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Saturday 13 February 2016

RPGPundit Answers YOUR Questions: Best System for Dark Albion

So, I have an earlier blog entry where I've told my readers that they can post questions and/or requests for rant topics from me. I will periodically respond to any of these I think I can do a good job at answering.  So if you have something you want to ask me, or ask me to write about, go to that entry and put your question/request in the comments!

Today, we're going to respond to the first of these, this time from Todd Antill, who writes:

I want to hear what game systems would make a good fit in your Dark Albion setting. I've purchased the product, but I'm on the fence about what game system to use.. an article looking at various settings and how they fit would be interesting, and quite helpful.

Thanks for your question, Todd!

Let me say this: I tried to make the Dark Albion book usable equally well by just about any Old-School system.  However, there's no question that some would need more modification than others.

Now, part of it depends on how you want to use it.  For me, the gritty style of Dark Albion works best when it's minimlist.  So, not a lot of fancy classes, just the basics.  That means systems like AD&D or some of the other OSR games that provide lots of sub-classes would have redundant material.  I would want combat rules to be simple and straightforward, not a lot of sub-systems there either.   The spell lists should be pruned of too many spells, but more importantly of those big flash-bang type of spells (high-explosive combat spells, you could say), as well as anything that let's you 'get out of death free' (getting out of death at a terrible terrible cost MIGHT be ok).  The Dark Albion chapter on Magic gives an adjusted list of spells, based on the OSRIC/D&D baseline, which would give you an idea what to follow.

I guess one factor in this was how the Dark Albion campaign originated.  The system that the original first Dark Albion campaign started with was Lamentations of the Flame Princess.   Not because of it's "weird fantasy" claptrap, but because LotFP has an incredibly tight, gritty, minimalist D&D system.  Four basic classes (plus some racial ones), very simple combat rules, spells that remove most of the explosive and replace it with some interestingly eerie magic.  It even has a Summoning system, although I ultimately wasn't pleased with it because I felt it really wasn't medieval enough, and thus came up with the Summoning rules in Dark Albion as a totally separate type of magic aside from the regular spellcasting (rules based on the medieval ideas of how magic and demons both worked, and directly inspired by real medieval grimoires like the Ars Goetia or the Book of the Sacred Magic of Abra-melin).

Several really important mechanical innovations in LotFP changed my way of thinking about power in D&D.  Of course, a lot of stuff before LotFP made mortality dangerous, so that wasn't new, but few said in turn that IF mortality was so high, that meant you could also give your PCs significant power as long as the power you give them doesn't remove that risk of mortality. THAT was to me the big innovation of LotFP: it was that fighters were now the only ones who got escalating to-hit bonuses, wizards could summon major demons at level 1, and thieves could have a x6 backstab by level 3 if they wanted.  This is why, for example, my summoning rules put no level conditions; in most editions of D&D you get stuff like "a wizard must be at least level 9 to do x", but its way better to have something that is self regulating: "here's as much power as you want, if you can survive it".

Ultimately, I kept making innovations to the LotFP system as we played, and even moreso in the second Dark Albion campaign (which became a bit of a testing ground for ideas to see how they'd go without wrecking the first campaign, which was still ongoing), and in one-shots I did mostly as Celebrity GM in local cons.   Some of these innovations were long-term house rules I'd been using since forever, some of them were stuff from the combat mechanics of Arrows of Indra (though many of those were also inspired by LotFP to begin with, so it's a bit of a repeating cycle), and some were new ideas that cropped up.  Eventually, what I was left with was a totally different system, with different rules for character creation, character advancement, combat, magic, summoning, items, etc. So this is what became "Appendix P", the rules at the end of the Dark Albion book.   It has more random (and varied) characters, a very slick and streamlined system, characters that are vulnerable (with lower hit points even at higher levels) but also can have great niche-protected power, it has an experience point system that actually suits the Dark Albion medieval setting (because the standard rules of xp for monsters killed and especially 1gp=1xp just doesn't work here), a brutal critical hit rule with permanent injuries, a modified magic system, etc.   It's the game evolved to fit the Dark Albion setting.

So obviously, if you were to ask me, personally, which game rules I would think you should use to play Dark Albion, that would be my answer: Appendix P. That's why I put it there.  Now, Appendix P is not quite a complete RPG, because it has all the rules (even spell lists, if you could the spell lists in the Magic chapter; and equipment because Albion has an equipment list with real medieval costs), but it doesn't have descriptions of spell effects, it doesn't have monsters, it doesn't have magic items and descriptions (except for the handful of magic items in the Dark Albion book), and a couple of other things you might need in play (stuff that comes up once in a while, like naval travel, disease, suffocation, acid damage, whatever -- actually, wait, acid is covered in the section in Dark Albion on Alchemy).  So I would say to use Appendix P as your rules, and when you need that supplemental stuff, use OSRIC/AD&D or if you prefer Labyrinth-Lord/Rules-Cyclopedia D&D just for those things not included in the appendix that you don't want to just improvise.
That's MY answer. That's why the Appendix P rules are there; because I think its the best way to run Dark Albion.

But this minimalist perspective is my preference. Someone else might want a flowery game with a lot of details, with richer rules, and more varied classes.  In that case, I'd say there's one obvious answer, which is Dominique Crouzet's Fantastic Heroes & Witchery!

(this is a list of classes in FH&W's core book!)

In the last appendix of Dark Albion you can see Dominique Crouzet's own house rules with new classes and modifications to his existing classes to fit the Dark Albion setting.  But as you can see from the image above, FH&W would let you run either a class-rich Dark Albion game or even a much more weird more gonzo Dark Albion game.

I guess in one sense it was pretty obvious that I would end up primarily recommending my own rules, and then the rules written by my publisher, as the ones best suited to Dark Albion.  But of course in part that's a logical choice too, when the former were written FOR Dark Albion and the latter have already got a set of modifications dedicated to Dark Albion.  Even so, let me close by stating it really plainly: to me, just about any OSR rule-set could work well for Dark Albion. Pick the one you like, take whatever ideas from Appendix P you think are cool, and run with it!


Currently Smoking:  Lorenzetti Oversize + H&H's Beverwyck


  1. I'm actually doing a review of Dark Albion for my podcast (I'm working towards it, and I'll let you know when it comes out).

    I was going to address this exact question, although my answer is a little different than yours. If I were to get the chance to run a campaign in Dark Albion (not any time soon, it appears), I'd actually use the core mechanic in Carcosa combined with Appendix P of DA. That's pretty close to late medieval nasty OSR in my opinion.

    The sliding damage and HD make the extra HP redundant, and the two classes make it nice and minimalist. I like how Carcosa has two nearly identical classes except the sorcerer can use magic if he or she finds it, which works in DA, I think.

    I'm actually running a weird D&D game right now with 25th century humans on a typical D&D fantasy world, and to avoid any magic in starting classes, I forced them to choose between Fighter, Rogue, and Monk.

    1. Thanks, please do let me know when your review is out! I don't much care for Carcosa's system, I think it has randomization in the wrong places, and with dumb effects. However, as I said, I think whatever system you like best is the best system for running your game of Albion with!

  2. ... suppose I'm going to use Maelstrom, an old british RPG now published by Arion Games.

    1. I love Maelstrom! It was clearly an inspiration for me. In particular the section on poisons, herbalism and alchemy was inspired by Maelstrom's herbalism appendix.

  3. Wouldn't it work very well with ACKS? As ACKS has a "historical" feel to it, with all the research behind it, and is based on actual medieval economics...

    1. I think ACKS is a really good match with all the politics going on and the time lines! Just wish Dark Albion had more military information in it...

    2. Yeah, ACKS could work well.
      As for military information, I do think that if someone with more of a dedication to military history than me were to make a more detailed 'war' themed Dark Albion sourcebook, that would be very cool.

  4. I'm pretty sure Shadow of the Demon Lord, my current go-to fantasy game, could handle it. Some class/magical tradition restrictions and voilà...

  5. ZWEIHÄNDER Grim & Perilous RPG is also a great system to use with Dark Albion. It fuses perfectly with the thematic elements, while supporting a late Middle Age design motif with its professions, magick, rituals and more. It wouldn't take too much work to retrofit Pundit's herbalism rules into it, either.