Friday, March 17, 2017

Their Finest Hour- Associations of Spirit and Crime

The setting of “Their Finest Hour” has the same abundance of riches as Victoriana, specifically a never ending supply of fantasy tropes and the historic events of World War II on which to build adventures. This sea of possibilities could drown some parties, but Associations throw out the life preserver of campaign themes. Associations bring characters together, introduce adventure hooks, and define campaign frames making everything clearer, sharper, and more specific. Here are a couple examples of the Associations possible for Their Finest Hour:

The Community of Invisible Mysteries
Facing the growing threat of Nazi occult research, the Guild in England devoted all of its manpower, and facilities to the war effort.  As patriotic magicians volunteered, and many more conscripted, Britain’s magical resources grew thin at the home front. Every day, bomb blasts disturb ancient spirits, bloodshed feeds dark powers, and sinister hands weave deadly spells. Concerned by the potential of magic going unchecked in Britain, Theosophist and Goetic Magnetist Dion Fortune founded “the Community of Invisible Mysteries” to hold back the darkness.

Fortune leads her flock from their temple in Bayswater, enthusiastically seeking out evil through meditation and prayer. Although some conjurers, rune scribes, and magnetists devote their magic to the Community’s goals, most members lack formal magical training or ability; Many follow Fortune in hope of gaining it.
Most  authorities see the Community as amateur mystics exploiting the war to stir up publicity for their cult, but the police in the street look the other way, happy someone else deals with the nastier side of magic in this time of national crisis.

The Community charges nothing for their services, relying instead on contributions from grateful citizens and the donations of wealthy benefactors. Their desire for justice, knowledge, and kindness are all they believe they need to confront ghosts, curses, demons, necromancers, and worse.

Skills: Any Magical Skill, History, Lore, Research, Theology,
Privileges: Blackguard, Friend of the Library,

Retrievals and Removals ltd.
The chaos of daily bombings, wartime rationing, and a police force dwindled by conscription creates a very healthy economy of crime. During a Black Out (the shutting off of all lights to make a harder target for bombers), all the pickpockets, burglars, and other predators found the streets a perfect playground for their work. The security of a building is null and void once a bomb falls upon it, allowing amateur “rescue teams” to save goods and valuables. Those same goods and valuables fetch a pretty penny, sold to a public starved of creature comforts now rationed. Homemakers (limited to eight ounces of sugar, two ounces of butter, and a single egg per person a week) gratefully bought essentials from the black market.

Despite its professional title, Retrievals and Removals ltd. has no offices, or shareholders, just a lorry, a warehouse owned by a brother-in-law, and a group of cunning lawbreakers, ready to make lots of money. From the hard dealing spiv selling in the ally, the lookout watching for the bobbies, and their innocent seeming plant in the crowd, to the second story cat burglar, the professional safe cracker, and the street mucker ready for it to get rough, Retrievals and Removals has the experts to handle any opportunity.

It’s a dangerous business avoiding police and honest citizens, while crawling though crumbling buildings and craters, but each night the brave men and women of Retrievals and Removals ltd. go out and make easy money the hard way.  

Skills: Appraisal, Bull, Haggle, Hide and Sneak, Pick Pocks, Streetwise
Privileges: Ear of the Street, Local Hero, Street Informant,

I was going to just do one post of Associations, but these were really fun to make, and I have at least another two weeks worth of ideas. I’ll try to do just one more post and then we’ll move on to races and classes.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Their Finest Hour- A Historic Setting for the Victoriana RPG

As the name suggests, the Victorian era is what the Victoriana RPG is all about. Coaches, classes, and crumpets aside, the idea of putting fantasy tropes next to historic fact is brilliant. The heroic whimsy of folklore and fantasy combines with all of human history giving Gamemasters a never ending supply of story ideas and setting inspiration. This makes me wonder what happens when we take the world of Victoriana and move forward in time. What parts spark character ideas and adventure, or mismatch into uncomfortable juxtapositions? This series of posts takes the Victoriana RPG to another key time in history: The Battle of Britain.

“But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new dark age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, This was their finest hour.”
- Winston Churchhill, June 18, 1940

During the summer of 1940, German forces overran the European mainland. The British army evacuated Eastern Europe at Dunkirk, France surrendered on Jun 21, and the United States of America watched and waited. Hitler’s blitzkrieg swarmed across nine countries and the British Isles were next. Confident of their air superiority, Hitler tasked the Luftwaffe with demoralizing and destroying Britain’s ability to continue the war, clearing the path for Operation Sea Lion: the Nazi plan to invade of the British Isles.

From 1940-1941 Great Britain suffered bombing of an intensity never seen before. Day and night, German bombers poured destruction onto industrial, military, and civilian targets. Frenetic dogfights between Messerschmitts and Hurricanes filled the skies, while civilians below doggedly held on to their daily lives. In London alone, bombs reduced over one million houses to rubble and craters. They held on, surviving through privations, destruction, fear, and isolation giving the Nazi forces their first major defeat. 

The scope of World War Two and the heroism of the Battle of Britain makes a great setting by itself. Adding the fantasy elements and adapting Victoriana’s rule mechanics for the Battle of Britain will be an enormous job, but I plan to keep it down to six or seven posts for now. This is just an experiment to see what happens when we move Victoriana ahead ninety years. I’m not sure how deep into the fantasy end of the pool I want to take it. Or how much steam punk flavoring, or rather diesel punk flavoring does a modern war need? Are there Nazi dragons burning down London, and giant gas powered robots activating to come to Britain’s defense?

World War Two understandably has a host of games dedicated to it. A conflict on a global scale has plenty of room for a variety of adventures and themes. The horror, secret history, superheroes, and even strictly historical sides have already been very thoroughly covered by other games, but I don’t think it’s been treated as a fantasy setting yet. Cubicle7 (the owner of the Victoriana RPG line) has a supplement for World War Cthulhu depicting London during the Blitz, so if this idea sounds good, you can preorder a copy here.

In the next few weeks I’ll continue “Their Finest Hour” looking at the sorts of characters you could play in this setting, whether or not the class rules still belong, and the associations possible for adventuring parties. Later on, I’ll talk about the types of adventures this setting opens up in Great Britain, and the European mainland.

Friday, March 3, 2017

And Yet More Portraits

While working on upcoming projects and waiting for comments from my proofreaders, I’ve had fun making portraits. This week, the human gallery doubles with the addition of two more portraits!

In addition to the usual batch, you can see a glimpse of my process making these portraits. The woman used for this week’s Orc has a very interesting face with many of the characteristics I look for to make specific races. She had the exposed and detailed ears needed for elves and halflings, the strong facial structure for dwarves, and ogres, and the completion for orcs and gnomes. She could have been anything with a little work.
I settled on orc, because the orc gallery has the lowest ratio of female to male of all the races, but I still had fun working on other races. Below you can see the original portrait and that same portrait twisted into four of the fantasy races in Victoriana. Of the four, I like the orc the best but the elf makes it into the gallery too. 

The scenario “Six Stolen Ferns” should be added to the Blogs resources page soon, depending on my proofreaders input. If not, next week begins a new series introducing another historical setting for Victoriana. 

Friday, February 24, 2017

Oh Look, More Portraits

While looking over recent additions to the British Library and Internet Archive Flickr pages, I found a slew of great illustrations from 19th century books, particularly portraits of adventurous looking women, ethnicities I haven’t covered yet, and faces screaming to be turned into gnomes. 
Recently, I felt like I kept seeing the same faces over and over again when I looked for new illustrations, which was a bit of a stumbling block when trying to add diversity to the Portrait Gallery late last year. It takes diligence to find suitable illustrations of anything but white men in evening dress or military uniforms. Pictures for any other demographic are either too racist or of too poor quality to use.
Thankful, both the British Library and Internet Archive Flickr pages are a never ending supply of design, art, and inspiration for my Victoriana Games.

As always these portraits (and other like them) can all be found on the Portrait Gallery page, ready to be used in your Victoriana Adventures.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Tangrams- Peculiar Pieces

Ordinarily when I blog about some weird Victorian nugget, I write about its history, folklore  and occult connections. While we have some of that today; I thought it would be more fun and helpful to come up with excuses to make players solve tangrams puzzles. Last week, I introduced tangrams and why they make such a great handout for a role-playing game. Here are a bunch of adventure ideas ready for the Gamemaster to hand out the tans (the seven pieces of a tangram).

Adventure ideas
A secret club uses tangrams to keep out the uninitiated. Anyone entering must arrange a tangram into the shape known only to the clubs members. If they finish on the first try the doorman welcomes them in, otherwise the he bars the door.

A magician enchants stationary to hide messages. He writes his letter and cuts the paper into the seven tans. The pieces appear blank except for a number corresponding with a puzzle from a tangram book. The recipient receives their letter and looks up the puzzle. Once they arrange the pieces in the right formation the message appears.

A tangram puzzle could be the lock on a specially made safe. Arrange the tan’s into the right combination and the safe opens. If the safe is enchanted, different shapes could open on different contents.

Tangrams are not the only kind of dissection puzzle. An old manuscript credited to Archimedes lays out the Ostomachio, which roughly translates as “Bone Fight”. The Ostomachio is a square made of 14 pieces, similar to tangrams. Instead of paper, the Greeks made their puzzles of bone. So the ancient Greeks had a geometric puzzle called “Bone Fight” with pieces made from real bones. Do whatever you want with that.

In Victoriana, Heaven and Hell clash in a war of Chaos and Order. In this war the straight lines and geometric shapes of dissection puzzles could have a much greater significance than mortal amusements.

Tangrams quickly spread  across the globe from China in five short years. The hobby flared up like a plague in France, England, Germany and Denmark. Do tangram enthusiasts suffer from a viral compulsion to shuffle the tans around into new shapes? Does obsessive knowledge wait just under all those right angles dying to get out?

The plethora of possible shapes makes tangrams a possible source of coded communication. A woman sits in the park working on a tangram puzzle every afternoon. Some people walk by without a glance, but if you know what to look for, her tans code out secret messages for a covert group.

While most enthusiasts cut their tangrams out of paper, some could afford more polished products for their hobby. Tangram sets were made of glass, wood, silk, or ivory. The wealthy bought more expensive tangram kitsch, such as dishware and even furniture. In the 1840s, Chinese carpenters made a set of interlocking tables shaped like tans. They could be arranged like any tangram puzzle.
For the sake of making up adventures and building mysteries, anything can be a tangram set: floorboards, bricks, stained glass, children’s blocks, decorative panels, floor tiles, roof shingles, a cracked sidewalk, etc. etc.

A mysterious publisher sells books of tangram puzzles sinisterly designed to open the reader’s perception to new geometrical ideas. As they solve harder and harder puzzles, the solver’s mind learns new ways to combine everyday shapes and to find the gaps in reality.