RPG Scene: Dark Albion’s Character Generation Rules

Monday , 19, October 2015 3 Comments

Okay, this game has been the talk of the town this past while. Several people that are into the same sort of stuff that I am have bragged on this one, so I bit the bullet and grabbed a copy of the PDF. I open it up, though and it goes straight into to the setting’s Gazetteer. It’s page after page of maps and location details and then timelines and history. I couldn’t believe it!

You see… almost every role-playing game I have on my shelves drops the reader into the character generation rules right out of the gate. Granted, most of my game collection consists of vintage games at this point, but still… this isn’t normal. Usually all the setting stuff is tucked away in the back as sort of an afterthought. This book is backwards!

Turning to about half way through the book, I get to the section on characters and see this note:

At some point in its history, the publisher of the original and most popular role-playing-game (i.e. the one where you play fighters, clerics and wizards who explore subterranean mazes in search of ancient treasures to plunder) created a license (the OGL) that would eventually let people recreate the earlier editions of that game, with or without modifications. Today, there exist many such OSR games. Despite their multitude however, they are all very similar and use the same basic rules. As such, when you know one, you generally know them all. A few examples of these OSR games include: Adventure Dark & Deep, Basic Fantasy RPG, Castles & Crusades, Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG, Fantastic Heroes & Witchery (recommended!), Iron Falcon, Labyrinth Lord, Lamentations-of-the-Flame-Princess, Osric, or Sword & Wizardry. Then, Dark Albion is of course perfectly usable with the original game that inspired all these clones and simulacrums, even its latest edition.

There’s just so much wrong here. In the first place, the Adventurer Conqueror King System is not mentioned. That’s outrageous. And while it’s one thing to conflate all the retro-clones as being more or less interchangeable, I have to say… trying to slip 5th Edition D&D into the mix there is just one step too far. I mean, for a game with a more historical medieval setting to be this ecumenical… I don’t know if I buy it. In fact, this upsets me so much, I think I’m going to have to read some of Gary Gygax’s editorials from Dragon magazine just to calm down…!

There are charts here for rolling up your social class, home territory, and a prior event to use as a basis for working out your character’s backstory. There’s even tables for rolling up Anglish, Scots, and Welsh names. But really… there is no such thing as a strictly defined method for rolling up a Dark Albion character. It really does boil down to “do what you’re already doing, but make sure fighters are relatively epic, clerics are all lawful, and don’t use any weird demi-humans, sub-classes, or multi-classing.”

This just flat out staggers me. Am I an old crank out of step with the times? Let’s see what the reviewers are saying to find out…!

Nemo’s Lounge does not choke on the incredibly short section on character generation. To him, it is a feature and not a bug:

My overall impression is positive: this chapter provides some handy and interesting add-ons for character creation no matter which game system your table chooses.

Corey Ryan Walden is more concerned with the artwork than with the openly heretical nature of this game:

Speaking of new options, there are plenty within Dark Albion. A range of new classes are presented including the Cymric bard, demonurgist, hedge witch, magister, noble knight, knight-errant, and more. Mechanically there are numerous suggestions for running a game in the Dark Albion universe, both for common retroclones like Swords & Wizardry and Lamentations, but also for Fantastic Heroes and Witchery.

He is here referring to the appendices which include the author’s own house rules for adapting the setting to, say, Swords & Wizardry. There is another section in the back that contains the sort of formal character generation type stuff I expected to find in the main rules… but it’s for some system I never heard of: Fantastic Heroes & Witchery. It’s the publisher’s game… so no wonder it gets first class treatment.

The Other Side is seeing the makings of a truly old school campaign:

The reading of this chapter makes me think that Lamentation of the Flame Princes might be a good rule fit for this, but as I read more I think that Original D&D is the best choice. Though given the changes to the world in general I would also add druids and witches to my games.

He actually praises the game’s capacity to “play well with others”– to work well with whatever you’re already playing that is….

Superstar designer James Spahn is practically intoxicated with this aspect of the work:

Dark Albion is one of the best products I’ve purchased this year, if not the past five. I could take this book and run a campaign for years – whether Labyrinth Lord, Lamentations of the Flame Princess, or even a game not commonly associated with the OSR like Basic Roleplaying by Chaosium or Steve Jackson’s GURPS. The sheer versatility of the product combine with great production values, engaging writing, and solid cartography make it an absolute must-have.

Well then. My reaction to this book is clearly the minority view. Certainly within the “OSR”, whatever that is. Should I shake my cane at these people? Tell them to get off my lawn? You know… I don’t think so. Because what they’re doing is catching up D&D-like gaming to Steve Jackson’s more or less system neutral approach with what he called “world books” which did quite well for him right up until the introduction of Wikipedia. (Tons of people that never even played GURPS swear by those old third edition perfect bound supplements!) So in this case, I think I should lay off the nerd rage just this once. This is all so logical it’s almost even inevitable.

But I will say… I do think it’s pretty crazy to publish an rpg that doesn’t actually contain an rpg. That you can do that nowadays and not only get away with it, but also get this kind of glowing praise… it flat out blows my mind. It’s almost as if the people calling themselves “the OSR” have realized that actual game design really is irrelevant to this thing we call role-playing. There’s an element of truth to that given how these games actually work in practice. But I’m not sure I want to come to grips a world that is predicated on that assumption. It ain’t right!

3 Comments
  • D. Crouzet says:

    I am the publisher. I already wrote my own game rules (kind of retro-clone) in their own book: Fantastic Heroes & Witchery, that is already 430 pages long (and this without monsters that will be their own book). Then, the author uses LotFP with but a few houserules indicated in the appendix. As such, Dark Albion focuses on the setting; we saw no need to re-write what already exists. In fact I didn’t like setting books that spend 100 pages discussing races, prestige classes and new feats (when so many already existed), and then proposed but 20 pages of gazetteer. I have no use for that. As a GM I want setting information only. (Of course, since I wrote FH&W, it’s normal that I advertised it!)

    • Jeffro says:

      Yep, it’s a perfectly legitimate way to set up an rpg supplement and it’s pulling in rave reviews. That’s a fact. And yeah… 100 pages on races, prestige classes, and new feats would have been dumb dumb dumb as far as I’m concerned.

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