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

Saturday 26 June 2010

Falling Scales...

One of the most of inventive settings of the last year is Ken Hite’s The Day After Ragnarok, which describes a world devastated after the Serpentfall, an event caused by the detonation of the Trinity Device within the brain of the Midguard Serpent, unleashed by Hitler in an attempt to initiate Götterdämmerung. Best summed up as “Mad Max meets Conan” or “Submachine Guns & Sorcery,” this alternate Earth of 1948 from Atomic Overmind Press is a rich and frothy pulp setting for which we are still waiting the definitive campaign from the illuminated mind of Ken Hite. We already have had a scenario – Tehran: Nest of Spies – and now we have a series of articles known as Serpent Scales: Fragments from the World After the Serpentfall.

Each of these articles is designed to focus on particular aspects of the weird new world of 1948 that though of interest to The Day After Ragnarok GM, are not quite worthy of a full supplement. They are thus of a varying length – the shortest of the first three available being only six pages long, while the longest is almost five times that length. This varied length is reflected in the price, but on length and price alone, these are not cheap PDFs. That said, when you consider that each is written by Ken Hite and that the series promises to deliver a consistent diet of content rather than fluff, paying that little bit extra is probably worth taking into consideration. As with the core book, all three supplements are available for both Shane Hensley’s Savage Worlds and HERO System.

The series starts out with as unpalatable a subject as you would imagine, but it definitely provides details of an enemy that you can get away with despising and not suffer any comeback for it. The New Konfederacy details the third rise of the Klu Klax Klan out of Atlanta following the Serpentfall and its founding of the Grand Kounty of Birmingham, Alabama following the conquest of “The Magic City” back in 1947. Now flying the “Stars and Bars” flag, the New Konfederacy is a bastion of law and order in the Poisoned Lands, even if that law and order comes with an alliance with Nazi ex-POWs, the re-establishment of America’s most peculiar institution, and labour battalions that work for food. Meanwhile, radio station WKKK broadcasts “Birmingham’s American Voice” a thousand miles in all directions serving up a diet of pro-white, anti-non-white, anti-non-Protestant, anti-Jewish, anti-Catholic, anti-Communist propaganda alongside good old Bible thumping sermons and wholesome Country Music. The radio station claim to be the voice of an “Invisible Empire” across ravaged America, complete with a million-man army, might be propaganda, but the reach of the new Klu Klux Khan is long enough, and that is before you take into account the various White Supremacy groups that have sprung up across of the Mayoralties in the wake of the Serpentfall.

Just as you would want, the article details the Klan’s organisational structure – komplete with silly names that begin with the latter “k,” its leaders and agendas, its rivals, and its secrets – not as many of those as you might think. These are supported with the stats for a Klan super agent (or is he?), an atypical White Supremacist night-rider (not always affiliated with the Klan, so without the “k”), the Klommando and the Klandestine Agent (which are affiliated with the Army of the New Konfederacy, so do come with the silly “k”), and lastly the Haint, true Confederate ghosts riding spectral horses, and the only supernatural element described in the article.

The article sees the return of Hite’s “Savage Shortlist,” a quick pick listing of the “Top Five” elements pertaining to the subject in hand. This time around, the Top Five are the “Top Five Klan Plans,” more specific aims than just enslaving and oppressing the right minorities for the good of America. Essentially each is reason enough for a scenario or two, if not a mini-campaign, and while each is just a thumbnail sketch, they are also good starting points. Also included are a set of tables to help a GM determine just how deep the Konfederacy’s influence might be in a town out in the Mayoralties. Of course, subverting every town out in the Mayoralties is part of The Big Klan Plan. The “Town Subversion Generator” is an extension of the detailed encounter tables to be found in the core book, and as the author makes clear can just as easily be used with any other organisation, be it the Reds or the snake cultists, with just a change of a term or name or two. Either way, the “Town Subversion Generator” is neat means by which to create an encounter or scenario with relatively little effort.

What is obvious from this Serpent Scales is the author’s distaste for the subject matter, and to be fair, I do not envy the research he had to do in order to write about The New Konfederacy, even if the author is having fun with the latter “k.” Even as Hite is describing a villain as crass and as odious as the new born Klu Klux Klan, he is also making suggestions as how they can be used, some of them surprisingly subtle in comparison to the Klan’s reputation. Despite sharing the author’s distaste, this is much to be taken from The New Konfederacy, especially if the GM is running a game set in Mayoralties.

The second article is entitled (Happiness is a) Sten Gun. At just six pages, this is the shortest of the three articles available, and as its title suggests, is devoted to the humble Sten Gun, the cheaply and easily manufactured submachine gun that was a symbol of British stubbornness and Resistance defiance in the face of Nazi oppression during World War II. While its durability and simple functionality earned a place in the hearts of all who used it, the Sten Gun also had a reputation for unreliability at the wrong moment. It might be that the SMG jammed at a crucial moment; that it discharged a round at if jarred or knocked badly; or that discharged the whole of the magazine in one go! That said, it could be highly effective and very reliable once a user had mastered the Sten Gun’s quirks. Lastly, a Sten Gun only has two machined parts, so it is possible to scavenge the remaining parts if you have to.

All this is covered and more in (Happiness is a) Sten Gun. It tells you where the Sten Gun might be found – throughout the British Commonwealth and anywhere that MI6 might be shipping the weapon to support an insurrection or the United Kingdom’s allies. If found in the USA, the likelihood is that it is somewhere near Toronto where they are manufactured for the standard 9mm Parabellum ammunition , or if nowhere near Canada, then guns have been adapted to a different calibre. What there is not in (Happiness is a) Sten Gun, is one of Hite’s superlative “Savage Shortlists,” but to be fair, there is hardly room for that in its six pages. Instead, there are rules for the SMG’s quirks and how to fix them to make it a really good gun, three scenario seeds (one including how to redo The Magnificent Seven with Sten Guns!), and lastly, a guide to give the Sten Gun a damned tune up. Essentially to make it a +1 Sten Gun of Serpent Slaying! Only with a bit more imagination...

The third and longest of the Serpent Scales articles adds a whole genre all its very own to the world of The Day After Ragnarok. Deep within the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere lies Bradbury Island or as the Japanese call it, Kaijūshima. Which just happens to translate as “Strange Beast” or “Monster” Island and “Monster Island” just happens to be part of title for Return to Monster Island, the title for the second Serpent Scales article. Kaijūshima is perhaps one of the strangest islands in the Pacific, being home to giant beasts, dinosaurs, and other strangeness all by the way of special effects by both Ray Harryhausen and Ishirō Honda.

Originally discovered by American whalers in the last century, but in Japanese hands since 1914, Kaijūshima is damned difficult to get to, and to get on to. Partly fortified (on the safe side of the island), remote, and protected by a surrounding natural boat bottom ripping coral reef, about the easiest way to get there is fly over and land by parachute. That or enlist in the Imperial Japanese Navy... Nevertheless, there are hooks aplenty to get the heroes there, whether it involves going after a missing mentor or girlfriend, being hit by a pterodactyl and forced to land, investigating Soviet interest in the island or just going to make a big damned movie, the heroes are going get there...

Once they do get there, Return to Monster Island comes with a “ready-to-play, throw the kitchen sink and its crockery at the players” scenario that lets them run a giant monster fight as their heroes run around underfoot! Actually, “Deploy All Monsters” is more of a Savage Scenario Starter, but in the hands of a good GM plugging in the other contents to be found in this Serpent Scales article, it should be hectic fun.

In addition to describing each of Kaijūshima’s major locations, each complete with suggestions as to what might be encountered there, Return to Monster Island lives up to its title and gives you monsters, or rather, daikaijū! Not just gigantically monstrous creatures native to the island, but also the creations and discoveries of the Soviet Institute for Genetics, and that is all before you get to the dinosaurs! And dinosaurs are so ubiquitous that you can put them anywhere as evidenced by the subject of this article’s “Savage Shortlist.” With “Top Five Places to Fight Dinosaurs” that takes you from Antarctica to China and from Africa to South America. As with every other “Savage Shortlist,” the five entries are quick and dirty, but that is in keeping with the “fast, furious, fun” ethos of Savage Worlds, and certainly much of the contents of Return to Monster Island plugs into those five entries.

Return to Monster Island pretty much wears its influences on its sleeve – or is that scales? – to present pulpy, two-fisted lost world action in the vein of Doug McClure and Edgar Rice Burroughs, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Professor Challenger, Godzilla and King Kong, all richly spread over an island that is one part Skull Island and the other Ponape. Of the three Serpent Scales to date, it happens to be the most versatile, the most pulpy, and the least setting specific. Which means that you could take it and drop it into any pulp action setting you care to name – could one of the island’s volcanoes hide a fissure that if followed would lead you on a Hollow Earth Expedition? – which the author acknowledges by suggesting how Return to Monster Island can be dropped into other Savage Worlds settings, from Rippers and Realms of Cthulhu to Weird War II and Weird War: Tour of Darkness.

So the question is, after having looked at each of the Serpent Scales articles released so far, do I recommend that you rush out and buy them? As an unabashed fan of both Ken Hite and his The Day After Ragnarok, I would say absolutely, but then that would hardly be fair. Thus I need to give you a more considered answer. Well, as interesting as (Happiness is a) Sten Gun is and as much solid content as it contains, it really is only of minor interest when compared to the other two. Of those two, The New Konfederacy does a fine job of both presenting a set of villains that GM and players alike will love to hate and providing support for the GM running a campaign set in the Mayoralties, the Eastern third of the USA that is one of the major settings in The Day After Ragnarok. The likelihood is that the GM will get a great deal of long term use out of this Serpent Scales. It is not as good though, as Return to Monster Island, which not only gives a good pulpy adventure location for The Day After Ragnarok, but also for any pulp action setting; manages to tag more pulp references than the other two; and lastly, has the potential to be just plain more fun.

Sunday 20 June 2010

Tell Us About The Freebies

If you have been wondering why there has been no review this week, it is because I have been busy writing reviews for elsewhere. As many of you know, yesterday was Free RPG Day, an annual event that works to bring gamers new QuickStart Rules and other support for their favourite RPGs and forthcoming RPGs to their local gaming stores. I managed to get hold of many of the titles available a little early this year with the view to reviewing many of them ahead of time. Which I managed to do, just.

If you check out RPG.net this last week you will find reviews of several of the titles that were available yesterday. These include Deathwatch: Final Sanction, Legends of the Five Rings: Legacy of Disaster, and Dark Sun: Bloodsand Arena amongst various others.

Of course, the one title that I could not review is Age of Cthulhu: Abominations of the Amazon, seeing as how I edited this booklet. This is my first piece of editing to see actual publication in print.

I hope that you managed to get out and pick up something nice yesterday. If you did, let me know. If you picked up a copy of Age of Cthulhu: Abominations of the Amazon, then let me know about that too. Tell me what you think.

Sunday 13 June 2010

Holidaying With Canute

One of the most hotly anticipated games of late is Forbidden Island from Game Wright  anticipated because it has been designed by Matt Leacock, the highly regarded designer of the equally highly regarded co-operative board game, Pandemic. For fans of that board game’s desperate attempt to stave off the spread of four deadly diseases, the news is good. Forbidden Island is another co-operative board game, another desperate race against time rather than your fellow players, and another tense, taut playing experience. The enemy are not four deadly diseases, but the rising tides that ebb and flow, threatening to sink the island before a band of plucky explorers can land, rescue its hidden treasures, and get back to safety...

This is a game designed for two to four players, aged ten and up that can be completed in under thirty minutes. It is easy to learn – for our first game we got everything out and were playing in five minutes – and fans of the designer’s classic Pandemic will recognise certain similarities.

The first thing that strikes you about Forbidden Island is that it comes in a tin. Inside the deep tin can be found fifty-eight cards, twenty-four Island Tiles, six wooden pawns, four Treasure pieces, a Water Meter, a Water Level Marker, and an eight page Rules Booklet. The cards are divided between a twenty-eight Treasure Card deck, a twenty-four Flood Card deck, and six Adventurer cards. The red-backed Treasure Cards are divided between depictions of the game’s four Treasures, Waters Rise! cards, and various special cards. Each of the cards in the Flood Deck corresponds to one of the twenty-four Island Tiles. These Island Tiles depict locations such as Breakers Bridge, the Cliffs of Abandon, the Coral Palace, and Fools’ Landing, where the helipad is located. Each Island Tile is double-sided, showing a location in full, fantastic colour on one side, and a pale version with a blue wash on the reverse. When this pale version is face up, it indicates that the location is flooded and is in danger of sinking.

The six Adventurer cards each double as a quick reference card and each has a special ability. For example, as the Messenger a player can give a Treasure Card to another player anywhere on the island, while the Engineer can shore up two adjacent flooded Island Tiles instead of one as an action.

The Water Meter shows Forbidden Island’s rising waters in terms of the number of Island Tiles that are flipped over at the end of each player’s turn, from two rising up to five. A marker is clipped onto the Water Meter, and this marker will rise up the Meter and through the numbers until it hits the skull and crossbones at the top. When this happens, the game is over. The marker only rises when a Waters Rise! is drawn at the end of a player’s turn. There are just three of these cards in the Treasure Deck, but as the game proceeds, the players will exhaust and reshuffle the Treasure Deck several times.

Lastly, there are the four Treasures. Each of these – the Earth Stone, the Statue of the Wind, the Crystal of Fire, and the Ocean’s Chalice – is done in very tactile and appropriate plastic. For example, the Crystal of Fire is done in translucent flame red plastic.

To set up a game of Forbidden Island, the Island Tiles are laid out face up in a roughly crossed shape pattern, one each of the Treasures is placed at a corner of the island, and each player receives two Treasure Cards and an Explorer Card. Their corresponding pawns are placed on the marked Island Tiles. The top six cards from the Flood Deck are drawn and turned over to form the Flood Discard Pile, with each of the Island Tiles that correspond to the cards drawn being turned over to show their flooded side. Lastly, the marker is set on the Water Meter at a starting point that ranges from Novice up to Legendary. The higher the starting point on the Water Meter the closer the marker is to the skull and crossbones and the game ending in failure.

On his turn a player can take just three actions. He can move orthogonally – up, down, left, or right, but not diagonally (unless he is the Explorer) – to an adjacent Island Tile; he can shore an orthogonally adjacent flooded Island Tile or the flooded Island Tile that he is on – this flips the tile over so that it shows its non flooded side; he can give a Treasure Card to a player if they are on the same Island Tile; or he can capture one of the four Treasures by discarding four matching Treasure Cards on one of the two Island Tiles where that Treasure can be found. Doing any of these takes one action.

At the end of his turn a player draws two more Treasure Cards, with the maximum he is allowed to have in his hand being five. He also draws a number of Flood Cards as indicated on the Water Meter. For each Flood Card drawn, the corresponding Island Tile is flipped over. If the Island Tile has already been flipped and shows its Flooded side face up, it sinks into the abyss and creates a watery chasm that cannot be crossed – unless you are playing the Diver. Both this Island Tile and its Flood Card are removed from play. Any player caught on an Island Tile lost this way immediately swims to an adjacent Island Tile.

If a Waters Rise! card is drawn from the Treasure Deck, the marker is raised by one notch on the Water Meter. Over time this will increase the number of Flood Cards drawn at the end of each turn. The Flood Discard Pile is shuffled, put back on top of the Flood Pile, and Flood Cards are drawn as normal.
So how do you win a game of Forbidden Island? Simply by collecting all four of the Treasures, getting every player to the Fools’ Landing Island Tile, and then using a Helicopter Life card – one of the few special cards from the Treasure Deck – to get everyone off the island. The point is, everyone wins.

So, one way to win then, how do you lose? By lots of ways. If both of the Island Tiles where a Treasure can found are lost to the abyss or if the Fools’ Landing Island Tile sinks, preventing everyone from getting off Forbidden Island. If an Island Tile sinks and a player cannot swim to an adjacent Island Tile or if the marker on the Water Meter reaches the skull and crossbones. The point is, everyone loses.

The time between a game starts and when it ends – either with a win or a loss, a player will be very busy. Primarily, he will be rushing around Forbidden Island to shore up Island Tile after Island Tile, the danger being that if too many Island Tiles are lost to the watery abyss it restricts everyone’s movement and reduces the number of Island Tiles where the Treasures can be found. Secondly, he will be collecting Treasure Cards enough to collect one or more of the Treasures. In between all of this, his fellow players will be advising and suggesting on his best course of action, usually based upon the special ability granted to the player by his Adventurer Card or where a player needs to get to in order give a Treasure Card to another player or to receive a Treasure Card from player in his turn.

I found a demo copy of Forbidden Island at UK Games Expo ’10 – where it would in an award for Best Family Game – this last month and rounding up three other players, cracked open the game, and was playing in five minutes. We lost. On Novice level. On the second try, we won. I resolved to purchase a copy the following day when it was launched. In discussing the game, we agreed that the game felt very much like Pandemic, the comparisons being impossible not to draw. It has the same strong co-operative play element; it has the same deck refreshing element that sees the same cards appearing again and again – but on Forbidden Island they are Flood Cards rather than Infection Cards as in Pandemic; and it has same tense atmosphere in play as the players try to stave off the rising waters. It also feels like a scaled down Pandemic, with a player having three actions per turn rather than four and having to collect four Treasure Cards per Treasure rather than five City Cards per disease as in Pandemic.

Yet despite the tense nature of the game play, Forbidden Island is not as doom laden. Its theme is more upbeat, more adventurous, and without the fate of the world being at stake. With its excellent artwork and the fantastic nature of the names given to the Island Tiles, Forbidden Island is more like playing a desperate adventure movie.

If there is an issue with Forbidden Island, it is in that having played Pandemic, the comparisons leave you slightly dissatisfied. This is due to this new game not having quite the same depth of play that Pandemic offers, making Forbidden Island not quite as appealing to the dedicated games player. For all its scaling down and simpler rules, Forbidden Island is not necessarily easy to win, and the dedicated games player should consider adjusting the starting difficulty upwards to Elite or Legendary. To be fair though, Forbidden Island is not Pandemic and is not meant to be a replacement or a variant, instead being a family game that can enjoyed by younger players and serious gamers alike. In fact, it actually serves as a fantastic introduction to the concept of the co-operative play. That it plays in a similar fashion just shows us how good the underlying mechanics are in Forbidden Island’s older and more polished, more intricate forebear.

Which all means that Forbidden Island is not just another fine entry to the growing family of co-operative board games, but an excellent introduction to that family. As an introduction to co-operative game play and as a family game, Forbidden Island is clever, sophisticated, and a great new gateway game into the hobby.

Arguing the...

I do not own many party games, but after hearing about Who Would Win? from listening to the team behind the podcast, All Games Considered, I decided to check it out. When I found out that it was published by Gorilla Games, who do the excellent Battlestations boardgame, I decided to buy a copy. What I got was a game about debating against the clock the merits of famous people doing incongruous things. Thus, “Who would win at zoo keeping – Frankenstein’s Monster or Evel Knievel?”, “Who would win at a beauty pageant – Spongebob Squarepants or Edgar Allen Poe?”, and “Who would win at video gaming – Christopher Columbus or Godzilla?”.  Unfortunately, it was not until I was UK Games Expo this last weekend that I got to play the game properly.

Designed for three or more players, aged thirteen and up, Who Would Win? comes in a buff cube of a box that contains one hundred and ten character cards, one hundred and ten event cards, a twenty second timer, and a single page of rules. The rules themselves are very short and can be read through in less than a minute. Each of the character cards gives the name of a single well known figure who might be a celebrity, such as Paris Hilton; a politician, like Nelson Mandela; a historical personage, such as Gandhi; or someone from fiction, like Count Dracula. The event cards give activities that range from the mundane like Cooking or Customer Service to the weird, such as Hog Calling or Sword Swallowing.

Play is simple. On his turn, character cards are given to the active player and the player to his left, and an event card is drawn. Both players are allowed twenty seconds to each state why his particular character would win at the activity given on the event card, with the active player given five seconds for a rebuttal. Everyone else around the table gets to vote on the player who presented the best argument. The player who receives the most votes gets to keep the event card. On a tie, no one gets to keep the event card. At the end of his turn, play passes to the player to the left of the active player, who then becomes the active player and debates with an opponent to his left. On his next turn, the first active player will debate not with the player to his immediate left, but the next one along, and so on and so on until each player has had the opportunity to debate with everyone around the table.

The winner is the player who manages to win five of these debates and accumulate five event cards in front of him.

Who Would Win? is definitely a game for older and geekier players. Younger players are not always going to know who the people are on the character cards, even though each person is given a short description. Similarly, not everyone is going to know who a person is on a character card or what an activity on an event is because the game has a strong American slant – Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Hog Calling being obvious examples. Nevertheless, the mix of characters and events is good, and with a good shuffle of both decks, the combination of characters and events is endless. Another issue is favouritism when it comes to the voting, but that is outside the scope of the game itself.

Who Would Win? is all about the debate. It is about who can present the best arguments, but when I first ran the game, it was not a success. One player could not see how the scientist Stephen Hawking could beat Superman at hurdles, even when it was suggested that the brilliant scientist had minions who could fit go faster springs to his wheelchair and would know where to find Kryptonite! More recently at UK Games Expo, the game proved to be popular enough for one player to go hunting for copy to buy. The game also plays well as a team game, with players organised into teams rather than playing as individuals.

This game demands the players to come up with arguments that are interesting, ridiculous, or both, but because of the possible combinations, Who Would Win? never gets very far from the silliness. After all, what game has Julius Caesar face off against Donald Duck in a weightlifting contest? Above all though, what Who Would Win? is about the players being inventive. 

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.