Another month has cruised by and it is Halloween, where does the time go? At any rate, for this All Hallow's Eve edition of Paleotechnic Press' editorial page, I thought I would post short reviews of two, "new to me," RPG source books that I have recently acquired. But first, in "breaking news…" yesterday Chronicle City announced that their Space: 1889 reboot is now available as a download from DriveThruRPG (for those of you who missed the Kickstarter). The PDF looks very nice, but I prefer printed material (I know, I am so nineteenth century) so I will save my review until I get the physical book.
In the meantime, this past month I did receive a copy of Flying Machines of the Worlds 1902: Aerial Vessels for the Hive, Queen and Country Universe (©2012, Aerolyth Enterprises) from one of its authors, Terry Sofian. Flying Machines is a supplement to the Stars of Empire RPG. SoE postulates a Victorian world of 1894 where the colonial powers vie for control of the planets beyond the earth. If this sounds a bit familiar, that is because Sofian is also a fan of Space: 1889. Despite the high level similarity, there are several significant differences between SoE and Space: 1889. First, and foremost, is the existence of "The Hive." In SoE, the Hive is an extra-planetary organism threatening humanity's existence, and it serves as both a peril and a back-plot for the story arc of the entire game. The second big difference is that in the Hive, Queen, and Country universe (HQC) the timeline begins to diverge in the 1700s and Terry has spent a great deal of time postulating the effects of those changes over the course of the game's 150 years of "past future".
Flying Machines of the Worlds is one of several supplements to the basic SoE game. This particular supplement is truly a tome, weighing in at 256 pages! Written by Arun Rodrigues and Sofian, Flying Machines advances the Hive, Queen and Country timeline to 1902 when the state of aerospace technology has progressed significantly beyond what we traditionally see in the 1889 world. From the book's introduction:
The people of Hive, Queen, and Country have been flying since the 1860s, and had mechanical computers since the 1830s. By the 1900s aircraft have been designed for 40 years, and computation has advanced the state of the art by another 5-10 years. Thus, the ships of the 1900s are in many ways more advanced than the aircraft of the late 1930s...
The Flying Machines book is divided into 3 main sections. The first several chapters of the book provide background on the HQC world, but the bulk of the book is taken up by the ship designs and illustrations in the second section. The authors have detailed each ship in much the same way that Fred T. Jane detailed naval vessels in his series of "real world" books. Flying Machines is profusely illustrated, every ship class is represented by a number of different isometric views; perfect for modeling. The designs fully occupy 180 pages and there are ships of every size and type. The types are broadly broken down into aerolyth (a elemental, anti-gravity, discovery), Fredrickshaven (lighter than air), and Cayley (dynamic lift aircraft) flyers. The book's last section includes the referee's "eyes only" information and a chapter on modeling an aerolyth flyer. The authors' attention to detail is commendable and the book is chock full of information. The ship designs are plentiful and many can be used with with Space: 1889 and/or Aeronef with little, or no, modification. Because of the later time frame postulated in Flying Machines (and the advance of technology) the ships would certainly be useful in any dieselpunk, or even pulp era, game settings as well. In fact, anyone interested in turn of the century aeonaval/SciFi, warfare will find Flying Machines a treasure trove of ideas.
The second supplement I picked up this month is Miskatonic University Library Association's Secrets of the Congo (©2009, Chaosium, Inc.). The book is a perfect bound, glossy-covered, book. The text of the supplement is a setting for classic 1920s Call of Cthulhu, although as the author suggests it may played in a Pulp or Gaslight Cthulhu style (ie with more heroic characters and improbable escapes). This volume is 134 pages with maps, handouts and photographs, in addition to the text. The book is well laid-out with clear text and quality illustrations.
This monograph is, first and foremost, a scenario campaign set in the Congo with additional information, rather than a sourcebook with adventures attached. The main scenario hook is that one character's uncle has gone missing in the Congo. He may have found something wonderful, or perhaps not, but if the uncle can be proven dead, a large inheritance will pass to the character. The first section of the monograph details the geography, biology and anthropology of the Congo, as well as the state of the country where the investigators find themselves. Notably, the text is sprinkled with quotes from Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. The quotes help to reinforce the backdrop of the Belgians colonial control of the area, but also the decrepit state of the colony. The text also provides some optional rules that will allow Keepers to resolve large scale battles (mass combat).
In addition to the primary scenario, seven Congo adventure seeds, two pages of useful notes for running the adventure, seven sample characters, and ten pages of handouts are also presented in the monograph. The final three pages of information in the book detail commercial flying operations in the 1920s, including factual information on flying boat use throughout the world.
Secrets of the Congo is equal parts Joseph Conrad, Indiana Jones, Stanley and Livingstone, with some Lemuel Gulliver thrown into the mix. It is a useful reference for any gamemaster, but I believe the background information will be particularly useful for an Earth-based Space: 1889 campaign. Production and content-wise Congo is a solid monograph, and despite its (relatively) high price (which may possibly be explained by the quality of the publication), it is a worthwhile addition to your game library.
The reviews out of the way, what is on tap for Paleotechnic Press next month? I have several articles queued up for publication. In no particular order, an interesting historical article on "future" naval warfare, another NPC, as well as several more old Space: 1889 articles, that I hope you will enjoy…meanwhile, as always, happy gaming!