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

Sunday 7 May 2023

Kingdom of Consternation

Vaesen – Mythic Britain & Ireland is sourcebook for Vaesen – Nordic Horror Roleplaying, the Sweden-set roleplaying of folkloric horror set during the nineteenth century published by Free League Publishing. In fact, it is the first sourcebook for the roleplaying game, one that takes the roleplaying game to new territory—though not new territory for roleplayingand there confront new creatures amidst familiar tensions. Between superstition and modernity. Between industrialisation and rural traditions. These are joined by new, heightened tensions. Between the rich and the poor. Between employers and employees. Between North and South. Between the cities and countryside. The setting is Great Britain and the United Kingdom during the latter half of the reign of Queen Victoria. The British Empire is reaching its heights, trade flows in and out of the county’s ports bringing wealth as well as foreigners not to be trusted, the demand for goods means bosses drive their workers harder and install new and more powerful machines to increase production. Yet across the isles, as in Sweden, the supernatural lurks at the edge of society. In Sweden, it is the Vaesen, the supernatural creatures who helped out on the farms, gave a hand when it came to calving, ensured that lost children would find their way home, and kept everyone alive during the harsh winters of Northern Europe, and in return would receive milk and grain from the farms. In the British Isles, it is the fey or fairies, who make their homes in parallel realms of their own, but slip into ours, their mercurial interactions with mankind often leading to mysterious encounters at best, bloodshed at worst. Fortunately, just as Sweden has the Society—or Order of Artemis—dedicated to investigating supernatural threats and preventing interactions between them and society leading to further bloodshed or exposure, Great Britain and Ireland has the Apollonian Society.

Vaesen – Mythic Britain & Ireland can either be used as an expansion to Vaesen – Nordic Horror Roleplaying or a whole new campaign setting. In other worlds, the Player Characters could travel from Sweden to investigate the mysteries of sceptred isle, or indeed to fey it presents shifted to Scandinavia, but it could also be used as the basis for a Britain-set campaign, with the Player Characters being English, Irish, Scottish, or Welsh rather than Swedish. This is its default, but it has notes and suggestions as to how to involve Swedish Player Characters. That default has its advantages. In particular, the period and setting will be familiar to the English-speaking gaming hobby, as after all, this is the land of Charles Dickens, Sherlock Holmes, the Hound of the Baskervilles, and Jack the Ripper. Similarly, there will a certain familiarity in the fairies it details, such as the Banshee, Pooka, Redcap, or Selkie. However, as much as this familiarity makes it easier to engage with, it loses some of the mystery, which the Swedish default setting of Vaesen – Nordic Horror Roleplaying always maintained because it was unfamiliar. However, the supplement maintains enough mysteries of its own, whether that is the strange locations it describes, the fairie threats it details, and the scenarios it presents.

Funded following a successful Kickstarter campaign,
Vaesen – Mythic Britain & Ireland is written by Graeme Davis, co-author of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay and The Enemy Within campaign, as well as most notably, GURPS Faerie. Which given the wealth of research and detail that the GURPS line is famous for, means that the author has a certain expertise when writing about the supernatural threat that the Player Characters will face in the United Kingdom. The book includes an overview of Britain and Ireland, a gazetteer of strange places, details of the fae and their realms, the Apollonian Society, new Archetypes, a host of supernatural creatures, and three lengthy mysteries.

Vaesen – Mythic Britain & Ireland opens with an overview of Mythic Britain and Ireland. This is not intended to be a historical treatment of the setting or period, in part because there is insufficient space and in part because the setting is familiar. Instead, it opts for a combination of history and fantasy. This shows in its inclusion of notables of the period, so that alongside figures such as Charles Dickens, Florence Nightingale, and Oscar Wilde, there are also fictional characters like Sir Harry Flashman, A.J. Raffles, and Sherlock Holmes. All are given thumbnail descriptions, as are the important cities of the Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. London is understandably given more attention, covering the city’s important locations, railways, and other institutions. Particular attention is paid to the tensions rife across all four countries, with suggestions as to how include Fenian fairies (and others) agitating for home rule, Social Class, and more in a Vaesen game set in the British Isles. Many locations—in and out of London—are accompanied by a short description of a haunted place, whether that is the Blackley Boggart of Boggart Hole Clough near Manchester or suggestions that spirits haunting Hackney Marshes might be of Roman or older origins. Several Mysterious Places, like the Cerne Abbas Giant and Loch Ness are described too, before the supplement dives in deeper detail about the parallel worlds of the Fairie. This provides solid background for the Game Master to involve her players and their characters in visits to Annwvyn, Tír Na nÓg, fairy glades and rings, and so on.

The equivalent of the Society in Britain, the Apollonian Society, whilst linked to the one in Sweden, has a history all of its own. The Apollonian Society was originally founded by Doctor John Dee, scientist and astrologer to Queen Elizabeth I, together with Sir Francis Walsingham, the Queen’s spymaster, and Edmund Spenser, whose epic poem, The Fairie Queen, would threaten to reveal too much about the Fairie and their realms. Much of its archives are based upon the records and correspondence of William Stukely, noted antiquarian and often regarded as the ‘father of archaeology’. The Apollonian Society even has its own headquarters in the form of Rose House, complete with its own seemingly ageless butler, Hawkins. Options are suggested to who or what Hawkins might be. Overall, there is a nice sense of the historical and the fantastical to the Apollonian Society and of course, Rose House has the same scope for development as Castle Gyllencreutz in Upsala.

Vaesen – Mythic Britain & Ireland includes three new archetypes for Player Characters—the Athlete, the Entertainer, and the Socialite. These are perhaps the easiest of the content in the supplement to transfer back to roleplaying game’s default setting of Sweden, and indeed, any setting of the period. There is a pleasing flexibility to the Athlete, so that the archetype’s main skill and Talent vary according to their sport, for example, for cricket, the main skill is Agility and Talent is Gentleman, whilst for Tennis, the main skill is Force and Talent is Fleet-footed. The illustration for Archetype, a prize fighter, is delightfully suitable. Conversely, it is a pity that the same is not done with the Entertainer archetype, which simply has to rely on the Manipulation skill and Performer Talent. ‘Expanded profession and ‘Life Event’ tables support the inclusion of the three new archetypes in the supplement as well as those in the core rulebook.

One option for Player Character and NPC interaction is the aforementioned rules for Social Class, deference meaning that those of a higher gain a bonus to Empathy tests when dealing with those of a lower social class, whilst conversely, those of a lower social class suffer a penalty with dealing with their social betters. This reflects the nature of social class throughout the Victorian era and beyond, but the rules do paint a broad brush and lack nuance. Ideally, the Game Master should adjudicate their use as necessary on a case-by-case basis.

The highlight, of course, to Vaesen – Mythic Britain & Ireland are its English, Irish, Scottish, and Welsh equivalent of vaesen. Drawing upon a mixture of Celtic myth and local folklore—sometimes very local folklore—the supplements discusses the nature and common features of many of the isles’ fairie creatures, including their invisibility, invulnerability (except of course, for a loophole particular to each type), the nature of fairie challenges, favours, and forfeits, even impossible tasks. Some thirteen fairie are detailed, each given a two-page spread as in the core rules, complete with Apollonian Society notes by William Stukely, the possible ritual necessary to defeat the creature, three example conflicts between the creature and mankind, and variants. The conflicts for the Banshee, the first fairie entry in the supplement, include a Banshee who will not howl, a Banshee who reaches out in dreams, and banshee who wails despite the last of the nearby family line not wanting to die. The variants include the Caoineag, a water-bound version who is almost impossible to interact with and the Bean-nighe, a crone-like creature who washes the clothes of those who are about to die in a stream. The other fairie include the Black Dog, Boggart, Glastig, Hag, Knocker, Nuckelavee, and several others. there are even notes on adapting the vaesen from the core rulebook to Vaesen – Mythic Britain & Ireland setting.

Vaesen – Mythic Britain & Ireland includes three mysteries. All three clearly present their conflicts, countdowns, and catastrophes, the latter occurring if the Player Characters fail to act in time. Clues are given location by location, and each scenario ends in a confrontation, climax, and possible aftermath. All open with a latter to the Apollonian Society which will draw the Player Characters hither and thither, first to rural Gloucestershire where a young man has been arrested for the murder of his sweetheart and the ground about his village has been beset by unusually late and cold frosts, to the north of Wales where a rash of accidents in a slate mine suggest something unchristian, and then back to London to locate a missing brother last seen at an artists’ colony upsetting the middle class propriety of Hampstead Heath. They can of course, be played in any order. Taking up almost half of the supplement, all three scenarios are excellent, highlighting conflicts between tradition and reason, tradition and modernity, the mysterious and the mundane, as well as depicting the social differences and attitudes in all three locations. Although there are notes to adapt the scenarios to the Swedish default setting of Vaesen – Mythic Britain & Ireland is , doing so would lose some of the flavaour and nuance to be found in each scenario.

If there is an issue with Vaesen – Mythic Britain & Ireland, it is that it does skimp on the history and background to its setting. It does have the benefit of familiarity though, so a Game Master and her players can rely on knowledge they may already have, but if not, it does mean that both will need to conduct more research. Thankfully, neither is all that difficult to research, and in addition, there are plenty of books readily available on the folklore of all four countries.

Physically, as you would expect, Vaesen – Mythic Britain & Ireland is a lovely looking book. The cover is ominous, but inside the various fairie and NPCs in the scenarios are brought to vivid life by the artwork of Johan Egerkrans. The book is well written, the handouts are well done—if a plain in places, and the cartography is excellent.

Vaesen – Mythic Britain & Ireland takes the structure and style of Vaesen – Mythic Britain & Ireland and places it in what be the familiar for much the English speaking hobby. That familiarity may lead to clichés, but this is actually not all that much of an issue given the supplement’s mix of the fantastical and the historical, meaning the Player Characters can don deerstalkers and tramp the moors in search of malicious or mischievous wee beasties or hunt for horrors on the fog-bound streets of London and neither would be out of place.
Vaesen – Mythic Britain & Ireland is an excellent supplement, opening up the world of Vaesen to a whole new realm and making the fairie something to fear.


Free League Publishing will be at UK Games Expo
from Friday 2nd to Sunday 4th, 2023.

No comments:

Post a Comment