This the final installment of my overly long and neurotically detailed autopsy of Dark Albion. It was a good ride, but it must end, as all things do.
This review will cover the section about Adventuring in Dark Albion and, given the abundance of useless historical detail that has limited utility in an actual game, this is long overdue. This section makes a point that overland travel in Albion is unreliable and fraught with peril if one strays from the Royal Highways and maps of the many dirt roads, tiny villages and ancient barrows are virtually nonexistant and thus one is often forced to rely upon the dubious aid of guides.
Random tables are of course provided for overland travel, with the encounters consisting almost exclusively of the myriad social strata of baseline humanity. Encounters are less frequent on the secondary roads then they are on the highways but those on the secondary roads tend to be more perilous. Nearly all the humans that one encounters have goals and can be interacted with in some fashion. Alongside the expected parties of highwaymen, caravans, pilgrims, soldiers and clerics such colourful figures as Lepers, Abjurers of the Realm or a Crowner may be encountered, doing much to convey the medieval atmosphere Dark Albion is going for. These encounter tables are decent, not mindboggelingly good, but very servicable and capable of generating play. They give the GM something to work with is what I am getting at. GM’s blackmailed or mindcontrolled into using Dark Albion will have to provide stats for the encounters since DA is OSR agnostic. A smaller table for obstacles such as fallen carts, sideroads and rivers (with or without tollboothed bridges) also adds some colour to overland travel.
This is an OSR supplement, so any OSR-savy reader should already be able to predict what follows random tables. You are correct sir. More random tables. Not only our roads but are villages, cities and towns may be enlivened by various roleplaying facilitating random events, such as executions, banditry, cruel despotic rulers, fairs, inquisitions, sieges and whatnot. Most of these events have an effect on the availability of equipment and the chance of attracting unwanted attention. As above so below, this is servicable stuff, some of it makes no sense as a random event restricted to a single town, for example, a Dire Heatwave or a Famine are likely to affect the entire area the player’s are travelling through, but regardless, this is overall a very decent section. A point is made of the violent, brutal nature of medieval humanity and chances of attracting unwanted attention in towns are provided, based on whether or not the PC’s are keeping a low or high profile. Are you trying to woo me Dark Albion?
Adventure was promised and it is provided. No less then seven small sample adventures are generously supplied to us, with not merely a collection of tombs, warrens, burrows an barrows but also a military encampment, a fair and a royal court. I say adventures but they are more along the line of an adventure outline, with maps and details given for the tombs. The dungeons have a sort of classic/realistic feel going for them that I kind of dig. No wonky anti-gravity rivers or nonsensical procedurally generated mega-dungeon wackiness, they feel like actual tombs, albeit it with animated statue tomfoolery, undead inhabitation, illusions and magic wards. No new ground is broken but all of these are good for a couple of evenings of fun. Perhaps the collaboration with Crouzet, who is credited for writing the tombs, served to elevate the material?
The elven tomb is pretty neat. Staples of classic dungeon design, animated statues, false tombs, secret doors, traps, cursed treasure and undead elven princes out for revenge are all there. The treasure is a lot better then the garbage in the magic section, highpoint being a cursed elven crown that can cast mass suggestion but will age anyone who is unworthy. It feels like a good Dungeon Magazine adventure. Not groundbreaking, but good fun.
Not so the Arcadian catacomb, despite its attempt at nonlinearity and realism. The use of alternate names for Arcadian deities smacks of laziness, replacing Saturnus with Pluto for god of the dead seems pointless and lazy. As outline it is a decent effort at a realistic catacomb. The Barrow Mound (and given the amount of fucking Barrows in DA you will at least get use out of this one if nothing else), provides a useless reason for its undead guardians (ley lines), a waste of time, since every tomb described so far has had undead guardians. Having to chisel one’s way in through the sealed stone entrance is a nice touch though, reminds me of Barrowmaze. The rest is just outline. Eh.
Dark Albion makes a half-hearted attempt to reinvent Goblins by giving us some background (they were made by elves) and a sample warren, but again, attempts to distinguish them from the Goblins we are familiar with are barely present. Goblins live in a burrough and ride worghs. In their burrow there is a shrine to a dark god with a shaman and a goblin king with more HD. Also there are prisoners and treasure. Gee.
On the historical side of adventure, the army camp is barely an outline with no map, though a few useful notes on running army camps are provided, the adventure seeds for the court are by the numbers. Marriage, affairs, poverty, someone dies, someone might be a spy, the Lord must pick a side in the Rose War etc. The suggested adventures sound lame as shit. Someone is a spy. The PCS must find out who! This needed specific examples or something to elevate it, right now one wonders why it is even here. Were there pages to fill? Had they run out of open-source art?
Jousting Section. I will provide a single entry and you may judge for yourself whether or not you would find this exciting. I like low-level stuff but this seems to fall under the level of “low-level” into “trivial-chores.” There are pickpockets at the fair. Oh no!
6) Price War: The cloth merchants of two rival towns are desperate to get the competition out of business. When undercutting the competition doesn’t work, sabotage and violence ensue.
If my GM came up with that horseshit during a ‘Like Warhammer Fantasy only in Britain” game I would garrote him with my dicebag. A blueprint of a fortress of the not-the-night’s-watch is the capstone on this characteristically very uneven section.
Thank god we reach the Appendix. The Knights of the Starry Order is a weirdo religious society of knights that moves in the upper echelons of society that secretely believes the crescent moon and unconquered sun are the same, with every member even gaining paladin powers to show they are correct. Uh. Okay. A long list of initiations of knights of the Star and eventual deaths fills up another page for no reason. I was hoping I had gotten through the worst parts but this is agony.
A last ditch effort is made to save Dark Albion with Pundit’s house rules, meant to inspire more Warhammer Fantasy-like type of play. It is not a ripoff of Small but Vicious Dog. Characters begin at level 0, a familiar conceit, but several interesting alterations have been made. Xp has been streamlined to a 1 xp per session baseline, with an additional 1 xp for each adventure completed and 0th level characters needing to complete a single adventure before levelling up to 1. Benefits afterward are determined randomly via table and may result in skill bonuses, new spells, hit points, +1 to hit with a single weapon etc. Like the Alice, only with less variation, this sounds okay.
Pundit displays a rudementary grasp of probability and thus adds a standard amount of hit points to be added each level, usually 1 but 2 for fighters. I might love this. Skills are handled ah la the d20 system, with bonuses to certain skills for certain class features. This shit works and it makes for gritty fragile and varied chars. Crowd favourites like the holy quadrinity of rpgdom (ftr, cleric, rogue, magister) are present in addition to the cymri (basically the elf) and the scottsman (barbarian dwarf). Sages are added for the manly men who need not spells or hit points. As an extra more WhF option, everyone may wear armour (spellcasting still does not in fact work and thief skills get a penalty though), but ftrs and clerics get a better AC from it anyway. This is handled in a stupid fashion by just giving the ftr and the cleric a flat +2 to AC even when they are not armoured but this can be forgiven.
Some more quick and dirty house rules take a page from Loftp (which took a page from WHF if I am not mistaken), and adds rules for aiming, defensive combat and total defence (these rules are old as the stars so forgiven), shootin in melee blah blah you know this if you have played Lamentations of the Flame Princess. To Pundit’s credit, when I say he takes a page, I mean he describes his house rules in one fucking page where Loftp needs fucking 8 or more to get to the same fucking point. No points for ripping it off but no minus points either, at least it fucking works. The emulation continues, a critical d20+level table is provided to add such various effects as open bleeding wounds, disfigurement, loss of limbs, eyes and whatnot, and they are permanent. Fantasy style baby. A channeling rule for check based spell-casting is given, again, Warhammer Fantasy this is for you. Sadly no magic mishap or perils of the warp table 😦
I should talk about the final appendix for Fantastic Heroes & Witchery, which was not written by Pundit. I am not familiar with this particular retroclone but I have in fact played a lot of Dnd and this is DnD so it is all fine. The way I read it, Fantastic Heroes & Witchery is basically REALLY ADVANCED DND with a cartload of options class, race and spell-wise. Reskinning rules for some of the races are given, with names and context being changed (e.g now they are cursed men, fey-touched and changelings). Many new classis are of course provided, each with some nice tweaks, running the gamut from the cleric of the unconquered sun who gains bonuses during daylight, to the hedge witch, to the magister with his mastery of grey or white magic to the Demonurgist for a more sinister magician with demonic familiars and demon summoning powers. All fun and good stuff. Some additional spell failure rules are provided (when the Sun, the Unconquered Sun, is in the sky Chaos magic, which is anethema to it, has a chance to fail. Some more shit includes a reworked simplified cosmology (good addition) and some spells for travelling to the Underworld and summoning demons. Dark Albion needed more of this, so of course it is by Crouzet.
Fucking hell, that took a while. I will break down my opinion on Dark Albion and then I will fuse together these shards into a final verdict.
As a campaign setting: Too magical for a historical setting. Too mundane for a fantasy setting. Clumsy, unsatisfying and embarassing, occasional flashes of fun nonwithstanding.
As a Rose War Sandbox: More then enough to run it. Obsessive focus on minituae wastes space. Servicable, the noble house simulator could have used more elaboration but works as it is. Mass combat has some problems. Fully functional but needed polishing.
As a medieval rpg supplement: Sections on Law and society are okay. Equipment section is good. Magic section is dissapointing and mundane. Rules of demon summoning kick ass. Random encounter tables are fun. Herb and alchemy section is excellent. A seven.
As an attempt to do for England what Warhammer Fantasy did for Germany: Laughably inadequate.
As an attempt to simulate the style of play WF is going for: Decent.
The sample adventure section: The elf tomb is good. The rest is unforgiveable.
The Fantastic Heroes & Witchery Section: Decent, If only Crouzet had written more.
Did Pundit rip things off again: It stops at emulation this time.
Tranny concubines?: No tranny concubines 😦
Recommendation: Strip it for parts and make your own fun medieval england with revenant king arthur and revenant robin hood and revenant everything.
Final Verdict: 5.5 out of 10 tranny concubines. The setting doesn’t do it for me but the game might be fun. I’d still rather play Warhammer Fantasy or a historical game. Too much page filler shit and not enough bang for your buck. I would recommend a purchase if you are really into medieval fantasy gaming and you simply must play OSR and not WhF. There is good in this, but the ratio good to boring is ultimately not high enough for me to rate it any higher. As a medieval historical england supplement its usefull but you might need to change some setting stuff to make it work. If you are a Rose War fan I guess I could recommend it to you but the entire history and npc setting would be useless to you since you are already familiar with it. Crunch is decent, fluff is lacking with too much chaff.