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

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Wolves on the Border

As its title suggests Time of the Wolves: An epic saga for the Age of Arthur roleplaying game is a campaign for the Age of Arthur roleplaying game. Published by Wordplay Games, Age of Arthur – Dark ages roleplaying powered by Fate—though written for use with an earlier itteration of the rules, both Time of the Wolves and Age of Arthur can work with FATE Core—is a gritty, Dark Ages-set Arthurian roleplaying game which presents a more historical approach to the Arthurian legend in comparison to the romantic approach taken by the classic King Arthur: Pendragon roleplaying game. Both are equally valid approaches to the Arthurian legend, but King Arthur: Pendragon is—and remains—the preeminent roleplaying treatment  of the genre, and rightly so. The historicity of Age of Arthur means that it does not quite have the grand sweep that King Arthur: Pendragon and The Great Pendragon Campaign together possess, but it does mean that there is greater scope for player character action and influence over a campaign.

Set in the Kingdom of Ebrauc—roughly equivalent to Yorkshire—Time of the Wolves presents four linked adventures which see a band of heroes attempt to stave off an invasion by Angles which threatens the kingdom. Ebrauc is not the only place facing the threat of invasion. King Wehha of the Wuffingas, ruler of the recently founded Kingdom of the Angles, has designs on the nearby city of Lindum as much as he does Ebrauc and has set a competition for his sons to impress him by capturing both. In the course of the campaign, the heroes will encounter treachery and greed, honour and ambition, Fae magic and Saxon magic, and more. The fate of Lindum and Ebrauc lies in their hands.

It opens with ‘Hammer to Fall’, in which the heroes are in Lindum, a city whose strategy in dealing with the threat of the Angles is to hire mercenaries—including Angle mercenaries—for protection and pay tribute to King Wehha. This has only put a temporary hold on the Angles’ ambitions and perhaps an opportunity has arisen with the news that pay for the mercenaries in Lindum’s employ has gone missing. The heroes are asked to investigate the loss and the process must deal with mercenary bands, hold off the approaching Angles, and somehow find a way of funding the city’s defence.

Yet as the heroes work to save Lindum, the Angles make a move elsewhere. In part two, ‘Play the Game’, news comes to them that the heir to Ebrauc has been struck down and lies dying whilst the command of his troops has passed to a cousin. He proves ill-suited to command and even when it becomes apparent that the heir has been poisoned, he inadvertently impedes the heroes’ search for a cure. This takes the heroes off into Britain’s wilder realms where the GM gets to portray some fun NPCs and the heroes get to step up to the stage. They should earn a favour by the end of the scenario, but also owe one in readiness for ‘Put Out the Fire’, wherein the heroes must travel north to pay it back. This third part is mostly a journey, but it does present the heroes with a question of honour when they return.

The last part is ‘Friends Will Be Friends’. Ebrauc’s situation looks perilous. The Angles have finally gathered enough enough forces to make their attack and the kingdom just does not enough men at its command to withstand their onslaught. The heroes must make one last desperate effort to bolster their forces before the invaders attack. This involves negotiation with an Angle Thane and his fearsome bodyguard and is a good opportunity for some roleplaying prior to the campaign’s climatic showdown between Ebrauc and the Angles. This allows the GM to bring all of the Angles’ forces to bear, including great magic and skin changing warriors, but there are opportunities for the heroes to counter these aspects and make the situation just a little less challenging… This is a suitably rousing climax to the campaign and hopefully, a chance for the make Lindum and Ebrauc safe for a few more years...

Although Time of the Wolves can be played with characters of the players’ design, it really benefits if these characters have ties to Ebrauc and Lindum as this will mean that they can better interact with the Aspects for both the campaign’s locations and NPCs. To that end, the campaign provides four pre-generated heroes. They include an illegitimate prince of Ebrauc and war leader, a druid in service to Ebrauc, the ambitious daughter of the Prefect of Lindum, and an ex-bandit in the permanent service of said daughter of the Prefect of Lindum. The characters are nicely tied to each other and the setting, so that they really have a stake in the future of the region. Of the four, the bandit has the weakest ties to the campaign, but they are all four very playable with Aspects that will bring the campaign to life.

One issue with the campaign is the problem with travelling. Time of the Wolves does involve quite a lot of travel and on almost every journey the heroes are attacked or ambushed by bandits or Angle warriors. The GM may want to vary these a little.

Physically, Time of the Wolves is a digest-sized hardback, done in full colour. It is lightly illustrated, but the artwork is excellent, being full colour paintings. The pre-generated hero portraits are particularly good. Likewise, the maps are done in full colour and very attractive pieces. The writing is clear, but perhaps it could have been slightly better organised within the various chapters so that some of the plot information could have been made a little more obvious. Some of it does appear after the NPC it relates to is presented. That said, the plots are not that complex anyway, but it makes finding the information not quite as easy as it should. Overall, Time of the Wolves looks great and it looks far more professional than a small press release has any right to do.

If you already have a copy of Age of Arthur, then Time of the Wolves is a perfect addition. It showcases the perilous situation in which post-Roman Britain finds itself and the efforts its peoples are making to hold off the impending threat from across the North Sea. It also showcases how to bring forth the storytelling possibilities of the setting and the Aspects of both this setting and the characters. It is also a good showcase for Fate and how it works, so if you wanted to try Fate, then Time of the Wolves with Age of Arthur is a really strong combination. Time of the Wolves is a good campaign, but it gets better when the character Aspects involve them in the narrative.