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Dark Ages: Darkening Sky $9.99
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Dark Ages: Darkening Sky
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Dark Ages: Darkening Sky
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/09/2014 05:01:53

'Darkening Sky' is the latest in the new line of classic WoD titles. It is good to see this 'lost title' finally in print.

The book covers the eclipse of 1230 AD from five different game lines, and each line has been set in a completely different geographic area. This decision was a pleasant surprise, as the developers have chosen to cast the net across the medieval world so that a wide range of plots can be explored. From an aesthetic standpoint, the book remains true to the designs of the original lines, the art is consistently of a high standard (as we have come to expect from White Wolf), and the editors have been meticulous. At this price point, the book represents excellent value.

The only segment of each chapter that I found of little use was the section on cross-over ideas for each story. Whilst I can understand that the authors aimed to make the book as useful as possible, each story stands well on it's own. Each story is well-situated in its' own line and their strength lies in 'keeping true' to their own line.

The chapters are as follows:

Set in Volga Bulgaria, 'The Evergreen Prison' (Werewolf) deals with an imprisoned spirit against the backdrop of an invading army. The chapter introduces the Stargazers and Uktena to Dark Ages Werewolf, including a range of Gifts and Rites. The Sept is well-realised, and there is plenty of storyteller advice about local cultures to use. Likewise, the plot will keep players on their toes as they need to explore and address very different story needs.

'Accidents and Deliveries' (Fae) moves the lens to the British Isles, with the story focused on ancient grudges and challenging the might of the Church. The story excels through personalising the NPCs. None of the characters charges are simply stats and stereotypes; and the storyteller is given ample tools to make the players actually care about the focus of the story. As with the preceding chapter, this is no simple linear plot, and the characters have a chance to seriously affect the outcome.

'Phantasmagoria' (Inquisitor) - set in Italy - is the high-water mark for this title (which is saying a lot considering the extremely high quality of the writing throughout). Whilst I have never played Inquisitor, this chapter really opened my eyes as to the possibilities for this simply as a single module. The story deals with a range of situations in which regular people have seen the supernatural and reported it to the Church. The characters are dispatched to mediate these difficult situations and the outcome is never a foregone conclusion.

'The Abyss Gazes Back' (Vampire) takes us now to Sevilla into a political story with the fate of a torpored Elder in the mix. It deals heavily with Lasombra mysticism, and draws in the Crimson Curia. As with any good Vampire story, the charm lies in the non-linear nature of story (despite the nature of the events set to unfold) and the depth of character given to the major NPCs.

Lastly, 'Divine Right' (Mage) is set in Jerusalem and is -at it's heart - a story of apotheosis. The religious backdrop of the city (something that has appealed to me since reading 'Jerusalem by Night') is brought to light, and in context the main NPCs' actions will be contentious and heretical. This story, more than any of the others has the potentially to go horribly, horribly wrong.

So, there you have it. Five quality stories in one book. If you're willing to run a series of short stories, it would be possible (and highly enjoyable) to work your way through the book - and the game lines - over the course of a few month. The title comes highly recommended and stands as a testament to the fact that these writers are still able to seamlessly evoke the feeling of the classic WoD, which is highly impressive and appreciated.

[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dark Ages: Darkening Sky
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/26/2014 06:23:12

Originally published by:

It’s been nearly a month since Dark Ages: Darkening Sky was released, but I wanted to sit on the review in hopes of an errata being published as there were a lot of typographical, grammatical and editorial errors in the original PDF. Thankfully, on 2/24, the edited/revised PDF was released. The piece now flows a lot better.

Darkening Sky is actually an idea bandied about the White Wolf offices for more than a decade. It takes one central theme, that of an eclipse in 1230 Anno Domini. Each of the five adventures is stand-alone, meaning they are not connected to each other in any shape or form, and trying to turn the five into some sort of campaign is implausible and would probably drive any enterprising Storyteller mad as they all take place at roughly the same time in very different parts of Europe and the Middle East. Each adventure in Darkening Sky is tailored towards a specific Dark Ages game. You have Fae, Inquisitor, Mage Vampire andWerewolf. This is a pretty neat idea on paper, although in truth most Dark Ages players only play one or two of the five settings (at most), meaning a lot of the content is just wasted paper (at worst) or something interesting to read (at best), right?

Well, not so fast. A big idea behind Darkening Sky is that although each adventure is geared for a specific facet of the Dark Ages World of Darkness line, that each one could be retooled for use with one of the other setting. So in theory, a Storyteller could take the Fae story and with a bit of adjusting, turn it into an adventure for Inquisitor or transform the Mage story into a piece for Vampire. Each adventure gives some rough ideas on how to do the changeover, but they are far too brief (only a paragraph) and are geared towards people that not only already own all five settings, but are extremely familiar with them. Even if you are pretty well versed in all five Dark Ages titles, you are really going to have you work cut out to convert these adventures from one setting to another. It’s a LOT of work – I can’t stress that enough. As such, the vast majority of Storytellers won’t be able to use the piece the way it was originally intended, which is a shame as it was one of the big selling points of Darkening Sky – at least to me.

I should also point out that none of the five adventures are fully fleshed out affairs that cover how the adventure should go from beginning to end. If you’re used to adventures written in the D&D, Dungeon Crawl Classics or the Shadowrun Missions style, you may be disappointed as Darkening Sky doesn’t even pretend to hold your hand. Again, this means Darkening Sky is not for the novice Storyteller. That said, the adventures contained in Darkening Sky are done similar to Shadowrun collections ala Hazard Pay in that you are given loose guidelines for how each adventure is supposed to flow, but you also have a lot of leeway to fill in the blanks and make the piece your own. Some gamers will view this as leaving the purchaser to do the bulk of the work, while others will appreciate the creativity and freedom this style of adventure writing provides. Just don’t go in expecting the usual structure you find in other recent Classic World of Darkness adventures like Skinner or Dust to Dust. For those wanting a lot of stats and mechanics, each adventure does through you a slight bone. Some characters are fully detailed with stats, while others are not. You also get in depth descriptions of locations and even some new powers. You get a whole bunch of gifts for Stargazer and Uktena Garou for the Dark Ages, for example. Vampire fans will be happy to see more combo Discipline powers too. Still, it is a bit disappointing to see how light these adventures are on the things most people purchase adventures for. You really are getting mostly a framework for which to craft your own adventures around.

Each of the five adventures varies wildly in both plot and quality. Werewolf gets a fairly generic “defend the Caern against Black Spiral Dancers” plot mixed in with a Mongol invasion. The Fae adventure dealing with Changlings turned into humans by way of Christian baptism and how they will be used both politically and as a blunt weapon by one faction against another. Inquisitor gets the best adventure in the set and it’s actually three short adventures in one. Each leg of the adventure takes the PCs to a different part of Italy where monsters have been revealed for what they are. Werewolves, vampires, and the like can no longer hide their true nature and they are as disturbed by this revelation as the humans they live amongst! Vampire gets a bunch of tropes like scheming Lasombra and crazy Baali thrown together for their piece in this collection. Finally, Mage has a really interesting story where the PCs are hired by Frederick II, who wishes to have a conversation with God. This is the most fully fleshed out adventure and it could easily become an entire Chronicle in the hands of a good Storyteller. Being the World of Darkness, horrible things happen along the way and the end result is not what anyone expected…or wanted.

I really liked the adventures for Mage and Inquisitor and they are the primary reasons to pick up Darkening Sky. Werewolf and Vampire are trope heavy and pretty generic, but they are decent written and my biggest complaint is simply that the writers played it safe instead of trying something original or inventive. Fae‘s adventure is just extremely boring and dull. So two good adventures, two mediocre adventures and one thumb’s down. That’s a pretty decent mix. I don’t know if most Dark Ages fans will get their money’s worth out of Darkening Sky simply because they will only play one or two of these adventures at most and only the Mage and Inquisitor ones are really worth picking this collection up for. In the end, Darkening Sky was a really lofty idea that fell short of all the goals it set for itself. I can see why this languished for so long in development purgatory. Like a lot of video games hit with years of delays and setbacks, this probably was best left dormant like a Methuselah in torpor. What’s here is decent, but by no means great, or even good. I just really couldn’t get into this collection, and found it mostly disappointing or dull. The best bits about the collection are the art (although the cover is a bit strange) and the opening short fiction. Perhaps the fact the original developer and writer admits in the foreword that he has all but forgotten the original ideas and content this piece was meant to have back in 2003 was a good sign that Darkening Sky was indeed a bad omen…but for itself.

[3 of 5 Stars!]
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