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

Sunday 26 November 2023

A Campaign of Leagues

For over a decade, there is something that Leagues of Adventure: A Rip-Roaring Setting of Exploration and Derring Do in the Late Victorian Age! has been lacking. The roleplaying game of globetrotting adventure and mystery set during the ‘Gay Nineties’ at the end of the nineteenth century is published by Triple Ace Games and in its time has been very well supported with numerous supplements, including Leagues of Gothic Horror, which took it into the realm of classic horror and Leagues of Cthulhu, which took it into the far realms of Cosmic Horror. However, in that time, what it has not had, is a campaign. That all changes with the publication of The Great Campaign – A Globetrotting Campaign in Four Glorious Parts. Inspired by the works of Joseph Conrad, in particular, Heart of Darkness and The Secret Agent, as well as H. Ridder Haggard and Rudyard Kipling, even a little Indiana Jones, and a big fat serving of treacle sponge history covered in lashings of occult custard and radical political thought, The Great Campaign will take the Player Characters—or Globetrotters—from a missing persons case in Cambridge to the ‘Roof of the World’ via assorted assassinations, anarchy in the UK, a journey to the Russian Wild West, and the ‘Great Game’. Throw in a mix of steampunk technology and what you have in The Great Campaign is an over-the-top, unashamedly Imperialist, pulpy campaign that delivers murder, mystery, intrigue, corruption, and more, but ultimately, just one big ripping yarn.

The Great Campaign – A Globetrotting Campaign in Four Glorious Parts, published following a successful Kickstarter campaign, can be played using just the core rules for Leagues of Adventure: A Rip-Roaring Setting of Exploration and Derring Do in the Late Victorian Age! even to the point of playing using the seven pre-generated Globetrotters in the book, plus their followers. There are several supplements which will prove useful to run the campaign if the Game Master has access to them. These are The Globetrotters’ Guide to Expeditions, Leagues of Gothic Horror, Globetrotters’ Guide to London, The Globetrotters’ Guide to Dramatic Developments, and the character collection, Dramatis Personae. Of these, Leagues of Gothic Horror adds rules for Corruption and Sanity, the former earned and the latter lost for vile deeds and suffering the travails of journeys beyond the borders of civilisation. Both Corruption and Sanity are included as part of The Great Campaign, but only come into play if Leagues of Gothic Horror is being used. Their inclusion does suggest an interesting possibility though. Though The Great Campaign is not a cosmic horror campaign, through Leagues of Gothic Horror and then Leagues of Cthulhu, it connects to Cthulhu by Gaslight, the Victorian era supplement for Call of Cthulhu. Should the Game Master—or rather Keeper—have a mind to, The Great Campaign could be adapted to run with Cthulhu by Gaslight, though the use of Pulp Cthulhu: Two-fisted Action and Adventure Against the Mythos is highly recommended should she decide to do so. Another option would be run the campaign using the Ubiquity system version of Space: 1889, though the Game Master will need account for aerial vessels in the third and fourth parts of the campaign. Perhaps by having the Czar impose an aerial interdiction in the region?

The campaign opens in late 1891 with ‘The Dreaming Spires’ which takes place in Cambridge (rather than Oxford and its dreaming spires). Sir Reginald Ponsonby and his wife, Lady Fenella, are worried about their son, Edmund, who has gone missing after having been sent down from Trinity College, Cambridge. Hunting for clues as to his whereabouts reveals that Edmund Ponsonby had got himself mixed with a bad lot—foreign radicals (but not French!) and Socialists to boot. The trail leads away from the college to a house in the fens and back again. By the time the first adventure is over, the Globetrotters should have stopped one anarchist plot—here in Cambridge—and gained hints of another, playing out far away in Central Asia, and gained the Ponsonbys as patrons. The last few scenes should ideally involve a race back to Trinity College and a desperate search for its hidden secrets, but there is also an exciting chase across the rooftops of the university to get the heart racing a little earlier.

If they are successful in ‘The Dreaming Spires’, by the time of the second part of the campaign, ‘The Emerald Scarab Conspiracy’ in late November of 1891, the Globetrotters will be famous enough to be invited to a grand Christmas ball to be hosted by the Russian Embassy aboard by HMS Hrimnir, the ice leviathan capable amphibious land and sea movement, especially on the ice. Before then they are asked to investigate the death of a prominent rocket scientist, which will draw them into London’s Russian immigrant community and bring them into contact with Konstantin Tsiolkovsky. All quickly too quickly, someone takes a violent interest in the Globetrotters’ investigation, but before they can find out the Globetrotters must attend the grand ball. With numerous members of different governments in attendance, the event does not end with the Prussian Princess Charlotte ending up dead and the gift she has just been given—the Emerald Scarab of the title—in the possession of one of the Globetrotters. If an international incidence is to be avoided the Globetrotters need to think and investigate fast. Fortunately, their good reputation should be enough for them to avoid incarceration, but that is not enough for the true culprit who will strike first at the Globetrotters in classic location before launching an even bigger attack elsewhere, hoping to bring the major powers of Europe to the brink of war and beyond. As with ‘The Dreaming Spires’, ‘The Emerald Scarab Conspiracy’ is a pacey affair which ends in a race to save the day, but much more scaled up.

‘The Emerald Scarab Conspiracy’ climaxes with the Globetrotters thwarting the plans of the anarchist cell in London and hopefully, defeating its leader. It leaves the matter of N.F. Fyodorov, who is somehow connected to the anarchists and their plot, but is far away in Central Asia. Of course, if that is the case and the man is dangerous, could India, the Empire’s jewel in the crown, be danger. As a part of a ‘Justice Expedition’, the third part of the campaign, ‘Journey to the Roof of the World’ quickly takes the Player Characters across Europe in comfort and style on the Simplon-Orient Express, but once in Constantinople, that is where the comfort and style ends. From Batum to Baku across Transcaspia, across the Caspian Sea—where of course, the Globetrotters might run into the ‘Pirates of the Caspian’—to Krasnovodsk, and from there fabled Samarkand, and beyond into the Pamirs, said to be the ‘Roof of the World’. Unlike the first two scenarios which were quietly tightly focused in their storytelling, ‘Journey to the Roof of the World’ opens up and is more episodic in nature, focusing on the travel and its possible difficulties, having to deal with both the region’s Russian overlords and the native peoples, and in the process discover some of the secrets of the region.

The campaign comes to a close with ‘Paradise Lost’, the title hinting at what the Globetrotters will find at the ‘Roof of the World’. Once past the native peoples protecting farther progress, they must climb the mountainous glacier high into the Pamirs. Here, in an isolated valley, the Globetrotters have the opportunity to locate and apprehend N.F. Fyodorov, hopefully discovering whether he was connected to the anarchist plots back in England, and possibly secrets that go all the back to the Garden of Eden. It is a classic climax to this type story, revealing the secrets to a big mystery like that of Eldorado or Atlantis.

Besides the seven pre-generated Globetrotters and their cohorts given in its first appendix, The Great Campaign comes with another four appendices providing further support. This includes sixty-one additional Followers, for the Game Master who needs a Bagpiper or a Mime; eight additional Globetrotters; Professor Pennyworth’s Catalogue of Gadgets, such as an Endless Chain Saw, Enhanced Itching Bomb, Targeting Monocle, Aquatic Tripod, and Clockwork Soldier; and More Leagues of Adventure, from the Alpine Horticultural Society and the Author’s Club to the Tobacconists Club and The Turkophile Society. In fact, not all of it directly supports the campaign, but Globetrotters and Followers are useful as a source of replacement characters and the devices for the scientist or engineer to design.

Physically, The Great Campaign is ably presented. Much of the artwork is decent and the cartography clean and easy to read. However, the layout is busy, often relying on a lot of bold text especially when presenting NPCs and interrogations of NPCs. This very much a case of the style for Leagues of Adventure, but it can be a lot to take in.

The Great Campaign – A Globetrotting Campaign in Four Glorious Parts is the campaign that Leagues of Adventure: A Rip-Roaring Setting of Exploration and Derring Do in the Late Victorian Age! wanted and needed. It certainly has plenty of opportunities for both rip-roaring and derring do, along with the investigation and the exploration. The Great Campaign – A Globetrotting Campaign in Four Glorious Parts is a classic campaign of Victorian adventure, torn from the pages of Victorian novels and the film cells of the silver screen.

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