Review of Victoriana, Third Edition Core Rulebook
In the vein of For Fairy, Queen and Country and Castle Falkenstein, which I reviewed last years, the Victoriana roleplaying game posts a nineteenth century rich in magic, fantasy and fantastic races; unlike those games, it presents a more D&D style of fantasy rather than borrowing from faerie lore.
The Core Rulebook opens with a look at the world, society, nations and religions of the fantastic 1856 in which it is set. The presentation is reminiscent of Shadowrun (a definite pro!) and, overall, comes across rather like a nineteenth century version of that setting, too. Unfortunately, whilst tantalising, this is actually something of a flaw as it doesn’t quite work as presented. Apparently, earlier editions were set in a more overtly fantastic 1867, and whether it worked or not, this sounds a better proposition than this version. Had they taken a Shadowrun approach with magic manifesting in the Victorian period or gone further with the fantastic being something that happened mostly in the past, it would probably have worked better. Unfortunately, making the fantastic so intrinsic and hinting at historical changes, whilst largely keeping history as it was in reality creates a setting which, like Castle Falkenstein, only works if you don’t think too deeply about it or ask too many questions (such as why there are no fantastic racial nations given that the various sapient races have been around for millennia and at least some would surely have clustered together). The background is full of excellent ideas and would benefit from being mined for those you like and given a rewrite that makes more sense.
Unlike earlier editions, the third edition of Victoriana incorporates as much technological innovation as it does sorcery, having a strong steampunk feel that includes clockwork zombies and necromancers offsetting their frailty with clockwork prosthetics – even mechanical angels! But, magic isn’t shortchanged and there is a modest bestiary, too. There is enough here to play a campaign with whatever emphasis you desire and effort has been made to give everything a distinct in-setting feel rather than just porting-in fantasy stereotypes all the time.
Finally, the rules. From a cursory glance, these appear serviceable, using dice pools of six-sided dice, and ‘black dice’ (representing difficulty) that have the potential to take away successes. Nothing too outstanding, but simple.
Overall, Victoriana is an enjoyable read, full of great ideas, but doesn’t quite mesh as a setting. It could work if your group doesn’t care about details and just wants to get on with their adventure, but will require a lot more work to accommodate other groups. Recommended.