Review of Dark Albion, the Rose War (part 1)

This is part 1 of my review of Dark Albion. Due to limited time (work, family, game writing and another review) I’ve had to split this one up into two parts.

dark albion cover
The lovely cover. There’s another variant, but I preferred this one.

Summary

Dark Albion is an incredibly detailed resource for pseudo-historical fantasy England. The writing is solid and thorough. The artwork, while all public domain, was very well chosen and used. The maps were excellent and lovely. The layout, typography and readability were excellent.

While it is mostly suited to OSR games like Labyrinth Lord, Fantastic Heroes & Witchery and Lamentations of the Flame Princess, it is extremely system-agnostic. I plan on using it with Beyond the Wall or even with the fifth edition of Dungeons and Dragons.

Dark Albion is a beautiful and professional product. I recommend it even if you do not agree with the RPG Pundit’s ideology or stance on politics and gaming.

This is a review is of the 277-page, hard cover book. It has a colour exterior and black and white interior art. The book is written by the RPG Pundit with additional texts by Dominique Crouzet. Dominique did the artwork and layout. Mine was printed at Lulu.com.

What’s in the book

The Introduction

The introductory chapter outlines what the book is about (obviously). It would make a great quickstart edition of Dark Albion because it cuts to the chase. We get the author’s explanation of the basic premise, what kinds of adventures that can be had, and most importantly how the setting mirrors our own real world (also how it differs). Just like the Song of Ice and Fire series, it focuses heavily on the historical conflict known as the War of the Roses. So the reader will see some familiar themes if they’re a fan of George Martin’s series or if they’re history buffs.

There’s a great section on the roles of women. The gist of it is that while the societies of Dark Albion share similar prejudices against women as those from real 15th-Century England, there are no limitations on what character classes are available or roles that can be attained by player characters. Basically, female PCs of any kind are entirely plausible in the setting (and many roles that women are explicitly allowed to be, contrary to historical precedence). There are even a few potential story hooks for women as heroes as they defy certain conventions. I appreciated the inclusion of this information: while I assume that many gaming groups can easily handwave away historical sexism, the author went out of his way to specifically talk about it.

At this point I was already hooked.

Gazeteer of Albion

This section covers the country itself: the politics, the cities, forests and places rife for perilous exploration or courtly intrigue.

Much of it mirrors actual locations in the United Kingdom but with enough tweaks to keep it pseudo-historical. All-in-all a very dense and rich resource for a Game Masters. There is so much in this section that it’s almost overwhelming. At least, it would be if it hadn’t been so well laid-out and structured. Sure there’s a great deal of information in here but it’s easy to browse.

Another great feature are the regional maps with accompanying notes about each town. These brief notes include essential information such as taverns, inns, population, special locations and even maximum values of purchases or sales made there. This is a great addition and very handy.

For the purpose of completing this review, I read about 1/3 of this section and skimmed the rest. There’s a LOT of content. What I’ve managed to actually absorb was full of rich history and potential adventure hooks. I want to run a campaign in medieval England Albion and encourage the party to explore these wonderful places.

Law & Justice in Albion

This was a lot more interesting than I expected. I tend to gloss over this type of material in RPGs (I never cared how crimes were punished in Middenheim back in the day), but I enjoyed reading this. While it is a pseudo-historical setting, I was very curious about how much of it was based on actual history.

Regardless, what is in here is very usable for a campaign in case the party gets into legal trouble (secular or ecclesiastical). A nice addition to the book.

Turn to any page of the book and it looks this good.
Turn to any page of the book and it looks this good.

History of Albion

What is interesting about this section (and about the Gazeteer) is that we are provided with timelines of events that can take place during the campaign. Things like invasions, changes of rulers and other socio-political shifts that could provide engaging campaign twists. Of special note is the part called “the Future History of Albion” which are events that can take place after your campaign has started. Alternatively, some of these dates could be used to kick start a campaign.

Like the rest of Dark Albion, this part of the book is densely packed with content. I tend to only quickly scan over timelines but all of the bits that I read were interesting enough for me. Basically, a Game Master can refer to this chapter to provide even more adventure hooks or campaign-changing events to affect the lives of the PCs. For example, what would it mean if their home village was sacked by invaders? Or their noble patron dies? Or if the suddenly King decides to hire adventurers to assassinate a troublesome figure out of myth like Morgaine or Vlad Dracula?

Great stuff, but like any history timeline out of any book that I’ve ever read, a little dry to read through in one go. I see its value as another Game Mastering reference for managing the campaign’s flow.

Characters in Albion

At this point I’m about halfway through the book. I’ll be covering the second half in Part 2 (coming soon).

In the meantime, check out other images of the product here.

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