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Lion & Dragon
by D H. R. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 02/09/2022 17:58:22

Not to take away from Gary Gygax's accomplishment or the years of his experimentation to which all TTRPG owes, but this is the medieval fantasy RPG he was often trying to make without knowing it.

The pure note struck in this crystal distilling the period mythology & occultism of pre-Enlightenment Britain is a spiritual conversation across time to those 70s gamer basements. We see here the logical foundation for the oldest 3-alignment system (L,C,N) more convincing than any articulation before it, and in that theological satisfaction the simplicity of it outshines the burgeoning of "Advanced" 1e. 'Race' is similarly excized for a more Basic 'class' list, demi-humans you meet in Lion & Dragon return to the other side of the equation as exotic, magical, and numinous encounters as they began centuries ago. (After 50 years of abusive mundacity on the fantasy book and RPG shelves, they surely deserve the break from being met in the local tavern.)

Gygax' fetish for pole arms belongs here in Lion & Dragon more than it ever did D&D, and the chronic issue of runaway power ratio of magic-users : fighters is resolved---brilliantly. The elimination of the AoE magic bomber doesn't take away from the appeal of the magic-user class; the strategy game walking the tightrope of mortal and immortal politics is an RP game experience designed for quintessential Gandalfs (or Saurumans,) not fireballing video-gamers.

The research is taught, as is the art originating from it. The editing is crisp and clear. Even if you don't think you have a posse to play this game, this is still a huge bang-for-the-buck template to craft your own fantasy setting and magic theory by branching out once again from this perfectly pruned bonsai of historical, and therefore eternal, source material.

Quite simply, a work of art. You won't regret a dime spent on this one.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Lion & Dragon
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Lion & Dragon
by Eric M. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 10/12/2021 19:11:42

The Gold Standard for Late Medieval Authentic Roleplay.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
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Fantastic Heroes & Witchery
by Patrick Y. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 09/07/2021 13:40:18

If you are looking for a full-bodied version of old-school D&D, then this massive, well-indexed tome of a pdf is an absolute steal at the price. This game is packed with classes and spells. I love the alternate cleric and wise-man classes that actually make sense for a fantastical version of medieval Europe. Spells are subdivided in several ways, including by school (if you want specialty wizards) and black/grey/white (if you want alignment-influenced magic). There are demi-human classes that are so close to actual folk-lore, that I can happily use them in an otherwise humanocentirc setting. Of the 30+ classes, you can probably pick a dozen or so that would fit any particular setting you want. If for no other reason, buy this game to see what good, thematic classes look like.

True, there is no bestiary or list of magic items. That should pose no problem at all for a DM that has ANY other old-school version of D&D. There are many separate OSR bestiaries out there as well. Why is the book so long if it doesn't have critters? (1) Unlike rules-light versions of D&D, this one has (mostly optional) rules to cover every situation. I wouldn't use most of this stuff, but some people like having "rules for everything". (2) The author is somewhat verbose. His explanations of common objects and concepts goes beyond what I really need. (3) Did I mention the 30+ classes and 666 spells?

AC is ascending. The suggested skill system is d20 roll-over-DC (like 5e), but skills are not actually listed or strongly emphasized. You could easily substitute something else if you like or ignore them altogether.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Fantastic Heroes & Witchery
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DAA1 - The Ghost of Jack Cade on London Bridge
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 02/19/2020 11:51:28

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 26 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page hyperlinked ToC (only in the pdf), 1 page editorial, ½ a page ToC, 1 page SRD; the print-version, obviously, does have a back cover as well. We have 21.5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was requested by one of my patreon supporters, who sent me the Dark Albion books, to be reviewed at my convenience.

Okay, so this is an introductory adventure/setting book, and it is billed as a dual-format book for both Fantastic Heroes & Witchery (one of the most underappreciated games ever), and generic OSR. A few notes here: I usually consider dual format books bad deals for the customer, because you invariably end up with content that you didn’t want or planned on using. For games with complex rules, this also usually results in issues with the logic, power-levels, etc. The Dark Albion books did not fall prey to this, both due to the systems in question being pretty compact in their demands regarding real estate, and due to a pretty meticulous approach to rules. This adventure is no different in that regard, so kudos there.

Which brings me to another aspect: I vastly prefer OSR books to actually subscribe to a specific rules-set. Why? Because playing in Labyrinth Lord or For Gold & Glory, or LotFP for that matter, are very different experiences, and power-levels. While many referees have a relatively easy time adjusting components on the fly, this book goes a step further and genuinely walks you through the rules that are employed: We get BOTH ascending attack bonuses AND THAC0s (called TaAC0 here); one save is presented, with notes for 5-save systems provided, and even a default DC noted. Skills can be resolved via d6, via d%-checks, or with d20 vs. DC, accounting for both 5-type style saves and those based on ability scores. Interestingly enough, this does a better job with these guidelines to allow the book to be used with e.g. 5e than many of the bad conversions to 5e I’ve read. In short, this is one of the VERY FEW books I’d consider to be truly successful at being a universally applicable OSR-module without losing details or bad hiccups.

The module is intended for 1st to 2nd level characters, though personally, I’d suggest using this as a first level adventure. In case you were wondering, btw.: The rebellion of the eponymous Jack Cade was a very real thing. Cade’s rebels were beaten on London bridge due to his men starting to loot, earning the ire of the populace, so there is a historical background here – when the module starts, the rebellion is obviously already over. Nice, btw.: The book does come with a pretty significant epilogue and suggestion for further adventures, with hooks often based on actions the PCs may have taken. The module has no read-aloud text, just fyi.

In order to talk about more this module, I’ll need to go into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

… .. . All right, only referees around? Great!

The module’s rules deserve further applause: One of the few magic items (this is Dark Albion at its best), is a spellbook that contains a variety of different spells that don’t properly work – like a charm person accompanied by insane jealousy. I liked these. In fact, I’d have loved to see a similar treatment for all spells in a rulebook, as these can be easily used as a kind of spell mishap.

Anyhow, what you should know, is that London Bridge as depicted herein, is not only fully mapped (including sideviews) and illustrated (some gorgeous b/w-pieces), it also pretty much is an excellent generator: The pdf sports a generator that lets you determine the number of levels of a building, the number of shops, the type of sold goods, the number of rooms per level, room contents, room occupants and attic content and current occupants. The maps provided help render this place alive, and better yet, the book comes with 20 VERY DETAILED NPC/sample occupants-angles to further make the bridge come alive.

The bridge is more than dressing, though. Indeed, the module provides rules for navigating the constant throng of people on London Bridge, including chases and vanishing in the crowd, as well as chases by row boat. Concise rules for falling into the Thames are provided as well. In a way, it may even be more salient to think about this supplement as a local environment sourcebook with a detailed adventure hook.

You see, structurally, this is aimed at the experienced GM: It presents an environment and a problem, all associated rules you’d require, and then throws in the PCs – in a way, this is as wide-open a sandbox in this context that it can be.

LAST WARNING. SPOILERS. PLAYERS, SKIP AHEAD.

Now, plot-wise, I love that this module subverts superstition – you see, Jack Cade’s ghost has been seen on London Bridge (his decaying head on a pike being one of the b/w-artworks), and people are spooked. Well, if you’re gathering your trusty Undead-EX-gear right now, you’ll be surprised to hear that it’s no ghost plaguing the bridge, but rather an enterprising criminal who happened upon a mage suffering from a botched spell; he quickly absconded, and, being illiterate (nice catch!) starting fumbling about with a crystal, a rather malfunctioning magic item. This item lets you use a ghostly project image – and the criminal has been using the item rather well in his scam! If people are running from ghosts, they’re less likely to notice missing valuables, right? This is a genuinely cool angle I enjoyed, and if you execute it properly, can provide more than one day worth of gaming. You can run this is a quick manner, in a slow one, and anything in-between – but however you run it, make sure you have a very detailed knowledge of the content herein. The sandboxy nature and open structure, coupled with the locale and density of content do mean that you should properly prepare this module. If you do, you can use all those sample PCs and mapped locales to evoke a genuinely plausible vision of London Bridge.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to Dark Albion’s nice two-column b/w-standard, with a surprising amount of neat b/w-artworks and an impressive amount of cartography. I wished the maps had been collected in the back as well, for printing them out, though. Similarly, the lack of player-friendly maps is a downside for the module – more so for this than for many others. Why? If this had player-friendly maps, it’d allow the GM to just hand out house-map after house-map as the PCs explore, making the bridge “grow” on the table! This is still possible, but requires some obvious work. I do suggest you do that, though – it’s totally worth it!

Dominique Crouzet’s first (and much to my chagrin, so far only) Dark Albion adventure is a successful venture; while I’d argue that this is closer to a regional sourcebook than an adventure in the traditional sense, its adventure components can be executed with rather impressive results in the open, exceedingly-detailed sandbox provided here. I consider this module to be very much worth getting, and a great way to get into Dark Albion. Now, beyond Dark Albion, this would require some serious reskinning, obviously, so do bear that in mind.

While the map-shortcomings did irk me, there is one more aspect to consider: The pdf clocks in at a grand total of 2 bucks, with the print version (saddle-stitched softcover) clocking in at what looks like at-cost at just $6.99, the price you pay for many pdfs. Considering the great bang-for-buck-ratio, I’ll round up from my final verdict of 4.5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
DAA1  - The Ghost of Jack Cade on London Bridge
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Dark Albion: Cults of Chaos
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 02/13/2020 05:14:02

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This supplement clocks in at 94 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page advertisement, 1 page editorial, 1 page introduction/ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 89 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

I received this book in its Lulu softcover PoD-version by one of my readers for the purpose of a review, to be undertaken at my convenience. I also consulted the pdf version, but the review is primarily based on the print iteration.

Okay, so the first thing you need to know, is that this book is not necessarily Dark Albion-exclusive; the lion’s share of the book is not even OSR-exclusive; depending on your skills in the target system, you can use this with pretty much everything; there are rules-components here, but since the book does not subscribe to a singular OSR-system, much like Dark Albion, there might be some minor tweaks required when using this in some contexts. The book contains two pages of character sheets, and two pages of worksheets for the GM, which is certainly appreciated.

What is this book? In short: It’s the largest and most encompassing chaos cult generation toolkit I’ve seen so far. The generator operates in 7 simple steps: First, you determine the social class of the chaos cult – and yes, mixed cults are possible, but statistically are actually the rarest ones – which makes sense. Both of these come with tables. After this, you determine the size of the cult, and proceed with a simple decision: Has the cult been exposed or not (yet). Then, we come to the largest consideration – determine the cult type. Fake cults, witchcraft, old religions, heresies, elf cults, object cults, sex cults (PG 13, in case that bothers you) –here is the best thing about these: There are different cult types for different social classes: Nobles might e.g. follow immortality cults and the like. These cult types come btw. with more detailed descriptions.

In step 5, we get tables for cult secret lairs, once more with different tables for different social classes of the cults; step 6 is optional, but I’d recommend it: A massive table lets you determine special resources the cult might have – veterans, protection of local lords, monsters, etc. Also optional: Step 7 nets you a variety of chaos cult complications, with the table spanning 2.5 pages.

This generator alone is already an impressively potent tool for the GM, and from here, we only go further: We get tables to determine how cultists recognize each other, and a rather cool table on cultist obligations and taboos. Random tables for ceremonies are provided as well: One to determine the place, one for the required garb, and one to determine the ceremony type.

With these, an experienced GM already has the tools to make a cult adventure, but we haven’t started yet! The book then proceeds to present a wide array for actual reasons for joining a cult, which allows you to generate surprisingly plausible allegiances within the cult.

What’s that? You want CHAOS? Well, we have mutation rules here – in short: They are permanent and almost impossible to revert, which is how they should be; we learn about the church’s stance on mutation within Albion’s context (hint: It involves the words “kill” and “extreme” and “prejudice” and/or “pyre”…), before the book goes into a variety of mutations in 3 different categories: Minor, moderate, severe. Minor mutations can include witch marks, blood thirst, loss of hair, small horns, being worm-infested, etc. – is the fellow just diseased or a cultist? The fact that these are subtle is great – it lets you get into the witch-burning paranoia-mindset.

The major mutations are more rules-relevant and include being haunted, developing canines, loss of limbs or gaining the evil eye. Severe mutations, finally, include a familiar (with subtable including individual benefits), becoming fish men, green men, growing pincers, etc. These are the…well, nasty apotheosis kind of mutations that may see the target become the focus for a cult.

After these mighty generators, we get a step by step guide for running chaos cult adventures and potentially, even whole inquisition campaigns, with suggestions for current objectives, as well as a variety of really diverse hooks for getting into adventures; then clues. Get it? Now that the cult generator is done, the book proceeds to present a chaos cult adventure generator, and it’s a genuinely well-crafted one, including massive tables of clues to scavenge. This section btw. also include a means for players prodding in the dark to be rewarded, so if your players stumbled into an aspect of the adventure you have not accounted for, this’ll help.

The book then proceeds to depict, in detail, a massive array of tables for questioning NPCs: We get tables to randomly determine whether a random NPC is a cultist, how cultists and their allies will react, how non-cultists will react, and what non-cultists will tell. The book also features a total of 20 detailed baseless rumors – essentially detailed red herrings. Suggested events and encounters and a huge amount of sample cultist personalities, as well as a whole page of old-school statblocks for run-of-the-mill cultists are also featured.

This out of the way, we get a low-level, mid-level and high-level chaos cult dungeon – these come with nice b/w maps, and are functional; not brilliant, but they certainly do their job. No player-friendly versions of the maps are included. If the book has one weakness, it’s that the space taken up by these sample lair would have imho been better served by more material for the investigation generators.

Finally, since elves are chaotic and pretty evil in Dark Albion, we have notes on elf cults alongside a variety of different cults – from demonic cults to bacchae and good ole’ blood god we get detailed notes on daily practices, rituals, etc. There are notes for the heresy of the Cathari, Donatists, and there are notes for cults of Eros and Venus, Gaia, Green Man, etc. – and yes, Gnostics, Manichaeism, and the Hawk, deity of the Scots Men, Hecate, Mananan – this book delves deep into the whole aspect of mythology in Dark Albion that I’d have loved to see focused on more in the main book. And yes, frog cults are presented – but I have no problem with frog cults per se; I have a problem with the nation of high fantasy, decadent frog people breaking the setting’s consistence…so no problem there. We get appropriate notes like alien artifacts for star cults, magic item relevance, etc. – nice.

The final appendix of the book deals with locations of power, covering rules for magic-dampening locations and magic-enhancing ones; chaos-enhanced and planar-crossover locales, as well as a chaos backlash table can be found here – and since drugs are obviously involved in a pretty serious way in dubious rituals, the book covers a massive table of visions, hallucinations and bad trips, finishing what must be called a truly encompassing generator.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level, with everything being precise, didactically sound in sequence, etc. – no complaints. Layout adheres to a two-column b/w-standard, and is just as well-executed as in the campaign setting. Artworks are a mix of well-chosen public domain art and stock pieces; personally, I preferred the public domain art here. Cartography is nice and b/w, but there are no player-friendly iterations of the maps. Much to my dismay, the pdf has no bookmarks – if you just want that iteration, detract a star.

To get that straight from the get-go: This expansion/generator book is pretty darn awesome.

After the inconsistencies of the main book, this one focuses on dark fantasy themes and manages to depict chaos cults and making them in a holistic manner; it lets you not only create a cult, it also has all the tools to run an investigation into it in a pretty fluid manner, without much prep work. If you’re good at this type of thing/an experienced GM, you may well use this to run a spontaneous cult investigation sans any prep-work – heck, I’ve done it. That is a fantastic thing to achieve. RPG Pundit and Dominique Crouzet deliver in this book, big time. This is not only useful for Dark Albion, but far beyond the setting and system – whether WFRP, Greyhawk, The Witcher or some other dark fantasy setting, this can very much yield helpful results. An impressive achievement! 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dark Albion: Cults of Chaos
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Dark Albion: The Rose War
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 02/06/2020 12:05:16

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive campaign setting clocks in at 285 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page chapter hyperlinks (for easy pdf-navigation), 1 page editorial, 2 pages of ToC, 2 pages of index, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 276 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue due to a patreon supporter sending me the hardcover with the request to cover it at my convenience.

Okay, so, Dark Albion, what is this? Well, first of all, this is a medieval roleplaying setting set in the age that served as an inspiration for A Song of Ice and Fire.

Before we get into the main meat of the book, which is the setting, we should definitely talk about the rules situation here. The book uses two different rules systems, and I am generally never a fan of those; why? Because, regardless of which system you prefer, you’ll have the burden of the additional content you neither needed, nor wanted. Dual-format books tend to be intrinsically customer unfriendly to a degree; for OSR supplements, this is slightly mitigated due to the less pronounced focus on rules; in this book, the issue is reduced further, for the design is per se made to be able to be grafted onto most old-school systems, with the rules-relevant aspects mostly relegated to the appendices at the back of the book. In short: The book does not consist of ½ content you won’t use; the system-specific rules are complimentary, not required to run this, and are in the back.

Beyond the sub-systems introduced (to which I’ll return below), let us talk about these first. For suggested OSR-systems, Labyrinth Lord and Lamentations of the Flame Princess are suggested, and since there are x-in-6-references here and there, the latter might work best. Swords & Wizardry and the like will work just as well, just fyi. The OSR-appendix is a collection of houserules, and honestly, it’s perhaps the weakest aspect of the whole book: The section is noted as “quick and dirty houserules”, and probably are best conceived of as a basic form of OSR-game if you don’t want to use a specific one for your game. If you’ve read a couple of OSR-games, you probably won’t notice much of interest here. The brief class redesigns presented here are not that interesting, and the most relevant aspects are probably the notions of adding a critical effect table, as well as a brief set of rules that makes you roll 1d20 and add the spellcasting ability score, versus DC 12 + spell level to successfully cast a spell.

Here’s the thing: The rules section for Fantastic Heroes & Witchery, the second system supported here, is vastly superior. In case you are not familiar with it: Fantastic Heroes & Witchery (FH&W) is one of the most underappreciated games out there, and one of all-time favorite RPGs. No kidding. Why? Well, some people, me included, like options and per se, more stuff that we can do with PCs. At the same time, I also enjoy gritty games, and I really like my theater of the mind angle. In a way FH&W is a super-modular game that posits the question: What if we had an increase in the option array akin to what D&D 3.0, PFRPG, etc. brought, but without the miniature tactics angle of those editions? In many ways, the game never becomes as granular, but allows for very broad selections of mechanically-diverse characters, all without becoming too complex for old-school fans. It’s seriously great, and if that sounds even remotely compelling to you, then get this game. It’s worth it.

Anywhere, where was I? Oh yes: Magic being unreliable is realized in a more interesting manner, at least as far as I’m concerned: You see, Dark Albion posits a direct opposition of Law & Chaos as the central alignment conflict (one axis model); the Law is represented by the Unconquered Sun (Sol Invictus), and as such, magic falls in roughly two categories, with some working simply less reliably under the sun! That’s awesome! It’s a reason for magic practices, occult rituals and the like taking place at night! The 13-level FH&W-classes presented herein range from the obvious (like e.g. noble knights) to some that are frankly interesting by mechanics: The caster-class Magister, for example, comes with white and gray magic, but may learn black magic – but every such spell will cost the magister a white or grey magic spell known. That’s a cool way to represent corruption. As a German, I am also rather fond of the Demonurgist, essentially a Faust-like being with fiendish familiar, who becomes REALLY good at finding the creatures of chaos…and who can, at one point, even imprison demonic forces, making for a great anti-hero. These classes feature Albion’s subdued dark fantasy aesthetics with rare, but powerful magics. For FH&W, we also get two new spells and a super-simple and robust ritual demon summoning engine, which brings me to one aspect of the global rules I really enjoy, so let’s start talking about global rules in Dark Albion.

Demon summoning is not some vancian spell simply cast, nor are demons the standard D&D outsiders; instead, we have a rather solid ritual engine; 1d20 + class level + Intelligence modifier versus a DC determined by the rank of the demon – hilarious: Powerful demons may force their subordinates to show up instead. I don’t know why, but that got a serious chuckle out of me. Both the images used and the rules here (plenty of demonic abilities included) help make these feel like demons from the medieval age, not their D&D compatriots. For more diverse forms, resources like the Random Esoteric Creature Generator or the one from No Salvation for Witches are recommended by yours truly. (Alternatively, most creatures from Raphael Chandler’s horror bestiaries…) Anyway, why summon them? They can teach you spells and the like…you know the stories.

Since I mentioned this, a brief note: the layout by Dominique Crouzet is FANTASTIC. We have pictures on every page, graphical elements, and some of the best uses of public domain art that I’ve ever seen. The book has a better, more consistent visual identity as a result than many comparable books with fancy full-color artwork. It also underlines the (faux) historicity and themes of the book. Huge kudos for that decision.

But let us get back to the global rules: I very much like how this setting treats poisons and alchemical extracts: From arsenic (and cantarella) to mandrake and wolfsbane, we get quite a few new ones, with easy and quick rules to forage the, and prepare them, and all of this is supplemented by medicinal herbs and alchemical creations like Alkhalest and Aura Fulminata – if anything, this section made me smile from ear to ear, and I genuinely wished there was a whole book on herbs, poisons, substances and the like. Poisons, fyi, usually need to be ingested. This section, while brief, also works and does so well.

I can’t say the same about the magic item section, which can be summed up with two words: Bland filler. A sword+0 that is magical, but doesn’t help you hit foes? Oh boyo! Holy water! A cloak that lets you turn into a wolf. A powerful artifact torn in 7 pieces. This section is, at best, redundant. Thankfully, it is brief.

The second big rules engine that sets Dark Albion apart, would be the noble house engine: A noble house has three stats: Military Power (MP), Financial Power (FP), and Political Power (PP). You roll 3d6 for these, and multiply the result by x3. If you have a title, you get a bonus to each ability – lords get no bonus, kings get +20 to MP and FP, +40 PP. Additionally, each region has modifiers, with the most interesting being the Isle of Mann, which gets +20 MP, but only for defensive purposes. Allegiance to York or Lancastrians also influences these; not choosing a side provides a universal penalty, while choosing a side helps with that side, but imposes a huge penalty for the other side, obviously. All existing houses are covered, so this looks like it could allow you to go Birthright! Awesome! I also liked that there are annual events, but there are only 23 such events, which is weaksauce for a longer game. This needed more to stay engaging and not devolve into becoming boring.

The book also features a battle-engine based on the MPs; these include modifications for special forces (such as spellcasters, etc.), ground, etc. and leader MP modifiers, which is per se nice – but there is no tactics involved in the battles themselves. They are decided by one die roll. If battles are just one background facet of your game, this might work for you, but for games that wish to go into more details, account for tactics and the like, zoom in and out – this won’t do. Similarly, for the rules-lite crowd, this system requires that you determine casualties and victories by determining percentile values based on differences in checks. That’s a lot of math, for no gain. This is a bad engine. It has no tactical depth, gets boring immediately, and requires a bunch of math for no payout. And I LIKE math. Heck, I once ran a whole high-end hardcore Pathfinder-campaign, where every single encounter was hardwired to be a numbers-puzzle…but this engine here? It has no depth, is too clunky for being quickly resolved, and offers no payout for the time it takes to resolve. Write your own mass combat engine, use another and graft it onto this one.

Okay, and that is pretty much the major part of the rules featured herein, so let us get to the main meat of this tome, namely the campaign setting.

To historians, it sounds stupid to explicitly state this, but time and again, I’ve observed that the cultural notions exhibited in almost all roleplaying games are actually more reminiscent of the early modern period with regards to their drapery, if you will; aesthetically, most fantasy worlds we play in hearken much closer to our actual modern and contemporary morals and aesthetics, which deviate significantly from the lived-in reality of medieval Europe. There are three basic notions, grand injuries to our self-importance and ego, that mankind has suffered since those days: The knowledge that we are not the center of the universe, the knowledge that we are not special in the grand scheme of the natural order, and the knowledge that we aren’t even masters of our own psyche. These three notions have radically influenced our Weltanschauung as a whole when compared to any person living during the medieval period. We have a very different conception of reality, and if you think that ren-fairs have ANYTHING in common with actual life in this period, I hate to break it to you, but nope.

This extends to the degree where plenty of people simply lack the knowledge to properly roleplay a person of this time, as they would violate social decorum left and right and/or be offended by the social mores of that time. As such, this book has a manifold challenge ahead of itself: It needs to teach and contextualize the lived-in reality of the times, make it playable for the average gamer out there and generate a compelling setting based on the by now most notorious periods in English history…so let’s see how this fares!

The first big component that sets the medieval mindset apart would obviously be informed by nothing else than Christianity, or rather, the collective of Abrahamic religions as a whole; these ideologies informed pretty much the structure of the social strata, the calendar, and the general world-view. For example, there is the notion called “Gottesgnadentum” in German, which denotes the idea that the social station of nobility is granted by the grace of the Christian god, which makes any rebellion, disrespect, etc. not only an affront to the ruling powers, but also almost a kind of heresy against god. That is an extremely frightening concept to me that is hard to wrap my head around. Take out Christianity and the effects of Rome, and the whole European structure would have gone a very different route. Now, out of a fear of offending someone’s religious sensibilities, many RPGs cop out of using Christianity, and this is no different. HOWEVER, at least it makes a smart call with the replacement: Instead, we get, as noted before, the Sol invictus as a placeholder, which lets us use all of our accumulated Dark Souls memes in game. “Do you even praise the sun, peasant?” The Unconquered Sun is also used to defuse another hot button issue: One might assume that not everyone subscribes to the Lamentations of the Flame Princess-thesis of adventurers as sociopaths, outcasts and misfits by definition, and in some ways, the church of the unconquered sun allows for a softening of borders for modern sensibilities without breaking the setting’s basic tenets.

You see, more so than even 50 years ago, the medieval age was obviously HORRIBLY sexist by modern standards. There also was a lack of social mobility. If you thought your racist/sexist grand-parents were bad, you have no idea, and should seriously do some research. In Dark Albion, the divine providence of the Unconquered Sun sees fit to call female individuals into service as well as males, allowing them to break through the social norms. Clerics, by the way, are the exception – they are essentially rare, and the special OPs force of the church. Few higher ups are clerics, and e.g. the Pope is a commoner. Which brings me to the first point where the book seriously falters. How do these people keep their power, when clerics have the direct power of the Unconquered Sun? This question is never properly explained. Same goes for witch trials, or trials in general. The book acknowledges how fun trials can be and spends quite a bit of time on them – and I agree.

And yes, the cleric and magic-user spell lists are limited and mostly purged of direct damage spells. But clerics still have detect lie. That renders the whole notion of trials that are not easily solved a matter of bad logistics. Note: Even executioners used to travel; Meister Franz Schmidt, famous executioner of Nuremberg, has chronicled his travels rather well – you can still read his journals, and there is a neat English translation as well. Establishing a similar situation for clerics and difficult trials would have been easy. It also disregards the whole angle of the logics of the punitive judiciary system in place back then, and how that interacted with how people and criminals approached their penance. Here, it is evident that per se good ideas have not been thought through properly. This oversight can also be observed for two other factors – the Turks worship the Unconquered Sun as the Moon, which is CLEVER. How and why this validates the struggles between them and the sun-worshipers, however, is exceedingly opaque. The Russian Orthodox Church is all but ignored as well – the ideas and the consequences of the changes have only been thought through in a logical manner as how they pertain to the core concepts. This is particularly jarring and evident in contrast with other components.

For, and that is an important note, one CAN see that the author is a historian. The level of fidelity and knowledge on display regarding the subject matter is impressive; while there are changes made to historical facts, these tend to be due to the requirements of being more gameable and subtle influences of the fantastic. Hadrian’s wall, for example, is still standing and fortified, for the wild places are where the dark things and inhuman creatures lurk.

In many ways, the gazetteer is absolutely amazing regarding its attention to detail, hex maps, all the details and politicking. If you enjoyed the more complex tapestry of allegiances of A Song of Ice and Fire in comparison to Game of Thrones’ dumbing down of everything, this will make you grin indeed. If you’re into the era in a non-fantastic context, doubly so. At one point, I genuinely stopped looking for settings like this, because I knew I’d hate their anachronisms and lack of ambition and b/w-morality, and Dark Albion generally manages to avoid these pitfalls. If you’re looking for a historical reference for a fantasy game, then this delivers in HUGE spades.

I also love, and I mean LOVE, that the book does not simply handwave the importance of social class. If you’re a peasant, you’re not wearing a sword, not unless you want to go to jail. Indeed, walking round in armor, with weapons, like murder hobos are wont to do, is a capital letters BAD IDEA in most regions of Albion. This whole aspect is awesome, and personally, I’d have appreciated e.g. further discussions on privilege by class – colors, for example, were restricted by class, and used to e.g. denote prostitutes etc. More on the class system would have been helpful not only for the setting, but beyond its confines. I really love that the book provides an overview of the things to come, as another example of plentiful adventure seeds.

There are two aspects where this otherwise frankly phenomenal component of the book struggles. The first would be organization. The book imposes a huge cognitive load upon the reader, particularly if you’re not familiar with the Rose War. I did not notice this myself, but I’m a bad reference; however, when I handed this book to other people, they complained about the sheer number of names. With fluid allegiances and intrigue left and right, getting some family trees, allegiance trackers by year, etc. would have made this much more user-friendly for the non-academic/non-history-buff gamers. That being said, the history component is fantastic. I love that part of the book.

The second problematic aspect would be fantasy. Oh boy does Dark Albion’s fantasy SUCK. The book has a serious identity crisis and no vision whatsoever as to how it wants its fantasy to be. Non-human races are non-player races; elves were decadent and evil proto-cultures, got it. Albion is a rare magic setting, and magic is feared, got it. But you can study magic in frickin’ Oxford. I am not kidding you. It’s an overt, magic academy, totally inimical to how Christianity would deal with that, and to the concept of magic being dangerous, aligned with chaos and demons, etc. The book can’t really decide how rare its magic is supposed to be, nor how powerful. Beyond aforementioned cleric issues, we have genuinely cool angles for Dracula that make him essentially the Castlevania villain, and a few nods to myths – there are these gems, directly contrasted with pretty bland-festy encounter-locations (no player-friendly maps) that are boring. Still apart from the church/Oxford-logic guffaws, when looking at just the island, Dark Albion could claim to be a dark fantasy setting. It doesn’t make much use of Anglish or Celtic myths, which is a huge lost chance, but oh well.

And then there is the continent, particularly France. You know, this does try to be the Anglish Warhammer Fantasy RPG, with the notions of magic as dangerous and chaotic, etc., just minus Chaos and a stronger emphasis on medieval conceptions of what demons do. Sounds good, right? I mean, okay, the setting has unfortunately eliminated any good reason for the primary conflicts of the continent without replacing them with a valid substitution, but that doesn’t influence Albion, so you can ignore that.

You can’t ignore Burgundy and France. That section was so bad, it gave me fucking whiplash. Know who conquered the majority of France, excluding Burgundy, erecting a decadent empire where humans are enslaved to decadent masters.

Frogmen.

I am not kidding. Frogmen. You know, because…France. Haha. Ha. -.- This is neither funny, nor badass. It’s STUPID.

And everyone on the continent’s just watching. They have tons of magic, so there goes your cool low magic premise. They seem to exist in a quasi-vacuum, and none of the other human free cities, baronies, etc. seem to unite to exterminate them. The church doesn’t ally with the Turks to exterminate them. We have a whole land, that, like a festering pustule, breaks any notion of cohesion, plausibility that the setting worked so hard to establish. They are LITERALLY agents of pure evil, of the thing directly opposed to ALL of organized religions. Can you picture what would have happened if a republic of Satan had sprung up in medieval Europe? They’d have been crusaded to back to hell faster than you can say “That escalated quickly.”

I can live with a bland dungeon, a minor logic bug, a subpar subsystem. But this book spends hundred+ pages to establish a great, gritty theme and then makes a trollface and laughs at: “Here are magic frogmen!” That’s not smart, clever, or funny. It’s also not scary. Anything would be scarier. Cannibal halflings. Skaven. Undead. Heck, what about Russian Orthodox holy hussars? Anything.

All the small inconsistencies accumulate…but the frogmen take the script and throw it out the window. They are the culmination and escalation of the small issues, and represent a huge, festering blemish that wrecks the setting as written for me. Totally.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules language level; the rules are precise where presented, and make sense. Layout deserves special applause: It’s one of the best uses of layout elements, public domain art and aesthetics to convey authenticity that I’ve ever seen. This shows how good-looking you can make an indie-production. The b/w-cartography is nice, but no player-friendly versions are provided for the encounter areas later in the book. A huge kudos, and good reason to get the electronic iteration: We get a TON of maps in that version: There are three versions of the Albion map – one in full color (on the back of the hardcover, fyi), one in b/w, and one in parchment. There are 6 regional hexmaps in b/w, and in a version that is parchment-style. The continent comes in a colored and b/w hexmap, and there is a an additional b/w rose war hexmap for the GM. Seriously, kudos for this. The hardcover I have, unless I’m seriously wrong, is the Lulu PoD-iteration, and it is quality-wise solid, with the proper name on the spine, etc. The electronic version comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks for your convenience.

Dark Albion is a frustrating book for me; RPG Pundit and Dominique Crouzet, for a long time while I first read this, crafted a setting that seriously captured my interest. The small inconsistencies kept accumulating, but for a long time, I thought I’d end up loving or liking this…and then, the inconsistencies got worse. (And before you ask: the book makes it VERY clear what Dominique Crouzet contributed – they are not responsible for those issues!) The more I thought about missed chances here and there, the more I wished that this had embraced its grit more…and then, BAM:

Trollface!!

Lololol, tHeRe ArE lOtS oF mAgIcAl EvUuUhHl FrOgMeN iN fRaNcE!

SuRpRiSe StUpId GoNzO iN yOuR gRiTtY rEaLiSm!

Seriously? SIGH

I seriously think this book had been better off, if it had not tried its hand at fantasy AT ALL. The grounded, history angle is genuinely great, inspiring, fun – presented in a manner that, while not exactly easy to digest, is easier to digest than history books, with a stronger emphasis on the game. For a reference book? Awesome. That aspects are top tier, and if the book had managed to execute these last few steps in internal consistence, they’d be benchmarks.

Everything pertaining to magic, fantasy, etc.? Not that great, to put it lightly. With some additional effort, the Sol Invictus conceit could have genuinely worked PERFECTLY, but it feels like the authors ran out of steam there. The fantasy is lackluster, boring, been there, done that – or frankly insultingly dumb.

This could have been a milestone, and, as far as I’m concerned, it throws it all away, tarnishing even the brightest of its parts. I reread the book after a few months had passed, knowing what was to come, and I arrived at the same conclusions. The near-historical parts are great, but tarnished and tainted by thematic whiplash and small inconsistencies. As a result, I can’t recommend this as a campaign setting.

If you’re looking for a gritty low-magic dark fantasy reference tome for the era? Then this will deliver in spades…provided you can tune out aforementioned issues. I have to rate this book in its entirety, and when all is said and done, I can only recommend this in a very limited manner, in spite of the obvious passion that went into this. My final verdict can’t exceed 3 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Dark Albion: The Rose War
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Dark Albion: The Rose War
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 02/06/2020 12:04:16

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive campaign setting clocks in at 285 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page chapter hyperlinks (for easy pdf-navigation), 1 page editorial, 2 pages of ToC, 2 pages of index, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 276 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue due to a patreon supporter sending me the hardcover with the request to cover it at my convenience.

Okay, so, Dark Albion, what is this? Well, first of all, this is a medieval roleplaying setting set in the age that served as an inspiration for A Song of Ice and Fire.

Before we get into the main meat of the book, which is the setting, we should definitely talk about the rules situation here. The book uses two different rules systems, and I am generally never a fan of those; why? Because, regardless of which system you prefer, you’ll have the burden of the additional content you neither needed, nor wanted. Dual-format books tend to be intrinsically customer unfriendly to a degree; for OSR supplements, this is slightly mitigated due to the less pronounced focus on rules; in this book, the issue is reduced further, for the design is per se made to be able to be grafted onto most old-school systems, with the rules-relevant aspects mostly relegated to the appendices at the back of the book. In short: The book does not consist of ½ content you won’t use; the system-specific rules are complimentary, not required to run this, and are in the back.

Beyond the sub-systems introduced (to which I’ll return below), let us talk about these first. For suggested OSR-systems, Labyrinth Lord and Lamentations of the Flame Princess are suggested, and since there are x-in-6-references here and there, the latter might work best. Swords & Wizardry and the like will work just as well, just fyi. The OSR-appendix is a collection of houserules, and honestly, it’s perhaps the weakest aspect of the whole book: The section is noted as “quick and dirty houserules”, and probably are best conceived of as a basic form of OSR-game if you don’t want to use a specific one for your game. If you’ve read a couple of OSR-games, you probably won’t notice much of interest here. The brief class redesigns presented here are not that interesting, and the most relevant aspects are probably the notions of adding a critical effect table, as well as a brief set of rules that makes you roll 1d20 and add the spellcasting ability score, versus DC 12 + spell level to successfully cast a spell.

Here’s the thing: The rules section for Fantastic Heroes & Witchery, the second system supported here, is vastly superior. In case you are not familiar with it: Fantastic Heroes & Witchery (FH&W) is one of the most underappreciated games out there, and one of all-time favorite RPGs. No kidding. Why? Well, some people, me included, like options and per se, more stuff that we can do with PCs. At the same time, I also enjoy gritty games, and I really like my theater of the mind angle. In a way FH&W is a super-modular game that posits the question: What if we had an increase in the option array akin to what D&D 3.0, PFRPG, etc. brought, but without the miniature tactics angle of those editions? In many ways, the game never becomes as granular, but allows for very broad selections of mechanically-diverse characters, all without becoming too complex for old-school fans. It’s seriously great, and if that sounds even remotely compelling to you, then get this game. It’s worth it.

Anywhere, where was I? Oh yes: Magic being unreliable is realized in a more interesting manner, at least as far as I’m concerned: You see, Dark Albion posits a direct opposition of Law & Chaos as the central alignment conflict (one axis model); the Law is represented by the Unconquered Sun (Sol Invictus), and as such, magic falls in roughly two categories, with some working simply less reliably under the sun! That’s awesome! It’s a reason for magic practices, occult rituals and the like taking place at night! The 13-level FH&W-classes presented herein range from the obvious (like e.g. noble knights) to some that are frankly interesting by mechanics: The caster-class Magister, for example, comes with white and gray magic, but may learn black magic – but every such spell will cost the magister a white or grey magic spell known. That’s a cool way to represent corruption. As a German, I am also rather fond of the Demonurgist, essentially a Faust-like being with fiendish familiar, who becomes REALLY good at finding the creatures of chaos…and who can, at one point, even imprison demonic forces, making for a great anti-hero. These classes feature Albion’s subdued dark fantasy aesthetics with rare, but powerful magics. For FH&W, we also get two new spells and a super-simple and robust ritual demon summoning engine, which brings me to one aspect of the global rules I really enjoy, so let’s start talking about global rules in Dark Albion.

Demon summoning is not some vancian spell simply cast, nor are demons the standard D&D outsiders; instead, we have a rather solid ritual engine; 1d20 + class level + Intelligence modifier versus a DC determined by the rank of the demon – hilarious: Powerful demons may force their subordinates to show up instead. I don’t know why, but that got a serious chuckle out of me. Both the images used and the rules here (plenty of demonic abilities included) help make these feel like demons from the medieval age, not their D&D compatriots. For more diverse forms, resources like the Random Esoteric Creature Generator or the one from No Salvation for Witches are recommended by yours truly. (Alternatively, most creatures from Raphael Chandler’s horror bestiaries…) Anyway, why summon them? They can teach you spells and the like…you know the stories.

Since I mentioned this, a brief note: the layout by Dominique Crouzet is FANTASTIC. We have pictures on every page, graphical elements, and some of the best uses of public domain art that I’ve ever seen. The book has a better, more consistent visual identity as a result than many comparable books with fancy full-color artwork. It also underlines the (faux) historicity and themes of the book. Huge kudos for that decision.

But let us get back to the global rules: I very much like how this setting treats poisons and alchemical extracts: From arsenic (and cantarella) to mandrake and wolfsbane, we get quite a few new ones, with easy and quick rules to forage the, and prepare them, and all of this is supplemented by medicinal herbs and alchemical creations like Alkhalest and Aura Fulminata – if anything, this section made me smile from ear to ear, and I genuinely wished there was a whole book on herbs, poisons, substances and the like. Poisons, fyi, usually need to be ingested. This section, while brief, also works and does so well.

I can’t say the same about the magic item section, which can be summed up with two words: Bland filler. A sword+0 that is magical, but doesn’t help you hit foes? Oh boyo! Holy water! A cloak that lets you turn into a wolf. A powerful artifact torn in 7 pieces. This section is, at best, redundant. Thankfully, it is brief.

The second big rules engine that sets Dark Albion apart, would be the noble house engine: A noble house has three stats: Military Power (MP), Financial Power (FP), and Political Power (PP). You roll 3d6 for these, and multiply the result by x3. If you have a title, you get a bonus to each ability – lords get no bonus, kings get +20 to MP and FP, +40 PP. Additionally, each region has modifiers, with the most interesting being the Isle of Mann, which gets +20 MP, but only for defensive purposes. Allegiance to York or Lancastrians also influences these; not choosing a side provides a universal penalty, while choosing a side helps with that side, but imposes a huge penalty for the other side, obviously. All existing houses are covered, so this looks like it could allow you to go Birthright! Awesome! I also liked that there are annual events, but there are only 23 such events, which is weaksauce for a longer game. This needed more to stay engaging and not devolve into becoming boring.

The book also features a battle-engine based on the MPs; these include modifications for special forces (such as spellcasters, etc.), ground, etc. and leader MP modifiers, which is per se nice – but there is no tactics involved in the battles themselves. They are decided by one die roll. If battles are just one background facet of your game, this might work for you, but for games that wish to go into more details, account for tactics and the like, zoom in and out – this won’t do. Similarly, for the rules-lite crowd, this system requires that you determine casualties and victories by determining percentile values based on differences in checks. That’s a lot of math, for no gain. This is a bad engine. It has no tactical depth, gets boring immediately, and requires a bunch of math for no payout. And I LIKE math. Heck, I once ran a whole high-end hardcore Pathfinder-campaign, where every single encounter was hardwired to be a numbers-puzzle…but this engine here? It has no depth, is too clunky for being quickly resolved, and offers no payout for the time it takes to resolve. Write your own mass combat engine, use another and graft it onto this one.

Okay, and that is pretty much the major part of the rules featured herein, so let us get to the main meat of this tome, namely the campaign setting.

To historians, it sounds stupid to explicitly state this, but time and again, I’ve observed that the cultural notions exhibited in almost all roleplaying games are actually more reminiscent of the early modern period with regards to their drapery, if you will; aesthetically, most fantasy worlds we play in hearken much closer to our actual modern and contemporary morals and aesthetics, which deviate significantly from the lived-in reality of medieval Europe. There are three basic notions, grand injuries to our self-importance and ego, that mankind has suffered since those days: The knowledge that we are not the center of the universe, the knowledge that we are not special in the grand scheme of the natural order, and the knowledge that we aren’t even masters of our own psyche. These three notions have radically influenced our Weltanschauung as a whole when compared to any person living during the medieval period. We have a very different conception of reality, and if you think that ren-fairs have ANYTHING in common with actual life in this period, I hate to break it to you, but nope.

This extends to the degree where plenty of people simply lack the knowledge to properly roleplay a person of this time, as they would violate social decorum left and right and/or be offended by the social mores of that time. As such, this book has a manifold challenge ahead of itself: It needs to teach and contextualize the lived-in reality of the times, make it playable for the average gamer out there and generate a compelling setting based on the by now most notorious periods in English history…so let’s see how this fares!

The first big component that sets the medieval mindset apart would obviously be informed by nothing else than Christianity, or rather, the collective of Abrahamic religions as a whole; these ideologies informed pretty much the structure of the social strata, the calendar, and the general world-view. For example, there is the notion called “Gottesgnadentum” in German, which denotes the idea that the social station of nobility is granted by the grace of the Christian god, which makes any rebellion, disrespect, etc. not only an affront to the ruling powers, but also almost a kind of heresy against god. That is an extremely frightening concept to me that is hard to wrap my head around. Take out Christianity and the effects of Rome, and the whole European structure would have gone a very different route. Now, out of a fear of offending someone’s religious sensibilities, many RPGs cop out of using Christianity, and this is no different. HOWEVER, at least it makes a smart call with the replacement: Instead, we get, as noted before, the Sol invictus as a placeholder, which lets us use all of our accumulated Dark Souls memes in game. “Do you even praise the sun, peasant?” The Unconquered Sun is also used to defuse another hot button issue: One might assume that not everyone subscribes to the Lamentations of the Flame Princess-thesis of adventurers as sociopaths, outcasts and misfits by definition, and in some ways, the church of the unconquered sun allows for a softening of borders for modern sensibilities without breaking the setting’s basic tenets.

You see, more so than even 50 years ago, the medieval age was obviously HORRIBLY sexist by modern standards. There also was a lack of social mobility. If you thought your racist/sexist grand-parents were bad, you have no idea, and should seriously do some research. In Dark Albion, the divine providence of the Unconquered Sun sees fit to call female individuals into service as well as males, allowing them to break through the social norms. Clerics, by the way, are the exception – they are essentially rare, and the special OPs force of the church. Few higher ups are clerics, and e.g. the Pope is a commoner. Which brings me to the first point where the book seriously falters. How do these people keep their power, when clerics have the direct power of the Unconquered Sun? This question is never properly explained. Same goes for witch trials, or trials in general. The book acknowledges how fun trials can be and spends quite a bit of time on them – and I agree.

And yes, the cleric and magic-user spell lists are limited and mostly purged of direct damage spells. But clerics still have detect lie. That renders the whole notion of trials that are not easily solved a matter of bad logistics. Note: Even executioners used to travel; Meister Franz Schmidt, famous executioner of Nuremberg, has chronicled his travels rather well – you can still read his journals, and there is a neat English translation as well. Establishing a similar situation for clerics and difficult trials would have been easy. It also disregards the whole angle of the logics of the punitive judiciary system in place back then, and how that interacted with how people and criminals approached their penance. Here, it is evident that per se good ideas have not been thought through properly. This oversight can also be observed for two other factors – the Turks worship the Unconquered Sun as the Moon, which is CLEVER. How and why this validates the struggles between them and the sun-worshipers, however, is exceedingly opaque. The Russian Orthodox Church is all but ignored as well – the ideas and the consequences of the changes have only been thought through in a logical manner as how they pertain to the core concepts. This is particularly jarring and evident in contrast with other components.

For, and that is an important note, one CAN see that the author is a historian. The level of fidelity and knowledge on display regarding the subject matter is impressive; while there are changes made to historical facts, these tend to be due to the requirements of being more gameable and subtle influences of the fantastic. Hadrian’s wall, for example, is still standing and fortified, for the wild places are where the dark things and inhuman creatures lurk.

In many ways, the gazetteer is absolutely amazing regarding its attention to detail, hex maps, all the details and politicking. If you enjoyed the more complex tapestry of allegiances of A Song of Ice and Fire in comparison to Game of Thrones’ dumbing down of everything, this will make you grin indeed. If you’re into the era in a non-fantastic context, doubly so. At one point, I genuinely stopped looking for settings like this, because I knew I’d hate their anachronisms and lack of ambition and b/w-morality, and Dark Albion generally manages to avoid these pitfalls. If you’re looking for a historical reference for a fantasy game, then this delivers in HUGE spades.

I also love, and I mean LOVE, that the book does not simply handwave the importance of social class. If you’re a peasant, you’re not wearing a sword, not unless you want to go to jail. Indeed, walking round in armor, with weapons, like murder hobos are wont to do, is a capital letters BAD IDEA in most regions of Albion. This whole aspect is awesome, and personally, I’d have appreciated e.g. further discussions on privilege by class – colors, for example, were restricted by class, and used to e.g. denote prostitutes etc. More on the class system would have been helpful not only for the setting, but beyond its confines. I really love that the book provides an overview of the things to come, as another example of plentiful adventure seeds.

There are two aspects where this otherwise frankly phenomenal component of the book struggles. The first would be organization. The book imposes a huge cognitive load upon the reader, particularly if you’re not familiar with the Rose War. I did not notice this myself, but I’m a bad reference; however, when I handed this book to other people, they complained about the sheer number of names. With fluid allegiances and intrigue left and right, getting some family trees, allegiance trackers by year, etc. would have made this much more user-friendly for the non-academic/non-history-buff gamers. That being said, the history component is fantastic. I love that part of the book.

The second problematic aspect would be fantasy. Oh boy does Dark Albion’s fantasy SUCK. The book has a serious identity crisis and no vision whatsoever as to how it wants its fantasy to be. Non-human races are non-player races; elves were decadent and evil proto-cultures, got it. Albion is a rare magic setting, and magic is feared, got it. But you can study magic in frickin’ Oxford. I am not kidding you. It’s an overt, magic academy, totally inimical to how Christianity would deal with that, and to the concept of magic being dangerous, aligned with chaos and demons, etc. The book can’t really decide how rare its magic is supposed to be, nor how powerful. Beyond aforementioned cleric issues, we have genuinely cool angles for Dracula that make him essentially the Castlevania villain, and a few nods to myths – there are these gems, directly contrasted with pretty bland-festy encounter-locations (no player-friendly maps) that are boring. Still apart from the church/Oxford-logic guffaws, when looking at just the island, Dark Albion could claim to be a dark fantasy setting. It doesn’t make much use of Anglish or Celtic myths, which is a huge lost chance, but oh well.

And then there is the continent, particularly France. You know, this does try to be the Anglish Warhammer Fantasy RPG, with the notions of magic as dangerous and chaotic, etc., just minus Chaos and a stronger emphasis on medieval conceptions of what demons do. Sounds good, right? I mean, okay, the setting has unfortunately eliminated any good reason for the primary conflicts of the continent without replacing them with a valid substitution, but that doesn’t influence Albion, so you can ignore that.

You can’t ignore Burgundy and France. That section was so bad, it gave me fucking whiplash. Know who conquered the majority of France, excluding Burgundy, erecting a decadent empire where humans are enslaved to decadent masters.

Frogmen.

I am not kidding. Frogmen. You know, because…France. Haha. Ha. -.- This is neither funny, nor badass. It’s STUPID.

And everyone on the continent’s just watching. They have tons of magic, so there goes your cool low magic premise. They seem to exist in a quasi-vacuum, and none of the other human free cities, baronies, etc. seem to unite to exterminate them. The church doesn’t ally with the Turks to exterminate them. We have a whole land, that, like a festering pustule, breaks any notion of cohesion, plausibility that the setting worked so hard to establish. They are LITERALLY agents of pure evil, of the thing directly opposed to ALL of organized religions. Can you picture what would have happened if a republic of Satan had sprung up in medieval Europe? They’d have been crusaded to back to hell faster than you can say “That escalated quickly.”

I can live with a bland dungeon, a minor logic bug, a subpar subsystem. But this book spends hundred+ pages to establish a great, gritty theme and then makes a trollface and laughs at: “Here are magic frogmen!” That’s not smart, clever, or funny. It’s also not scary. Anything would be scarier. Cannibal halflings. Skaven. Undead. Heck, what about Russian Orthodox holy hussars? Anything.

All the small inconsistencies accumulate…but the frogmen take the script and throw it out the window. They are the culmination and escalation of the small issues, and represent a huge, festering blemish that wrecks the setting as written for me. Totally.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules language level; the rules are precise where presented, and make sense. Layout deserves special applause: It’s one of the best uses of layout elements, public domain art and aesthetics to convey authenticity that I’ve ever seen. This shows how good-looking you can make an indie-production. The b/w-cartography is nice, but no player-friendly versions are provided for the encounter areas later in the book. A huge kudos, and good reason to get the electronic iteration: We get a TON of maps in that version: There are three versions of the Albion map – one in full color (on the back of the hardcover, fyi), one in b/w, and one in parchment. There are 6 regional hexmaps in b/w, and in a version that is parchment-style. The continent comes in a colored and b/w hexmap, and there is a an additional b/w rose war hexmap for the GM. Seriously, kudos for this. The hardcover I have, unless I’m seriously wrong, is the Lulu PoD-iteration, and it is quality-wise solid, with the proper name on the spine, etc. The electronic version comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks for your convenience.

Dark Albion is a frustrating book for me; RPG Pundit and Dominique Crouzet, for a long time while I first read this, crafted a setting that seriously captured my interest. The small inconsistencies kept accumulating, but for a long time, I thought I’d end up loving or liking this…and then, the inconsistencies got worse. (And before you ask: the book makes it VERY clear what Dominique Crouzet contributed – they are not responsible for those issues!) The more I thought about missed chances here and there, the more I wished that this had embraced its grit more…and then, BAM:

Trollface!!

Lololol, tHeRe ArE lOtS oF mAgIcAl EvUuUhHl FrOgMeN iN fRaNcE!

SuRpRiSe StUpId GoNzO iN yOuR gRiTtY rEaLiSm!

Seriously? SIGH

I seriously think this book had been better off, if it had not tried its hand at fantasy AT ALL. The grounded, history angle is genuinely great, inspiring, fun – presented in a manner that, while not exactly easy to digest, is easier to digest than history books, with a stronger emphasis on the game. For a reference book? Awesome. That aspects are top tier, and if the book had managed to execute these last few steps in internal consistence, they’d be benchmarks.

Everything pertaining to magic, fantasy, etc.? Not that great, to put it lightly. With some additional effort, the Sol Invictus conceit could have genuinely worked PERFECTLY, but it feels like the authors ran out of steam there. The fantasy is lackluster, boring, been there, done that – or frankly insultingly dumb.

This could have been a milestone, and, as far as I’m concerned, it throws it all away, tarnishing even the brightest of its parts. I reread the book after a few months had passed, knowing what was to come, and I arrived at the same conclusions. The near-historical parts are great, but tarnished and tainted by thematic whiplash and small inconsistencies. As a result, I can’t recommend this as a campaign setting.

If you’re looking for a gritty low-magic dark fantasy reference tome for the era? Then this will deliver in spades…provided you can tune out aforementioned issues. I have to rate this book in its entirety, and when all is said and done, I can only recommend this in a very limited manner, in spite of the obvious passion that went into this. My final verdict can’t exceed 3 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Dark Albion: The Rose War
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Lion & Dragon
by Paul C. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 05/23/2019 11:40:22

A criminally under-appreciated product. Lion & Dragon is a solid OSR core book and makes changes to the base system surpassing its predecessor in all respects.

In particular, I love the level-up mechanic, which includes both elements of chance and choice, preserving randomness, while allowing for precise build possibilities. It's certain that no two characters will be exactly the same, but you will certainly be able to make the most out of your class.

I will try to run a few adventures with this setting to provide a more nuanced review in the future, but I'm already a big, BIG fan.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Lion & Dragon
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Dark Albion: The Rose War
by Chad K. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 05/22/2019 16:11:25

Dark Albion is the setting and additional/expanded rules for Lion & Dragon. Id say Lion & Dragon is to Basic D&D and dark Albion is Advanced D&D with a setting & Dungeon Master Guide thrown in. L&D is about 130 pages while Dark Albion is 275 pages. This a "real Medieval RPG", not high fantasy. Grim Fantasy England in the 15th Century. No Elf warrior-mages or Halfling thieves. This book was a labor of love, Im sure countless hours of research went into this game. The art reinforces the whole medieval feel of the game. Tons of information on social status, laws & prisons, government & religion. Herbs & demons. Regions, Kingdoms, history- a huge detailed setting. While there is information on classes (and there is also the excellent Lion & dragon) most of the book is system neutral and could be used for almost any fantasy game you want to give a gritty historical feel. This game is well supported by RPGPundit Presents by Precis Intermedia, as well as other books like Dark Albion Cults of Chaos. I highly recommend this game. I bought soft covers, but I like this game so much I intend to buy hardcovers.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dark Albion: The Rose War
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Lion & Dragon
by Chad K. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 05/22/2019 15:46:21

I love this game. Ive been playing RPGs for over 30 years and I have never seen anything like L&D and Dark Albion. This is what I imagined a "real Medieval RPG" would be like. (and more than I could imagine) An enormous amount of research and love went into this game. This is not high fantasy- there are no Fighters taking 4 spears to the chest while fighting 10 opponents and winning with his sword +4. No Mages throwing fireballs while flying and invisible. Hit points are kept pretty low. Fights can mean quick death. Wizards (Magisters) use alchemy, astrology, summon Demons. It feels like magic from history, what people believed magic was like in medieval times. It takes time, effort & preparation. The game can be summed up by reading a bit on the table of contents: Social Staus is Extremely Important, Life is Cheap, Magic is Rare. The game is heavily supported- Dark Albion( rules & setting), Cults, adventures, and many interesting articles in RPGPundit Presents. Dont wait- go & buy this game.

The person that gave this game 1 Star is a pathetic fool as well as a liar. RPG Pundit is a very vocal guy with strong political views- that is no reason to give the game 1 star. You are rating the game, not the person. Personally I think he is great.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Lion & Dragon
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Lion & Dragon
by Alex W. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 08/15/2018 17:21:32

Although I've been in the RPG hobby since the early 80's I was never keen on D&D itself, so that the whole OSR thing largely passed me by. However, I do enjoy RPGPundit's blog and YouTube videos, and appreciate his barbed mockery of the SJW entryism current in the RPG hobby. So I decided to buy Lion and Dragon as a gesture of support.

Of all the Pundit's games L&D appealed to me the most because of his pitch of it being “medieval authentic” with a magic system based on actual occult tomes. I flatter myself that I know a lot about medieval England and Europe, and I dabbled in occultism as a youth. So either L&D would be right up my alley, or I'd have the knowledge to identify over eager self-promotion on the Pundit's part.

Physically the hardback book I received is a quality product. The design of the book makes a virtue of the publisher's relative lack of funds compared to larger RPG publishers. Rather than trying to compete with a slick, highly produced design style, they've made use of a lot of suitable public domain art, old etchings, woodcuts, illustrations from old editions of occult books, as well as some commissioned pieces which are in a similar style. There's quite a lot of art, and it all looks good, and the simplicity of the layout and design recalls a Victorian or Edwardian design aesthetic, which while anachronistic for the C15th, does fit the game's attempt to be authentic to a real world past.

The mechanics of the game are obviously derived from old D&D, but tweaked to give a game which is set more in the real medieval world rather than the modern-day-in-medieval-fancy-dress which has always been the assumed default in D&D. One of the things I always disliked in D&D's class-and-level system was how characters quickly become superhuman, their inflated hit points allowing them to shrug off an axe full in the face from a great big orc. L&D starts characters at level 0, advancement restricts HP inflation, and there's a nice table to roll on for permanent physical wounds. It's not as tidy a nod to realism as d100/Runequest, but in terms of a D&D based game it's great stuff.

Although the game makes explicit the social order of the medieval world, including gender roles, I was slightly disappointed that the setting wasn't actual medieval England but a fantasy simulacrum Dark Albion, the subject of a previous Pundit book. However, transferring the content to the real medieval world would be easy for any GM with the right background knowledge. This is made easy because Albion is very close to a real medieval nation, which comes through especially in the magic system which is the real gem of the book. Clerics work miracles, all of which are strongly of the sort associated with actual saints and their relics in the middle-ages, and Clerics are assumed to be agents of a monotheistic faith which the book calls The Unconquered Sun but can easily be run as the Catholic church. It occurs to me that an L&D game with the players as Clerics during the protestant reformation would make an interesting campaign.

Wizards no longer blast Magic Missiles around with abandon. The L&D magic system is based on ritual, and is drawn heavily from magical beliefs of the time, when alchemy was science and what we term “supernatural” was seen as just one aspect of an all-encompassing natural philosophy. This is the Magic User as Faust, or even Roger Bacon, rather than Gandalf. The magic section is both extensive and fascinating, and clearly well researched – I only discovered after ordering the book that Pundit classes himself as a practicing occultist and it shows. Although my copy of Abramelin is long since gone, it is obvious from the magic system in L&D the Pundit knows his stuff.

I suppose the best compliment I can pay this game is that I actually want to run it, despite my historically lukewarm attitude to D&D. The powering down of characters, real world societal assumptions, and especially the excellent magic section, make L&D the D&D the teenage me really wanted – if only Pundit had worked for TSR circa 1983 my RPG life might have been very different!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
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Lion & Dragon
by Scott S. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 01/13/2018 18:29:54

THOUGHTS-ASSH, MAZE OF THE BLUE MEDUSA, LION & DRAGON

I am a huge fan of the game Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea (ASSH). I had liked the game before, but put it on the shelf for a bit right when I started going back to school again. I figured that GURPS is a game for engineers, and why shouldn’t I be playing a game for engineers? In that brief time I became reacquainted with the GURPS Vorkosigan Saga, and even started reading the Vorkosigan books. The best of the GURPS books will always inspire you to take a look through the source material. I tried to start a campaign using their superlative GURPS Discworld rules, but decided to wait for Dungeon Fantasy…and I waited…and I waited.

It’s probably a good thing that I waited for that boxed set to release. Calculus was definitely getting harder, and Chemistry was becoming more and more of a bear. The time commitments for both developing a campaign using GURPS, and reacquainting myself with GURPS, were not going to be there. I won’t even go into how surreal time management gets when my reserve drill commitments come into play.

In that time of waiting, the kickstarter for Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea paid off! The books arrived! I had forgotten that I had ordered two of them and was gobsmacked when they arrived! Now, I thought that a second edition of this game was completely unnecessary. The original was contained in two coil bound books, with the most evocative art I had seen in an OSR book. These books were digest sized, but the newer books were not. This book took everything about the original and turned it up to eleven! I was wrong. The presentation, and the minor corrections were more than worth the kickstarter. This single book took all of my GURPS books off the shelf. It is that good! The art design. The homage to the works of Robert E. Howard, Moorcock, Clark Ashton Smith, and Lovecraft are brilliant! This is the game that I have always wanted to play. It sits on my shelf, with its own line of adventures and Barrowmaze. This is my favorite game and book ever!

However, there are two other products that I would like to write about today. I’m somewhat reluctant to, given the vociferous reputations of both of the authors, but each of these works is superlative in their own way. I’ve been struggling, wanting to write this piece for months because these other two books are just that good, Zak Sabbath’s Maze of the Blue Medusa and RPGPundit’s Lion & Dragon.

I already have a favorite game, and I have neither the time nor the money to invest in further games. At this point, I hope to earn enough as an engineer to pay off my student loans and keep my wife from having to become a hooker. I was reading tenfootpole.org, when I came across a best of list. Maze of the Blue Medusa was listed as the best of the best. My opinion differs from the blog author’s in many ways. For instance, I enjoy the ASSH adventures, while he seems to hate them. But I had been looking at this product for a while, and with this recommendation I decided to purchase it. Lion & Dragon has just been released, and while it looked interesting, I couldn’t afford it. However, given the apparent snowflake reaction to pundit and the various shenanigans that rpgnow and onebookshelf seemed to engage in to drive his sales down, required something more than words from me. I purchased the book. I do not care for bullying.

So what are my thoughts?

Zak Sabbath has been pushing the envelope graphically ever since Vornheim was released. A Red & Pleasant Land pushed these boundaries even further. Maze of the Blue Medusa is his finest work so far. Graphically, I wonder if he is pushing the limits of what can be placed into a book. Now I say this, not having a physical copy of the book. My feeling is that just as much care went into the making of the book as the pdf. As much as I love my copy of ASSH, my feeling is that I would love Maze just as well. These products catch the eye, spark the imagination, and aren’t just a window into the mind of an author but enable any dungeon master to follow them and run the same kind of campaign just as effectively.

As an admission, I am not Zak’s audience. I have no desire to run an Alice in Wonderland type game. My stuff is much more mundane and much less gonzo. I prefer Greg Gillespie’s Barrowmaze, primarily because I like tons of undead running about. Barrowmaze is the ultimate in what I feel would be a standard dungeon. It’s only flaw might be in that it is not organized as a series of levels, but is one huge level. I understand this dungeon and could easily run it. Most megadungeons have trouble with their organization. The Dungeon of the Mad Archmage never grabbed me. The organizational aids for Dwimmermount, took a huge book and made it even more intimidating. Everything would be changing all of the time, renedering the original book moot at some point. Stonehell is interesting, if a bit staid. Maze of the Blue Medusa is something else altogether. It is a complete package of a wild and gonzo dungeon that anyone can run.

Zak and Patrick Stuart have taken this conceit and created a dungeon with deadly encounters, moral quandaries, allies, enemies, consequences for decisions, and they have organized it so flawlessly that anyone could run it. They have created a dungeon that any party can encounter. If you are low level, you can survive, if you keep your wits about you. Choice matters here.

I have never encountered any product that is organized as robustly as this one! If you only have the money to buy one OSR dungeon get this one! Even if you don’t want to run a gonzo dungeon, the hand holding and organization here will help you with your home game. This isn’t some guy bragging about their home campaign with a product so huge that you won’t know where to start. It is bigger than itself! Read it! Be sparked! And run something!

Lion & Dragon is much more down to earth. This is what Pundit’s Dark Albion should have been. By that, I mean that these are the rules that should have been in the book. No system notes from the campaign, no conversion notes from Fantastic Heroes and Witchery. These were good things, but they pale in comparison to the rules in this slim book. This is a medieval authentic OSR rules set. One that is true to the material, and that does a wonderful job of preserving player agency. For example, at each level you can either roll twice for your level benefit, or you can choose once from the table. Which will it be? The choice is the player’s.

Where Zak hits you, like that first time I saw the Warhammer 40k Rogue Trader preview in White Dwarf magazine, with a tightly packaged surprise of something that you never thought you would be able to run on your own, Pundit gives you an overflowing box of ideas that just keep leaking all over the place. Dark Albion has multiple small dungeons that you can place anywhere in your home campaign. They fit into the Dark Albion campaign very well, but they are almost modular in that they can be dropped into your campaign almost at will. His scenario The Child Eaters is one of the simplest and nastiest scenarios I have come across. This isn’t some fake cosmic horror, but down to earth terror that explains just why Dark Albion’s society is the way that it is. Cults of Chaos is designed for Dark Albion, but can put chaos as a horror front and center in your campaign in ways that Games Workshop hasn’t done in years! This is great stuff!

If I have twenty, then I’m getting ASSH. That game will not disappoint you. If I have ten for an adventure, then I’d get Blue Medusa. It may not have exactly what you want, but it can show you the way to get there. Afterwards, if I had some more money, I’d pick up Dark Albion. It’s not gonna exactly fit into my ASSH campaign, but it has enough adventure bits in there to more than make it worth my while. Most especially, it provides the background for Cults of Chaos which will fit into ASSH.

Talanian bears watching because of the overall excellence of the entire package in ASSH. Zak bears watching because his envelope pushing is going to go beyond the printed page at some point. My guess, is that he will come up with something that is going to redefine what can be done with a pdf in the near future. If I had the money, I would pick up whatever he had to offer in print. Those will be utterly fantastic books. Pundit…I would like to see him strike off on his own and form his own company. His products have always been playtested to death, but graphically the execution hasn’t always been there. Arrows of Indra was a brilliant OSR imagining of ancient India, but the art and design just wasn’t there. Dark Albion and Lion & Dragon are dramatically better. The maps alone are just amazing!

As a caveat, I have run ASSH. I have not had a chance to run either Blue Medusa or Lion & Dragon, so I would advise you to take my words with a grain of salt. All three of these products come with my highest recommendation. They will serve to take you places that you never imagined going. All of them will spark your imagination, and have been skillfully designed for ease of play at your table.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
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Lion & Dragon
by Geoffrey S. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 01/09/2018 07:27:13

Summary : a nice OSR RPG, which delivers its promise, albeit on a high fantasy tone for something "medieval authentic". Four stars as a game, the fifth is earned on the reuse potential for most elements. I have reviewed the pdf version.

Content description : Inside, you get : a complete set of rules, including : character creation, magic (divine , profane, and summoning demons), fight, NPC reaction rules, morale rules to deal with followers, equipment list, medieval poison list, magic item list, adventures seeds, a bestiary… List are displayed in the form of random tables. Art is a strong point. More than one drawing per page, with a medieval and / or OSR product vibe in all of them.

What I liked :

  • most if not all of the content can be used outside of this product.
  • simplicity of the rules. Grab and roll your D20, apply the modifier (generally, one from skill and one from level...) and roll it against difficulty.

Could have been even better with :

  • "default setting" of the author, aka Dark Albion, is still very present is this product. This is a design choice, as explained early in the book, but I feel at least a comparaison table between "real world" and "Dark Albion" could have been useful. Perhaps even a few pages. Or a complete removal of it.
  • the default fantasy level is high, which surprised me a bit, for an "medieval authentic" experience. Some optional rules or rules tweaking advice to tune it down a little or completely could have been great.


Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
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Lion & Dragon
by Kenneth J. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 01/03/2018 20:25:00

Lion & Dragon is a fantastic and complete RPG. The game tries to emulate a more realistic medevial world, our world, and can easily be converted to any OSR system that you'd like to use. The game is presented in black and white with the traditional two column layout and features fantastic art and is a joy to read. I highly recommend it!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
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Dark Albion: Cults of Chaos
by Jeffrey D. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 01/03/2018 09:53:47

I wrote a short RPG review of this product for Knights of the Dinner Table (mag) last year and recently got to post that review in full on my blog... This product is pretty much workable with any system.

Here is couple a snippets from that review:

"At its core, Cults of Chaos provides richly detailed framework for creating and applying a variety of cult types or organizations, as an antagonist plot piece to your campaign. The purpose of which, you will use this very supplement to determine. I would say, just about any type of cult you could imagine, but actually this supplement has it covered well beyond what most, or at least those (including myself) not educated in cult history, would think to imagine. It’s a flexible product."

"Cults of Chaos delivers a richly detailed framework for running an inquisitor style campaign leaving few stones unturned. The format is cleanly executed and writing is concise. As a product it’s not only a Game Master’s toolkit, but probably the best system neutral plot-kit device I’ve read. I’d give Cults of Chaos eleven and a half Aleister Crowley’s out of ten, but then again I don’t do ratings and such evil must be stopped! Hopefully, my players will be up for the task."

The review in full is on my blog here: https://withinthedungeon.blogspot.com/2017/12/dark-albion-cults-of-chaos-rpg-review.html



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dark Albion: Cults of Chaos
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