Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Ship of Fools: April RPG Blog Carnival

The April RPG Blog Carnival considers running for a "Ship of Fools." I’m usually of the opinion that the collective intelligence of the players outweighs my own. I put situations in front of them expecting that they’ll come up with a solution. Usually I haven’t come up with one- perhaps I have some ideas, but I trust players through shared creativity will see something I didn’t. That’s part of why I rarely track character sheets and equipment. I want to be surprised by what they do. They’re off some times, but that’s rare. Rarer still that all of them would be off their game enough to thrown everything off. They goof and joke around- which is why my default mode is to take them as seriously as possible. Some of them learn a lesson and become more careful, while others realize I’m actually listening & accepting and become better about coming up with ideas.

So generally running for a Ship of Fools is fairly rare. Running for a solid crew with a single first mate who seems to have taken a severe blow to the head…that’s much more common. I have, over the years, had some tremendously stupid players. They’re the ones that make the rest of the table go absolutely silent with disbelief. They have a stupidity that’s awe-inspiring. They aren’t being funny, they really believe in what they’re doing. I have two examples, drawn from  people I’ve played with and won’t be playing with again. I have some dumb stories from other people, but in a few cases, they’re people I play with or might play with again. In most of their cases, its one or two areas they have a blind spot about, rather than being dim about everything.

Ryan: Some people combine stupidity with sociopathy and entitlement. When he introduced his new character to a Fantasy GURPS campaign I played in, he announced himself as an Assassin. This seemed a little odd to the group of generally good PCs. We asked him about this, and he assured us that he didn’t take money for killing people. In fact, he only killed bad people. He only killed the bad people the voices in his head told him to kill.

As Scott pointed out, we have a word for that: psychopath.

In another game, Ryan was tired of travelling so he suggested we go down to the beach and wait. Because obviously in a fantasy world ships would just stop off at various places along the shoreline to pick people up and drop them off, like a bus. In the same game he became irritated when another player was gifted with a magic item for a service they’d done. Ryan ungraciously bitched about it. The person eventually gave him Flaming Oil of Slipperiness and he went away satisfied. Then someone pointed out that technically all oil was flaming and slippery. In another game, I'd told everyone that there would be islands, sailing and such as a key component of the campaign. First session began with a shipwreck that stranded the players. Ryan, as you can guess, had taken no swimming skills. Ryan was also convinced that China had no army and that magnets didn’t work in space since there were no poles there.

He was an unpleasant player, but young and no one really wanted to be the one to boot him out. Most of his stuff was passive-aggressive and petty. However in another game, he wanted to run a Paladin character. That seemed like a good idea- giving him a code of honor to follow. The group formed out of a disaster which left many dead. They escaped. Several sessions in, Ryan’s deity appeared to tell him to take to safety a baby they’d rescued. This clearly irritated Ryan. The next session the group sailed and arrived on what was clearly an awful and terrible Chaos Island, with horrible temples to dark gods. There they ran into an “explorer” who claimed he was just exploring the place. But it was pretty clear to everyone that he was a Chaos Cultist of some kind. However, without proof, the party held off and parted from him. In the next scene, I pointed out to the group that Ryan’s character no longer had the baby. When pressed, he explained that he’d given it to the explorer. (Gasps from the party). A year later in the game, that cultist would sacrifice the child to effectively open the gates of hell and unleash the Big Bad on the world. Nice job.

 “M” ran an assassin in a campaign. But he’d come up with an extensive backstory about how his cover was as a master cook. I thought that was a fairly interesting twist for a fantasy game. I tried to play to that a little. Oddly, as the game progressed, he kept focusing his character on the culinary side of things over the assassin or thiefly aspects. I would throw out plot hooks and incidents related to that- a chance to showcase those skills and he would completely ignore them. Instead he brought recipes with him. The other players noticed this and commented on it. Eventually they had to get an NPC to help cover some of the traditional rogue aspects in the game.

So at one point I decided I needed to give him a story about the cooking side of things. They arrived at an army camp to meet with a lore expert. The party arrived and found everything in a commotion. A high-ranking general was coming for an inspection and the commander’s personal chef had died. They desperately needed someone to take over preparation of the feast. I’ve sketched out details, come up with a set of interesting kitchen-based NPCs, and had come up with a primary role for M, and secondary support tasks for the rest of the party. The Cook/Assassin pretty much ignored every signal and seemed absolutely uninterested in the story. As it ended up the rest of the group dove in, interacted with the NPCs and got things organized- they had a great time. M reduced his roll to making a few cooking checks.

Clearly, I decided, M wanted something with more action. Assassinating someone with his cooking didn’t seem interesting to him. So later on I went for full-on comedy. The party encountered an evil Food Mage (a variant class from Rolemaster). He’d poisoned a village with his experiments and had dough golems at his command. The pursued him until he fled back into a cavern. The group prepared itself for an assault. At this point, M said he had a plan.

The rest of the party would attack from the front. He would find the chimney flue for the oven. OK, I said, thinking he had some clever stratagem. M made his way to the chimney, which was billowing out smoke and heat. And he began to climb down. Several persons, including myself as the GM, tried to explain why this might not be the best plan- even with his magical heat-resistant gloves. He continued on- refusing other suggestions like figuring out a way to douse the over before going down. Keep in mind, this is Rolemaster, a particularly unforgiving system. He climbed down, burning drama points, taking damage, and sucking up Heat criticals. Finally he landed in the oven and, noticing the sentient Gingerbread men baking, rolled quickly out. He stood up and found himself face to face with the Food Mage, with the drop on the villain!

“OK, I heal. I have some healing potions, I’m going to drink those.” M declared.

I asked him to clarify and he repeated his action. The rest of the table went silent.
“OK, the Food Mage casts and summons a small Pasta Golem.”

…and M kept healing for the next couple of actions. Eventually, the Food Mage teleported away. The party looked at one another dumb-founded.

“Maybe I shouldn’t have gone down the chimney” M said.

I enjoy the goof ups, the mistakes, the wrong paths I can lure players down, and the general “foolishness” of play. That’s fun. What’s not fun is when players get angry about their mistakes at the table. That has, over time, become the real deal breaker for me as a GM. If a player goofs up or makes a bad call, they should live with it- even if it makes them look foolish for a moment. We’ve moved along several different people who couldn’t make that break, who took things seriously in that way. I’d much rather have the goofing around player who accepts the consequences and plays them out than the player who becomes defensive, pouty, or angry at the table when things don’t exactly go their way. 

Monday, April 29, 2013

May RPG Blog Carnival & Stuffer Shack Results

As expected, I didn’t win Stuffer Shack’s RPG Site of the Year Contest. The winner this year was the ever-amazing Gnome Stew. But that was, quite frankly, an astounding set of competitors. I felt a little like the amateur in a room of professionals. We had some dynamite sites with multiple authors, published volumes, sponsors, multiple social media streams, and long-standing work across different kinds of games. The other four competitors were out of my league- so it was incredibly nice to be considered alongside them. I do hope I get some feedback from the judges- the blog's a sidebar to the hobby for me, but I’d still like to make it better and stronger.

In any case, I wanted to give a heads up that I’ll be hosting May’s RPG Blog Carnival. My topic’s a fairly simple one: Campaigns I’d Like to Run. I’ll have a post up on Wednesday talking about the topic and inviting everyone to join in. I think it’s a pretty timely idea- given that we’re heading into summer, a time when campaigns often change out. I have some cool ideas and I really want to see what others have been cooking up but haven’t had a chance to run yet. If you have a blog or other similar online word-carrying service, consider writing up a post.

You can find out more about the RPG Blog Carnival here.

History of Steampunk & Victoriana RPGs (Part Three 2004-2006)

I’d like to address the Babar in the room.

I’m always wary of considering political dimensions within role-playing games. Classic fantasy rpgs have a certain amount of baggage. I’ve talked about questions of Ethnicity before and Ken & Robin covered the perennial problem of Orcs in a recent podcast. But with Victorian Era games we consider real world history. I’d argue it is a history close enough to our modern age, that we can really see ourselves in those times. The distance of time creates a certain amount of insulation. Despite the incidents of awfulness and inhumanity, events of the Ancient, Medieval, and Early Modern world don’t raise my hackles in the same way as those of the Colonial era.

There’s much to love with the Victorian Era, but it is also a time of exploitation, racism, and sexism. How do we consider those in our games? Some games, such as GURPS, have a mechanical aspect to that. Players can take second-class citizen status for being ethnic or a woman. Kerberos Club, one of my favorite treatments of the era, doesn’t shy away from the difficulties facing exotic, female, or foreign characters. That approach acknowledges the situation, but doesn’t necessarily make running any easier. As my wife put it, given a choice between playing in a setting where I’m inherently penalized as a female and one where I’m not, I’m always going to pick the latter. Moving Victorian tropes into other times or adding fantasy elements offers one solution- though some might read that as white-washing the essential problem.

I’m more bothered where games romanticize those elements of the era which are most problematic. Some present an unquestioning nostalgia for colonialism and empire. I’m willing to acknowledge that we wouldn’t have the same modern world without that period, but the horrors dispensed to expand and sustain the Imperial ambitions of many nations take the shine off of that. Some games deal with those questions head on- Victoriana for example takes some heat for its class-based ideology. Sunset Empires is a good example of taking those issues seriously. Do these questions have a role at the table? I’m not sure. I know some people have a serious problem with the inherent racism in Lovecraft’s writing and how that translates into Call of Cthulhu. But that wasn’t something I’d really thought about until I saw several posts about it in the last year. I don’t think it impacts how I see that. On the other hand, I was a little thrown off when I saw the original marketing materials for Achtung Cthulhu which had this line, “classic wartime heroes such as Russian political officers, German U-Boat commanders…”  So what’s my response? I don’t want to present a lecture or polemic in game form, but at the same time I’d like to avoid idealizing these concepts. I think that actually offers a richer approach to the period. I admire Castle Falkenstein for managing to create a balance. In part it does that by adding fantasy and in part by creating a set of concrete bad guys in the form of mustache-twirling industrialists and Masons. But more that the narrator, as someone from our world and era, has some perspective on questions of colonialism and discrimination.

For this list, I opted to leave off several items which fell right on the margins. The Secret of Zir'An looks a little steampunky, but doesn't describe itself that way. It seems closer to pulp, but honestly after looking through the book, I'm not sure what it is. The art, marketing, and actual text don't feel like they sync up at all into a coherent whole. I left off Cadwallon as well. A couple of the races (Goblins, Dwarves) have some steampunky bits but those are so minor in the scheme of things. The excellent In Harm's Way (and In Harm's Way: Dragons!) don't appear as they fall before this period. I also left off a really interesting Norwegian game, Draug. It seems to fall within the time frame for Victoriana a little, but covers people in the Norwegian back-country of the early 19th century dealing with leftover folktales and monsters.

You can find an explanation of my arbitrary labels on the first list entry. I’ve focused on core game lines or supplements offering a significant shift or change to the setting. So if one module offers some steampunk bits, I’ve left it off the list. I also tried to stick with publications from companies as opposed to homebrews or free PDFs. In some cases I make an exception where the product’s gained attention, offered something unique, or generated a line. I welcome discussions and suggestions as I work through these lists. I've arranged the items chronologically and then alphabetically within the year of publication. I hope to put out a new list bi-weekly. I’ll break the time periods down arbitrarily, trying to keep 20 items or less per list.

(2004, Steampunk-esque) Giant fighting suits and massive robots in a fantasy setting. The explosion of d20 products made this kind of book inevitable. It doesn’t present a fully detailed world, but instead ideas and elements for a campaign setting. Some of the designs and images in the volume have a steampunk feel, but that's not necessarily reflected in the rules and text which don't address non-magical tech or steam power. Instead, Doom Striders offers an arcano-tech approach. It feels closer to an anime conception of mecha and robots. It is more Escaflowne than Sakura Wars. Things look steampunky, but that's down to the illustrators’ decisions. The books split 50/50 between mechanics and the campaign frame detailing mercenary groups battling in a fantasy world.

(2004, Steampunk-esque) I love the idea of mecha, but I've only once had them as a major campaign element. They're cool but introduce a split in the game between human and mecha-scale interactions. By definition, players have to all have a mech or participate in the actions of one. Otherwise you get the problems which plague specialist characters like Netrunners; either the game slows down to accommodate your solo fun or (more likely) the GM handwaves or skips your side of things.

I love the subtitle on DragonMech, "Medieval Fantasy Mechs Powered by Steam, Magic, or the Labor of a Thousand Slaves." OK- well that's pretty clear then. This d20 setting from the Sword & Sorcery line establishes a fantasy setting with depth and backstory. The world is heavily mechanical, with gear forests atop city mechs scouted by Cogwork rangers. I'd glanced at the game in the past, but hadn't really dived in because d20 isn't my thing. However I'm taken with this- I love how far the game pushes those mechanistic ideas. I like the idea of differences in power sources and the vast range of scales these things operate in. White Wolf published a total of eight books in the DragonMech line- suggesting it did fairly well. This may be one of those games I'll have to track down and collect.

(2004, Steampunk-esque) One of WotC’s tentpole settings for D&D. I've heard Eberron described as arcano-fantasy, as pulp adventure, and as steampunk. I think it manages to be all of these things, at least as far as I can tell. I love the concept of the Warforged and some of the other details present, but it remains the D&D setting which seems least coherent. At least reading through the original book, I had a hard time telling what the key pitch was and how I would enter into it. There's an overwhelming number of concepts at play here. I've seen the argument over whether Eberron is or isn't steampunk rage on the internet before. I think at the very least it wants to be and borrows imagery from it. On the other hand Baker, the creator, has said that it isn't- but I think we're talking in the strictest sense of the genre. For purposes of this list it fits in the corner because of some of those appropriated aesthetics.

(2004, Steampunk) Mongoose took an interesting step with their OGL series. I'd assumed that this was a sourcebook for bringing steampunk into standard d20 games. Instead this offers a stand-alone game, using the OGL rules with a distinct setting. That does mean that a good deal of the book's given over to explaining rules and mechanics. It also means the source material presented is keyed to a particular campaign world. That setting's contradictory. On the one hand, it is fairly bland. Fantasy, magic, and steamtech mixed together loosely and allowed to rise. That fits with the cover. On the other hand, it has a number of specific concepts: hybrid races from experimentation, revenants as PCs, the nature of the automata, etc. It might have been better served by going the distance and developing the unique world to make it stand out or else stripping the specific information in favor of an even more generic approach. I suspect it is most useful as a resource for GMs hoping to run steampunk with a d20 system. GMs using other mechanics will not find as much here.

I should also not the definition at the beginning of the book doesn't quite sit right with me. The authors suggest that, "Above all, the feeling that dominates Steampunk is a sense of despair, a certainty that while any challenge can doubtless be defeated through ingenuity, this will always be achieved at a terrible cost." That's an element I've seen in some steampunk approaches, but it isn't one I consider definitional. I'm curious what others think.

(2004, Steampunk) So apparently 2004 was the year of steampunk d20. Unlike most of the other supplements, Steam & Steel doesn't try to create a world background. Instead it offers a toolkit for adding steamtech to existing d20 campaigns. It assumes a fantasy backdrop. The book opens with general discussion of the implications of this for a setting, but gets quickly to the gritty and crunchy bits. There's new feats and a new skill of course (Craft: Steamworks). The other associated rules for malfunctions and construction follow. I'm not a d20 savant, so I can't tell exactly how well these fit together- they seem very "shopping list." There are several sections of creations- from gadgets to prosthetics to automatons. The book ends with new prestige classes. All in all, it focuses on the mechanical side of things. Later EN Publishing created several other "steampunk-esque" d20 supplements: The Fantastic Science: A Technologist Sourcebook, Mechamancy: The Clockwork Magic, and Mechamancy II: Living Machines.

(2005, Steampunk-esque) Generally for these lists I leave off free pdf-only products. However I've seen Broken Gears cited and discussed several places. I actually first heard about it when my niece said someone was running a campaign of it on her campus. The game book is complete, with a fairly simple set of rules at the end. In this alternate history setting machinery operates via bound spirits, a concept discovered by Francis Bacon. Increasing complexity of machines means an increasing sentience to them. Though I'm a little skeptical, Broken Gears has history flowing much the same even with that change up through World War Two. Then a new war emerged between thinking machines and humanity, nearly destroying the world. Nearly a hundred years after that, advanced machines and devices have been forbidden, creating a future world relying on simple, often steam-powered machinery. About half of the book's given over to history and world-building. That's less about how life is lived and more about the political situation. The section on Chaomancy, the art of binding spirits into machines, is quite good. The academic tone works especially well there.

(2005, Victoriana) WotC expanded the d20 line with d20 Modern and supported it anemically compared to standard 3.0/3.5 material. Three years after the publication of the original d20 Modern, they finally released a sourcebook offering ideas for how to run these campaigns in historical (and pseudo-historical) settings. I suppose that makes some sense, in that doing so put them in direct competition with d20 publishers who had quickly latched on and produced quality (and not-so-quality) products. Regardless d20 Past feels pretty thin. Only 98 pages, one third of that is new rules and the remaining two-thirds are three campaign settings. The second of these is a heroes against supernatural invaders frame set in 1872. At sixteen pages, there isn't much there. It read more like a lengthy article from Dragon Magazine than a substantial resource.

8. Exil
(2005, Steampunk) A French rpg with a fantastical setting, more dreamlike than swords and sorcery. The campaign city lies on an isolated moon- distant and with the sense of fading glory and collapse. It merges noir and steampunk with fatalism. I've had a hard time finding a good solid description of the game beyond that. Reviews I've read don't give great insight into the setting, but all universally agree that the game's graphic design is rich and evocative.

(2005, Victoriana/Steampunk-esque) A solid and unique take on Victoriana horror, Rippers manages to smartly combine the Gothic horror tradition with the trappings and worries of steampunk. Here science offers new ways to combat the darkness facing the world, but at a horrible cost to mind and body. Biotech and implants of a cyberpunk style game become limbs and organs harvested from monsters and implanted into hunters. The whole thing is well developed and presented. It has some material on the Victorian world, but mostly sets up the campaign ideas and concepts. Best used with some other resources on the period. You can see my full review of it here- A Whole New Meaning to "I Loot the Corpse".

(2006, Steampunk) I'm about to say something stupid. I can handle Elves, the fae, Elder Gods, etc. in my games. However certain approaches to alternate history get a little under my skin. Sometimes these are assumptions that seem really wrong-headed. Once you suggest that you're doing alt-history, you buy into certain kinds of logic. One concept that bothers me is a kind of "stasis" for art and style. In the case of Etherscope (and Unhallowed Metropolis with its Neo-Victorian approach) I have a hard time accepting that we're nearly 100+ years after the era, but everything still looks Victorian. I don't understand the logic. Why not simply set the games at the end of the Victorian era and make the changes and technological advancements occur earlier? It shouldn't bother me- but it does.

is a d20-based steampunk and pseudo-Victorian setting in the year 1984. It has many ideas worth borrowing and tons of great material. Probably the most striking is the addition of cyberpunk concepts to the setting. In particular, the titular Etherscope is a virtual reality space- a parallel plane which can be manipulated by human will. Effectively this creates the internet and the full-on hackable Net of cyberpunk novels and games. In that respect it is pretty brilliant. Technology runs wild here with genetically engineered beings and consciousness transfers. The authors cite Dark City, In the Mouth of Madness, and The Adventures of Luther Arkwright as inspirations. In some ways Etherscope's as close as any game to being Perdido Street Station, while still being alternate history. The game also includes occult and magic, but with a Lovecraftian feel. High recommended to anyone running a steampunk game; full of interesting concepts.

(2006, Steampunk/Victoriana) In a time when steampunk gone in some fairly dark directions, it's refreshing to see a game take a hopeful and lighter approach. Full Light, Full Steam aims for heroic drama. The British Empire exists in space and the players take the role of crewmembers on a ship travelling it. Her Majesty's Royal Astronomical Navy wants you! The game gives a highly romanticized view on the era, with women permitted within the military service, though still suffering a little in status. The alternate history presented in the volume really works to justify the ideas of the game. It has a nice tongue-in-cheek approach which turns aside pedants.

In some ways, FL,FS is what I originally imagined Space 1889 would be- Victorian Traveller. There's more than a little touch of Star Trek here as well. None of it is particularly crunchy or "hard sci-fi" however. About half the book’s given to the background, and the other half to a fairly simple point-buy system. A neat game and one well worth looking at as a resource.

(2006, Victoriana/Steampunk) The Imperial Age is a series of supplements, originally for d20, covering all aspects of the Victoriana era. It offers a modular approach- allowing a gamemaster to pick and choose what to use to construct their take on the world. There's a ton of great resources available here from idea books like Anarchism to location books like British India to game resources like Fisticuffs & Swordplay. Some products in the series are better than others, but most can be bought as reasonably-priced pdfs. In 2009 Adamant published the Omnibus edition which collects together the 700+ pages of material. There's also True20 collected version assembling the most essential material along with mechanics for that system.

(2006, Steampunk-esque) A Swedish rpg which lifts a little from Victorian images and pop fantasy. The title seems to translate as "October Country: Troll & Hammer. The Octoberland: The Hammer & the Magic Wand  " As far as I can tell it presents a fantasy/European History mash-up. The publisher's blurb, translated from by Google and cleaned up a little, reads, "In Octoberland you will meet Elvish Boyars, agitational traveling, pompous centaurs and nymphs chain-smoking - all in a tale of class struggle and revolution! You explore a modern fairytale landscape where gas and silent film competes with ruins and gravkumlar (???). As one of fey folk expected you ally yourself with the Red or the White Court. Maybe you are an agent of the Tsar's secret police, the dreaded gnome mage from the Urals or orcish anarchist…The age-old struggle for the means of production continues, and you are one of the fighters! Hammer the Magic Wand is a role playing game in steampunk." Edit: user Bagelson on Reddit suggested a better translation of the title. It makes more sense and is more evocative.

(2006, Victoriana) Subtitled: "Adventures Penned by Literary Giants." There's an interesting meta-conceit presented by this game which sees the great fictions of the Victorian Era as "travelogues." One of the game’s problems is that it doesn't make clear what it is doing for quite some time. The introduction suggests literary explorations, the cover suggests Alice in Wonderland with guns, and the player's section hints at a straight Victorian game. It seems to most be that first concept- with a patron organization allowing travel to the various pages of the Book Without End, a Victorian literary multiverse. The players take the role of Passengers, moving through these books. There's more than a little suggestion of the Thursday Next series and the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The system itself is a simplified d20 engine. Players who enjoy the literature of the time will find a good deal to like here. However it may take several readings to put together a decent picture of the setting and how it operates.

15. Perfect
(2006, Victoriana) A dystopian world governed by a rigid social order and stylistically echoing the Victorian era. Here love and feelings are outlawed. The players take the role of those dedicated to evading or even overcoming that system. The PCs are criminals within that world- creating a tense game. There are lifts from other classic British treatments of dystopias- A Clockwork Orange, Brazil, and 1984. The original versions was fairly modest; a revised and expanded version Perfect, Unrevised appeared in 2011.

(2006, Steampunk) A setting sourcebook for Savage Worlds. Runepunk presents a fantasy city mixing dark magics and worrying steamtech. It feels a little like a Hammer version of these ideas. The designer cites Mieville, Lieber, Peake, and Gaiman as influences. I'm fond of settings that focus on a city and ScatterPoint feels pretty messy and organic. The author also cites Judge Dredd as an inspiration. It is massive- of a scale that I'd probably dial down if I ran something set here. The city exists in the aftermath of an arcane disaster, the last remaining settlement. The setting has plenty of detail and history, and just borders on being a little too extensive and indulgent. I like that magic is dangerous and contradictory- the storms which threaten the city also power it. Steam and Runetech exist side by side. if you're thinking of running fantasy steampunk, this is a decent resource. It has unique ideas and concepts which could easily be adapted.

(2006, Steampunk) If nothing else, this game offers the term "Victoriental" which will stick with me. Steampunk Musha began life as a section of the world for the Iron Gauntlets rpg. It offered an isolated island with steampunk technology, Victorian-esque trappings, and hodge-podge East Asian culture. Much like Legend of the Five Rings and other "Oriental" fantasy settings, the Asian material here blends cultural influences- primarily Chinese and Japanese pop fantasy. There's some interesting stuff going on here- with gunsmiths and clockwork ronin.

Last year Fat Goblin Games successful funded a Kickstarter for a new and enlarged version of this game. However, despite s Sept/Oct 2012 delivery date, that does not seem to have been released as of this writing. That version will be Pathfinder Compatible

(2006, Steampunk-esque) There comes a certain point in the evolution of a genre when I start asking: what new spin does this game bring to the table? For example, we have at least a dozen zombie survival horror rpgs. What's the new take they offer? That ought to be a selling point right out of the gate for these games. Simply using a different game engine isn't enough- unless that engine has been especially tuned for the setting. Game designers need to know their hook- and as important- communicate that hook to the audience quickly and clearly.

SteamWorks is a fantasy steampunk campaign using the Omni System rules. There's lots of world-building here, with many nations and races. However that feels more like an encyclopedia than a living, breathing setting. It takes the kitchen-sink approach with tons of PCs options and the hopes that just having them all together will create something new and novel

Friday, April 26, 2013

Maps of Old: Heortland and Kabul Acri

As I mentioned last week, I found some of  old RPG maps I'd drawn for campaigns. Most of these were created by a combination of scanning, hand drawing, and mucking with them in the weak-sauce art program Paint Shop Pro 5
I did this map back around 1999 for a new campaign set on the Third Continent of my fantasy world. Over the years I'd cobbled together the campaign- borrowing and stealing from various sources. In the mid 1990's I'd begun to run in a new area of the world. I borrowed elements from Glorantha and Runequest, haphazardly at first. Primarily that consisted of placing Pavis and the Valley of Prax as a cool location for play. Then as I began to look more deeply into it, I feel in love with the weirdness and cosmology of Glorantha. I bought all the available mainline and fan published material I could. This was before Issaries started to publish new things. In any case, my campaign setting became a massive kludge, but the players enjoyed it. The third campaign set there ended with the Giant's Cradle sailing down the Zola Fel, defended by the PCs. 

For the next campaign, I looked further afield. I tried to really figure out what the Orlanthi, Malkioni, and Lunar areas looked like. So I created this thing, which only covers a portion of the sub-continent this takes place on. North is actually to the left-hand side of the page because I like to make things even more difficult. If you know Glorantha, you'll see lots of references. The campaign world works primarily because none of the players (except my wife) really know the Glorantha setting at all. If they did, the cognitive dissonance might do them in.
This is one of my first attempts using the computer to assist me. I did this in the mid-1990's. Many of the signs and symbols come from images I found online or scanned from The Atlas of Fantasy. I think the forests and mountains, drawn by hand, came out decently. This is for a GURPS Fantasy campaign I played in, run by my friend Dave E. I took his sketch map and made this abomination. I was reminded of this recently because my friend Scott's running an arc of his Pathfinder campaign set in here. He actually annoyed me because he riffed and used another campaign from my world for one of his dimension hops- something I'd been working on coming back to for several years. But there's no shortage of ideas and concepts to play with. Looking at this map, the coastline looks weird to me. I don't know if that's a factor of the resolution or what. I love the names Dave had for his world. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Final Round: Stuffer Shack’s RPG Site of the Year Contest

So I managed to make it to the final round of Stuffer Shack’s RPG Site of the Year Contest. I want to thank everyone who generously voted for me. I recognize my luck in not facing some of these heavyweights in the earlier round. They had some amazing blogs and sites to check out. Online voting gave us five competitors:

These will be evaluated by Stuffer Shack's Judges and a winner selected. I hope there’s some feedback even for those who don’t win. I always like getting input and suggestions on my work here. If you have a chance, check out these sites as well as the others nominated.

Last week during the voting period I posted my pitch as well as my suggestions for further reading from my blog. I’ve been getting some additional hits from Stuffer Shack and ENWorld, so I thought I’d list a few of my other favorite posts and series.
I really need to figure out a way to collect and consolidate the material on the blog. Labels help, but aren't that great. In any case, the results for Stuffer Shack's Contest will be announced Monday, April 29th. I think I'm clearly a dark horse in this, but it has been fun to get the blog out in front of some people who might not have seen it. I hope everyone finds something useful here. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Interview with Steve Russell of Rite Publishing: Play on Target Podcast

We record our episodes of Play on Target in advance, usually a couple of months. This time we tried to be more timely, bumping our normal schedule in favor of an interview with Steve Russell of Rite Publishing. Steve currently has a Kickstarter running for his project Lords of Gossamer and Shadow. That’s a ”spiritual successor” to the Amber Diceless RPG. It uses that core system with a new campaign frame offering a new paradigm for dimensional travel, exploration, and warfare. The project successfully funded and  has several weeks to go as of this writing; it has some interesting backer rewards. In our interview he explains the game, his company, his other Kickstarter projects, and his general philosophy.

I’ll admit I wasn’t aware of the project until Brian and Andrew brought it to my attention. Amber’s a great game that I’ve only had the opportunity to run a couple of times. I ran three distinct Throne Wars and a short-lived campaign all of which were interesting. However I never got the chance to really dig down into the guts of the system. I keep thinking that Amber could be one of the best games to handle as an online campaign. I’ve also considered how to use the rules to do other settings and events. For example a Throne War style event for politics ala A Game of Thrones, Fading Suns, or even a Grand Tribunal from Ars Magica. Even though I own the Amber books, I’ve backed this project. I’m curious about the setting and what tweaks/advice the rules will offer. As another perspective, I’ll point to The Rhetorical Gamer, one of my favorite blogs I don’t always agree with. In a recent post he discusses his feelings about the project as a massive fan of the original Amber. I think Steve addresses his concerns in our interview, suggesting this has clearly been a common question for him.

One of the issues we touch on is the relationship between retailers and Kickstarters. Steve offers a particularly blunt and bleak assessment for that relationship. At least regarding rpgs, KS begins to move retailers out of the equation. On the other hand, the diminishing importance of rpgs to a hobby store has been happening for the last decade. If we consider the four pillars of a game store: miniatures, board games, CCGs, and rpgs- this last category is probably the one generating the least sale and least add-on sales. It is also the niche of the market most easily served by pdfs and places like Amazon. I say that as someone who worked in gaming retail for many years, but in the previous century. Steve’s thinking lines up close to that of Gary Ray who has an excellent blog on gaming retail. However Steve suggests that there must be a solution; what that is remains uncertain. The discussion seems to me a little contrary to the spiel I heard given by one of the board game based Kickstarter fulfillment companies. They want the retailers to partner with them, but I’m unsure what the benefit could be to them. Another perspective comes from Ken Hite’s analysis of the recent GAMA trade show on his podcast Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff. In that case, Kickstarter seems to be seen not as an adversary, but a partner. It will be interesting to see how that pans out. It’s a little more under-the-hood look at the problem than we covered in our earlier episode on Kickstarters.

If you like RPG Gaming podcasts, I hope you'll check it out. We take a focused approach- tackling a single topic each episode. You can subscribe to the show on iTunes or follow the podcast's page at www.playontarget.com.

Monday, April 22, 2013

History of Steampunk & Victoriana RPGs (Part Two 1997-2003)

This list continues tracing the development of Victoriana and Steampunk rpgs. There's an odd gap between this list and the previous one. We don't see multiple games in either genre appear until 2001; we have several dead years. I suspect several reasons account for that, but these are simply hypotheses. First, we had three visible game lines which put these elements at the forefront: Deadlands, Space 1889, and Castle Falkenstein. Publishers may have felt the market had already served- especially since only the first of these had done well and sustained itself. Second, we saw a shift in game publishing- with many smaller companies collapsing in the 1990's and others focusing on core products. Problems with TSR meant problems with the industry as a whole. That could be tied to changes in the hobby industry- the expansion and collapse of the collectible comic market affected many game stores. That also shifted distribution and put additional pressures on publishers. Third, two serious competitors pinched the rpg market. On the one hand, CCGs continued to grow and draw attention and money away. Several publishers threw cash after ill-advised card games, rather than developing new rpg products. On the other, we finally saw accessible and excellent computer games, especially MMORPGs. Those stole share from games. Fourth, more specifically to these genres, we didn't have a large volume of source media until the end of this period. We obviously had Verne, Wells, and Gothic & Victorian authors, but steampunk was only beginning to develop 'classics' and go in new directions. RPGs more often follow rather than lead pop culture ideas- and need a larger supply of innovative approaches and junk versions to lift from. It is worth considering what steampunk sources were available before or during this period, essentially up through 2003.


In modern literature, Blaylock, Jeter, and Moorcock set the stage for steampunk. Sterling and Gibson's The Difference Engine hits the mass market and brings it to the forefront. 1995 sees the publication of Stephenson's The Diamond Age, Paul Di Filippo's Steampunk Trilogy, and Phillip Pullman's The Golden Compass. I believe even more importantly, in 2000 we get China Miéville's Perdido Street Station which announces a new approach to steampunk with a gritty fantastic. In graphic literature, DC leads the way with Gotham by Gaslight in 1989 (the first Elseworld). In 2003 they took another approach with JLA: Age of Wonder aka Superman meets Tesla. Chris Bachalo and Joe Kelly created the blandly named Steampunk mini-series. The short-lived Ruse from Cross-Gen added steampunk elements to a pseudo-Victorian setting. Warren Ellis' Planetary borrows from everything, including steampunk. Two authors, however, significantly impact the development of these ideas narratively and visually. Kaja & Phil Foglio's Girl Genius remains amazing and interesting, a wild ride that feels like a great and complex campaign. Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, for all of its weaknesses, adds steampunk chic to fan-service team-ups.

Outside of literature, we see several key appearances of steampunk. Brisco County (1993) used some gadgets and boilertech elements, but these feel more like an homage to the classic Wild, Wild West TV show (1965). Then there was the awful film adaptation of Wild, Wild West (1999). One could also read Terry Gilliam's Time Bandits (1981), Brazil (1985), and Baron Munchausen (1988) as offering some steampunk visual elements. The French films City of Lost Children (1995) and Vidocq (2001) offer striking new takes on steampunk images. Atlantis the Lost Empire (2001), with designs by Hellboy's Mike Mignola, leans heavily on these ideas. Some syndicated TV shows also began to lift from these genres directly or indirectly- The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne (2000), The Lost World (1999), and Jack of All Trades (2000). Steampunk also appeared as a key element in several video games during this time: Arcanum: Of Steamworks & Magick Obscura, Thief: The Dark Project, and EverQuest

A question I haven't yet figured out is if there's any relation between the decline of cyberpunk as a genre and the rise of steampunk.

You can find an explanation of my arbitrary labels on the first list entry. I’ve focused on core game lines or supplements offering a significant shift or change to the setting. So if one module offers some steampunk bits, I’ve left it off the list. I also tried to stick with publications from companies as opposed to homebrews or free PDFs. In some cases I make an exception where the product’s gained attention, offered something unique, or generated a line. I welcome discussions and suggestions as I work through these lists. I've arranged the items chronologically and then alphabetically within the year of publication. I hope to put out a new list bi-weekly. I’ll break the time periods down arbitrarily, trying to keep 20 items or less per list.
(1998, Victoriana) Do I lose my Geek Card if I admit that Terry Pratchett has never really grabbed me? I've tried a half-dozen of the Discworld novels and never gotten more than halfway through any of them. The same with the movie/miniseries adaptations. Several elements of the presentation suggest a kind of amalgam Victoriana- a Dickensian backdrop more in that the setting mixes together so many elements. I suspect your impression of the series will depend on your point of entry and which sub-line appeals most to you. Off the top of my head, I'd say the Moist von Lipwig books are probably the closest- with the focus on societal institutions, their development, and their impact. GURPS Discworld's one of those interesting products from Steve Jackson which combines the rules with the setting sourcebook. There's an additional supplement, GURPS Discworld Also.

(2000, Steampunk/Victoriana) The first RPG sourcebook to present Steampunk as a variable genre element. It remains impressive and superior sourcebook for the genre. It focuses on Victorian steampunk, with author William H. Stoddard crafting at least as much a sourcebook for that era. It presents one of clearest overviews of the 19th century, with a focus on game-able material. At the same time the construction rules provide an interesting resource. GURPS has has a crunchy approach to this, but GMs could use the guidelines elsewhere. It offers a handful of alternate campaign settings for Steampunk at the end (and the GURPS Alternate Earths adds a few).

GURPS Steampunk won the 2000 Origins Award for Best RPG Supplement. Steve Jackson Games would eventually expand the line with three other products. GURPS Steam-Tech is an amazing sourcebook full of ideas for gadgets, machines, and devices of the period. It covers a number of different tech-levels and sources of power which makes it useful for many different campaigns. GURPS Screampunk is a mini-supplement looking at how to combine the Gothic with Steampunk. Finally SJG also produced a set of Steampunk miniatures which were merely OK. It did give me hope that we might see a Steampunk Ogre game.

(2001, Steampunk) While the steampunk in this game is secondary element, it is interesting to see some of the early games which blended alternate history with fantastic elements. This is a setting where magic dominates, but new and potent technologies have begun to compete with them. It feels a little like an unpolished American version of Castle Falkenstein, with an emphasis on sorcery and set somewhat earlier. Generally I skip self-published games for these lists, but in this case it comes at time when the genre's just starting to gather steam. It can also be read as a precursor to other fantastic Americana games like Northern Crown: New World Adventures and Colonial Gothic.

(2001, Steampunk) While Warmachine wouldn't appear until 2003 and Iron Kingdoms for d20 until 2004, Privateer Press released the Witchfire Trilogy in 2001. This unique module did a good deal of world building. It established the Iron Kingdoms as a place mixing high fantasy and arcane steampunk. Right away Privateer demonstrated they had a handle on the look and feel of the genre: gritty, worn, lumbering. Its worth noting this is the first substantial use of steampunk in the d20/OGL line. Several products would follow- some generic and some also trying to establish their own line. Witchfire did well and certainly helped establish the line and get gamers excited for the rpg material which followed. Warmachine also established the largest and most hearty line of steampunk miniatures. They weren't the first, Pinnacle had Deadlands minis in '97 and Soldiers & Swords produced Castle Falkenstein figures around the same time. Those lines have not survived. A new edition was released last year, using a new system. I'll talk more about that on a later list.

(2001, Steampunk) Terra Incognita offers an alternate history setting with a tight campaign frame. Players are members of the National Archaeological, Geographic, and Submarine Society aka NAGS. They are explorers of mysteries in the great Vernian, Pulp, and Planetary tradition. This offers a highly structured and tightly defined patron group and purpose. Fantastic technology is called NAGtech in the setting, with a complexity dependent on its 'era' (Edwardian, Deco, or Modern). That serves as a meta-structure, allowing GMs to set the actual Terra Incognita campaign anywhere from the Victorian era to pre-WW2. There's some fun stuff here, but because the game wants to be so open-ended, it works much more as a campaign frame than a world resource. There's some material there, but I suspect GMs will want to supplement that with other resources. The game's core engine is FUDGE, making it highly adaptable.

(2001, Steampunk) Another Japanese RPG from FarEast Amusement Research (F.E.A.R.). Wikipedia describes it as a game which, "...takes place in Terra, a fictional continent modeled after North America during the American Old West. Its theme is frontier spirit. The setting is fictitious, but actual historical Americans also appear as non-player characters. They include Thomas Alva Edison, Nikola Tesla, Jesse James and Belle Starr. There are guns and steampunk items representing lost technologies (for example, phlogiston generators or aetheric drives). Players face monsters called the Dark. Player characters may be automata, bounty hunters, gunslingers, preachers, saloon girls, steam-mages, U.S. marshals and other archetypes as they ride the transcontinental railroad on their way to the far western frontier."

(2002, Steampunk-esque) Here's a game which taught me a valuable lesson: production quality and art don't necessarily make a good game. I was sold on the pitch at Origins one year and bought it because it looked cool. I started reading it in the car on the way home and hated it, but by then it was too late.

Children of the Sun calls itself "dieselpunk," but that's a jacket catchphrase. It is pretty firmly steampunk. it is fantasy clumsily attached to a extensive history that's kind of an analogue for 20th Century Europe, I think. It is tech jammed into a fantasy setting, but weirdly and loosely. It reminds me a little of the old Flintloque miniatures game which essentially was Sharpe's Rifles with Orcs. That at least was tongue in cheek, this takes itself super-seriously. At times it comes across like a chaotic and long-running house campaign that never came together. The world building isn't coherent, compelling, or novel. Beyond that, the actual mechanics are a mess.

(2002, Steampunk-esque) One of the things I appreciate about the '90's in rpgs is that they spawned a set of really strange rpgs, oddball and even surrealist games (Psychosis: Ship of Fools, Sandman, Over the Edge, Whispering Vault, Pandemonium!. Some have called this The New Weird, and Jeff & Ann Vandermeer edited an anthology of the same name. PK Dick's the spiritual grandfather of this for me- asking questions about identity, madness, and personal relationships with technology. it doesn't suprise me that there's a stong cross-over between steampunk and the weird. Paul DiFillipo, James Blaylock, and the highly political China Mieville demonstrate how these can be blended.

Mechanical Dream's one of those truly weird games. The core book’s divided into two sections, the Mechanical side with the rules and the Dream side with the setting. The book's designed to flip, so that you're almost facing a new volume for each. The setting background's dense and, IMHO, incredibly difficult to get through. It bats around dozens of new terms and names presenting a bizarre distant world. I can't imagine trying to bring players into it. The look borrows from steampunk to create a strange world of dream physics populated by almost a dozen weird races. WHAT DO WE ACTUALLY DO IN THE GAME?

(2002, Victoriana) From time to time I read an RPG sourcebook that was clearly someone's obscure and obsessive project. They loved something and knew it well enough to craft a sourcebook or game from it. That explains some of the early GURPS licensed products, Tibet: The Roleplaying Game, and even The Golden Dawn from the previous list. These often pop up in big and expansive lines that can handle niche projects- Call of Cthulhu, d20 guides, and World of Darkness for example. I suspect the shift to pdf publishing has made these projects simultaneously more viable and less visible. Both Steve Jackson and Chaosium now have pdf-only and/or PoD micro-supplements.

Sunset Empires puts the colonized and conquered of the Victorian era at the center. There are only a few other books I can think of that do this (perhaps Mysteries of the Raj which considers Cthulhu by Gaslight-era India). It covers the lands of Kindred of the East, China, India, Japan, and Southeast Asia, during the period. The book offers rich and clearly presented history, with a focus on the oppressed. What makes the concept more powerful is that the PCs themselves are also a form of oppression. They represent a portion of the supernatural overlords who help sway in these lands, now facing new domination from foreigners. Sunset Empires offers a campaign approach to areas not often directly considered in gaming. It suggests interesting ideas for other fantasy games which use steampunk and the spread of technology.

(2002, Victoriana) From the beginning, the vampires of Vampire the Masquerade have always had a victorian feel- or at least that's a set of common imagery. One can blame that on the Gothic source materials or perhaps more importantly on that era as a touchstone for Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire series. White Wolf has always done an interesting job with their historical material. However sometimes it can focus too much on the Vampiric side over the general background. The "vampirization" of historical events feels shaky after a while. Victorian Age Vampire, on the other hand, manages to maintain a balance. Storytellers looking for general Victorian ideas and information will find much to love here.

The extensions of the line- Victorian Age Vampire: Companion and London by Night are equally strong and readable. The latter especially does a nice job of presenting the city while at the same time offering interesting dynamics for the players. This remains one of my favorite series from WW.

11. A|State
(2003, Steampunk-esque) This year saw the release of the 'lite' version of A|State, the follow year would see release of the actual full book and a few supplements. This game draws from the atmosphere of Perdido Street Station, a book which IMHO really pushed some of the more speculative and bizarre steampunk-esque books (like Jay Lake's The City Imperishable and S.M. Peter's awful Whitechapel Gods). A|State's a chaotic and patchwork setting, mixing steampunk, horror, strangely anime tech, cyberpunk, and the kitchen sink. It takes place in The City, dirty and topsy-turvy mixed-tech melting pot that at times feels like Dickens' London and at other times seems like something out of F-Zero. Humans, non-humans, uncertain history, ghosts- I have a hard time unraveling the background which feels more impressionistic than coherent. I have a hard time imagining how you'd pitch this to player who hadn't read through some of the material.

Like some of the most daring products, that actually makes it hard to get through to the core of it. Beyond the strangeness of The City- I don't know what the hook of the setting is. Not that everything has to be clear, open, and accessible, but games with these kinds of barriers to entry often lose out. We're in an age with many rpg options and products have to vie for a attention. The problem is that I don't know what the players do in the game- anything? What's the expected campaign frame and why is that cool? There's almost no sense of that given in the book, even in the end section. On the other hand as a book of ideas and images to be lifted and borrowed, you really can't beat this. The book's evocative and striking.

(2003, Steampunk-esque) A French RPG from the Le Lab group. It is a free pdf product, but one I thought worth mentioning for its atmosphere and early appearance in the genre. it seems to combine magic, surrealism, and steampunk imagery. A portion of the publisher's blurb (translated via Google and cleaned up slightly) reads:

"Hello dear people, my name is Mab, the sole holder of forbidden secrets. You are here in the anteroom of the section reserved for roleplaying Absinthe. Behind me you see two doors. The first, soberly entitled Scénars, you will discover new and exciting adventures in the World Mirror to play your friends. The second named Shards invites you to tours World Mirror but also various thematic analyzes." The Faërie then leans over the coffee table, revealing two wings bluish black feathers and suddenly fixes you in the eye. You look around you and you realize that you are alone in the room, the other spectators who mysteriously disappeared without a sound. You suddenly feel ill at comfortable. "Since we are talking about it, a very expensive glass of Absinthe Royale, is not it?" asks the Faerie with a smile, revealing thereby sharp teeth like knives. You do not really feel able to refuse this invitation... In an atmosphere of swashbuckling, steampunk technology and magic psychotropic Absinthe invites you to embody human becoming double agents in a dispute PLCs Grand calculator (barricaded in the austere city of Horlogeuse) Two courses in faeries schizophrenics (who run Land-flashing). This confrontation has a major Artifact, the Mirror, intimately linked to the essence the world."

(2003, Steampunk/Victoriana) "Glorious Adventures in Science, Loosely Involving Generally Historical Times." This is a smallish game, created as a sideline for a set of Victoriana miniatures rules. That's a pretty awesome idea- very cool and something I haven't looked into that closely. There are some great galleries of figures and battles from that to be found here. The rpg itself is a bit under a hundred pages, with a fairly simple system. Players take up the roles of classic Victoriana adventurers, with the usual steampunk tech at their disposal. Simon Crowe has a review of it, "Spiffing Adventures," which offers the essentials.

(2003, Pre-Victoriana) The two time periods preceding and just after the Victorian era (1837-1901) represent significant touchstones as well. The former helps set up the world of Victoria's Empire- with the collapse of France, American expansion, and the brushfire wars which popped up across Europe. The latter for the fallout from the development of technology and industrialization. In general, I'll keep away from Napoleonic Period books on this list, except where they explicitly embrace Steampunk elements. There are several worth considering- Duty & Honour, Krutrök & sägner, and Beat to Quarters. However for gamers working in the earlier period of the Victorian era, these games could be important resources. Several offer interesting ideas for military campaigns which could be adapted easily to the later era.

(2003, Steampunk) Probably a bit of a reach to put on the list, but a potential resource for gamemasters looking to create steam-mecha. This is a substantial toolkit for creating and running mecha in a d20 game. It offers design and combat rules for these behemoths across several genres and time periods. You'll recognize series classic series and ideas here. The example steampunk setting, Cities and Empire, has non-magical robots as a tools of the oppressed fighting back against sorcerer overlords. Called "coalsuits" here, the look and feel is actually pretty clever. This is only a small slice of a larger product, but one worth looking at.

(2003, Steampunk) Another d20 steampunk sourcebook,this one focused on bringing that to a standard fantasy campaign. Sorcery & Steam offers a decent overview of the genre. More importantly it begins with a number of solid and varied suggestions for how 'steamcraft' can become part of a campaign or shape it from the start. It offers idea on the global implications of such technology, as well as concrete examples. There's a steam technobabble chart- we need more of those kinds of things.

After that we get to the usual d20 far. There's a chapter on character classes. It opens with a discussion of how core classes might be affected in this setting (the Barbarian gets a Rage against technology, for example). The new classes are a little odd- the Animal Lord for example while modeling Tarzan, seems like it could be in any standard fantasy book. Beyond that you get two other core classes plus some be prestige ones. These have organizations tied to them, a nice campaign touch. There's a section with new skills, feats, and spells. The book ends with a chapter covering equipment and one on vehicles. Everything's well-presented and illustrated, making this one of the more readable d20 supplements.

(2003, Steampunk/Victoriana) Oddly, though I'm fond of the genre, I never picked up this game. Our group had a bad experience with the Fuzion system, and I avoided games which used it. Victoriana's an interesting game and one which generates a good deal of reaction. It presents an alternate history setting- squarely in the middle of the period, 1867, with steampunk tech, magic, and various fantasy races. However it also focuses on inequalities, class tensions, and the dehumanizing power of industry. To quote the introduction, "Regardless of your character’s origins, or their goals, we assume that you will all have one thing in common – desire for change, fuelled by a firm knowledge that the social structure your characters live in is corrupt and wrong." That's pretty strong tea and a far cry from the nostalgic vision often presented in these games. I've seen the game criticized as dimestore Marxist. regardless, there's a great deal of interesting material here, although badly organized in this original edition.

A second edition of the game appeared in 2007, cutting out the Fuzion rules in favor of a native game engine. The graphic design and presentation of this material has been more classic and less cartoony. It has been fairly well supported with a number of supplements, including adventures, equipment books, and topic sourcebooks. One of the more interesting is the Faces in the Smoke series which offers many NPCs and plot hooks. This year should also see the release of the first "Victoriana Shattered" books presenting alternate campaign frames. This one will cover The War of the Worlds.

(2003, Victoriana) Growing up my first vivid memories of The War of the Worlds was the 1953 film, which indelibly set my image for the book and the Martians themselves. It wasn't actually until I heard Jeff Wayne's musical version of War of the Worlds that I had some sense of the original novel. Wells comes at the tail end of the Victorian period, and there's a certain fascination to seeing how he envisioned an alien invasion taking place versus the high technology of the time. (There's actually a computer game Jeff Wayne's The War of the Worlds oddly based on the album rather than the book). This particular sourcebook offers a way to game the novel. The rulebook actually includes the full text of the book. At the time of publication that might have been a nice incentive, but now with Project Guttenberg books I'm not sure that's value added- especially since it eats up 65 pages of a 112 page book. The actual sourcebook for the Action! system focuses heavily on simulating events from tWotW, with some room for alternate approaches and new materials.