Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Thursday, 22 December 2016

A Yuletide Domesday

The Yuletide Spirit and Trouble at T'Mill is the second supplement released for Maelstrom Domesday, the Norman set RPG published by Arion Games as a prequel and second edition to the highly regarded 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. In fact, it is far more likely that character will have theological knowledge than knowledge of magic, though knowledge of the supernatural will also not be uncommon, though frowned upon.

The Yuletide Spirit and Trouble at T'Mill presents two short adventures that can each be run in a single session or so. Like The Beast of Ledsham, both are set in isolated locations and both involve hauntings of a sort. Trouble at T'Mill was originally packaged as the Maelstrom Domesday Quickstart, whilst The Yuletide Spirit was released on its own. In The Yuletide Spirit, the player characters have been sent by their liege lord to investigate sightings of a black dog in a nearby village. This could have been the ‘beast of Ledsham’, but now in the depths of winter, they find themselves caught out as the weather turns and they are forced to seek shelter. This is at an isolated grange or monastic farm which belongs to the abbey of St. Mary’s in York. It is worked by a mix of monks and lay brothers, who will welcome the characters with some slight reluctance, though mostly because they are busy with their farm work and their religious observances.

All this takes place on Christ Mass Eve and after they bed down for the night, they are awoken by ghostly chanting in Latin. The question is, what is the cause? As investigators into the odd and the supernatural for their liege lord, the characters are bound to investigate. This will not actually take all that much investigation, but it is enough for a single session.

With a title echoing a certain Monty Python sketch, Trouble at T'Mill takes place in the manor and village of Welburn. The characters are sent there for two reasons. First, their patron has an important guest and wants them out of the way. Second, Welburn has not been sending the milled grain it should, only unmilled grain, and their patron wants to know why. This is a lengthier, more involved scenario than the earlier The Yuletide Spirit, with more villagers to interact with, as the characters attempt to find out why the miller has stopped working in the mill.

The greater array of NPCs means that the Referee will have more to work with and have more in portraying them. Similarly he should have as much fun, if not more, portraying what happens if the characters spend any time in the mill. The cause of the problem is a relatively obvious and straightforward and it is a plot that has been seen elsewhere before. This should not necessarily be held against the scenario or its author, as it is handled in as unfussy a manner as you would wish.

Physically, The Yuletide Spirit and Trouble at T'Mill is presented in an open and accessible fashion. It feels untidy and the layout could be cleaner and easier. It should be pointed out that the book does not include the pre-generated players characters that it says that it has. Further, there is no advice as what the Referee should create in terms of pre-generated characters, though some suggestions can be extracted from the text. Better advice would have been a nice touch.

Unfortunately, there is little in the way of support for Maelstrom Domesday and The Yuletide Spirit and Trouble at T'Mill presents two decent scenarios that are easy to run and add to an existing campaign. Or indeed, used as one-shots to showcase the RPG. Of the two, Trouble at T'Mill is the better, deeper showcase, but The Yuletide Spirit is the easier of the two to run and the easier to run in a short time frame. As its title might suggest, The Yuletide Spirit would make a good adventure to run at this time of year. Both scenarios are easier to run and better presented than The Beast of Ledsham, as well as being more accessible. If there is an issue with The Yuletide Spirit and Trouble at T'Mill it is that there are similarities between the two scenarios that might preclude their being run too close together. Their brevity also highlights the fact that Maelstrom Domesday would benefit from longer deeper support, especially in terms of scenarios. Nevertheless, The Yuletide Spirit and Trouble at T'Mill presents a pair of solid scenarios that are easy to add to any campaign or run as one-shots.