originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2011/08/02-
To a lot of today’s gamers, the mention of the Victorian era brings to mind fantastic clockwork machines and aviator goggles. But for whatever reason, the steampunk version of the Victorian era never appealed to me the way the Victorian world of Sherlock Holmes did. To me, Victorian era has enough character that it doesn’t need magical steam powered devices to make it interesting… which brings us to Victoriana, by Cubicle 7 Entertainment. It’s a Victorian era RPG where demihumans exist and magic is real. Is this alternative Victorian world worth exploring, or are you better off going elsewhere for your Victorian fix? Let’s find out as we take a look at Victoriana.
The first thing you notice about Victoriana is how beautiful and thematic the presentation is. The typeface is appropriate for the era. The artwork is comprise of nothing but black and white pieces. Some are modern creations with a Victorian influence, while others are straight from the Victorian era. The two sources are used well and creates a very attractive package.
If your knowledge is of the Victorian era is limited, you have nothing to worry about. The book provides you with a wealth of information. The social order of the time is broken down by class. The political & legal systems are explained. Society’s views on women are covered. The technological level of the times it touched on as well, with a handy time of when various items and concepts were invented to help keep your game as anachronistic as possible. Religion is covered in detail as well. This is one area that the world of Victoriana varies greatly than our own. Alumunat is the main religion of Europe but bares similarities to Christianity, but the book is quick to point out it is not Christianity though. Ismal is the religion of Arabia, but is not identical to Islam. When reading the descriptions, you feel the influence of their real world counter parts but they are not identical. These real world inspired fantasy religions help give the world a unique feel, without detracting from the Victorian flavor.
The book is very England centric, and most games are expected to be played in England, London specifically. While most games will take place in London, Cubicle 7 realized this and fleshed out the rest of the world. Details are given about all of the European and Asian empires, as well as Africa, Australian, and America. The population and class distributions are given for the afore mentioned areas, with a historical overview. Enough information is provided so you can adventure in any country, but you won’t find the same level of cultural and societal detail that was provided about England.
With all this talk of Victorian history, you may be wondering how dwarves, gnomes, and ogres among others fit in the game world. In most fantasy settings the various races have their own kingdoms and cultures, in the Victoriana that’s not the case. The other races have been integrated into society for ages so they have been assimilated in to human society. While each race has their own tendencies and quirks, they are not as segregated as in your typical fantasy. The world of Victoriana perfectly blends real world history with fantasy and magical elements. You’ll find it familiar enough that it feels like you’re playing on Earth, even though you have dwarves and gnomes hanging out at the local pub.
Now we will discuss the game itself. Victoriana is based on the Hersey system. The Hersey system is a die pool system, the value of a given attribute or skill represents the number of 6 sixed dice you roll when using it. You then count the number of dice that come up “1” or “6”. This total represents your number of successes. That number is then compared to the difficultly level of the task. If you have more success than required for that level of difficulty, you succeed. If not you failed. The greater the difference, the greater your success or failure was. Also, the character creation process is a point based one. You are given x amount of points to purchases your skills, talents and other features. If you’ve only played D20 systems, this may seem strange at first. It’s a fairly simple concept one you start playing with it and you be able to catch on fairly quickly.
In Victoriana, there are not character classes as you may be used to. You do not pick a class that resembles a profession, like Thief. Instead you pick your social class. And this is the most important choice you’ll make in the entire character creation process. You social class determines what races you can be, what assets, skills, privileges and occupations are available to you, the various social classes even modify your attributes. Example, Upper Class characters take a -1 to their Fortitude since they lead sheltered lives, while lower class characters, but have the best assets and privileges, while the lower class characters get +1 fortitude and have a wider variety of occupations available, most of which the upper class would never be caught dead doing. The third and final social class is middle class, and they balance both worlds, receiving no attribute bonus but little in the way of restrictions that that are possessed by either the upper or lower class. Social class will also limit your racial choices as well. Dwarves cannot be upper class, while Eldren cannot be lower class. So when I say this is your most important choice, I’m not lying. Social class affects most of your choices during the entire character creation process.
Now you determine your race. Humans, Eldren, Dwarves, Gnomes, Ogres and Beastmen populate the world in Victoriana. They are what you would expect. Ogres are strong but gullible, dwarves tough and stubborn. Gnomes like tinkering and Eldren are fragile and into the arts. The beastmen however are unique. In your typical fantasy game a race of bear people are one race, while a race of tiger people would be another. Here they are all lumped together in one race called beastmen. And instead of giving a list of specific animals you can choose from, it’ provides guidelines you can use to create beastmen of any animal. This is a nice touch, just in case you ever want to play a race of weaselmen.
Your race determines your staring attributes and you are given 3 bonus dice to assign to any attribute you see if. Each race also has an upper attribute limits as well, so be mindful not to exceed when assigning your bonus dice.
Now we are at the point where we start fleshing out the details of our character. First we pick our skills from a list that will cover most facets of Victorian life. If you at a loss for the type of skills a certain occupation would have, there is an expansive list of potential professions, with the skills and social class required each. Now I know if I wanted my lower class weaselman to be a drummer boy, he would need to take athletics, fisticuffs, instrument (drums) and tactics. The occupation list really helps you focus on a specific character concept, and is a nice addition to the skill section.
Next we chose our talents. These are innate abilities and in some ways remind me of feats from the D20 system. They give you various situational bonus or abilities. Some will give you different combat bonuses, other will help you with spellcasting, and then some will fall under the other category. Example, my drummer boy weaselman is going to take “Drink Like A Fish”. This gives him a bonus to avoid intoxication. There are fewer talent choices than skills, but there is enough variety in the talents list that you’ll find a few to fit most character concepts.
Now that we have determined our drummer boy weaselman is a drunken lush, we now get to determine his social connections, when we pick his privileges. These could grant him membership into a social club, connections to a street gang , a medical license, or other socialial conections. In his case he’s a pub regular. So thanks to the Pub Regular privilege, he has good relations with the patrons and the barkeep of a tavern.
So we’ve established our drunken weaselman has a favorite pub, but he can’t sleep there. So this is where assets come in. Assets are more expensive things a character may own. They can be livestock, property, or a nice wardrobe. There are class restrictions however, so no nice wardrobe for our drunken weaselman. Instead he’ll settle for a Padded Ken Tenement. In other words he owns a slum tenement. Yes our drunken drummer boy weaselman is a slumlord.
Just because he’s a lush of a slumlord doesn’t mean he’s friendless. So we now pick his contacts. Contacts are specific people that your character knows that would lend assistance to them. Usually this involves pick a vocation and that is the line of work of your contact. Your GM would then flesh out their specific details. We’ll say our slumlord weasel has a cabby friend since he’s used cabs a few too many times, when he couldn’t find his way home from the pub.
And now we are at the last choice me must make for our character, complications. Complications are negative traits that give you extra points to buy skills, increase your attributes, ect. These can be such things as a missing limb, a glass jaw or an annoying housemate. These add a little bit of extra flavor to your character. While you’re not required to take one, I’d recommend it because it helps give your character even more depth. Our drunken slumlord weaselman’s complication will be annoying neighbors, named Roderick and Richard Johnson. That’s what he gets for living in his own slum tenement.
The final section involving character creations discusses fleshing out the minor details, like place of birth, personality, and name. A nice list of Victorian era names are provided to help you pick something thematic, instead of say Cody or heaven forbid, Captain Amazo. And for those curious, weasleman’s name is Mortimer Plumtree.
Character creation is fairly simple in Victoriana. There is some bookkeeping involved since it is a point buy system, but it’s not that difficult. Most of your time will be deciding your characters attributes and abilities, instead of bookkeeping. I do recommend looking through the entire character creation section if you have specific concept in mind. If you are not careful you may end up selecting the wrong social class and find yourself blocked out of the specific talents or skills you want.
So we talked about what Victoriana the player, what about the GM? Well Victoriana’s GM section is rules and game mechanics light, while it does touch on the mechanical aspects of the game, it’s main focus is storytelling. It offers suggestions on types of campaigns you can run, how to set the mood, and even how to handle the different archetypes of gamers. Different encounters and plot hooks given as well. I really like the emphasis put on setting the mood and telling a compelling story. When playing in a historical setting, I think story is important. It’s not like you’re going to send your players in a dungeon to retrieve the McGuffen, and have them hack their way through waves of mooks. The plot ususally requires more depth to truly capture the feel and Cubical 7 really makes that known with the focus on story telling.
Even though Victoriana is a game where story is the focus, they still give you a list of monsters for your players to combat. The list is thematic for the setting, with Lycanthropes and Vampires present. Ghouls and ghost appear, as well as mummies and zombies. So you’re classic horror bases are covered. You could easily use this system to run a gothic horror game.
A mini adventure is provided, entitled Spiritual Matters. It starts off as what seems to be a simple fetch the object for a Lord, but evolves into something much more sinister. It makes for nice quick adventure to run, and makes for an example of the type of stories the designers envision being told with Victoriana.
And one more thing to note is at the back of the book is a suggested reading list for those wanting to go deeper into the Victorian era. It has a nice mix of Victorian ficton and non-ficton books covering the Victorian period. This is something I miss in current RPG books that was present in 1st Edition AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide and other books from that period. But unlike the list of old that consisted of only books, Victoriana goes a step further and also gives you a list of films set in the Victorian era and a list of Victorian Artist. Anyone with an interest in Victorian history should give this section a look.
If you are into roleplaying and want to try a Victorian campaign, Victoriana is worth picking up. It’s a beautiful book that overflows with enough content that you don’t have to be a Victorian expert to run a successful campaign. The game system is different from the D20 base game systems, but should be easily picked up by most gamers. The only caveat is don’t think because it’s a Victorian game it’s also steampunk. It’s not. Also long as you don’t expect it to be something, that it is not, you’ll find Victoriana is an enjoyable game system worth picking up.
[5 of 5 Stars!]