Victoriana, 2nd Edition, Roleplaying Game written by a whole bunch of people and published by Cubicle 7 Entertainment. It is a 388-page product (384 after covers and end papers) with a tight but clean layout and a fair amount of thematic black and white art both period clipart and commissioned.
The game is set in an alternate 19th century, a world that has always had magic and multiple intelligent races, but still managed to end up looking much like our 19th century all the same. The first seventy-odd pages of Victoriana are all about the world, its history and what it is like now (“now” being 1867). There are versions of the real world’s religions, subtly altered to this world, described. The world is quite interesting, being a reflection of our history, with magic cleverly woven into the background.
Victoriana, 2nd edition, uses the Heresy Game Engine for its task resolution system. The Heresy Game Engine is a simply dice pool system, using a pool build from statistic plus skill with a great number of successes being better. More difficult tasks are opposed by ‘black dice’ which are rolled at the same time and cancel successes or by contested rolls. But it is a straightforward enough system and easy enough to use (though it can require a lot of D6s).
Character creation is point-based and a character is framed by their class, race and rank (a game concept that defines a character’s overall advancement). Social rank is more important than race but the races are quite interesting, including fantasy staples (dwarves, eldrin -elves-, ogres) and others (beastmen). Several pieces of the character creation system are designed to encourage thinking about how a character will fit into the game world
The styles of magic are tied to the setting and divided into various schools and paths: spiritualism, thaumaturgy (classical magic), petty (natural) magic, runelore, and two “villainous” schools, demonology and necromancy. But magic can be dangerous, spells can go wrong and the dark schools will corrupt the user unless the user is very careful.
There is a fair amount of advice for a games master including suggested campaign styles, ideas for set pieces and potential problems and solutions. An extensive section on non-player characters is provided, along with sample characters each with a story hook, and a small variety of creatures. The system is designed to allow players to have the ability to manipulate their character’s place in the world through fate (which manipulate dice) and scripting points (which manipulate the story).
A scenario -a “Penny Dreadful” as they are called in Victoriana- for new characters, “Spiritual Matters” is included to introduce new players to the game. A set of appendices includes conversion notes from 1st edition, creating experienced characters and a long list of useful source material. An index (always useful) and a character sheet finishes off the book.
Victoriana is a solid system and the setting a fascinating mirror to our history (though some might find the occasional politics expressed left leaning). However, it is the Victorian Era with magic, there is only a very little wild steampunk technology here, so if that is your focus you will have to wait for a future expansion. Overall, if this is a period you are interested in, this book is an excellent resource even if you do not use the system it is a superb reference and source of ideas for a Victorian styled campaign.
[4 of 5 Stars!]