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Friday 3 December 2021

Dee's Occult Half-Dozen

The Dee Sanction Adventures: A True & Faithful Transcription of Matters Concerning Lost Books, Strange Sorceries, Befouled Poppets, Accusations of Witchcraft, and Assorted HELLSCAPES
is an anthology of adventures for The Dee Sanction, the roleplaying game of ‘Covert Enochian Intelligence’ in which the Player Characters—or Agents of Dee—are drawn into adventures in magick and politics across supernatural Tudor Europe. It collects a half-dozen adventures released as PDF titles for the original Kickstarter and subsequently funded by a second Kickstarter campaign for a print edition. All of these scenarios are set during the reign of Elizabeth I, beginning in the year 1570, when Pope Pius V excommunicates her for her heresy and her persecution of the Catholics In England and the Catholic conspiracies against her seem to run rampant. All six can be run in more or less any order, or alternatively, run as a six-part campaign. The Dee Sanction Adventures starts with advice to that end, but nevertheless, it does require some effort upon the part of the Game Master to make the connections and links between them and so have them form a whole campaign.

The anthology—and potentially the campaign—opens with ‘Window of the Soul’ and the agents out on the town for an evening’s entertainment in the drinking holes, brothels, and bear-baiting pits of Southwark. However, their revelries are interrupted when they come upon a cart driver, his wife, and their child under assault by a group of ruffians, hellbent on doing them harm. This could be a simple robbery, but they detect something arcane about the attackers. Are they cursed? Bewitched? Or something else? Clues lead them into the comings and doings of Southwark and ultimately to the highest echelons the conspiracy against good Queen Bess. This is solid start to the anthology with a strange piece of investigation and incidences of mania which seem to affect the Londoners and the Player Characters.

It is followed by ‘The Gong Scourer’s Baby’ in which Doctor Dee—or Mister Garland—asks his Agents to investigate the birth of a Miracle Baby to a Gong Farmer in Southwark. With both the Queen and Doctor Dee away for her health, the Agents make the strange discovery that there is something more to the baby than mere miracle. Tracking down the source of the child will take them along the Thames and into a maze of industry and perhaps hints as to a conspiracy against Her Majesty. ‘The Gong Scourer’s Baby’ requires some input upon the part of the Game Master to set up and a bit more complex, with multiple options to choose from and timeline which the Player Characters will initially be unaware of.

The set-up to the third scenario harks back to the Player Characters’ own recruitment working as Agents for Doctor Dee. ‘In Fertile Soil’ takes the Agents out of London to investigate a possible Witch—accused of witchcraft and murder, and perhaps recruit her as a fellow member of the Sanction (and if not that, then help administer justice). The village of Soulgrave is a hotbed of gossip, and hides plenty of secrets, all under the eye of a puritanical parson. There is potential here for one or two creepy encounters out in the woods, and for Game Master an intriguing nod to future history and perhaps a roleplaying game like the FLAMES OF FREEDOM Grim & Perilous RPG.

A larger, more obvious monstrous threat has been harrowing travellers passing through Waltham Forest and so represents a potential threat to one of the Queen’s favourite hunting grounds, which means it requires urgent investigation upon the part of the Agents. After all, who would want to arouse the ire of the Queen? In ‘In The Monk’s Cowl’, the Agents are again sent out of London, this time to the market town of Waltham Abbey where they discover strange activities around the ruins of the abbey. This is perhaps the most complex investigation in the anthology, mixed in with some Hammer Horror, with no quite clear path to finding a solution to the problem and potential for disaster.

The Harrowing of Harlow Hall’ is a bit of an oddity in The Dee Sanction Adventures. It is a single location of adventure, set within the grounds and rooms of Harlow Hall, the home to one of the few individuals to have earned his freedom from the Dee Sanction. Thus it feels much more like a dungeon than any other adventure. It is also a much darker adventure in terms of its tone and content, and so does come with a warning for its horrifying content. It feels initially little like Hammer Horror film, but ramps up the nastiness as the Agents explore the house. ‘The Harrowing of Harlow Hall’ comes fifth in the anthology, but could easily be shifted to earlier or later if The Dee Sanction Adventures are being run as a campaign. However, its darker, perhaps even apocalyptically oppressive atmosphere means it is better suited for later in the campaign, and even perhaps as the climax to such a campaign.

Lastly, the feel of the dungeon continues in ‘Ex Libris’, which takes place in Deptford village where Doctor Dee sends the Agents to recover a copy of The Book of Dead Names. However, as they investigate the house and its cellars, the Agents discover that they are not the only ones after the book. This sets up a direct confrontation with the cultists and adds an element of time to the scenario as the Agents and their adversaries race to find the book. Plus, depending upon when the Game Master runs the scenario, it can lead into further adventures if the Agents fail to obtain the book—which is a serious possibility.

Physically, The Dee Adventures is a short, full colour digest book. The anthology is well written and benefits from some decent handouts and maps. The artwork is variable in quality, at best decent rather than outstanding. All of the adventures are quite short and should take no more than two or three sessions to play through—some much shorter than that.

The Dee Sanction Adventures: A True & Faithful Transcription of Matters Concerning Lost Books, Strange Sorceries, Befouled Poppets, Accusations of Witchcraft, and Assorted HELLSCAPES delivers on all that its title states. This is a solid and diverse collection of adventures that will see the Agents of Dee facing a variety of threats and dangers, whether used separately, together as a campaign, or woven into the Game Master’s own campaign.

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