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Friday 16 December 2016

A Beast of an Adventure

The Beast of Ledsham is the first supplement released for Maelstrom Domesday, the Norman set RPG published by Arion Games as a prequel and second edition to the 1984 RPG, Maelstrom. This new RPG is set in 1086, some twenty years after the Norman invasion of 1066, and presents a country still recovering from repeated invasions—by the Scots and the Danes; from repeated rebellions and suppressions within; and finally from the ‘Harrying of the North’, the violent suppression of not just a series of Anglo-Saxon uprisings, but of the Anglo-Saxon peoples in the region, resulting in the death of tens of thousands. This is the year in which the Domesday Book, a great survey of the men and lands of the King William the Conqueror is completed, even as the king’s attention continues to be divided between consolidating his rule over England and holding off the French king’s designs upon Normandy. Thus the king’s men cannot be everywhere and when his peace is disrupted, the taxes cannot be collected,, there are further signs of rebellion, or things that cannot truly be explained, other powerful men of the kingdom are prepared to step in to support both king and church. Often they cannot act directly and arrange to have their agents act for them—agents such as the player characters, who each have had some kind of encounter with the supernatural that is the Maelstrom…!

Characters in Maelstrom Domesday are ordinary men and women—they can be archers, beggars, craftsmen, huntsmen, knights, ladies, men-at-arms, outlaws, peasants, priests, squires, and wisemen/wisewomen. In the default campaign set-up, the characters each have an encounter with something weird and been employed by a local lord to investigate strange things going on in his holdings. It should be noted that this is historical game, which means that there are many occupations that will not be available to female characters. Further whilst magic using characters are possible, it is rare that one will be rolled up during character creation.

The Beast of Ledsham is a short adventure in which the characters are tasked with visiting the village of Ledsham to the west of York—the default campaign location in the core rulebook—where it is reported that something evil lurks in the surrounding woods, preying on game and the villagers. This matter has to be addressed quickly as the Norman baron Ilbert de Lacy will move to do what the characters have been ordered to do, but he will do so employing harsh, direct methods as he thinks that the villagers have been poaching his deer.

Written for use with novice or experienced characters, The Beast of Ledsham consists of a twenty-eight page booklet which mostly consists of a description of the village and its inhabitants. In order to conduct the investigation, the characters will need to interview the villagers. In the doing so, they will be faced with a prejudice or two—Normans are not always well liked in Ledsham—and perhaps uncover one or two things going on in the village. This is necessary, since it aid in their final uncovering of what exactly is going on in Ledsham.

The problem is that The Beast of Ledsham focuses on building the suspicions of the player character and in so doing, pointing them towards the village’s other secrets. This is necessary after all, but in the process, it initially completely ignores clues about the adventure’s obvious plot and leaves the GM with the task of creating them himself. Essentially, what is going to happen is that the player characters are going to turn up in Ledsham, start asking questions about the beast that has been threatening the villagers and their livelihood, and the GM will be unable to give those answers because it is apparent that they knowing nothing! Which is a problem because the player characters are going to want those questions answered—after all, it is why they are in Ledsham in the first place.

Once the investigators get on track, then The Beast of Ledsham presents a decent enough scenario. The investigation itself involves lots interviews and interrogations and except for a minor optional encounter at the start and the confrontation with the creature at the end, it involves little in the way of combat. Indeed, none of the female characters are given stats because when it comes to combat, they will flee rather than fight. 

For the most part, The Beast of Ledsham is decently enough presented. The artwork feels a bit rough and the book could do with an edit. Ultimately, that is what The Beast of Ledsham needed—another edit, someone else’s eyes going over—to spot the fundamental omissions. The Beast of Ledsham is not unworkable or unplayable, but it needs work to get there...

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