Originally published by: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/02/26/tabletop-review-dark-ages-darkening-sky-classic-world-of-darkness/
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.