Holy crap when I asked for and got Dark Albion I wasn't expecting the breath and scope of this sprawling setting book that you can easily get lost in. I received the review pdf copy of The Dark Albion Setting Book By Rpg Pundit & Dominique Crouzet this morning. I've been devouring it ever since, imagine if the War of Roses was being fought in a low magic but heroic world of witchcraft, sorcery, warfare and violence in the middle of one of the more complicated periods of English history. This is not our world. Not at all, your looking at a dark fantasy lens of our own history twisted by the authors into an alternative OSR setting.
Dark Albion is a sprawling two hundred and eight five page pdf book for any new school, old school, or retroclone rpg system. Everything about this book speaks volumes of it's alternative world “War of The Roses” setting. The pdf is incredibly expansive, we’re clocking in at two hundred eight five pages of wall to wall artwork and 15th century dark fantasy setting. The pdf includes some very impressive maps of London, the British Isles of the 1500’s, a fully realized setting book that smacks of a dark fantasy campaign setting seen through an Old English lens, and with heaps of history, background, and much more. The setting goes into details about its own world right out of the gate. 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 in the introduction chapter with headings like : the level range is low, social status is extremely important,the role of women, the church of the unconquered Sun, chaos cults & heresy, the non human is hostile and dangerous, the monstrous is found in lonely places, and differences between our world and our historical world. This is all laid out in a common sense fashion easy to read and it defines itself by its own standards. This book is wall to wall artwork, while much of it is public domain but here its used to great effect! The layout is very well done by Domique Crouzet and company. The text easy on the eyes on the flow of the product is easy to follow.
Dark Albion tries to separate itself from its D&D roots and that's a step in the right direction of this product. Albion has frogmen and undead at the edge of civilization as rulers vie for the throne and each others throats. The PC's are placed right center stage if they wish to be with their DM's consent. The pdf of Dark Albion has some wonderful maps that make great player hand outs, & its perfectly laid out but with all of the fiddly bits and pieces laid at the feet of the DM for easy access. Everything here is totally different then what you might be used to in a conventional D&D game. Social status plays its hand in this society and a party is most likely going to be of the same social standing just to make game play easier. Women's role in Dark Albion reminds me of Chaosium's Pendragon, with a few exceptions. Young ladies are often chosen by the Unconquered Sun as clerics but this game defines clerics as warriors as well as priests of the Unconquered Sun.Clerics of the setting are completely redefined into the confines of the rich darkness of Albion, they're the only ones who can cast miracles and are of a martial persuasion. Not every priest of the Unconquered Sun can perform miracles only clerics. Women of lower status may be thieves but may not lead a gang or become the head of a thieves guild unless they were incredibly ruthless. Never mind the rarity of women warriors because your going to have to be of high birth and trained as a knight. They are there but very rare. Woman among the Scotsmen are thought of in a completely different respect, those that can beat a man are look upon as warriors. You look get a look into the nature of magick in this game setting and the women of this society, and magick is a study fraught with danger. According to Dark Albion:
"Women are just as capable, in theory, of studying magic as any man; however, the great Collegiums of Cambridge and Oxford only allow male students for the Magisterium. This means that any female Anglish magic-users were either self-taught or trained in private outside the official system. Among the upper classes, these ladies trained in the use of magic usually keep their art a closely-guarded secret, only revealed to the most trusted family or servants. In the lower classes, such women are usually the “wise women” of the town.It is a career fraught with danger, as the suspicion of chaos-worship or witchcraft is likely to fall much harder on a self-taught female magic-user than on a respected Magister of the Collegium"
The DA setting feels as if, the Roman empire never left England at all and bits of nature, magick, and definition of it are still lurking on the fringes of England along with a ton of the mythic and demonic. The demonic here is nasty,dangerous, and chaotic in some of the darkest ways possible. It seems to ooze out in places in Dark Albion just waiting to take full advantage of the idiotic politic of the War of the Roses. Chaos is just waiting to unravel society and damn the human race in Dark Albion.
This is a magick poor game setting in one sense, magic items are ultra rare and very hard to come across in this realm of the legendary and mythic. Only the rare wizard or magician is going to have any truck with these types of items. Because all magick flows from Chaos in one form or another. England and the Church of the Unconquered Sun work very hard to stamp Chaos out by any means necessary.
The details are very well done especially when you get into the Gazetteer of Albion, all of the locations of the 15th century environs of England are there and in place but vastly different then our world's War of the Roses's England.
This is a world of adventure and danger, you've got an England where zombies, undead, and all manner of horrors rise from the grave. If your expecting the usual dungeon crawling common to D&D, your in for a bit of a different type of adventuring.
From the Danger and Adventure section:
"Ruins abound from earlier peoples, be they barrows in Salisbury, in the depths of the great forest of Sherwood, the Pennine Mountains, the wild lands of Cambria, the swamps of the Wash, or the frontier brutality of the Northern Marches. Monsters of various sorts lurk in these dark uncivilized pockets. In the cities, cults of chaos plot, as well as more mundane thieves guilds. Bandits loot the countryside, some portraying themselves as «rebels» in these troubled times. Tales are told of treasure-hordes from ancient kingdoms before the time of the Anglemen, still waiting to be found in the depths of mountain caverns. Dragons and Giants exist, though they are dwindling and it has been centuries since either made themselves seen in the civilized regions."
And then we get into the Fae a bit with this little tid bit of an introduction to these alien and very strange race of yore.
"The Fae, the inhuman beings who once ruled this isle, were eventually overthrown by the Cymri they held as slaves, after the Fae had bred with some of them and given them secrets of magic; but it is said the Fae were not extinguished, only forced away into some other world; and in some magical places the border between the realm of Fae and the world of men becomes tenuous. From these places, the Fae may seek to bring chaos to the world of men, either raiding themselves, or sending forth Changelings (creatures that can mimic the appearance of a man) to do their bidding. Goblins too were once slaves of the Fae, and stories are told that the Goblins were not wiped out, but live on in vast underground cities deep beneath Albion."
I have to say that this is vastly different then what I was expecting and it feels almost but not quite along the same guidelines of Pendragon or Harn in a good way. The grittiness that's present in the Fantastic Heroes and Witchery rulebook is brought to the surface in Dark Albion. But this is a world of warfare and in violent flux.
When we start to dive beneath the surface of the Dark Albion book we are looking into a world defined by two things the weight of its history and the violence of its society. Dark Albion is an dark fantasy world gone very wrong, a place where the magic and mythology of the world has begun to wane and the dark claws of chaos grip the dark heart of this England. All set against the backdrop of the War of the Roses. And all of the while Chaos and Hell wait to end it all! The Church of the Unconquered Sun does its level best to eradicate it where it rears its head, often times by burning the infection of the infernal to the ground. This isn't D&D or any of its tropes at all. Here wizards and mages are working by their wits and your warriors better be born into a station where you can affect the world. Because the nobles are doing their level best to turn the Heraldic badges of The Red Rose of the House of Lancaster and The White Rose of the House of York into a chess board of blood, guts, and slaughter with someone claiming not only the throne but the very core of this world's England. Every little area of this England is fleshed out in such a way as to encourage adventure and breath life into the locations of Dark Albion. And this book's pdf is filled with wall to wall maps of adventure locations but there is very little here of fantasy adventures of a D&D style game. Because this is world of intrigue,violence, and hellish terror. The Church of the Unconquered Sun is a monolithic slab of an institution waiting to bring the hammer down hard on the head of witchcraft, magick, and Chaos in spades. The question is will your party be the nail or the hammer? The War of the Roses will determine that. For your social standing, status, and indeed your family honor is all at stake in this setting. So are your very lives. The Law and Justice section of Dark Albion leaves little doubt as to the thumb print of this world's Rome in my mind. Its bloody and vile hand prints are all over this chapter and the ins and outs of crime and punishment are dark, swift and horrid. The echoes of real world his are all over this chapter. Make no mistake, your PC's screw up in this world and its the stake or worse for them. The Europe of the Dark Albion setting is given lots of detail in this pdf, we get an overview of a darkly strange world that borrows from the Gothic horror tradition but doesn't emulate to any fair degree.The terrors and mythology are once again twistings of our own history but given far more depth to create the illusion of adventure just waiting around every dark corner and the roads of travelers beset with adventure.
One might think that dealing with Dark Albion would be like diving into the deep end of a very long and boring history class from an alternative world? No the history chapter is devided into Albion today and the historical traces of this world's setting of the War of the Roses and where PC's can fit in. The Characters In Albion chapter is especially nice because it twists the usual tropes of PC creation with Dark Albion specific details such as backgrounds, PC life events, changes to the existing D&D style PC classes and the changes borne of Dark Albion, and more with an unusual flare for bringing all of the details together under one roof.
Note that Scots take the place of the usual Dwarves in Dark Albion with some heavy twists along with the Cymri taking the half Elven race but again with some distinctly original twists all brought into the supernatural world of this setting. Some of the detail can seem a bit overwhelming but the author handles it with gratis and style all of their own.
Currency & Equipment is well done and extensive with rules effected once again by social standing, wealth, social norms and mores as well as more. As a DM your going to want to have the PC's be well of and of noble blood or else things might be complicated for them. This is a personal observation and things might vary but according to the Currency and Economy chapter:
"On the other end of the spectrum, the aristocracy has vast lands, knights and soldiers, and influence in the courts, but may actually have little in the way of liquid assets (though there are certainly exceptions). They trade as much or more on their reputation and ‘push’ in government as they do in money. The royal family itself is NOT rich at this time by the standard of the nobility, having drained the nations coffers over the last fifty years in failed wars against the frogmen, and now on the recruiting of armies to fight the Rose War. Both Yorkists and Lancastrians depend on the wealth of powerful and rich noble families like the Nevilles, or even wealthy commoner merchants like William Canynge.
So if you are going to reflect the Albion setting’s economy accurately, player characters may often engage in exchanges for goods or services not based on coin-derived purchases at all." Once again the events of the War take center stage and this is one more reason why the hard and gritty feel of the book reminds me of a good episode of a Game of Thrones but with firearms and deadly politics can lead to PC's needing to take sides and looking out for their own interests as well. Everything from arms, equipment, to horses is all in this extensive chapter and there is plenty of hooks here to add in a bit of adventure and intrigue into buying equipment.
Noble houses of Albion goes into an overview of the major events, players, parties, and back dealings of the War of the Roses of Albion and what its direct impact is on your PC's lives. DM need to pay special attention to this chapter because of the very nature of this book's setting history isn't simply background in this campaign but center stage and living. Important People of Interest lays out the impact of these power movers and shaker NPC's into the scale of the campaign's history. And just as in real life these are people of power, violence, and history with the power of life and death at their finger tips and around each others throats. This chapter charts out the relationships and bloodlines of each & everyone of them. The artwork is especially well used here to suggest and show the power struggles of Dark Albion.
Sorcery and Secrets goes through the magick, mysteries, and dark sorcery of the setting. Magick here is fraught with power and pure danger. The Church is intertwined with the dark nature of Chaos itself from which all magick springs. If you are expecting the spell slingers and wizards of D&D, forget it. These are the wizards and witches of the witch trials, the men and women of a dark and far more sinister nature. These are the dark reflection of the light of the Unconquered Sun and they are ritualistic casters of the darkest sorts. The church views them as such and they do indeed summon demons, work from within the foundations of Dark Albion and twist reality sometimes for good but most often for bad. Chaos in this game setting is a losing proposition in spades. Witches, demon summoners, wizards, gamble with their very souls and they do it for the sheer supernatural darkness of it. Once again your social standing will actually affect your PC's ability to cast a spell. Demons are indeed powerful, dangerous, and infernal in every sense of the word, they really are the corruption of Hell itself and waiting at the threshold to drag your PC's soul into the Abyss.
Magic Item creation is rarely practiced, dangerous, and horribly prone to have dangerous things happen. Poison or worse could happen from potion creation, and with a low magic setting this is very dangerous indeed. There are several artifacts and relics listed along with their mythology but these are items of myth and legend requiring quests and missions of dark aspect. For this will require venturing into the mists of adventure and foreign lands at the edge of Albion. The rules for Alchemy round out this chapter and their well put together with some nice systems built into this source book. They give just enough for PC's to add a bit more of the esoteric to their backgrounds should they be of appropriate station.
Adventuring on Dark Albion gives the PC's a chance to get into the wider world of the setting with lots of guidance and wisdom for the DM to pull the players into the deep end of the setting with bandits, weirdness, and random encounters adding not only colour but a solid system for the DM to introduce the world of Dark Albion's adventures. This is one of my favorite chapters because it clearly outlines and highlights the dark mythic and legendary of this world. Magick and myth are or have faded from the world but its not gone yet nor will it ever. Here the mythological aspects of Dark Albion are holding on with tooth and claw for dear life. We get a sense in this chapter of the depth and breath of the history of the legends of Dark Albion and sheer volume of what lurks on the fringes of England and Europe waiting to tear apart PC's. There's maps, NPC's, adventure hooks, world building bits, adventure locations a plenty, and much more all living side by side with the world of the War of the Roses. The whole thing reads like an alternative world darkly with a knife to its own throat waiting for PC's to stumble into into it. You have burrow crawling, dark Fey remains,twisted festivals, weird customs, odd happenings, and your PC's are smack in the middle of it as victims, victors, and fools all being pulled into the setting by it all. There is a boat load of maps right in the middle of this chapter, and again artwork galore.
This chapter is one of the most important to Dark Albion and really showcases the setting as well as the inherit violence of the setting's England and Europe. There is so much to take in that a new DM might want to look through this chapter as much an overview of what can be done with Dark Albion as much as a DM's adventure tool box. This chapter is really part of the soul of this book and its very well done. Worth the price of admission as well.
The Appendixes add in that last dollop of icing on the wedding cake of Dark Albion. You get The Knights of the Star & Secrets of the Clerical Orders this chapter goes into Order of the Royal Star is the foremost order of knights in the land of Albion and its inner workings and secrets. Very interesting stuff I can assure you as we are brought into some of the inner workings of this organization's past and its role in the War today!
Appendix P Rpg Pundit's Quick and Dirty House Rules, these are rules for use with the lighter OSR games. According to the book, "house rules are intended for use with the lighter OSR games, typically Swords & Wizardry or Lamentations of the Flame Princess, or even Basic-Fantasy-RPG." And these rules are well suited for what they do and how this game is a setting universal OSR book. These are solidly done allowing the fighting-man, cleric, magic-user, and sometimes thief to enter the world of Dark Albion. It has modifications for and of currency, equipment, weapons, etc. all for these OSR and original edition games.
Finally rounding out Dark Albion is Appendix three for the Fantastic Heroes and Witchery rpg system, this chapter is a mini gaming source book for adapting FH&W to Dark Albion. And it does a damn good job of it, this chapter builds upon the foundation of the previous material laid out in the Dark Albion setting book. We get eight new PC classes along with notes about using some of the other FH&W classes with Dark Albion. Guidelines for Dark Albion being a low magic setting, chances of spell failure, and the dangers of sorcery. Both of which are optional guideline rules. A simple cosmology of Dark Albion put into Fantastic Hereos and Witchery terms and rules. And finally new spells from the rich dark fantasy setting Dark Albion.
So bottom line is Dark Albion worth your money? In a word for the PDF, yes if your looking for a dark, gritty, rich, fantasy world of the War of The Roses. This is a labor of love by two authors who spent a great deal of time and energy on a project that must have taken years. The sheer volume of detail in this source book is over whelming in a good way, this is a very well produced and satifying OSR source book. Solidly done with tons of artwork, background, details, mystery, magick, and adventure ready for the taking by a party of adventurers in this dark alternative England. This is one very well written and exciting adventure settings to have had the pleasure to review and read. Here is a source book worth of the War of the Roses with all of the adventure, romance, blood shed,violence, and more that one would come to expect from these authors. It's already selling on Drivethru rpg and the hardback is up on Lulu as we speak and on Amazon as well. A dark variant cover of the setting book is available from Lulu as well, this is my favorite cover of Dark Albion. And within the next few weeks I'll be buying this one.
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