Review of Dark Albion, the Rose War (part 3)

This is the third and final part of my review of Dark Albion, the Rose War. Here’s part 1 and part 2.

Adventuring in Albion

This chapter is packed with resources for a Game Master. It covers travelling (on roads or rougher areas), encounters (in the wild or in settlements), adventure locations (dungeons and interesting places), creating memorable scenes at special locations or events (such as at courtly, at a fair or tourney) and some decent floor-plans and descriptions of forts at Hadrian’s wall (much more impressive and huge in this setting than in real history: not quite as huge and imposing as in the Song of Ice and Fire series, but similar).

Travelling across Albion

Dark Albion uses a nicely simple system for travel encounters: they’re split up whether the party is on a main road (Royal Highways) or on secondary paths (or simply across rough wilderness). The chance of getting an encounter increases or decreases depending on the terrain. All of this is nicely summed up in a simple table that’s very easy to use.

The encounters themselves are wonderfully rife with role-playing opportunities and potential plot hooks. None of them mean automatic combat either: everything depends on context and how the part members act or conduct themselves. This is a very re-usable resource for other games, which is another huge bonus of owning this book.

Lastly we get a similar but more brief set of obstacle encounters, such as fallen trees/rocks, rivers or cross roads. Again, these are presented not just as physical challenges for the party to overcome, but also as seeds for other encounters (bridges and fallen trees are great spots for ambushes, wink wink). They’re also great for map-generation (in the case of encountering minor rivers).

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Villages, towns and cities

Settlements have been abstracted into three sizes: villages, towns and cities. The accompanying table randomizes the “Current, prevalent situation” based on which type of settlement. This means that some events that would be a big deal in a small town are quite commonplace and unremarkable in a large city. On the other hand, the building of a massive Gothic cathedral is not likely going to happen in a small hamlet.

These situations are varied and useful as adventure seeds. Each one seemed rich and provocative to me but most of all interesting (with the exception of the entry for “Nothing Special”). Even the more brief encounter descriptions provide plenty of fuel for Game Masters to engage the players.

Lastly there is an encounter table which re-uses some of the entries from the earlier one in Travelling across Albion. In addition are a few more urban-themed events. My previous comments apply here (good stuff).

Unwanted Attention

As a bit of an addition to this part is a table that indicates the chances of the party attracting “unwanted attention”. This gets triggered after some time passed inside of a settlement and the odds of such an encounter are increased depending on how flashy, vulgar or obvious the PCs are in their daily affairs. This is never good, as per the title suggests. Seedier folk are always on the lookout for a scapegoat and bloody, magic-wielding strangers will likely fit the bill.

Adventure locations

This section contains seven adventure locations for use an a campaign. Four are more traditional dungeons and the rest are more for social interaction and political intrigue. Each type provides some general information and a sample specific place (usually accompanied by a floor plan with numbered references).

I loved these. They’re open-ended enough to inspire the Game Master for multiple game sessions, whether the party is hiking in the wilderness looking for potential places to explore and loot or if they wish to stick with cities and society.

All of them flesh out the lore, history and society of Albion. From the trapped and tricky elvish tomb to the Roman Arcadian catacombs lined with skulls on every wall or even the goblin hideout: all were inspirational and great settings for creating dungeons. There’s a reason for everything: a history to these places which make them feel more rich and captivating than a bog-standard generic fantasy dungeon trek. The Barrow Mounds in particular triggered my imagination. These sinister, haunted places could be anywhere in the wilderness.

The quality of the floor-plans were good, although the one for the Goblin Warrens felt a bit rough. Still very serviceable, however.

For more social encounter locations we get a military encampment, court and a fair/tourney, each provided with sample encounters, events and possible interactions. Lots of adventure fodder here.

Another wonderful chapter that I can see using outside of Dark Albion.

Appendices

Albion preview 1The final chapter of Dark Albion are three appendices. I admit that I glossed over these rather quickly, but they seem decent enough.

The first is about a specific order of knights. It covers notable figures (and their allegiances to the Roses) and some history.

The second contains some of the author’s house rules for OSR game play. I only scanned these rather quickly, but there are some good ideas in here. I’m not familiar with many retro-clones other than Lamentations of the Flame Princess and Labyrinth Lord so I’m always mildly interested in how people have hacked old school D&D to better suit individual play-styles. In particular I was interested in the idea of randomizing benefits gained from levelling up. There are tables for each class that include some familiar things, like increasing hit-points to more unique entries like boosts to unique saving throws.

The last appendix contains extra rules for a particular OSR game called Fantastic Heroes and Witchery. I don’t own nor play this game, so I wasn’t all that interested. However I enjoyed reading the fluff behind some of the new character classes here (especially the Demonurgist, a class that I’d draw ideas from to adjust magic users in other games to better fit Dark Albion’s mythos).

Conclusion

As per my summary in Part 1 of my review, I think that this is an incredibly rich and well-made gaming product. I’m very, very glad that I got a copy. It’s a compelling setting that I want to use someday, it contains great material that I can use in other games and it is a pleasure to casually browse on account of it being to pretty to look at (exquisite layout, choice of artwork and readability).

I recommend this book to anyone who likes pseudo-historical game settings or dark medieval campaigns full of history, bloodshed, political intrigue and grim, haunted countrysides. Or if you’re simply a George R.R. Martin fan and want to play in a similar setting using your favourite OSR game instead of a licensed product set in Westeros.

An aside

Maybe it’s just because I’m listening to a lot of Doom metal music right now, but I have the urge to run Dark Albion as straight-up Europe, with God and the Devil instead of the stand-ins (the Unconquered Sun and Chaos), but that will depend on my players’ tastes. Chaos is such an unambiguously evil force to fight against in this setting that no-one except for folks still clinging the 80s satanic panic craze should raise the slightest eyebrow.

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