For those of you new to this WordPress site, this site is about me and my writing – and a little about my role-playing, as well. It gives readers a chance to sample my work before purchasing it on the Kindle store; and gives me the chance to say a little about the genesis of each novel, or about the process of writing in general.
Other Victorian RPGs: As this site is not just about my writing, but also about my role-playing, I think it is about time that I mention some of the other Victorian / Steampunk / Gas-Lamp fantasy games out there. While some of these games may have created the kernel of an idea, none of them were a direct influence on the actual rules of the Gas-Lamp Fantasy Role-Playing Game. I own, have run, or have played all of the following games:
Castle Falkenstein: This remains one of my favourite role-playing games. The game is set in the middle of the nineteenth century, in a world where magic is real, and there are such things as dwarves and dragons. As with all role-playing games, you take the part of adventurers in this milieu. You can engage in romance; have duels with swords or pistols, explore strange, foreign lands; or even venture beyond the Veil which separates the world of men from Faerie. This really is a proper gas-lamp fantasy game, with the accent on the fantasy.
The game was unusual at its time for dispensing with the use of dice. Cards are used instead, woven into the structure of the game.
One of the things which I liked about this game was that players were encouraged to keep journals listing what happened to their characters. The journals would also feature a character’s hopes and dreams for the future.
That is useful for a Gamesmaster, who is not averse to peeking into journals. It allows him to create adventures which suit his players, rather than trying to shoehorn them into the sort of adventure which does not appeal to them. Go on, have a look at what the player characters wants to achieve. It will make your game better.
Castle Falkenstein was originally published by R Talsorian games. It was written by Michael Alyn Pondsmith.
Supplements for the game (which I possessed) included:
The Lost Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci. This features designs for strange da Vinci inventions. I’m not an expert on Da Vinci, but I think that some of these were not all created by that polymath.
Steam Age. This is subtitled Wonders through the power of steam, and that is what it is. it features various steam-powered designs to incorporate into your game.
Comme Il Faut: I think that, all things considered, this was my favourite supplement for Castle Falkenstein. It featured little articles on how to behave, how to dress; and so on. There is a timeline of important Falkenstein events from 1869 to 1880. There are lots of useful little snippets of information in this work.
I understand that there has also been a Castle Falkenstein supplement for GURPS.
Space 1889: Once upon a time, a long long time ago, there used to be a British science fiction television programme called Space 1999, set in a future where the moon had gone spinning off into space, and taken the people on Moonbase with it.
Well, this is not that programme, but it obviously influenced the title of the role-playing game. The game is set, obviously, in the late nineteenth century, in the time when European nations were building empires. But, as well as the Scramble for Africa, you had a Scramble for Space.
Space is the Aether, and the idea was that late Victorian characters would go out and explore the cultures of the Moon, Earth and Venus. These are not astronomically accurate worlds, but ones teeming with life, in a style recognisable from anybody who is a fan of the works of the likes of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Forget science, and enjoy the adventure.
There were a number of supplements for the game, none of which I possess, unfortunately. They included a number of scenario packs, as well as details of Mars, a soldier’s companion (with rules for mass combat), and a gazetteer of the planets of the campaign.
Forgotten Futures: This was written by Marcus L Rowland – who I am pretty sure I have met on one occasion, although I cannot recall where. Ah, those are the vagaries of a failing memory.
The version of Forgotten Futures which I possess is a thirty page booklet which came free with an old copy of Arcane magazine. For those who have not heard of Arcane, it was a pretty good role-playing magazine, with features on a wide range of role-playing games.
Forgotten Futures is set in Victorian times; or in the sort of future imagined by science fiction writers of the period. I like the idea of that: it is something which I used in the novel The War For Mars. Many of the great Victorian writers were futurologists, of course, imagining what the world would be like in decades to come: read some of Jules Verne’s work, or The Shape of Things to Come by H G Wells.
Characters are designed by spending points on characteristics and skills. Skills tend to be very general: for example, Driving covers any land-based vehicle. It keeps character creation reasonably quick and simple.
The rules can be downloaded from Marcus L Rowland’s website located at http://www.forgottenfutures.co.uk/ (Tell me if it is ever a dead link.) As well as the basic rules, of character creation, supplements include George E. Challenger’s Mysterious World, The Carnacki Cylinders, and Victorian Villainy, among others.
Call of Cthulhu: My copy of Call of Cthulhu (5th edition) allows a campaign to be set in the 1890s, as well as the 1920s. While I have read the material on the 1890s, and looked at the price lists, I have not plated, or run, a game set in that period. I would not imagine that the game is greatly different: if your characters survive, then the chances are that they will go insane in the end.
What, you haven’t heard of Call of Cthulhu? Okay, for the one person out there, reading my blog, who hasn’t come across this RPG, Call of Cthulhu is a role-playing game based on the books of H P Lovecraft. The original game was created by Chaosium, and it uses a percentile dice system, similar to their other games, such as Runequest and Stormbringer.
Call of Cthulhu was originally se in the 1920s (as noted above). But, for the purposes of this article, I will confine myself to the 1890 setting. There was actually a Cthulhu by Gaslight setting. This was in a boxed set, and I don’t appear to own it, although I think that much was incorporated into the 5th edition of Call of Cthulhu, anyway.
So does Call of Cthulhu work in the 1890s? Yes, I think that it does, perhaps as well as it does in the 1920s, as long as you are not looking for a generic horror game. Despite the originally stories being set later, I think that, perhaps, it works even better, as the world is slightly more primitive. To me, as a gas-lamp writer, there is something about the late Victorian era which naturally lends itself to horror and supernaturalism. It was the era of Dracula, of spiritualism, of many great ghost stories, and a time when the old world – of horses and hansom cabs – met the new, with primitive telephones and automobiles.
Having written the above, I now find myself wanting to run a Call of Cthulhu campaign in 1890s London…
Masque of the Red Death setting for Ravenloft (second edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons): Yes, this actually sets Dungeons and Dragons in Victorian times. I’m presuming that everybody out there knows what Dungeons and Dragons is, even if they have never played it.
This boxed set is an interesting read, with three adventure booklets, and the ability to create characters in this Gothic world. Character classes are renamed from the traditional Dungeons and Dragons, and you have soldiers (basically fighters), adepts (wizards), mystics (clerics) and tradesmen (thieves). In addition, these classes can be modified by various character kits, such as cavalryman, sailor, and so on.
There is an equipment list in dollars, with everything from a bicycle to an ocarina to sending a telegram. The prices are reasonably accurate, from what research I have done into the period.
I have had people create characters for this game, but I have never actually got around to running it. Reading through it, though, despite trying hard to evoke late Victorian horror, it still seems like D & D straitjacketed into a horror milieu. I feel that, while interesting, it is never going to be as good as an RPG designed from the ground up specifically for such a campaign.
There are articles on each of the above games on Wikipedia, for those who want to read more; and some of them have quite an internet presence.
That is the end of this post. The next post will be on writing things my own way.