Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Maelstrom Domesday -- full readthrough

In a previous post I talked about creating a character for Maelstrom Domesday, an updated version of the classic 1980s British game with the setting moved to Yorkshire in 1086. You can find the game itself and its various supplements on DTRPG. (And Arion Games has a big sale on through new year, so you can pick them up cheap. I think I may get the scenario just to give the game a try.)

Having finished character creation, I thought I'd take a look at how the abilities I acquired actually work. 

So, skills: Skills are ranked from 1 to 6, with each level having its own effect. You roll against the relevant attribute (which you will remember go from 1 to 100, so this is basically a percentile system), and having the skill usually adds 10% per level to your score. However, it's worth checking, because some skills have different effects. For instance, higher levels of Herbalism allow you to use rarer herbs, speed up your prep time, and so on, while Combat Training adds to your damage, increases the protective value of armour, and that kind of thing. 

Combat is done by percentile, like skill checks -- you roll and compare your result to the other player's (each player has attack and defense scores) on a matrix sort of like the one used in HeroQuest. This tells you how much damage you've taken. Each hit heals and is treated separately. There are also serious and critical wounds, which have extra consequences, including being hideously scarred, losing an eye and whatnot. I haven't tested it in play, but combat looks lethal, with a big advantage for the guy with the higher skill and the better weapons and armour. 

There's the usual other stuff -- diseases, poisons, fire, falling, earning your patron's favour, most of it simple spot rules. Instability is the game's answer to Sanity, and is basically another form of damage you can take. 

Magic (or Magick) is at the centre of the setting, but player character magick is pretty subtle. You can't use it to do anything that would otherwise be impossible, so it's mostly things like avoiding detection, changing minds, putting people to sleep, spotting things, all that kind of thing. Even so, if you have a non-magickal method of doing stuff, you're better off using it, because magick use carries with it the possibility of a Maelstrom breach -- that is, a moment where the weird chaotic magickal dimension that underlies ours pokes through. This can mean anything from turning people ill-tempered for a little while to summoning hideous entities from other planes (though the odds of this are pretty slim on a simple spell). 

So rules (particularly character creation) take up about half of the book, and the other half is all setting and GM resources. The bestiary covers wildlife and a handful of different monsters, ranging from "minor" creatures like elves and boggarts and the undead to "major" ones like giants and dragons. I think it's understood that there aren't going to be a lot of common monster types in this game -- most problems are going to be caused by a creature that is, in proper weird fantasy style, unique. 

The original setting guide is not easy reading. 
Then there is a lot of material on daily life 1086 and Yorkshire in particular. Now, I feel pretty good about my grip on the world of the late 11th century, but this seems clear and well-organised, detailed without beating the reader to death with minutiae (although my tolerance for historical minutiae is probably in the top 5%). 

I really like the way Yorkshire villages are laid out -- a few facts from the Domesday Book, and then a piece of local folklore and an adventure hook for each. The setting section covers 37 manors in this faction, plus one small town (Selby) and one large city (York). The town and city get much more detail, with relevant NPCs and multiple plot hooks. 

Then you get the appendices, which cover diseases, medicinal herbs (a lot of medicinal herbs), a quick timeline and a glossary. 

Production-wise, the book is OK. The layout is clean and usually readable, the art is sparse but generally pretty good. I haven't looked at any of the electronic products, but if they're laid out like this I would assume they're easy to read onscreen and economical to print. There are some fuzzy bits of poorly-reproduced art, and at least one repeated piece, but nothing too jarring. 

When I bought this game, I initially thought that it would be something like Spaceship Zero -- essentially a high-concept campaign-in-a-box that I might run for a limited series of games and be perfectly content with. Reading it through, I find it has a lot of worky bits that can be pulled out for other games. It could mash up very simply with Cthulhu Dark Ages, for instance, or with Mythic Iceland. The village writeup format is good, and I'll probably swipe that for other games. Maybe also the medicinal herbs, although they're not weird enough for a fantasy game. Maybe for another Taming of Dragon Pass type game. And it's a pretty good resource for any type of game set in 11th-c. England, fantasy or otherwise, although I already have a fair few reference works on the subject. 

So yeah. I am going to try to run this at some point! I have a pretty clear idea of the campaign already. 

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