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

Saturday, 4 May 2013

On Her Majesty's Adventurous Service

How do you like your Victoriana roleplaying? As with most historically set RPGs, those set during the reign of Queen Victoria bring other elements to the table. For example, Pinnacle Entertainment Group’s Deadlands brings horror to the Wild West, Cthulhu by Gaslight from Chasoium, Inc. brings Lovecraftian investigative horror and the horrors of H.P. Lovecraft’s fiction to the 1890s, and CubicleSeven Entertainment’s Victoriana brings magic and other elements normally associated with the fantasy genre to the 1860s. So the question is, what does the newest RPG to draw up a chair at the roleplaying table of your gentlemen’s club, Leagues of Adventure: A Rip-Roaring Setting of Exploration and Derring Do in the Late Victorian Age!, bring to Victorian era?

Leagues of Adventure is published by Triple Ace Games, the British publisher best known for a number of RPG settings that make use of Pinnacle Entertainment Group’s Savage Worlds rules such as Necropolis, Hellfrost, and Sundered Skies. Rather than employ the Savage Worlds rules, Leagues of Adventure makes use of the Ubiquity System. First seen in ExileStudio’s Hollow Earth Expedition, and since used in Greymalkin Design’s post-apocalyptic fantasy, Desolation, and the German version of Space 1889 from Uhrwerk Verlag, the Ubiquity System has also been previously used by Triple Ace Games’ own award-winning All For One: Régime Diabolique. What the Ubiquity System brings to Leagues of Adventure is a fluid, action orientated set of mechanics that supports a Pulp style of play.

What Leagues of Adventure brings to Victorian era roleplaying is a sense of adventure and mystery. It is specifically set during an age of great exploration in which the boundaries of the known world are only just beginning to be pushed back and many secrets are being revealed. As much as it is set during the history of the period, it draws heavily from the fiction of the period, so that Sherlock Holmes and Doctor John Watson are as much real as Brigadier General Sir Harry Paget Flashman, VC, Phileas Fogg, and Abaham van Helsing. As adventurers or globetrotters, the player characters will travel to the far corners of the Earth, exploring the unknown, making great discoveries, and uncovering mysteries, whether these are the strange Gill Men reputed to live in the Black Lagoon at the head of the Amazon, another plot to overthrow the monarchy in Ruritania, or a rash of stranglings in Shanghai!

Every globetrotter or player character is a member of a “League,” an exclusive or secret—or not so secret—society, such as The Alpine Club, the Epicurean Society, or The Temporal Society. These are the “Leagues” of the game’s title — as much as the multitudes of adventures it also suggests, with each League providing contacts, resources, and patrons that will call on the globetrotters just as the globetrotters can call upon the aid of their Leagues. For the most part, the various Leagues possess a friendly rivalry with each other where their interests conflict, but there exist villainous Leagues whose aims are far from honourable or enlightened. The Thuggee is one such villainous League, as is The Immortals Club, whose members seek ever greater power and the means to keep it for themselves.

Character creation is matter of choosing one of the provided archetypes – Big Game Hunter, Consulting Detective, Diligent Correspondent, Explorer, Crackpot Antiquarian, Pioneering Aviatrix, and Temporal Scientist – each of which is presented in full colour, or assigning a number of sets of points. Fifteen points between six attributes and another fifteen points to skills before selecting a Talent such as Knockout Blow or Well-Educated or a Resource like an Artifact or Rank, and a Flaw such as Flea-Infested or Thrill-Seeker. Another fifteen points are spent to customise the character. A character also needs a Motivation and he also starts the game with a Style Point, the Ubiquity System’s equivalent of hero or luck points.

For the most part, this is standard character creation under the Ubiquity System. To this Leagues of Adventures adds a tweak or two. The first of these are “Zero Level” skills, of which a globetrotter receives four. Two to account for his background and another connected with the League that he belongs to. Truth be told, they do not add all that much to the game, but just enough to add a little depth to each globetrotter.

Our sample character is Lieutenant Henry Rathwell, a member of her Imperial Majesty’s fledging Air Corps. An excellent navigator, he transferred from the Royal Navy because he suffers from sea sickness. Currently he is on detached duty and is willing to join an expedition that needs a good pilot or navigator.

Lieutenant Henry Rathwell
Archetype: Pilot Motivation: Duty
Style: 2 Health: 4
Primary Attributes
Body: 2          Charisma: 2
Dexterity: 3   Intelligence: 4
Strength: 2    Willpower: 2
Secondary Attributes
Size: 0            Initiative: 7
Move: 4          Defense: 5
Perception: 6 Stun: 2
Skills/Base/Levels/Rating/Average
Anthropology 4/0/4/2
Athletics 3/1/4/2
Bureaucracy 4/1/5/2+
Craft (Electrics) 4/0/4/2
Craft (Mechanics) 4/0/4/2
Diplomacy 2/1/3/1+
            Leadership 2/2/4/2
Empathy 4/1/5/2+
Expeditions 4/1/5/2+
Firearms 3/1/4/2/1
Gunnery 4/1/5/2+
Linguistics 4/0/4/2
Pilot (Aerial) 3/3/6/3+
Science (Physics) 4/1/5/2+
Survival 4/3/7/3+
            Navigation 4/4/8/4+
Talents
Direction Sense
Resources
Rank – Lieutenant
Flaw
Honest


When it comes to the Ubiquity System, it is all a matter of the number of successes rolled. A task’s Difficulty determines the minimum number of successes that have to be rolled for someone to achieve it. Even results equal successes, so any type of die can be used with Leagues of Adventure and the Ubiquity System. Any successes rolled above that improve the result. The rules also allow a character to “Take the Average,” meaning that if the average number of successes that he would roll is equal to, or greater than a task’s Difficulty, then the player does not have to roll. In addition, every player character has Style Points, which are spent to add bonus dice, boost the level of some Talents, and reduce damage. They are gained for pursuing a character’s Motivation and playing to his Flaw, for being heroic and being in character, as well as for out of game actions, such as writing gaming reports, hosting the game, and so on.

What is interesting about Leagues of Adventure is that although it has little in the way of background – the various Leagues, both fictional and historical, along with the various fictional characters mentioned are the extent of its background, it comes with plenty of setting material. The bulk of this comes in the form of an extensive gazetteer that takes the GM around the world in fifty-six pages. Continuing the game’s mix of the fictional with the historical Victoriana, once it has the “ordinary” descriptions of the continents and their constituent countries out of the way, it joyously as many fantastic places, both real and fictional as it can. So it describes the Grand Duchy of Fenwick, the Diogenes Club, King Solomon’s Mines, El Dorado, the Lost World, the Plateau of Leng, and Ruritania as much as it does the Black Museum, the Rookeries, Great Zimbabwe, Timbuktu, Machu Picchu, Ponape, and the Great Wall of China. In fact, it almost seems as if the author cannot wait to get the descriptions of the ordinary places out of the way so that he can concentrate on Leagues of Adventure’s fantastic locations. Further, all of these locations—places already crying out to be visited by the player characters—are accompanied by at least one adventure, usually more than one. All told, this gazetteer of the fantastic is accompanied by over one-hundred-and-thirty adventure seeds!

In addition, Leagues of Adventure comes with a bestiary with which to populate these locations. Again, they include a mix of the fictional and the real, from Amazon Warriors, Giant Apes, Kraken, Tyrannosaurus Rex, Doctor Moreau, and Professor James Moriarty to the Officious Bureaucrat, the French Foreign Legion soldier, the camel, the hippopotamus, and the tiger. Plus guidelines so that the GM can create Villainous Leagues with which to oppose his players and their globetrotters.

In terms of advice for the GM, Leagues of Adventure dispenses relatively little, assuming that the prospective GM is not new to the hobby. Perhaps the most telling advice comes in the form of setting the style that the GM and his players want for their game, essentially by determining the game’s Action Level. The options include “Gritty” like The Man Who Would Be King, “Adventurous” like Around the World in Eighty Days, “Pulp Adventure” such as the Indiana Jones movies, and “Cinematic Reality” like the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Each sets the number of Style Points and their effect that the players get to use during the game, from the all Style Point free of the “Gritty” Action Level up to the double Style Points of “Cinematic Reality.”

Apart from the rules for setting the Action Level, the major mechanical addition to Leagues of Adventure is the rules for invention. Supported by numerous examples, these are a really easy set of rules to use, and support the creation of fantastic devices and vehicles in the game, whether that is by a gadgeteering player character or a nefarious villain with a penchant for dastardly devices. As written and as evidenced in the examples, these rules are not intended to cover the Steampunk genre, but rather the type of devices drawn from the fictions of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. That said, these rules would cover the Steampunk genre with relatively little difficulty.

Physically, Leagues of Adventure is nicely put together and pleasingly illustrated. If the book lacks anything it is maps that match the detailed contents of the gazetteer, but this should not held against Leagues of Adventure. Finding maps, or indeed, further details of any one of the locations described in the book is hardly a challenge given access to the Internet. One might quibble at the lack of a pre-written scenario in the pages of Leagues of Adventure, but given that the book is written with the GM who has some experience in mind and the fact that it comes with as many adventure seeds as it does, this is less of an issue than it be with any other RPG. In addition, the QuickStart Rules in the form of Plateau of the Ape Men & The Dragons of London are available from the publisher’s website and they come with two scenarios.

So what does Leagues of Adventure bring to Victorian era roleplaying? In a word, ACTION! Well, actually “action and adventure,” for this is far from being a deep or introspective game – and there is nothing wrong that. To an extent it is something of toolkit, allowing the GM to adjust slightly the tool of action that he wants to present, but with the supplements available from the publisher’s website, such as the Globetrotters’ Guide to Weird Science and the Globetrotters’ Guide to Gothic Horror, the scope of both the game and the GM’s toolkit expands further. There is nothing to stop a GM from running games which focus on those elements just from Leagues of Adventure, but the Globetrotters’ Guide to… series support them better.

Beyond the game’s ACTION!, Leagues of Adventure exudes a sense of wonder and fascination that the possibilities of the unknown in the late Victorian era – whether real or imaginary – present to the GM and players alike. There is certain joy and excitement, almost exuberance in the presentation of Leagues of Adventure’s setting, which it matches well with a set of rules that support its action and adventure.