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Saturday 9 December 2023

1993: For Faerie, Queen, and Country

1974 is an important year for the gaming hobby. It is the year that Dungeons & Dragons was introduced, the original RPG from which all other RPGs would ultimately be derived and the original RPG from which so many computer games would draw for their inspiration. It is fitting that the current owner of the game, Wizards of the Coast, released the new version, Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition, in the year of the game’s fortieth anniversary. To celebrate this, Reviews from R’lyeh will be running a series of reviews from the hobby’s anniversary years, thus there will be reviews from 1974, from 1984, from 1994, and from 2004—the thirtieth, twentieth, and tenth anniversaries of the titles. These will be retrospectives, in each case an opportunity to re-appraise interesting titles and true classics decades on from the year of their original release.


For Faerie, Queen, and Country was the first ‘Universe Book’ to be published for the Amazing Engine game system, the first attempt at a generic system from TSR, Inc. It is set in an alternate Victorian Era, roughly in the 1870s, with Queen Victoria on the throne, with some radical differences. The most obvious of these is the presence of magic and the fae. The Unseelie Court has long been a presence on British Isles, ever since its horde rampaged out south from the Highlands of Scotland to be defeated by Aurelius Ambrosius and they continue to be a threat today, often hand-in-hand with the Esteemed Order of Thaumaturgists, which has connections in both Scotland and Ireland. In particular, it claims that James of Calais is the rightful claimant to the throne that Queen Victoria currently occupies. This is despite the Prince of Scotland having an important role in Scotland’s governance title established in 1701 as a condition of accepting the Hanoverian Succession to the throne. Ireland remains part of the empire, but Tir Nan Og remains under the independent rule of the Tuatha de Dannan, only adding to friction between the authorities and those fomenting for the settlement of the Irish question. Even so, every Tuatha sidhe barrow requires a sperate embassy of its own lest a fairie noble be slighted.

Abroad, France remains a rival led by Napoleon III, the grandson of the Corsican Ogre, whilst Otto von Bismarck foments not just a Prussian resurgence, but a German one. America is the crown in the British Empire, returned to her embrace following the defeat of the rebels in the War of 1812 and the Limited Rule and Tax Reform Acts of 1821. Great Britain has colonies dotted here and there around the world, but to date, the magic of the Moguls of India have limited European inroads into the Indian subcontinent.

In For Faerie, Queen, and Country, the Player Characters can be Human or Tainted, Marked, Blooded by Fairy Blood, or even be Full Fairy. Fairy features include arched eyebrows, bulging eyes, hooves, pointed ears, and more. A Fairy can be a Brownie, Bwca, Grugach, Gwragedd Annwn, Killmoulis, Piskie, Tuatha de Dannan, Urisk, or Wag-at-the-Wa’. The greater the degree of Fairy Blood a character has, the greater his susceptibility to cold iron, resistance to fairy glamours, and may even be able to cast glamours himself. A Player Character must either be English, Welsh, Scottish, Irish, Anglo-Irish, or Foreign, although a Foreign character cannot have fairy blood. There is some social distinction between the Pagan Irish and the Church Irish, not dissimilar to that between Protestants and Catholics of our own history. The type of Fairy will also determine where he comes from in the United Kingdom, since fairies vary from region to region. His Social Class—Working Class, Bourgeoisie, or Gentry—determines the professions open to him.

To create a Player Character in For Faerie, Queen, and Country, a player takes the base character he created using the Amazing Engine System Guide and adds a flat twenty points to each attribute. He rolls for Fairy Blood and Fairy Type—if necessary, selects Nationality, and determines his Class from his Position attribute, and thus the Professions open to him. A Player Character typically has one or two Professions, each Profession offering a number of skill pools from the player can choose from. A Full Fairy will not have a Profession, but instead selects skills based on his Intuition rather than his Learning attribute.

Our example Player Character is a Blooded Fairy, a half-fairy whose father was an Urisk, half-man, half-goat. Douglas Gunn is a farmer’s son, who was always willing to defend his Fairy origins with his fists and until this got him arrested and given a choice of gaol time or taking the Queen’s shilling. He choose the latter and served for ten years in Queen Nicnevin’s Own Highlanders. He earned a battlefield commission for bravery which he retained upon retirement.

Douglas Gunn
Fairy Blood: Blooded
Fairy Type: Urisk
Nationality: Scottish
Profession: Farmer/Soldier (2nd Lieutenant, Queen Nicnevin’s Own Highlanders (Ret.))

Physique (Rank 1/Dice 8): Fitness 61 Reflexes 53
Intellect (Rank 4/Dice 4): Learning 30 Intuition 42
Spirit (Rank 2/Dice 5): Psyche 38 Willpower 52
Influence (Rank 3/Dice 5): Charm 56 Position 28

Stamina: 21
Body Points: 13

Skills: Brawling 53% (Athletics), Fairie Lore 30% (The Craft), Farming 42% (Rural), Rifle 53% (Marksmanship), Woodlore 42% (Rural)

Glamours: Conceal
Notes: +10 resisting glamours, +5% to all reaction rolls by the fairy folk, -5% on all reaction rolls involving non-fairy NPCs, suffer one point of extra damage from cold iron.

Languages: English, Scots Gaelic

Mechanically, of course, For Faerie, Queen, and Country uses the percentile of the Amazing Engine, as does the combat system. In the Victorian Era, brawls and knife fights are not uncommon, whilst firearms are primarily used to commit crime, and are wielded by criminals and some police. General ownership is not uncommon, but mostly in the home or on the owner’s land. Combat can be brutal in For Faerie, Queen, and Country, not just because a Player Character has lower Hit Points than in other Universe Books, but because alongside their loss, there is a chance of the injured suffering a complication, ranging from a scar, fever, or infection to deafness in one ear, mild paralysis, or a limb requiring amputation!

The most mechanical attention in For Faerie, Queen, and Country is given to its magic system. Magic in the setting is so important that there are even several regiments of Royal Thaumaturges in the British army and magic can be studied at university. ‘The Art’ of magic falls under the sciences and can include Alchemy, Divination, Goetic, and Wizardry, whilst Divination, Fairie Lore, Folk Medicine, Herbalism, Hyperaesthesia, and Spiritualism fall under ‘The Craft’. ‘The Art’ is studied at universities and in colleges, though Goetic magic, the evil practice of trafficking with spirits is not taught at any reputable institution There are also innate spell effects that Fairie can cast called Glamours, primitive magic taking the form of either illusions to fool the senses or enchantments to betray the heart.

Apart from the Glamours for the benefit of the Game Master, For Faerie, Queen, and Country does not include a list of off-the-shelf, ready-to-cast spells, but instead asks a would be spellcaster to literally formulate a spell using several factors. These are Agent, Action(s), Target, Effect, and Conditions, which all increase the difficulty of casting the spell, whilst Taboos, which place restrictions on a spell, reduce the difficulty. Typically, this preparation takes time and it is also possible to research spells, although that takes days. Ultimately, the Game Master has to give her approval of any spell and total difficulty value reduces the ability of the spellcaster to cast the spell. It costs Stamina to cast a spell and spells can be resisted. It is possible to formulate and cast a spell on the fly, but this reduces the chance of being successfully cast. The system is handily supported with some examples, but this is perhaps, despite the intended simplicity of the Amazing Engine, quite a demanding aspect of the setting and any player wanting to play a spellcaster will need to have a good grasp of these mechanics work as each spell requires actual preparation and set-up upon the part of the player, let alone his character.

The counterpart to magic in For Faerie, Queen, and Country are the clergy and the church. Across the United Kingdom there are parallel denominations to those our own, such as the Church of Albion, the Old Church, and the Reformed Church of Scotland. Members of the clergy do not cast spells or perform miracles, but their faith enables them to use the powers of ‘Sanctify’, ‘Fortify’, and ‘Cast out’. The Church and its grounds are anathema to the Fairie, and in most cases, the Fairie loath the church. Whilst the chapter covers the equivalent of the different Christian denominations, For Faerie, Queen, and Country unfortunately not only ignores other faiths which might be found in the United Kingdom, it also ignores paganism, the practice of which is found across the country, often entwined with the Fairie.

For Faerie, Queen, and Country includes a wealth of background on the Albion of its 1870s. There is a list of goods and services and their prices, money and savings are discussed, an array of awards and forms of recognition are given, but For Faerie, Queen, and Country comes into its own when with a pair of chapters written as in-game pieces. The first is ‘Peak-Martin’s Index of Faerie’, a series of three lectures given to the Royal Academy of Sciences in 1877. This categorises the Fairie as well as giving stats for the Game Master to use for NPCs and providing an overview of the Unseelie Court, the Seelie Court, Tir Nan Og, and more. There is also a guide to portraying Fairie for the Game Master. The second is ‘Crompton’s Illustrated Tourbook of Great Britain’, a relatively decent guide to the United Kingdom, which begs for expansion and which any native of the British Isles will find wanting. Anyone from Wales will be disappointed to find folded into the description of England. This is followed by ‘The Glorious British Life’, a guide to life in the United Kingdom, which covers money, rural and urban life, how much your servants should be paid, how things are done without modern conveniences, transport, how to conduct research, government and politics, crime and law enforcement, pleasures and pastimes, and more. In comparison to ‘Crompton’s Illustrated Tourbook of Great Britain’, this is solidly useful content. Enjoyably, For Faerie, Queen, and Country comes to a close with ‘How to Speak Proper’, but not just in the Queen’s English, but also for rural speech, Scots and Irish Gaelic, then briefly and poorly, a little Welsh, and lastly, a lexicon of criminal phrases.

There is a lot to like about For Faerie, Queen, and Country. Primarily this is the range of Fairies described, the magic system which will force players to think about their character’s spellcasting long before they cast anything, and the general background. In the fact, the latter feels not dissimilar to What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew: From Fox Hunting to Whist-the Facts of Daily Life in Nineteenth-Century. However, anyone from Wales will be severely disappointed by its lack of coverage in For Faerie, Queen, and Country compared to that of Scotland and Ireland, similarly, its treatment of paganism is non-existent in comparison to that of the Church. Mechanically, For Faerie, Queen, and Country is simple, but it is not always explained as clearly as it could have been, especially the means of creating characters. Further—and despite the wealth of background—that background is not always easy to use or extract to be used, and it does not help that For Faerie, Queen, and Country lacks a scenario or even scenario hooks. That said, an experienced and determined Game Master will be able to mine the background for ideas and hooks.

Where this leaves For Faerie, Queen, and Country is a setting that is playable, but not complete. In some ways, it works better as a sourcebook for other Victorian Era-set roleplaying games than it does as a stand alone roleplaying game. Had it been further developed, that might not have been the case.

Physically, For Faerie, Queen, and Country is decently presented, but lightly illustrated with publicly sourced artwork, so the book is text dense. It comes with a pull-out, full colour map of the United Kingdom.

As the first Universe Book for the Amazing Engine, what For Faerie, Queen, and Country does is showcase the possibilities of the system and what it can do. It also hints at the radicalism of the ideas that were to follow in subsequent Universe Books, as if the writers had been set free to design interesting settings with intriguing ideas that they might not have been able to bring to fruition had they been for Dungeons & Dragons. Ultimately, For Faerie, Queen, and Country for the Amazing Engine is definitely not without its charms, but it does not feel as complete as it should and it leaves the reader wanting more.

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