Thursday 10 September 2015

Dark Albion Review Part 1

I am in two minds about Dark Albion and I can’t quite figure out why. I think I will do my usual steal random bits for Nocte thing, but before that I want to do a more traditional review.

Dark Albion is a pseudo-historical setting based on England during the War of the Roses. Notable pieces of pseudo-ness include replacing the Catholic Church with The Church of the Unconquered Sun(TCotUS) and replacing the French with actual frogmen. Both of these substitutions are easily reversible, thus making the setting almost wholly historical, but I question the inclusion of one of these elements at all.

While the frogmen are a hilarious adversary as surrogate Frenchmen, replacing the historical church seems to me to be just avoiding conflict with modern Christians. If the Church of the Unconquered Sun could bring more depth and interest, or even an interesting spin on the historical church then it might be a warranted change. I find no such thing in Dark Albion and so I must conclude the author did not want to incorporate fantasy constructs such as clerics into the historical church to avoid any controversy that might result.

I might be being a bit harsh with that criticism. The brief history of TCotUS does a good job explaining clerics and the miracles they perform, and since TCotUS is so similar to the Catholic Church, it is still possible to use all the interesting historical details of the Church almost directly. The author even takes pains to point out that the history of the church can be brought across almost entirely intact.

Despite the weighty 280 pages, the book only manages to skim the 30 years of the era and this makes it feel incomplete. Luckily, since the era of the book is a popular one in film and fiction, there is a wealth of extra setting material available so I can’t really criticise the book too much on that score. Dark Albion focuses on the start of the period, instead of a more piecemeal approach, which helps somewhat, but I feel it could have done with more focus. Instead of including information about the various continental powers, The 14 pages used could have been put to better use. Especially useful would be some more examples on how to use the extensive list of NPCs to get PCs involved in the Rose Wars. Some advice is given in this regard, but a lot more would be welcome.

So that’s the negatives and writing about them above, they seem to loom large. On the whole though, I really enjoyed Dark Albion. It takes on an era that is undeserved by RPGs, it is well written and I really like the artwork. Others have criticised the use of royalty free images, but the volume and quality of the art is not to be understated. The number of interesting and detailed NPCs that can and should interact with one another in a relatively small geographic area is possibly unparalleled in a RPG. Should you buy this book then? Certainly. Other people have done a better job extolling Dark Albion’s virtues, so I will leave that to them, but I did want to get my reservations about the book off my chest without being too negative about it.

On a side note, you will probably have noticed that I have not posted in a very long time. For a while I was focusing on other writing, then I have some good excuses about moving countries etc. Normal service should resume soon, starting with some random inspiration from the pages of Dark Albion.

Sunday 8 March 2015


Elves do not exist, a myth, a fairytale. But why then, are there so many stories of their glory, but also their wrath? There are worse things in this world; the undead, dragons, and all manner of savage creatures. There are more beautiful creatures in this world too, unicorns, nymphs and the like. Why then, do the stories tell of the great and powerful elves?

The great empires of forgotten ages, elves. The wars against the heavens, elves. All the stories of tempted mortals, elves. If they did exist though, what would they be like?
There are places in the world where reality stretches thin. In these locations, usually deep within forests, or underground, or at the peaks of mountains, the world of the elves seeps into our own. In these places the normal laws of nature do not apply. Trees grow a hundred times taller, mountains form eldritch shapes and the creatures grow wild, both in form and behaviour.

Strange Elvish Terrain
Roll a die
D10 Terrain
1 A series of trees woven into a natural wall
2 Trees a hundred meters tall, naturally formed stairs winding their way up the trunk
3 Fingers of rock, thrust up through the sward, as thin as a finger, in precise geometric patterns
4 Entire villages made of gingerbread and populated by man-eating fairies
5 A spring of pure white wine bubbles forth from a white marble statue of a chicken
6 Giant crystals in incredible colours, some the size of a house
7 Purple mist permeates the area, causing euphoria in anyone breathing it
8 Hundreds of statues of varying races. They whisper secrets to each other
9 A river of water, black as ink, winds its way through the trees
10 A huge canyon stretches as far as the eye can see. The clouds floating below look oddly solid.

Wild Creatures
Roll two dice
D10 A With
1 Horse A unicorn’s horn
2 Duck Pure silver fur
3 Chicken The ability to breathe fire
4 Bear Long, stilt like legs
5 Wombat Ten legs
6 Deer An engorged head
7 Badge A fearsome roar
8 Lion Two heads
9 Ostrich Giant claws

Saturday 14 February 2015


I have been tweeting for a while now under the @CityInDarkness moniker. It's time I added a feed to the blog, so that's what I did. I tweet about my own blogs, but mostly about all the incredible blogs and ideas that I find around the web. I hope you find it useful.

Wednesday 4 February 2015

The start of an adventure.

An introduction to a module I am writing set primarily in the City:

Annabella Girando is the matriarch of a nouveau riche family already on the downslide. Annabella
though, is determined to reclaim her Grandmother’s fortune but this time by playing politics, she thinks she can reverse her families fortune in a matter of years, not a lifetime like her grandmother.

Lucia Giorando, Anabella’s grandmother was one of the first denizens of the city to venture out in the swamps and communicate with the usually hostile Kobold tribes. Lucia befriended one tribe in particular, the Wretherong. Over a few short years Licia came to dominate the tribe and goad them into conquest. Three smaller tribes fell to the Wretherong and Licia Giorando developed a reputation for ruthlessness both in the field of battle but also in the marketplace. With the Wretherong territory expanded and, thanks again to Lucia, willing to trade, Lucia began to build a trade empire. With unique at the time access to the eels, fish and woven goods of the swamps Lucia Giorando and the Wretherong gained an early lead on this market. The lead allowed Lucia to build a substantial fortune before the gradual civilising of the kobolds encouraged trade and increased competition.

Annabella as Lucia’s granddaughter, should have been born into one of the richest families in the city. Instead, thanks to her mother and father, she grew up in a dying empire. One by one, the business ventures and investments failed under mismanagement and in response to competition. Annabella grew up in a house with fifty servants, dwindling to just three before she was of age. Unlike her parents though, Annabella is not complacent and resigned to receding into insignificance. She has a plan, but needs some mercenary types to do the dirty work.

The Guild of Merchants and Traders is a byzantine organization with a huge amount of power. Its
membership contains some of the wealthiest and most powerful individuals in the city. Beneath the masters of the guild is a large bureaucracy dealing with everything from the taxation of trade goods to the administration of contracts between producers and merchants.

It is in the last responsibility that Annabella sees an opportunity. Each month, contracts are drawn up to standardise agreements between producers and the merchants of the city. If Annabella can manipulate these contracts she can channel business to her family concerns.

So, there’s the background. How Annabella Giorando will implement these plans will surely involve the PCs sooner or later. Will they be hooked by the prospect of hunting exotic creatures for a menagerie, or by blackmailing influence wielders in the guild. Will the PCs work for the promise of future gold? Will they turn on her and if so, how far can she drag them into her dark schemes before they do?

I hope to answer these questions soon.

Thursday 22 January 2015

Fantasy Roleplaying in the Real World

For many years I have disliked the idea of setting a D&D campaign in the "real world". I have recently come around to the idea however, thanks to various Lamentations of the Flame Princess adventures and an article in Undercroft 3 (my favourite zine of the moment). There are cons of course, so I thought I would try to weigh them out here.

The biggest advantage by far, is the instant recognition of cultures without having to build them up gradually for players. If want to introduce a new culture in my homebrew, it will be many sessions of feeding information to the players slowly before they really have a good overview of the culture and why it matters to the game. Of course, I could present a wall of text to impart all the information, but very rarely in roleplaying games is that a good idea. Recognition of cultures isn't just some airy-fairy ideal, it allows a GM to describe an NPC in far fewer words than would be necessary with made up cultures. "A bearded russian in a bearskin" conjures images far stronger than if I gave much more description of a fantasy culture. Stereotypes are very useful for imparting information and allow GMs to easily improvise on top of these frameworks.

It's not just cultures that evoke instant and strong imagery in the minds of players. Places(The Vatican), organisations (the Catholic Church) and people (Leonardo da Vinci) all need no more introduction. This doesn't prevent the Catholic Church from concealing a captured pagan god under the Vatican, or Leonardo da Vinci from being an elf. I have found instead, that it gives the elements of fantasy a wonderful grounding in normality. In Making Magic Magical, I talked about making the magic of the PCs and any strangeness stand out even more. This grounding in reality helps the suspension of disbelief, something I take very importantly whether I am playing in, or running the game.

Not all game types can be run in the real world. Sure, a Mage: The Whatevering and other similar modern games dramatically dial up the fantastic elements of the real world, but a Spelljammer or Planescape game completely defeats any benefits you would get from using a real world setting. If a real world backing would distract from your core concept of a world that lies on the back of the Terrasque again, it's a bad idea to use it.

Our history is an incredibly rich resource to draw
on, but using historical sources doesn't mean you need to set a campaign in the real world. Nocte draws inspiration and in many cases directly steals from Edwardian and Victorian English social histories, as well as renaissance Florence and of course, medieval history. Even a thin veneer of fantasy over an interesting historical character or location is usually acceptable.

Even if you just can't bring yourself to set your next campaign in the real world, you would still be well advised to draw on historical cultures and stories to add depth and a grounded familiarity to your campaign.