Ring Side Report-Concert of Europe

Product-The Concert in Flames

System– Victoriana

Producer– Cubicle 7 Entertainment

Price– ~$20 here http://rpg.drivethrustuff.com/product/138588/Victoriana–The-Concert-in-Flames

TL; DR– Great adventure, but only for the GM. 87%

 

Basics-Can you stop Europe from burning?  An ancient evil is being awoken by a small group trying to upset the tentative balance of Europe and bend a fiend to their will while the fate of the Concert of Europe rides in the balance.  This book also provides GM with extremely detailed notes on the geopolitical standing of the Europe countries in 1856.

 

Mechanics or Crunch-This is NOT an option book, but that doesn’t make it a bad book.  This book adds some new mechanics like new races and a new country specific creature or enemy for each of the different regions discussed.  It’s good, but you should not expect some new options and creatures each page like a player’s option book or monster manual.  The countries do have great write ups describing the make-up of each country, so you can quickly create things like a group of upscale Russians if you need them at a moment’s notice.  The adventure has simple stat blocks for each enemy which will make running the adventure easy and quick.  What’s here is well done, but you cannot go into this one hoping for tons of new crunch.  4.5/5

 

Theme or Fluff- This is where the book truly excels.  Just like the base book, this book could almost be an excellent historical reference if you strip out the steampunk and magic elements.  Each country in 1850’s Europe gets an in-depth write-up.  The adventure itself has a ton of depth as well as a great story for your players to run amuck in.  The story has elements of government intrigue, magic, religion, and some trans-country train adventure.  It’s great steampunk fun. 5/5

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Execution– While the fluff and crunch are great; the execution has a few problems.  There are some art to break up the text, but there are too many pages with just black text on grey background.  This is a classic case of textbook problem.  I do like some the way the book is divided.  But, the font is a bit too small.  And, there is just too much of it. This book also makes an inexcusable error for any fantasy book discussing geography.  There is NO detailed map of Europe!  Nor is there a map of the adventure train routs.  While the countries are basically the same as real world 1856, a better map would have really helped with adventure design and the adventure in the book.  I do like the pictures from the adventure as you get some nice hand drawn pictures of some of the major characters.  All together, this isn’t a badly executed book, but some flaws do hurt the overall presentation. 3.5/5

 

Summary– If you want to take your players across Victoriana Europe, then buying this book is a no brainer.  GM’s get all the information they need to make each European country feel distinct from one another with far more depth than there is in the base Victoriana book.  If you want crunch options, then this book isn’t for you.  The adventure in this book is a fun romp across Europe as the players try to keep the Concert of Europe from falling apart.  If that’s the kind of adventure you and your players want to play, this is a great adventure.  However, if you don’t want to control the fate of the world and just want to play a game in London, then this is one to pass.  There are some concerns I have with the execution, but those won’t prevent you from enjoying this book if you want some excellent write ups describing Europe.  If you want some cross European intrigue and a great adventure to start that controversy, go get this one. 87%

Ring Side Report-Victoriana 3rd Edition

Product– Victoriana 3rd Edition

System– Victoriana

Producer– Cubicle Seven Entertainment

Price– ~$25 here http://rpg.drivethrustuff.com/product/116730/Victoriana-3rd-Edition?term=victoriana+3rd

TL; DR– You can’t go wrong with Steampunk, Lovecraft, Penny-Dreadful Shadowrun! 93%

 

Basics-Ever want to mix steampunk with Victorian sensibilities and add a ton of Middle Earth to the equation?  That is the mix for Victoriana-an RPG set in 1856 where magic is semi-common place, steam power is beginning to conquer the world, and “heroes” are called from all walks of life.  This is a whole RPG in one book, so let’s break this down into its important parts and numbers.

 

Mechanics or Crunch– At this games core, it’s a simple d6 pool game.  Let’s see how that plays out on each level:

 

Base Mechanic- Victoriana is a d6 dice pool game.  Each task you do will be a combination of an attribute and an associated skill.  Shoot a gun?  Dexterity and firearms.  Ride a Wyvern?  Presence and Animal Handling.  A few small things make this game amazingly fun and different from other dice pool games.  One is the numbers you want.  You are looking for 1’s and 6’s.  Even better, 6’s explode and you roll them again counting 1’s and 6’s.  AND THE 6’s KEEP EXPLOIDING!  I love the dynamic addition of exploding dice in any game!

 

Task Difficulty-Most tasks you perform require two successes with some task allowing partial successes.  That is a quick and easy mechanic for deciding failure and success.  The system builds on this simplicity by adding “black” dice.  Want to mix dangerous chemicals on a bumpy train ride?  Well you roll your normal Attribute and Skill, but you also roll 3 BLACK dice.  These black dice work just like normal dice, but they take AWAY successes.  AND, they explode like normal dice!  AND, THE PLAYERS ROLL THEM!  This puts some of the pressure on the player and it’s just pure fun as a GM.  If you have negative successes at the end of a roll, then you have a foul failure.  These situations are where the GM gets to absolutely play with the player.  Guns break.  Mechanical arms are ruined.  Spells summon crazy monsters.  It’s the whole nine yards of bad things for a player.  Some tasks have opposed rolls like attacking and dodging, but black dice can still be added to both sides of a combat.  If you’re shooting in the dark, and my bad guy is dodging while on a slippery floor, both sides get to add black dice to their rolls.  Whoever has more successes wins.

 

Combat-You could have an RPG without combat, but why!? Each round players can choose to do one action (move, attack, cast a spell, etc) at no penalty.  However, a player can do up to his/her dexterity in actions per round.  Each action the player performs divides the dice pool for that action.  Run and shoot?  Divide your pool by two.  Run, shoot, and mix a bomb?  Divide your pool by 3 for EACH action.  Your black dice are NOT changed as your divide your pools!  You can do anything you want, but the more you do, the worse you can fail!  Damage also is dependent on d6’s.  Each weapon has a damage value.  If you score more successes than your target, you get to roll a number of d6’s equal to the damage value for your weapon counting the 1’s and 6’s as before WITH EXPLODING DICE!  After you count your successes, you add your initial number of successes to your count and the opponent subtracts his/her armor and takes the difference as damage.

 

Character Generation-Character generation in this system is divided into two broad categories: completely homemade or guided.  If you make your own character from the soles of your feet up, have fun!  If you want a little more guided approach, then you can build your character by selecting your background, breeding (social standing and race), build package (where you fit in the breeding and background), spend attribute and skill points, and earn and assign extra build points via drawbacks and other abilities.  It’s pretty simple, but flexible allowing all kinds of different characters to populate the world.  As a word of caution, this system has the kind of flexible that a few example characters could help to keep players from killing themselves during character generation.

 

Magic and Machines-It wouldn’t be magic and steampunk without magic and machines.  Magic is divided into a few different categories.  Basically, each mage has training in one of these areas of magic and makes still tests as previously discussed.  It’s simple and quick.  The different types of magic all feel different as hermetic wizards throw around all kinds of elemental magic, while people of faith have much more religion based magic like healing and exorcism.  All magic uses another metric called quintessence.  Quintessence is spent to cast spells and is recovered over time and rest.  Also, if you don’t have quintessence, you can just take damage.  I LOVE cast till you pass out systems!  This is only the tip of the iceberg, but magic does feel like magic and not just another skill roll.  Machines on the other hand are built once and then never have to be paid for again.  They may require fuel like steam or gas to run, but the different machines fell like they have different functions.  Most of these functions have different actions than magic, but part of the theme is how magic is beginning overtaken by the age of steam.  Some of these devices even require magic to be built!  Whatever steampunk idea you have in your head, based on the marvels here, you can build your favorite toy!

Order and Chaos- Victoriana’s spiritual fight isn’t between good and evil.  Don’t get me wrong, good and evil are here, but the major fight is between the forces of entropy and order.  The RPG spends some time outlying that order isn’t necessarily good as a crazed priest of order can easily be as evil as a demonologist of chaos.  Players can decide to side with one or the other, and when they do an action that advances their side, they can get dice depending how advanced they are on the cogs of their faction.  Order provides a straight bonus to an action, while chaos provides many more dice than order, but you have to roll these dice to see if you succeed.  It’s a fun addition to the game, but one that your players and you will have to choose to get deep into.

Summary-I love what is here.  It’s simple in a good way, quick, and flexible.  It’s got a fun feel with action and puts some of the dirty, hard choices in the players hands themselves with black dice.  I love when I make the players be the bad guys for a change! 5/5

 

Theme or Fluff-Victoriana is an “almost Earth” setting.  Even with elves, magic, and steam powered robots, people are not all that different.  So, this book assumes that history will pretty much follow the same path to 1856.  And, you know what?  It works really well!  I liked the world this book built.  Also, if you remove all the “wizard/steam robot did it” references in the setting back story, the first half of the book is a well done summary of European history till 1856.  Honestly, a world with different races (really different races not just Spanish compared to English, but Ogre compared to hog-faced beastmen soon to be German Chancellor) explains the wars in Europe better than the petty motivations that have occurred through all of our real history.  The story of this world drew me in, and I sat and read the intro fiction as well as the world guide.  It’s a well done world with lots of depth to help you understand the world and live in it as you game.  5/5

 

A note on history, truth, and the “isms”- Victoriana is set in a time when it was amazingly awesome to be a white, European, rich male.  For every difference from that standard, things got steadily worse.  This RPG introduces the realities of that life, but doesn’t dwell on them.  It leaves how much of that you want to throw into your game up to you.  That’s important since some players might not be too comfortable roleplaying in a time when a husband could not technically rape his wife.  And, if you wanted to, things could get worse from there.  Sexism, racism, and specisim are alive and well here, but the book walks that line well and wholly lets the GM and players decide how much of the more horrible parts of history and alternative history they want to explore.  I feel it’s important to note that there are some possible adult themes, but they are handled well.  If you just want some pulp steampunk with orcs and magic, then you can easily get that from the system too.

 

Execution-I liked this book, but the problems I have with this book are not getting enough book.  What’s here in this book is great, but could use a bit of help to distinguish information from background text.  The book is black and white.  That’s not a bad thing, but some of the information isn’t as highlighted as well as it should be.  My next major complaint is the lack of examples.  Combat and character generation could both really benefit from an example of creating a character and how to systematically tear another character to bits via combat.  I liked the layout in general.  The pictures did a great job explaining the world and people and keeping me engaged.  Even with this complaint, my comments are positive. 4/5

 

Summary-If you want some steampunk, some magic, and some Victorian history; you can’t go wrong with this system.  Character generation is easy, actions have the players doing more thinking then just roll one die, and combat is quick.  This RPG runs like a good watch-it looks like lots of too complicated moving parts, but when you really get down to it, you see its got a simple, elegant design.  Magic and machines are there, but the subsystems that make them run are not overly complicated.  A new player could easily play with either of those systems with no trouble.  My only complaint is I feel more examples of combat, encounter generation, and characters in general would have really helped players get into the system easier.  It’s not a game breaker, but it’s something to note.  Overall, I love this system.  If you’re looking for your steampunk Shadowrun fix, you cannot go wrong with this one! 93%

 

Full disclosure: I was provided a reviewer copy.