Publisher: Heresy Gaming
Series: Victoriana: Fuzion
Review Dated: 17th, July 2003
Reviewer’s Rating: 9/10 [ Something special ]
Total Score: 28
Average Score: 7.00
This is good. This is very good. I’ve been able to watch interest in Victoriana rise. It was first pointed out to me by a gamer who wanted to spread the word. GameWyrd has lucky enough to host some previews of the game and they’ve been popular. There’s hype and then there’s the snowballing of interest that occurs naturally when something new looks promising. Victoriana enjoyed the latter. Thankfully, Victoriana lives up to expectations. Did I mention it was good, very good?
The book is a satisfying 300+ pages and although we’re only given soft covers we treated to wonderful illustrations, good text size and density. I can see people buying two copies of the book: one to use, one to keep.
The setting couldn’t be richer, a fantasy version of Victorian England. There’s no need to use “dark fantasy” as a description because the real Victorian England was a dark place. Actually, the setting is wider than that; the book looks at the whole world, from the European powers, Africa and America. The Victoriana twist is everywhere. The twist? Fantasy races and magic are real. The character races include beastmen, eldren (elf), dwarfs, gnomes, halflings, human and ogres. There are other races and monsters too. The British and Prussians use mechanical Ornithopter in their aerial cavalry and the French and Russians are notable for riding Wyverns in their aerial cavalry. There’s a great drawing of a dwarf pilot in his ornithopter in the foreground and a wyvern rider with a menacing gatling gun looming in the background.
Oh dear. It’s easy to get distracted when the book is sitting here right beside me. It’s so easy to get sucked in and just start to flick pages and reading again. The game is not just about the fantasy races. Whereas many RPGs begin by talking about the races active in their world and the relations between them, Victoriana gets the ball rolling by looking at the class structure. Class structure is everything. The upper class are the nobility, those who live in utopian luxury and who intend to keep it that way, the lower class face a daily struggle just to survive in squalor and filth and the middle classes range from the rich professional to the junior officers in the army. Gender is important too. The upper class wouldn’t dream of burdening the fairer sex to the stresses and strain of an education. Much of the Victorian way of life would be abhorrent today. It’s corrupt and wrong. The game asserts an early premise that the player characters think so as well. This defiance of the norm is what brings the PC group together and which serve well to keep them together. It would be possible to have a group of Gutter Runners (the term given to these social rebels) where there’s an eldren noble lady, a gnome doctor and a rat beastman. The book begins with an engaging flavour story which brings such characters together. They later appear as sample characters.
You don’t have to know about Victorian England to play the game. It’s all explained. If you’ve a real interest in history then the Victoriana twist makes for a marvellous read and may even refer to real life facts you didn’t know. You’d have to be shamefully resistant to anything that’s not high fantasy to actually dislike reading Victoriana’s portrait of the gaming world. In fact, Victoriana enjoys nice Hollywood timing as it comes out between the film adaptations of Alan Moore’s From Hell and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Victorian graphic novels. These films and novels make it easy to get to grips with the setting but they’re not needed, Victoriana has everything.
Victoriana enjoys science and magic. Super science is rare but possible, wonder machines like Jules Verne’s Nautilus could feature in the game but they’re going to be as impressive and awe inspiring as a potent magic ritual lighting up the sky. This is great. We get the best of both worlds. Developments in science can push the plot forward just as strongly as magical menaces will. Magic has been suppressed in the Victoriana world. The Aluminat Church teaches that Jutus, who died for our sins and rose again, preached scorn on the Roman use of magic from their Dark Gods and that his own healing magic came from the One True God. In the 16th century, long after the Church had secured its domination of Europe, after an incident in Hapsburg, the Aluminat Church began the Thirty Year War to root out and destroy magic users. Only the Guild remained and it was initially composed of those witches and warlocks who successfully hidden from this purge. If you check the chart of typical sentences for crimes you’ll find that the unlicensed use of sorcery results in 2 years detention at a guild oubliette. The Guild isn’t hiding any more. It’s the organisation that monitors, controls and sponsors magic and magicians. Necromancy and Demonology are both capital crimes, death by public hanging. When Charles Babbage explained his idea of a computing engine to would-be investors he was laughed at but the Guild leapt at the chance and sponsored him. The Difference Engine is due out next year.
Next year will be 1868. Victoriana is set exactly at 1867 and this is important. Although there’s magic and gnomes in this world the history of Victoriana matches our own. In 1871 a law was pasted in England that demanded all children receive an education. That’s not happened yet in the game world, lower class children won’t have any education; it’s only 1867. In 1867 Britain was at war in the Crimea and so is Victoriana’s Britain. The difference is, this time round, the two sides might just be going at each other with wolf beastmen, sniper halflings and even canon carrying giants. It’s a good call. It places the game just at the infancy of the industrial revolution whereas an unspecified Victorian time would probably carry the assumption of a later date. GMs will have to decide whether to let the calendar roll on to 1868 if game play takes it there or whether they should adopt a time-fussy attitude and keep the year 1867 no matter how long the game goes on for.
Victoriana uses the Fuzion system. You don’t need to know Fuzion (which other games use) before you open up this RPG. Character generation is especially easy and the book is able to provide a succinct seven-step summary. Character class is the first thing you’ll decide. The default races for upper class are human or eldren, add gnomes and dwarf for middle class and the addition of halfling and ogre opens up the full spectrum of player races for the lower class. Upper class isn’t about money, it’s about breeding and therefore you’re not likely to find an Upper class beastman. Fuzion is a tried and tested set of game mechanics, it is a point based, uses skills, primary and derived characteristics. There’s no “character class” but there is a selection of past careers to pick from. The inherent social class of Victoriana remains in play throughout chargen. Skills and careers clearly labelled as being suitable for supper, middle or lower class characters. If you’re playing a female character then the skills you can pick from are specially marked. Clearly, Gamesmasters can overrule the rules.
Victoriana gets it right. The book talks about Gamesmasters, not Game Masters, it’s a small thing but it put a smile on my face. Much of the less formal writing puts a smile on my face. It might be a British humour thing. “The basic requirements for Victoriana are mercifully minimal”, “A table, large enough to seat all participants is always handy. However, the floor provided a large surface area for those without a big table and no back trouble.” or “Roll a die. The number on the top is the result, hardly rocket science!” That sampling is just from the “What You Need to Play” section.
The game mechanics half of the book gets it right too. Combat is swift and easy. It copes with the unique blend of traditional melee weapons, pistols, rifles and the steampunk styled technology such as multi-barrelled or repeating guns. There’s game mechanic support for a host of other dangers too, notably essentials like the ever-present disease and drugs of Victorian England. I was particularly pleased to find rules for chases and driving. Like’s have a Handsome Cab chase through Whitechapel after Jack the Ripper.
Magic ability might be rare in Victoriana but it’s not under supported in the rules. That said, I’d be pleased if future supplements carry some more spells and pad out the sorcery lists a little. In addition to the different schools of sorcery the rules support Medium characters.
Victoriana’s large enough to use internal books as well as chapters. Book One describes the setting, Book Two the rules and systems and Book Three is there for the Gamesmasters. The Supporting Cast chapter provides stats for society NPCs, people from the country, Outsiders (like steppegoblin and giants), a beastiary and monsters. The difference between beastiary and monsters is that the former might just be biological entities and the latter the supernatural entities.
Much of Victoriana’s charm is the refreshing setting but this could also be a problem too. What? No dungeons? (Actually, there are plenty of dungeons – jail was a horrible place back then). There’s a whole chapter dedicated to Running the Game. Newbies will appreciate the help and veteran gamers (who I think are most likely to be attracted to Victoriana) will find genuinely useful too.
There’s a sample adventure to get you going. You’ll want to get going with Victoriana. It’s one of those games that inspire you. Victoriana will grab you, have you playing it and experiencing fresh faced gaming enthusiasm all over again.
Even the character sheet is great.