" A storyteller or a character without much knowledge of medieval Europe is going to learn a lot from this book and find it almost required reading... "
Title: Dark Ages: Europe by White Wolf
Format: Dark Ages Setting Supplement
Reviewing Monkey: Genghis Kong
The Hype: The major setting book for the new Dark Ages line, this book features information on all of the nations and regions of Europe during the War of Princes and contains historical fact alongside vampiric fiction. In short, it is intended to inform otherwise ignorant monkeys that Brittany is not England, Mithras is not that vest Frodo was wearing in the Fellowship of the Ring, and the Courts of Love is not a new reality TV series. Put down your banana launchers and journey back with White Wolf into the era when Dungapult's wardrobe was in style, and Chimpan-A's theories on the universe were considered "cutting edge."
What This Monkey Thought...
Story and Drama: Dark Ages: Europe is one hundred percent setting text. There are no rules, no stats, no new Disciplines or bloodlines. What you get instead is nearly two hundred pages of story material, including the medieval history of Europe and current mortal politics as well as the vampiric history of the setting and how those Cainites affect the areas they rule and reside in. The book does an excellent job of mixing the two types of cultures, and does not fall prey to the temptation to make every important event in human history based on the machinations of vampires (as earlier White Wolf supplements had a marked tendency to do). The book is not only entertaining but educational, showing a vast amount of research in form and a studied hand at execution, as the history reads in such a way that the story is quite simple to follow and actually encourages the reader to continue onward. Surprisingly enough, the information on vampires is a bit more dull and slow than that of the mortals, as the scheming and plotting of the day was full of enough intrigue to make even Machiavelli's head spin. The text can get a little dense at times, however, as it is not broken up by any rules, and so a straight through read of the rather long book is a daunting task. 4 out of 5.
Layout and Presentation: Dark Ages: Europe is a very nicely made book, easy on the eyes and not terribly jarring in transitions. The borders are a little thick, but not terribly intrusive, as plenty of text fits onto the pages. It isn't set up in any particular order that I could see, save possibly that it has a semblance of going north to south, west to east, south to north (though even that isn't consistent), so there is no real simple way to navigate the book for a specific city or nation, much to this monkey's annoyance. The artwork goes through highs and lows, with a decent but unremarkable cover by Christopher Moeller. Art within is of varying quality, though Rik Martin's work is (as always) superb. James Stowe draws more lumpy and malformed mutant humans, and though his art is good, his style isn't generally pleasant to look at - however, this monkey must admit that his art in this book is of high quality, and not all grotesque. Vince Locke and Mark Smylie contribute some very impressive sketch work, which is not to be confused with Guy Davis' sketch work (recognizable by White Wolf art fans due to the persistence of skeletal humans, black eyes with white pupils, big-nosed men with large throat wattles, and a marked 'crinkliness' around the edges) - their work is very similar at a distance, and wholly dissimilar up close. There are many other artists represented, both good (Elizabeth Leggett) and bad (Mike Chaney), but overall the art is decent, and makes for a good book to look at. 3 out of 5.
Playability: There are two ways of looking at how playable the information in Dark Ages: Europe is - 'vital' and 'useless.' What I mean by this is that a storyteller or a character without much knowledge of medieval Europe is going to learn a lot from this book and find it almost required reading in order to run a Dark Ages campaign, as it has all of the political, geographical, and social information for any region on the continent. No matter which part of Europe you set your chronicle in, you will need to know who runs it and what temperature the water is, and that's what Dark Ages: Europe tells you. If you are, however, a player with an above-average working knowledge of medieval culture and politics, and you don't particularly care who's who in the setting (because that's your Storyteller's job to know), then this book will likely not hold much for you. It has fantastic information and interesting plot intrigue, but none of that is going to get your attention if you already know the gist of it and you've no urge to know more. 3 out of 5.
Desired Content: While Dark Ages: Europe is very content-heavy in plot and politics, it has absolutely no new powers, skills, backgrounds, or abilities. Nor should it be expected to have any, as it is entirely setting material. Anyone buying this book should know what they're in for in the first place, and they'd be getting it - bushels upon droves of setting information to allow for a detailed campaign in any region in the European subcontinent. This should please those looking to begin their chronicles in this most obvious of settings, but anyone thinking the book is going to contain statistical information on Princes and noteworthy Cainites or mistakenly believing there will be any powers or abilities within will be disappointed. Likewise, there is a blatant lack of information on Garou, Mages, and other supernatural groups within the book, making it considerably less useful for the other upcoming Dark Ages games that will likewise need setting material for their games. 3.75 out of 5.
|Overall, Dark Ages: Europe proves itself to be a valuable tool for storytellers, and an interesting guide for players as well. I can hardly see a Dark Ages chronicle running smoothly without this book and its information being involved, as it contains nearly everything a storyteller could possibly want to know about the setting.|
The Good: Massive setting details for every region of Europe in the Dark Ages…
The Bad: …so long as you're playing a vampire. And nothing other than setting info.
The Overall Ugly: Damn near required reading for Storytellers; players would be advised to take a peak.
What it's Worth: Market