The British Isles is so closely associated with fantasy that it’s hard to find someone in the genre’s films, shows, and videogames without a British accent. We’d warrant plenty of you default to a posh English lilt or a Scottish brogue for your tabletop RPG characters, too.
Of course, it’s no wonder things are the way they are – Britain and Ireland are absolutely stuffed full of folk stories and mythological wonder. From Boggarts to Brownies, us Brits have plenty of tales to tell. Our homelands were also an unsurprising (but much anticipated) addition to the excellent monster-hunting TTRPG Vaesen.
Vaesen: Mythic Britain and Ireland is a new setting sourcebook for the fantasy horror tabletop RPG. Like the core Vaesen rulebook, Mythic Britain and Ireland is set in the real-life, ‘archetypal’ (read: loosely accurate) Victorian period. Players create characters who possess ‘the Sight’, and their group must use their varied skills and occupations to uncover mysteries surrounding the mythological creatures (the Vaesen) the Sight allows them to see.
Unlike the original Vaesen, Mythic Britain and Ireland abandons the core game’s setting of Upsala, Sweden – instead transporting players to (you guessed it) Great Britain and Ireland. There’s a huge well of mythology to be mined from these relatively tiny countries, and Free League Publishing has recruited one of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay’s original designers, Graeme Davis, to get digging. Artist Johan Egerkrans is also back, bringing with him the stunning fairy-tale visual design that, in part, made the original Vaesen so compelling.
The book opens with a dissection of its setting. Readers get an overview of the region’s four nations, as well as insight into the rural and urban life of a Victorian Brit. London, the so-called ‘heart of the Empire’ under Queen Victoria’s reign, is treated to a special level of detail, introducing landmarks like Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament as potential sites of Vaesen activity. ‘The Society’ that player characters are part of also gets an update to ensure it matches its new place of origin. These sections are well-written, with potential RPG plot hooks and intriguing details stopping the history lesson from getting too dry.
Mythic Britain and Ireland also offers something that wasn’t present in the core rulebook – a list of historical and fictional figures players might encounter on their travels. Oscar Wilde, Aleister Crowley, Jack the Ripper, and Sherlock Holmes are just some of the iconic characters you’re encouraged to work into your roleplay. For anyone interested in the history and culture of Victorian Britain and Ireland, this is a fun addition with enormous potential.
Vaesen’s quite literally the name of the game, so it’s important any expansion can deliver new and exciting creatures to encounter. As a Brit and a lifelong mythology lover, I think the expansion showcases the best mythological Britain and Ireland have to offer.
All the classic folk stories are here, from the Selkie to the Leprechaun – and plenty of lesser-known but just as fascinating creatures also made the cut. My nerdy heart swelled seeing the Nuckelavee (a horse-demon thing from the Orkney Islands, and one of my personal favourite mythology nasties).
Mythic Britain and Ireland is careful not to repeat itself, so many creatures have footnotes highlighting regional variations of the same monster. After all, one person’s Banshee is another’s Bean-nighe. The same goes for creatures that were already detailed in the original Vaesen but can be found in Britain and Ireland – the crossover is dealt with in a swift section on translating old content for the new setting.
One slight downside of Vaesen’s setup lies in the secret each Vaesen hides. This secret is usually a weakness of the creature, and one that’s key to combating it or driving it away. The problem is that, in Britain and Ireland, a large proportion of the Vaesen are bothered by Christian symbols. This makes perfect sense given the setting and period (the Nordic Vaesen also has plenty of creatures weak to Christianity for the same reasons), but it throws a slight spanner in Vaesen’s mystery-solving system.
Namely, if most creatures can be defeated by Christianity, players can bypass a lot of research and clue-gathering with an educated guess and a few crosses readied for combat. It’s not a game-breaking issue by any means, especially with an experienced GM who can add red herrings and varied Vaesen to stop campaigns getting samey. But it does make me look forward to a future expansion set somewhere with a different dominant religion that’ll change the Vaesen-fighting game more significantly.
While we’re on the topic of mechanics, let’s talk about the new ‘archetypes’ (classes for players of other RPGs). There are three new ones to play – the Athlete, the Socialite, and the Entertainer – but only one has a new talent that can’t be found in the core Vaesen rulebook. In terms of character builds, Mythic Britain and Ireland offers little more than flavour.
The entire book treads lightly when it comes to introducing rules. There are a few new details when it comes to Vaesen, but this is largely the same game in a different skin. Mythic Britain and Ireland is more than worth picking up for how it handles the setting and its associated creatures, but it’s not exactly an overhaul that fans of the game have to pick up to get the most out of Vaesen.
Something that is new in Mythic Britain and Ireland is the three new adventures at the back of the book. These take players through England’s southwestern countryside, the valleys of north Wales, and the decadent homes of Hampstead’s upper classes.
The choice of Vaesen (which I won’t spoil here) provides sufficiently varied encounters, and there are enough twists and turns to keep the investigations interesting. Each adventure shares the structure of Vaesen’s original starter adventure, with a countdown mechanic slowly amping up tension before the final Vaesen confrontation. However, conflict is more complex in Mythic Britain and Ireland, with multiple countdowns often running at once.
Mythic Britain and Ireland has definitely taken the ‘if it ain’t broke’ approach, presenting more of the monster-of-the-week mysteries Vaesen players will be familiar with. But Vaesen certainly isn’t broken, and these are welcome and perfectly playable additions to the game’s pre-written adventure catalogue.
Very nice, Vaesen
Though Mythic Britain and Ireland doesn’t innovate much, its a well-written supplement that brings an intriguing setting and plenty of gorgeous Vaesen designs to the game. Well worth the explore.