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. We see this 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. This is not a problem in and of itself, 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 a trivial concern).
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 (edit: some other religious heresy) etc.
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 opened for the player characters or some other band of heroes having to take it back by the direct orders of 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 and reviled. 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.