Age of Anarchy

Age of Anarchy by Paul Mitchener and Ryan M Danks is on Kickstarter. It updates the traditional structure of a roleplaying game by offering its players the means to affect historical events while allowing the Gamemaster (GM) to preserve their overall logic of sense. This makes it very well suited to a medieval mini-campaign in which player investment and decision-making engage with random factors to make the “one bloody thing after another” school of history feel fresh and alive.

The crucial factor is the relationship between the player-characters (PCs) and their Patron; in the case of our four-session playtest, this was Emma de Gernon, niece of Ranulf de Gernon, Earl of Chester, much doubted by her lordly neighbours on account of her gender and inexperience. Players introduced issues for the Patron, one of which formed the basis of the mission in any particular session; a six-sided die was rolled for any one issue left unresolved at the end of a session to decide whether or not it would “blow up” in the faces of Emma and the PCs. One never quite knew which result to hope for: it’s fun when things go horribly wrong but our progress was linked inextricably to that of our Lady.

It’s an elegant way of solving (a) the relationship of the PCs’ motives to the unfolding of events and (b) the relationship of the unfolding of events to the already-told story of what happened when competing Norman monarchs fought for control over twelfth-century England. As with Paul Mitchener’s game Starfall, Age of Anarchy is well-researched, lightly mechanised and judiciously-balanced between the input of the players and the reaction of the GM to their decisions. Those looking for the old-school crunch of medieval fantasy or the player-directed narrative of a pure story-game may find it too lightly mechanised but for me it’s pretty much spot-on: everyone knows where they stand in relationship to the history and to each other and yet anything can happen.

Chroniclers described the period as one in which “Christ and his saints were asleep”. Will you will wake them? Or will you declare for Stephen or Matilda?

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