Game: The Smoke: 1867 Edition
Publisher: Heresy Gaming
Review Dated: 8th, July 2005
Reviewer’s Rating: 8/10 [ Really good ]
Total Score: 8
Average Score: 8.00
This is fitting. It’s terribly unusual to be reviewing a supplement like The Smoke: 1867 Edition as it covers Victorian London. I was working on this review on July the 7th 2005 when our own London was hit by a series of terrorist bombs. Through the chance of one cancelled meeting I was not in my seat on the Kings Cross train which was due into the station at the time of the blast. RPGs are nothing on real life but it does seem appropriate to be reflecting on the history of a city. London has seen such strife and recovered, returned and reinvested itself with such strength again and again.
The Smoke: 1867 is a Victoriana supplement and therefore we expect a lot from it. Victoriana is a flavour rich steampunk-esq fantasy version of Victorian England. In fact, as it happens this was about the time that the Metropolitan Underground Railway was born (it really was that long ago) . The Tube, as its known today, is a great source of adventure. Many stations were abandoned after 1930 and so in addition to today’s climate of defiance there is that extra mystique and suspense.
This is not a crunchy supplement. The Smoke: 1867 is a historic and current flavour gazetteer of Victoriana London at the time and of its history. In fact The Smoke goes back to year 42 when Londinium was founded by the Romans. It’s surprising to see how little London’s history needs to be changed to make it fit snugly into the heart of an exciting fantasy/steampunk game. Boadicea, of the Iceni tribe, still sacked the city but for Victoriana purposes she was the leader of a tribe of particularly canny ogres. As we move forward in time it’s remarkably easy – and interesting – to assign Victoriana style historical twists to those key London events.
Victoriana is about, at times, the social wrongs of the time and our player characters’ reaction to that. In 1834 we had the infamous Poor Laws passed where the poor were treated almost as badly as criminals – worse in some cases. Yet there are times when we have to challenge our 21st century perspective on things. Is a doctor who takes a new born child away from his unmarried and poor mother a villain or his he a saint? It might sound wrong to us now but at the time the doctor was going out of his way to help an unfortunate child. We don’t have stats for Doctors or Poor House Wardens in The Smoke: 1876. There’s no new rules for Tube Tunnel Fighters and I suspect if that’s the sort of gaming asset you were hoping to find in this supplement that you’ll be disappointed but I also suspect you’ll be unlikely to be looking at a Victoriana supplement in the first place.
I think 1867 is a great year to stop the spotlight on. Let’s look at the Government at the time – it’s Conservative. The Prime Minister is the Earl of Derby. I think that will speak volumes to many gamers. The Prime Minister is an Earl? Doesn’t that wonderfully and succinctly sum up the class system of the time? Better still, for me, the Chancellor of the Exchequer is none other than Benjamin Disraeli. Disraeli is one of the most famous PM’s from the United Kingdom’s past – although, back in 1850 you would have struggled to believe that. Disraeli had a successful marriage and once said he married for money – to which his wife replied; “Ah! but if you had to do it again, you would do it for love.” Victoriana can so wonderfully blend politics, with social drama and dangerous criminal underworlds.
If the politics of the era don’t interest you then harsh conflict between the classes and organizations like the police might. The Smoke: 1876 caters to this well. We’ve charts which cover issues like police presence and then police response time. If you’ve a mental image of an English policeman in a cloak and large hat blowing on his whistle to summon others to the scene of a crime then you’re spot on. Though are you imagining the policeman has a dwarf?
London is a maze of a city. It’s old enough to ensure that there are many different neighborhoods and districts. Whereas The Smoke: 1876 doesn’t run through them all it visits all the interesting ones. Places like Whitechapel (Jack the Ripper) have dramatis personae as well as great scenes and set locations for plot bits. In fact that’s how The Smoke: 1986 works. You’re given interesting tit-bit of London and left to weave that into a story of your own. That works for me.
To say that The Smoke was restricted just to London would be to undersell the supplement. The PDF escapes the Smoke and tours the rest of the United Kingdom. It’s important not to say that The Smoke tours the rest of England because the supplement reaches further than that. I said it was rare to review a book about London but it’s even rare to read about my home city of Edinburgh or Glasgow – described as the second city of the Empire. James the VI of Scotland inherited the title of James I of England which was a seismic step in uniting the two countries. I suspect there is much gaming to be had in Scottish conflict in The Smoke in the Victoriana setting.
The Smoke is an extremely well laid out and presented PDF. The art and illustration is superb. I believe on Victoriana’s under-stated assets is its visual appeal; you can play an Eldrin (elf) lady in a regal ball gown or an ogre thug is a bowler cap. The Victoriana preview remains popular on GameWyrd to this day because of the attention on the artwork.
In summary it’s easy to describe The Smoke: 1876 as a tour through the greatest city of the time. It’s a tour in wonderful roleplaying detail. We’ve old maps. We’ve plot locations and interesting NPCs to meet. This is an extended background setting with a splash of new rules (like Klockmocher’s clockworks) and a heap of ideas. There’s little doubt in my mind that
The Smoke gets the thumbs up.