Since I normally develop my own settings, few products give me a desire to drop my current game in favor of something new. Space 1889 is a perfect example of such a game. The concept of colonial, Victorian England in space and Liftwood ships over Mars was too juicy to pass over. Another was Solomon Kane dealing with horror in the 1600s. I forced these games upon my players for the shear joy of Game Mastering the setting. I have a new entry in that small list. A super hero game placed in 19th century London: The Kerberos Club from Arc Dream Publishing.
The reason: the Victorian Era is as rich in history and change as it is in literature and invention. The War of 1812, The American Civil War, and the Crimean War changed forever the way nation fought nation while inventions like the railroad, telegraph, photography, gas light, cars and even aircraft changed the very fabric of society. Science grew into the discipline we know today with Universities and companies devoting ever increasing resources to new discoveries. Occultism and Secret Societies became popular as it seemed there was no limit to what man could understand and do and no mystery too deep to uncover.
The 1800s saw the rise in power of the USA along with its breaking, remaking, and expansion from coast to coast. It was the era of the cowboy, the end of slavery, and the first powered flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.
In England, it was a century of overall peace and prosperity often referred to as Pax Britannia with England being the dominant sea power of the day. In fine Savage Setting tradition, The Kerberos Club takes this history and twists it by introducing The Strangeness as an unseen force that warps and changes those it touches.
The book exhibits good atmosphere from the beginning with a blending of magic, invention, industry, and occultism into a recipe that's almost too rich to digest. There's enough source material for a research paper complete with sources and footnotes. In fact, I suspect the majority of complaints about this work is the fact it includes too much source material.
The question for the grousers becomes do you wish to game a 21st persona in 19th century England? If so more than half the book will be wasted. But if you enjoy playing a super sleuth in Sherlock Holmes' London, or love the works of H. G. Wells and want to pit your might against invaders from Mars, or want the thrill of bringing Jack the Ripper to justice then this is the supplement for you.
The game's concept and name come for an enigmatic organization of those touched by strangeness and altered from normalcy. The characters band together for mutual protection and the common purpose of defending humanity in general and England more specifically. Strangers, as the non-Touched call them, have an affliction that is not spoken of in polite company and is shunned by most of society. The Kerberos Club exists to give the Touched a safe haven while using what gifts they have to help Queen and country.
The time frame in which your game begins affects how those around you react. Near the beginning of the 19th century, The Strangeness is well hidden from the common folk. You might hear a old wife's tale come to life here and there but most people are blissfully ignorant of the shadow world around them.(X-files)
As the 1850's come and go Strangers are more common and some Strangeness is accepted as readily as the great inventions of the day. In this era people don't interacted with the Touched unless necessary but they are known to exist and are considered oddities much like circus freaks(X-men)
In the third era The Strangeness is so common it's simply accepted as an everyday part of life. The Touched go about in costumes to protect their real identities and governments begin to pass laws concerning the Stranger's acceptable activities.(Justice League International)
The Kerberos Club uses the Savage Worlds Superhero Companion as it base rule set which, in turn, uses the Savage Worlds Explorers Edition as its base rule set. If you don't own either of the Pinnacle Entertainment Group books you might consider the non-Savage version of the Kerberos Club which requires Wild Talents from Arc Dream Publishing to play. I'm more comfortable with the Savage Worlds rules and so that's my obvious choice but other may balk at the need for two additional books to enjoy Victorian supers.
For the Savages there are new edges (such as Stiff Upper Lip and Unflappable), hindrances (such as Black Sheep and Skittish), gear, and powers (such as Omni Super Skill) along with statistics for the non-Touched you might run into. The book contains a full set of villains and allies and suggestions for ways to turn the allies into villains should you desire.
The book is divided into eight sections covering almost 300 pages. The introduction is enough to whet anyone's appetite for supers adventuring in the Victorian era. It contains an extensive reference section citing Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen as well as a number of other RPGs that capture the century well.
The book then dives into The Kerberos Club itself describing the building, occupants, devices, laboratories, and libraries. There is an amusing sidebar discussing the servants and their daily battles to keep the Club running. This section gives a feel for the brotherhood and lifestyles inside the club.
Class and social status played great roles in 19th century England. There was a great distinction between the Upper, Middle, and Lower classes. Luckily the Kerberos Club scandalously allows the Touched of any class to mingle freely. Even more scandalously the Club allows female members and even, heaven help us, the Irish.
Missions received by the club come in the form a favor asked or given with three distinct levels of involvement:
“Looking into things” generally involves investigating some report of an odd occurrence that might involve Strangeness.
“Meddling” involves getting into the affairs of something or someone that needs to be set straight.
Lastly “Dirty Tricks” involves some level of destruction for the greater good (being defined as the Kerberan on the scene).
Once the reader is familiar with the Club, they are introduced to Victorian life. This section is full of tidbits and plot points to assist in the creation of your character and setting flavor for the GM. Reading this gives great insight into what it is to be a Londoner during the reign of Her Majesty.
Next comes the history of the age with a detailed time line of important events. Plot ideas galore span the years from 1800 to 1902. This important section helps you decide which of the three game eras to use for your game and gives depth to the other countries around the world you might consider for the setting.
A detailed discussion of the city of London follows with game maps and places of interest. It also includes an in-depth discussion of Society and Poverty, Law and Crime, Culture, and Entertainment. There even a section on transportation.
Lastly come the rules and suggestions for character creation, stat blocks and descriptions of the inhabitants of London (both Touched and normal), and a 20 page adventure that should keep you and your players busy for a while.
You can tell the authors love this era. I was amazed by the detail and depth of the book. Do you need all the information to run a supers game in Victorian London? No. You can take a map of the time, pull out your favorite H. G. Wells story and do a decent job of GMing. However, that sort of adventure is only good for a game or two. The information in the supplement allows you to game in this setting for an extended period of time without the need to purchase other add-ons.
Overall I greatly enjoyed the book even though I groaned when I first saw the page count. The histories are fanciful, enjoyable, and detailed. The characters are interesting and exotic as is the Kerberos Club itself. Eventually you'll be saying, "Tonight, I'll be dining at the Club." It is a feast well worth consuming.