Derby Day (Ghosts of Albion Quickstart Rules)
Publisher: Eden Stuidos
Page Count: 44
Release Date: 09/12/2013
Get it Here: DriveThruRPG.com
Ghosts of Albion is an odd duck of an RPG. The electronic version of the game came out in 2008, but the physical copy wasn’t released until 2011. It uses a “Cinematic” version of the Unisystem rules, which is a system you might recognize from such RPGs as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Conspiracy X, Army of Darkness and my personal favorite Eden Studios RPG – All Flesh Must Be Eaten. Ghosts of Albion is even odder in that unlike most licensed RPGs, which are based on comic books, TV shows, movies or video games, Ghosts of Albion is an eclectic mix of animated flash movies, novels, Realplayer Audio files and of course, the RPG. It was an interesting premise, but alas, Ghosts of Albion stopped being updated in late 2006, a full two years before the RPG came out and seven years before this latest version of the Quickstart Rules for the game. I myself didn’t discover Ghost of Albion until years after the BBC stopped producing anything for it, which is a shame because it’s all quite fun. The downside, of course, is that the lack of support by the BBC means Ghosts of Albion never found its deserved audience, especially for the RPG, which is a shame as it’s very well done. If you’re interesting in learning more, the BBC has archived the entire Ghosts of Albion series and who knows? Perhaps between the free animated films on the web and this quickstart set, you too might discover why Ghosts of Albion still has a small extremely devoted following.
There was an original version of the Ghosts of Albion Quickstart Rules released in June of 2007, but that was before my time and I can’t seem to find any evidence that Derby Day is a rerelease or updated version of those rules. This particular set just appeared on DrivethruRPG.com and RPGNOW.com on September 12th, so I’m going to treat this as a new release as it is to me and both major RPG PDF retailers. The good news is that this Quickstart Rules set is completely and totally free, so there’s no reason why you should click the link at the top of the review and download them ASAP. The better news is that the Quickstart rules are well done and feature an exceptionally long adventure that should take your troupe a few sessions to get through. By the time you’re done with Derby Day, I am pretty confident you’ll want to check out the core rulebook for Ghosts of Albion….which admittedly is a bit pricey with its $20 price tag for the PDF version and a $40 price tag for a physical copy.
The Derby Day PDF clocks in at forty-four pages, which is quick big for a set of Quickstart rules. They’re so well laid out I wish I had a physical copy of these to distribute to those that just won’t adapt to modern times and cling to dead tree versions of games. Half the document are the rules for playing Ghosts of Albion, along with six playable character sheets for the “Original Cast.” The other half of the QSR is a five act adventure called well, Derby Day that is pretty open and allows for Cast Members (PCs) and the Director (DM) to explore much of the location, politics and feel of the time period in which the adventure takes place. Again, the adventure is pretty long and its easy to go off the rails, so don’t expect to finish Derby Day in a single play session.
The rules for playing Ghosts of Albion are pretty straight forward, especially if you’ve ever played a Unisystem based game before. The cinematic version of the rules are streamlined to be more accessible to newer, younger or more casual gamers and it works really well here. You basically just roll a single d10 and add/subtract your particular character bonuses and any modifiers. If you get a 9 or higher, you succeed in your particular action. Combat and magic are similar and the end result is a system that is designed more for exploring and talking, but still provides for fun and fast combat situations. You’ll also find rules for fear effects and Drama Points (think Edge from Shadowrun and you have a good idea). What you WON’T find are character creation rules, but that’s okay because you have six pregenerated characters (all from the Original Cast of Ghosts of Albion), along with a description of who each character is and what their Drawbacks and Qualities mean in terms of gameplay. For example Lord Byron (Yes, you play as Lord Byron!) has a Quality of “Hard to Kill.” This gives him a +4 on any Survival based check. He also has a drawback entitled, “Covetous (Desperate Lechery)” which means the player has to made regular lewd comments, even when it is exceptionally inappropriate. Much of the system relies on roleplaying rather than roll-playing so except to see most of the Qualities and Drawbacks to feature notes on how to play the character instead of anything mechanics based.
Then there is the actual adventure Derby Day. This five act adventure is set during the actual Derby Day Holiday in May of 1839. As an ex-resident of Epsom, where the adventure and the real Derby Day take place, it was really fun to flip through the adventure and see what I recognized about the holiday and the locale. Sure it’s 150 years before my time, but it’s still always fun to discover an adventure set in someplace you used to live, right? Anyway, the adventure revolves around two coins infused with demonic energy. Now don’t think these coins are enchanted to give massive wealth at the costs of one’s happiness or mental/physical well-being. Nor are they going to massively curse whoever holds them. No, this is the beginning of Victorian England after all. Plots like this generally have a more mundane and/or genteel reasoning for occurring. In this case it’s an attempt to cause minor short term possessions of two important members of the British government. The reason behind this? To keep a railway from being built to close to a Lord’s home so as not to ruin his enjoyment of the scenery or to scare off the wildlife. WOW THAT’S PRETTY EVIL, ISN’T IT? That’s half the fun of Ghosts of Albion. On the surface, it seems like a pretty minor reason to get involved with satanic powers, right? Look at it closely though. Railways are very new, very loud and very expensive at this point in time and creating one dramatically changes the landscape. It’s not like today where you just plop down a new road with little to no inconvenience. It’s pretty humdrum. Also, think of the sheer arrogance that comes with feeling that your one particular home is more important than the will of the entire country. Welcome to the British aristocracy, especially in this time period. This is what I love about Ghosts of Albion. It doesn’t just slap a time period coat of paint on some adventure that doesn’t really fit the mindset, attitudes and way of life from that age. It actually has adventures that are befitting the way people thought and acted back then. It’s really great to see that attention to detail, but I can definitely see some people being underwhelmed by the scope of the adventures or the fact that so much attention is paid to the class system of the time period. Indeed, three pages of the QSR alone are for detail the differences classes and their attitude towards certain things at the time, from who should vote to whether or not Canada means a tax increase. Again, I love this, but people who play hack and slash dungeon crawls will probably recoil in fear at this game.
I really enjoyed Derby Day, especially as it’s the only release for Ghosts of Albion besides the core rulebook. It’s a damn shame this RPG didn’t get more support as this game is vastly underrated, although I guess you’d have to know of its existence to even rate it, so perhaps that isn’t the best turn of phrase for Ghosts of Albion. I really wish that we had more than this single adventure for the game as it’s incredibly well done and I would have enjoyed reading more. Alas, even if you enjoyed this set of Quickstart Rules as much as I did, you’ll only have the core rulebook to take you any further unless you want to watch the animated films and read the books. At least Derby Day is free as it gives you the chance to experience Ghosts of Albion for yourself. I mean, it’s FREE. I don’t need to keep saying that. Everyone one of you taking the time to reads this review should be downloading Derby Day immediately upon completion of this text, right? Right. Well, we’re done. Get to it.