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Sunday 16 August 2020

Liminal London

Pax Londinium is a supplement for Liminal, the urban fantasy roleplaying game set entirely within the United Kingdom, a United Kingdom with a Hidden World populated by the strange and the otherworldly, in which magic and magicians, vampires, werewolves, the fae, and many myths of the British Isles are real. The United Kingdom of Liminal is riven by factions, such as the conservative Council of Merlin, the scheming vampires of the Soldality of the Crown, the Fae lords, the Queen of Hyde Park and the wife-hunting Winter King of the north, whilst the Order of St, Bede, a Christian order, is dedicated to protecting the mundane world from magic and the supernatural and keeping it and the existence of magic a secret. Where Fortean or inexplicable crimes occur, P Division, a national agency of the British police, are likely to investigate, but cannot mention magic, for fear such knowledge might leak… The players take the role of ‘Liminals’, able to stand astride the mundane and the Hidden World, working as a Crew—which the players create along with their characters—which has its own objectives and facilities, to investigate the weirdness and mysteries that seeps into the real from the Hidden World. 

As its title suggests, Pax Londinium takes the Crew to the capital of the United Kingdom and steps back and forth across the Liminal to explore its strange and long history, its factions and personalities, its diverse cultures and their place in the Liminal, and more. In doing so, what it is not, is a London source book per se—either mundane or magical. There is so much to mundane London that the pages of Pax Londinium would be overflowing before it even made the crossing of the Liminal and back again—and anyway, there are available numerous books on mundane and magical London (many of which are listed in Pax Londinuim’s bibliography in the introduction). There is also plenty that is magical or mystical in London, whether that is Jack the Ripper or Doctor John Dee, but Pax Londinium steadfastly avoids such obvious elements—and is very much the better book for it. The book also wears its influences upon its sleeve—the fiction of Ben Aaronovitch, Paul Cornell and Neil Gaiman—and both acknowledges and is unapologetical about doing so, most obviously in the inclusion of the Hidden, the homeless folk of the city who have slipped across the Liminal, to be in the city, but never seen by its mundane inhabitants.

Pax Londinium begins by stating what makes the city of London different, highlighting the differences between Greater London the City of London, that it is multicultural and constantly changing, and that its history is both obvious and obfuscated. It also states that it is home to lots of Liminal beings—ghosts, gods and goddesses, trolls, the fae, magicians, and more. What keeps them from acting against each other is the ‘Pax Londinium’, which divides the city in two, north and south, the dividing barrier being the River Thames. North of the river and the Hidden are free to act and plot as they will, but south, such Liminal activity is all but forbidden. In fact, the Hidden are often prevented from crossing the river, whether this by a taxi driver telling that he won’t go south of the river—in fact, this is the Knowledge, a neutral manifestation of the genus loci of the city; the Trolls of the Duchess of Bridges physically stopping you; or P Division suggesting that you had best be moving on.

As you would expect, the supplement covers the presence of the core factions in Liminal in the city. So the Council of Merlin somewhat reluctantly maintains a private members club, often accessed by its members via their privately created and maintained Thriceway Gates. The Court of Queen of Hyde Park is a powerful presence, but must contend with the thieving Boggarts ruled by King Pilferer which infest the Hidden city and Temese, the River Spirit of the Thames who would have her throne. She has the support of the Duchess of Bridges who commands the Trolls found on very many bridges and in as many tunnels and the Lady of Flowers, the spirit of the city’s trees and plants whose fortune and presence wax and wane with the seasons and whose Flower Knights act to protect all women. The Mercury Collegium has four guilds in the city—one of which, the East End Guild, is a firm of magical gangsters! The Order of St. Bede cannot prevent London being home to a multitude of the Hidden, but attempts to curb their influence, whilst also maintaining the Pax Londinium. P Division does the same, but is more proactive as its branch, working closely with the Order of St. Bede to stamp out any vampire presence in the city. Thus, the Sodality of the Crown keeps out of city—despite its obvious attractions for any vampire, though it fears that there might be rogue vampire at large. Similarly, the werewolves of the Jaeger Family are rarely seen in the city.

Of course, Pax Londinium adds new factions. These include the aforementioned The Knowledge and the Hidden, but also add numerous guilds, such as the Guild of Water and Light—or Lighters, who guide fallen Visible Londoners back to the mundane world, the Guild of Sewer Hunters, which hunts the horrors below, and the Guild of Toshers, which scours the city’s sewers and tunnels for lost things. The sewers are home to Queen Rat, who takes secret lovers and grants them incredible luck—as long as they keep their liaison a secret. There is a handful of mysteries too, some obvious like the Ravens and the Raven Master and his duties—and who he might report to, and the Ancient Livery Companies, but others less so, like the Pig-Headed Woman of Maida Vale and the Bleeding Heart which sometimes plays a big role in swearing pacts and agreements.

London is also a city of both gods and the dead—no surprise given its history. The gods include a mixture of the native and the non-native. The former includes the Guardian Head of Bran the Blessed, who watches over Britain and whose head is buried under the Tower of London, as well as Branwen, the actual goddess of Britain, her fate tied to the land. The latter includes the Cult of Diana the Hunter, a ruthless cult dedicated to the ambitions of its female members; the Children of Ra, which is attempting to increase the city’s connection to Egyptian magic and so dominate the Council of Merlin and the Mercury Collegium; and the spirits known Orisha, which accept Liminal from around the world with the Queen of Hyde Park’s blessing, in ‘Little Lagos’, south of the river. In general, that non-native gods are the more interesting of the two and the more developed. The dead make their presence felt through the negative magical energy released in the spiritual disruption caused by the excavations for the Underground and Eurostar, which now seethes through the London Underground, while Mr. Killburn’s Acquisitions Association keeps bodysnatching very modern and the #7 Ghost Bus, which runs round London, even south of the river unimpeded and into the Ghost Domains where Ghost Courts meet.

Pax Londinium comes with a number of encounters, including ‘Ahmed’s VHS Wonderland’, a grimy VHS video equipment and cassettes which is actually a cover for an emporium of magical artefacts, spell components, and more, and New Aeon Books, a trendy magical crafts shop which is gleefully treated as a joke by the Hidden. These are all easy to use and drop into a Liminal game set in the capital, or simply serve as inspiration for the Game Master. Similarly, ‘The Worshipful Company of Investigators’, a Crew which investigates instances of the Hidden seeping into the mundane at the behest of its anonymous benefactor, The Professor, can work as a Player Character organisation for a Liminal game set in London, as an example, or a rival organisation. It includes writeups of several read-to-play would be Player Characters or NPCs. Lastly, the new rules add Chronomancy as a power for a Mage.

There is a lot to like about Pax Londinium. Primarily what it does is add a lot to the city, whilst leaving more than enough space for the Game Master to develop her own ideas. Plus, for the most part, a great of the content is new and original. It could have gone for the cliché, but mostly avoids that, so that when it includes the Ravens of London, its familiarity grounds the setting rather than overegging it. Which would have happened if Jack the Ripper had been included for example. Perhaps one element which is left unexplained is why London was divided north and south by the River Thames as part of the Pax Londinium—the reason why the Pax Londinium was made is given, the reason for the exact terms is not. What it amounts to though, is a means to control the Hidden and magic in the city by the factions north of the river.

Physically, this book is both simple and beautiful. The layout is the former, clean and easy to read. The art is the latter. It consists of a mix of stunning depictions of London vistas and London Liminal. The artwork throughout Pax Londinium is in turns weird and wonderful, mystical and majestic, intriguing and inspiring. This is award-winning artwork.

At just eighty pages, Pax Londinium is a short book, but it uses its space in a very economical fashion. It sketches out Liminal London in broad details before narrowing its focus again and again, first on the city’s factions, then its gods, right down to individual locations and elements which the Liminal Game Master can bring into her game. It makes the content both easy to access and bring to the table, and it is backed up by an excellent bibliography should the Game Master want to conduct research of her own. Pax Londinium showcases how to do a city book for Liminal and showcases not the capital as we see it, but the peace of London on the other side the Liminal.

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