Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Hats Off!

If an RPG has to have an equipment guide – and not every RPG does – then it has to do several things. First off, it has to provide a source of items useful to the player characters in your game. Second, it has to provide a source of items useful to the NPCs in your game. Three, in doing steps one and two, it has to provide all of the necessary statistics and background to each item, and as a corollary to three, it has to provide illustrations for each item. Four, it has to provide flavour to the game world it is written for, elements that can be extracted and used to add little details to the world during play. Fifth and lastly, it has to suggest ideas that a GM can use in his game. The good news is that Faulkner’s Millinery and Miscellanea, the latest supplement for Victoriana from Cubicle Seven Entertainment, does almost all of those things.

Where Faulkner’s Millinery and Miscellanea fails in the things that an equipment guide has to do is in illustrating each and every item. Not that I begrudge that or the fact that not every weapon is illustrated – an absolute must were the book to be devoted entirely to weaponry, because not only does Faulkner’s Millinery and Miscellanea do several of those things listed above very well, it also does one other thing really quite well. This is other thing is the fact that this equipment guide is an artefact within the game world and without. Specifically, Faulkner’s Millinery and Miscellanea is a guide to the goods and services available to the good people of London and beyond brought in from the far extents of the Empire and further afield, and published by the Dwarf Joseph Faulkner and available to anyone for the very reasonable price of just four shillings. As in game artefact it means that it can be made available to the characters at just about any time, but I do not recommend that it be made freely available to the players whilst everyone is at the game table – it is too much of a distraction!

What Faulkner’s Millinery and Miscellanea covers in eight chapters is “Clothing and Costume,” “Household and Adventuring Supplies,” “Weapons and Firearms,” “Clockwork and Steampower,” “Arcane Supplies,” “Foreign Enticements,” “Excursions and Entertainments,” and “Agencies and Services.” Each chapter is overseen by an expert, so high fashion stylist Lady Delphine Signoret guides us through the murky world of Clothing and Costume,” the hero of Sevastopol Major Richard Harrold, Ret. discusses “Weapons and Firearms,” the Eldren Sorceress Miss Jessamine Golightly talks about “Arcane Supplies,” and so on. In each case not only does each of the eight experts receive an introduction from Joseph Faulkner, but all are given full descriptions and write ups so that they can be used as NPCs. The actual contents of the book are well organised, with the difference between in-game description and any game mechanics clearly marked, and all backed up with a good index and the full stat listings for the weapons described at the end of the book. Although not profusely illustrated, its use of public domain and period art is never less than appropriate.

At hundreds and hundreds of items listed in Faulkner’s Millinery and Miscellanea, it is actually quite difficult to cover everything detailed in its pages. And quite detailed it is, describing everything that is fashionable for men and woman in the London of 1867, from unmentionables and perfumes to Dead Frog Waistcoats and nickel-plated Lucifer Cases; from Jennings’ Euphemism (we need not mention what this does) and a clockwork powered Portland Closet Racks to Phrenology Kits and Howdah and Elephant Tack; from a Blowpipe Cane or a “Thuggee Scarf” (not the genuine article, but that is detailed elsewhere) to Barnes Boot Pistol or an Elephant Gun; from a “Mechanical Maid” Combination Sweeper-Upper on Wheels and Bed Warming Pan (needs monthly charging by a Guild artificer) or a Perambulatory Coolie (steam powered luggage carrier that needs an engineer) to Bonzo’s Battle Bonnet (doubles a dog’s biting damage) or a clockwork limb (has your villain lost an arm? Replace it with a clockwork model, but the next time he appears, fit it with a sword, and then later, a lightning powered sword!); from Hangman’s Bane/the Second Windpipe (swallow to protect against the hangman’s noose or the Thuggee’s scarf) or an Animic Kitten Portrait (watch a kitten as plays with a ball of wool, sound extra) to a Top Hat of Concealment (not just rabbits) and a wand in the material of your choice; from fertility figurines and a Finder Compass (points to the nearest and strongest magical aura) to Ghost Money (use it to bribe spirits and ghosts!) and tinned curry powder; from a steam carriage and a velocipede to travel by the Underground and by Wyvern; and lastly from chimney sweeps and knockers-up (they wake you up) to witch hunters and undertakers!

The book does not just detail individual items, but it deals with attitudes and the mores of 1867. So it discusses the fashions of the day and how a gentleman or lady puts it all together, introduces you to the language of fans, the dangers of nitro-glycerine, the nature of magic shops in
Victoriana and the Victorians’ attitudes towards foreigners (not as xenophobic as you might think), its love of curry, and it gives advice for when travelling aboard the Omnibus – plus quite a lot more. Surprisingly, this all comes with little in the way of extra rules, which really only apply to the occasional and particular items with more major rules for buying items at game’s start with Character/Asset Points, for the aforementioned clockwork limbs, and duelling with pistols. In fact, the chapter devoted to “Weapons and Firearms” is perhaps the least interesting chapter in the book. Even with the advent of sorcery, few of the weapons given really stand out. This is not to say that the chapter is anything other than well written, but that rather in comparison with the rest of the book, it does not add quite as much to the world of Victoriana.

There is so much to like in Faulkner’s Millinery and Miscellanea. It really does talk about hats and it really is full of miscellanea, full of little details about each and every item that will add flavour and particulars to the world of Victoriana when used by the player characters or by the NPCs. The book is such that using can become an element of the game itself, the GM using it as a guide to handle his players’ visit to Faulkner’s emporium. For some groups – the ones that like shopping – such a visit might take a whole gaming session. That is in the short term though, because there is so much to like and use in Faulkner’s Millinery and Miscellanea, a supplement that has the potential to add flavour and detail aplenty to a Victoriana game.