Welcome to the strange and fantastical world of fantasy Dark Ages England. This book is a role-playing exercise to immerse the GM, player, and reader into what it would be like to live in this strange time. While there is magic, myth, and monsters, the most alien aspect of this world is the Church centered society. As in, the highest culture, the greatest learning, and the most advanced technology will be in “ministers”. Living in a stone building was something abbots did to glorify God while King’s palaces were wooden mead halls. My impression of these people is that they were basically land-bound Vikings that worshiped Jesus.
While it is entirely possible to cut out the supernatural elements of this game and run a purely historical game, that cuts out many of my favorite parts of this game. The Roman Caesters and Arxes are an inspired way to re-skin D&D dungeon crawling to fit this setting. Arxes really lend themselves to the dungeon as Mythic Underworld so unique to OSR tradition, but could also be used to plug in some Kelipots from Silent Legions. A good way to get non-history buffs into the setting would be to set up your “Caester-crawl” with a minister safe-zone and have an OSR dungeon crawl with new monsters and treasures.
The bestiary is inspired. A series of monsters are described thematically with the mechanical bones and some specific abilities, but then they are indicated to have “Gifts” in specific spheres like “Might” or “Ruin” or “Forging”. Each sphere has 12 gifts specified mechanically, 8 lesser, and 4 greater. For example, a Draca or Dragon should have gifts in the Ruin, Might, Wisdom, Cursing, or Beguiling categories. As a mighty foe, they are recommended to have at least 3 lesser and 1 greater gift. With 40 lesser gifts to choose from and 20 greater gifts, that is 197,600 mechanically unique combinations of dragon. Godbound’s bestiary had similar flexibility, but this game applied it to more traditional fantasy, which is great. This kind of system really rewards a homebrewing GM, but this bestiary packs enough punch to fill a whole campaign with varied monsters by itself.
On-top of this, you have rules for domain management and mass combat that are fine and adventure generating. The domain rules function, create events, and then quickly get off the table to get back to adventuring. You can flex Lordly might and even be an abbot with lands to manage, but that fun won’t ruin other people’s fun. The mass combat rules give incentive for PCs to act independently and act as battlefield heroes. A lot of other RPG system’s mass combat rules systems suddenly strip your hero of all their abilities and place their fate on a die roll. This game does not do that.
The treasure section is robust for mundane gear and riches and provides loot tables that most OSR games tell us to open up our copy of B/X or the Rules Cyclopedia to reference. I prefer the convenience of these tables being in this book, with this setting’s money, and referencing treasure setting appropriate. This is good. There is enough magic treasure to get you going, but I would need to homebrew more items for an actual full length campaign.
This game is well worth your time even if the initial elevator pitch of “Dark Ages England” does nothing for you.
[5 of 5 Stars!]