Guest Writer: Tim Myers
-This article was made possible with a gift of a review copy, QWERTY and rolling natural 20s.
Who doesn’t love this period in history? It brings to mind cannon-fire roaring, dandies swashbuckling, and an insulted man removing his glove to slap another gentleman across the face with it, declaring, “you have insulted my honor! I challenge you to a duel!” I present you with my review of England Upturn’d from Lamentations of the Flame Princess Adventures by Barry Blatt.
Ah historical fiction: what a treat! England Upturn’d takes place in England during the British Civil War or as it is more commonly called the 30 Years War. The party finds themselves caught up in the duplicity of English nobility and are forced to choose between the opposing sides in this conflict: the Royalists or the Parliamentarians. As if the armies of the warring kingdoms aren’t enough to contend with, this module also contains various contagions, NPC’s, and even a few magic items for the players to avoid or seek out as they wish. Whether they begin unaligned or are regular travelers in the British Isles, this adventure will require them to choose between the factions: cavaliers (Royalists) or the roundheads (Parliamentarians). Semi-famous names such as Oliver Cromwell, Andrew Smeaton, and Father Eric O’Malley abound within these cramped pages.
This war is also known as The War of Three Kingdoms: with the English being the main kingdom and the Irish and Scottish taking the other two positions. Personally, I love history, but the same is not true for everyone. When mysticism is added to the mix, adventure and mystery take center stage and a person can forget that this is loosely based on historical events and actual people. Blatt gives the royalty, the parliament members (PMs), and even the common folk genuine personalities and ambitions that are a joy to confound the PCs with time and time again. Just when they think they have everything figured out, another quirk shows itself to confuse them.
The positives of this England Upturn’d: it brings elements of sorcery into history. Who doesn’t love tales of wizardry brought into actual historical events? The fall of Troy with its interfering Olympic deities and magic-wielding mortals spawned from said Olympians comes to mind, as does the story of young Arthur Pendragon and the Sword in the Stone. When the characters find out the PM who has been pulling the strings is actually a wizard bent on harnessing more power, they are once again caught completely off guard. Unfortunately, this is about where the good times end.
As I said, it is a monster of a module, but, despite being really big, it could use more reference material. This doesn’t really work well as a standalone adventure. Almost every NPC the party interacts with has some kind of hidden agenda: allowing for numerous spinoff adventures. It is a near flood of information, with most of it being inconsequential. This could easily be more of a campaign setting than an adventure module. NPC A has interesting information about location B. NPC D knows about NPC E’s sinister activities. NPC C is secretly a cavalier in hiding. I’m not so into note taking that I want to fill a spiral notebook with handwritten reference material to supplement it. I hated taking notes back in high school. It is absolutely critical if you want to make use of this adventure.
All is not lost because it does hold much promise. It would require a little bit (okay a lot) more homework for the GM, though. The biggest problem is that there is a ton of information, but at the same time, there isn’t enough. It is loaded with places for spinoff storylines. I’m not kidding, this is great for a campaign setting, but for a standalone adventure, not so much. I really wanted this adventure to blow me away and, in a way, it did. It just didn’t blow me away the way I wanted it to, now I have three characters trekking through the fens of Lincolnshire without a clue how to get back to civilization and eventually Toril.
Where history books leave us to wonder how famous individuals truly accomplished certain feats, this module uses occult mystery and magical artifacts to fill in the blanks. It is a ton of fun to play, but leaves many gaps to fill in with your imagination, as any good GM should.
If you want to make full use of England Upturn’d: run a British Civil War campaign. If you want to use this as a standalone adventure in an already existing campaign, I hope you have better luck with it than I did.