Victoriana: Going Underground is a preview of the forthcoming
new edition of Victoriana, effectively the fourth edition, which is designed
for use with Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition. It moves the setting on two
decades from just after the Crimean War to the Queen’s Golden Jubilee in 1877.
After a solid introduction which explains the setting, it quickly throws both
players and Game Master into the adventure itself, ‘Going Underground’.
Designed for four players—the quick-start includes four pre-generated Player
Characters—it is a short, direct, and linear adventure. They include Adelaide
Finch, a Muirloch Sleuth, Theodore Gatesly, a Noble Gruagach Confidante, Sam
Urmacher, a Púca gadgeteer, and Charalata Rathmore, an Elderen Animist.
Each of the four comes with a full colour portrait and a clearly presented set
of stats and abilities. All four are attending the opening and inaugural
running of the deepest and newest underground train line built and run by the
City & South London Subway. As detailed in the opening explanation for the
players and their characters, Adelaide Finch has learned that someone is
planning to sabotage the opening of the line, Theodore Gatesly used his
connections to get the quartet tickets to the event, Sam Urmacher is along to investigate
and write an article for periodical about trains, and Charalata Rathmore may
help soothe the proletariat’s objections to the newly dug line.
The adventure itself is direct. The Player Characters alight
from their carriage, descend into the London Underground, interact with the
other guests and the staff, before boarding the train, and making the journey
from Cannon Street to Stockwell and back (the alternate history of Victoriana means that the two are connected via the same line, when at the time they would have completely separate, unconnected lines). On the way something strange happens
and it appears to be pulling the train through a portal. The question is, what
caused this, and how do the Player Characters and everyone aboard the tube
train get back? Throughout there are moments when the adventure puts each of
the Player Characters in the spotlight, mostly to learn new information rather than
act, and it is not until the strange event occurs that they really have the
chance to do anything and be more proactive. Up until this point it does feel
as if the Player Characters are in the background of the adventure, often
reacting to the sometimes-clichéd actions and utterances of the NPCs. Once the
train is thrown into the portal, the Player Characters have more opportunities
to act—mostly combat and making repairs, but definitely more than the initial
parts of the adventure.
Mechanically, there are relatively few changes between
Victoriana and Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition—at least in Victoriana:
Going Underground. The most notable is the list changes to various skills, of
which the Social Class skill, with its specialisations of Noble, Bourgeoisie,
and Proletariat, figure prominently in the play of the scenario. The other is
the addition of Quintessence, which is used to power spells, special abilities,
and devices. This replaces the traditional Vancian spell slots of Dungeons
& Dragons with what is in effect, a spell point system.
Physically, Victoriana: Going Underground is decently
presented and written, with decent artwork—especially those of the Player
Characters. It is a pity that none of the NPCs are illustrated.
Victoriana: Going Underground is short and direct and playable in a single session. As an example adventure, it is not that engaging, often relying upon clichés for its presentation of its NPCs and having a tightly plotted script. The latter though, is primarily due to the length of the scenario—a little over six pages in a fourteen-page booklet—and the fact that it is set in a tube train! Nevertheless, there are opportunities for the Player Characters to interact with the NPCs, shine a little, and the scenario does go out of its way to spotlight each of the four pre-generated Player Characters, and there is also scope for players to roleplay as well. However, as an introduction to the new edition of Victoriana, the scenario in Victoriana: Going Underground is too limited and too linear—certainly to stand on its own as a memorable adventure. As the opening chapter or prequel to a fuller, deeper, and proper scenario, Victoriana: Going Underground is serviceable enough, but not much more.