Hussars in dashing uniforms, swords always ready to duel over an affaire d’honneur; dainty noblewomen in proper décolletage with tiny pistols hidden in their petticoats; enchanting faerie lords seeking the excitement of love among mortal passions; stalwart dwarven craftsmen seeking that great masterwork that will earn them their second name; willowy tall, cat-eyed dragon lords, resplendent in silk robes from far Cathay…
These are staples of R. Talsorian‘s Castle Falkenstein, an RPG set in a Gilded Age that never was. Here you can step back into an alternate version of the Victorian age where magick works side-by-side steam technology and faerie lords rub shoulders with both real and fictional characters from that era. What other game could see your character having High Tea with both Dr. Jules Verne (France’s Science Minister) and Captain Nemo? Or solve mysteries with a still little-known Sherlock Holmes and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle? Steampunk only begins to describe the setting of this game.
The first almost three-quarters of the full-color rulebook immerses you in the world of Castle Falkenstein, via a story narrated by Tom Olam, a computer game artist who finds himself spellnapped into an alternate history version of Victorian Europe, called New Europa. The story is entertaining and makes a good introduction to all things Falkenstein. In addition to describing the politics, history and geography of New Europa (which differ fair amount from our own European history), he gives you an introduction to important NPCs, magick and techology, as well as glimpses of society and the rules that govern it. And does it in a way that makes it very accessible and far more entertaining than most settings rather dry description of details.
In Castle Falkenstein you create a Dramatic Character, which can be anything that would fit into a Victorian setting, and then some. You can play anyone from an anarchist, to a nobleman, adventuress, explorer, scientist, or writer. You’ll want to be careful to create a character that has a reason for exploring the unknown and participating in Great Adventures, though, because it would be to create a character extremely appropriate to the setting, but who has no reason to venture beyond his or her drawing room. If a more exotic character is to your taste, with your Host’s (the game’s term for GM) permission, you could play a member of one of the fey courts, a dwarf, a sorcerer, or even a dragon.
No need to track down fancy character sheets here; your Dramatic Character is described in words, rather than numbers. The game suggests you write your character’s backstory before you worry about mechanics. You’re expected to keep a character Diary, a “logbook of the Character’s lives and times in the world of the Steam Age, a storybook in which he or she is the Main Character,” (pg. 154). This can be daunting to players without a writing bent, but the book tries to make it easier by giving you a list of questions to answer in your Diary. By the time you’ve worked your way through the list, you should have pretty good handle on your character concept.
After that, you go on describe your character, both in looks and in abilities. You also need to chose a Grand Passion ( something your character would pursue above all things), a Nemesis (something (s)he battles, such as a sworn enemy), and a Goal (something (s)he strives for). Finally, you choose three goals: one Social, one Professional, one Avocational.
The actual mechanics of character creation take up less than half a page and involve picking abilities that your character is Great, Good, and Poor at (these are official game terms). Any other ability you haven’t named is considered to be Average, the default level. The abilities are divided into groups that correspond to playing card suits. And that leads us to the…
Because no respectable Victorian Age person would ever play at dice, the game uses playing cards to resolve combat and skill challenges. You’ll need two complete decks (including Jokers) of regular playing cards. One is the Fortune Deck, the other is the Sorcery Deck, so the two should be easy to tell apart.
Each player begins the game with a Fortune Hand of four cards. Players play cards to increase their chances of succeeding at any particular action (called “Feats” within the game). The process goes like this:
The cards of a Fortune Hand can’t be discarded–they have to be used in a Feat to get rid of them. Once cards are used, they’re immediately shuffled back into the Fortune Deck and the Host deals the player new cards to replace those used.This system allows for some strategy when it comes to resolving Feats, which is great for players with really bad dice luck.
The combat system is basically a series of contested Feats and I won’t go into it or the Sorcery mechanics here. The mechanics may feel a little weird at first, but are easy to catch onto once you’ve been through them a couple of times.
As far as I can tell, the core book is out of print, as are most of it’s supplements. Used copies are going for $50 on Amazon, but you can get PDF versions of the core rules and all six of it’s supplements from DriveThru RPG at $16 for the core rules and $8.50-$10.00 each for the supplements.
Other From the Basement Posts
This is the first of a new post series where talk about my favorite RPG blogs and sites. There’s no particular significance to the order I review things — it’s more of a “who’s on my mind right now”. And these aren’t intended to be reviews, per se–I’m not going to critique the sites. It’s much more like the old Pyramid Magazine’s “Gee, we wish we’d done that” column, for those of you who’ve been gaming long enough to remember Pyramid when it was available in print.
Today’s site is Game Knight Reviews. As you can guess by the name, this site focuses on reviews of game products. From print to e-books to game-related services, if you’re wondering about a specific product, you can probably find a review of it at GKR. If it’s not up yet, it will be sometime. In addition to game reviews, though, they have interviews with prominent members of the RPG community and (my favorite bits) news from the RPG world. It’s really nice to have game news gathered into a single source, since I simply don’t have time to read tons of the wonderful blogs out there, much as I’d like to.
Oh, and did I mention they’ve got some pretty cool art on their header graphic? [Hopefully Fitz won't mind that I also stole his logo for this post...]
Abandoned gold mines. Orc raiders. Cave-ins and a dark, mysterious past. Gold Strike! the winner of 6d6 Fireball‘s Autumn Adventure Writing Competition brings us that and more.
This d20/D&D 3.x adventure sends three to five 4th – 6th level characters down an abandoned gold mine to rescue a group of miners trapped by a cave-in. But as is often the case with adventures, things are not completely what they seem. I’m going to do my best to review this without giving spoilers. This review is based on a playtest my group and I did of the adventure.
The setting of the adventure is one I don’t see used a lot in fantasy adventures — a mine cave-in. Much of the challenge of the adventure comes from being in an unstable and very deep cave environment. This was a refreshing change from fighting drow and deep cave monsters. The monster encounters that adventure did have were, on the whole, appropriately challenging and made sense.
I give big kudos to the person who designed the layout of the PDF. It may seem a minor thing, but this is the first adventure I’ve run in a quite a while where I didn’t spend half the gaming time flipping pages to reference on thing or another. I loved having the little maps next to the descriptions of an area.
The side notes listing the skill checks needed for any particular event were a real help, as were having the encounter tables in the adventure’s margin. The wide left margin also gave me plenty of room to write corrections and notes. The layout was so helpful, I’ll be looking for other adventures published by 6d6 Fireball on the basis of that alone. And the addition of core book page numbers for monsters, treasure, and other things the DM might want to reference is a very welcome addition.
The names. While the NPCs are well-suited to the adventure, my group had a field day with their names. Even I had a hard time saying some of them with a straight face. “Junior” was fine, if a bit odd in a fantasy setting. “Jumpy” and “Furd” were harder, but even I lost it when it came to “Bark”, “Mourne”, and “Bonksi”.
Also, some class or skill suggestions would’ve been nice in the GM notes. The play test party consisted of a rogue, a barbarian/fighter, and a warlock, all non-dwarves and all 5th level. Not a survival skill among them and the party should have either a dwarf or someone skilled with either dungeoneering or underground survival. And some check DCs seemed rather high. At one point, the PCs are asked to make a DC 2 4 Survival check, which seems a little high for 4-6th level characters.
The adventure could also use some more consistency checking. At one point the PCs approach a camp with the description “The fire you saw in the distance is hidden by the stone walls.” If it’s hidden by the walls, how can the PCs have seen it in the distance? At another point a tunnel is described as being 6′ high and 2′ wide, but further down, it’s described as being “less than 4′ tall.”
The point to remember here is that this is a playtest version of the adventure. It’s going to have inconsistencies and imbalances until playtesting is complete. There are quibbles, but no major flaws — there’s nothing in this adventure that couldn’t be cleaned up after a few rounds of playtesting.
On the whole, I think this is a great adventure idea. Both my players and myself enjoyed the change of pace from the usual “fight monsters, steal treasure” underground adventures. While there are still some problems to be ironed out, they’re changes that can be easily made before the final version is printed. The sequence of events is interesting and logical.
The layout of the adventure itself is definitely not ugly. It’s one of the easiest adventure printings I’ve ever used, keeping page turning to a minimum, whether that’s in the adventure itself or in the core rulebooks.
On the whole, I recommend this adventure. Recongnize that it’s a playtest document and either make notes or tweak the adventure accordingly.
Oh, and be sure to brush up on multiple skill checks and survival skills before you go.
This review is part of the Game Cryer Holiday Gift Guide.
Running combat in d2o/3.x systems is no task for the faint-hearted. Multiple characters, each with their own initiative, spells, delayed actions, held actions, potions, magic items … whew! It’s a lot to keep track of and it’s easy to forget who goes after whom … oh, and when does that spell take affect, again? No wonder so many GMs resort to laptops to keep track of who’s doing what and when.
But what about those of us without laptops? Luckily, Paizo.com has a solution for us, too. Called their “Combat Pad“, this sturdy magnetic board takes much of the drudgery out of keeping track of combat. Individual magnets allow you to write the names of the PCs, NPCs and monsters in dry or wet-erase pen. You can also take notes directly on the board itself and there’s a large space on provided to do just that.
The center “column” is numbered down the side allowingyou to place character/monster magnets near the number corresponding to each N/PC’s initiative roll. Is one PC readying or holding an action? Just move his magnet to the appropritate column on the right-hand side. Then once the character uses his held action, just move his magnet to the new initiative order number. No more “When did you come in last round?”
The line of numbers across the top allows you to keep track of what round you’re currently in. I also use it to note what round a spell goes off and what round it finishes. After many years of trying to keep track of it in my head or on scraps of paper, this is a very welcome addition to the product.
First of all, large notes section. It allows me to track hit points as well as combat rounds. Secondly, the rounds tracker, which I mentioned above. The fact that it’s magnetic means I don’t have to worry if the cat decides to take a short-cut across my notes during combat.
I generally use wet-erase markers (I’m always dragging my hand through what I write, so dry-erase for me ends up being one big blur) and both the magnets and the board come clean with a damp cloth or paper towel. And when I say clean, I mean clean. No color residue left. The different colors of magnets — blue for PCs, green for NPCs and black for monsters — makes it easy to tell at a glance which you’re dealing with right now. The board comes with a good number of magnets, but if you lose some or find you need more, Paizo offers an extra magnet pack.
I also like the size. While a larger board would allow for more notes, the current 81/2″ x 11″ fits easily into my game notebook. Which means I can carry it with me wherever I’m running. A big bonus, since our group tends to rotate hosting the game. And it works for more than d20; I’ve used it with my Vampire: the Masquerade game with the same success.
The price tag for this product — $16.95 — is very reasonable. The extra magnet pack is $7.95. It’s a great gift for that special GM.
I stumbled across this ‘zine while checking out my stats. They did a very nice write-up of my adventure creation with the 6 W’s post (Thanks!). If you’re looking for all things conspiracy-related, this ‘zine is a must. I love playing with conspiracies (probably too much for my players’ own good ) and I’ll definitely be using this as a resource. The magazine’s in full color and best of all — it’s free!