|Posted by PatG on May 21, 2012 at 4:30 PM|
Patrick Gilliland is one of the founders of Steampunk Ottawa. He is known as "The Mechanic". He is also known as a well respected RPG, Miniatures and Board Gamer. His blog on the subject is called Irregular Warband Fast . He is a big fan of steampunk versions of these games and is a long time enthusiast of Space 1889.
He recently was given the opportunity to review a new steampunk RPG game for Steampunk Canada. Here are his thoughts...
Steam Fortress Victory - The Player's Workshop
Industrial Dream Mills $24.95 US.
An in depth review by Patrick Gilliland with playtest and input from Marc Duguay
Steam Fortress Victory has been around for a couple of years but I only caught sight of it a couple of months ago after the author, J.A. Dohm posted some of Tyler Ventura's artwork. And very nice artwork it was.
The book is soft bound with a full colour gloss cover and inside pages and is 124 pages long. The ink on the edges of the cover stock has started “chipping” since I got the book but the binding is very solid.* About 25 pages deal with the back story. There is a basic introduction to role playing including a handy list of needed materials. The rest of the book covers the rules and equipment with some quick reference sheets in the back. The type is very readable even when it is over some rather nice decorative backgrounds. Different fonts and text boxes highlight special information without making the page too cluttered.
The colour illustrations are a map on the inside cover and nine sample character sheets in the middle of the book. The rest of the art is black and white line drawings. These vary from spectacular to amateurish. It seems like the artist emptied their portfolio to get enough images together. The majority of the illustrations, however are very good and all contribute to the book.
*Since I wrote the review, the publisher has advised me that the chipping issue was fixed in the second print run.
Steam Fortress Victory, SFV from here on in, is set in a turn of the century United States with a very different history. In 1865, a new miracle substance Bloodore is found in the Appalachians. Not only is it resistant to very high pressures and temperatures, it has strange and unusual medicinal properties. In time, word of the discovery sets off a new mining rush pulling tens of thousands of fortune seekers back to the Eastern United States. The result of this population shift has many social and political impacts and ultimately results in the division of the country into five political entities: The USA, a resurgent Confederacy wherein slavery has been replaced by indentured service for lesser criminal offences, The Republic of Texas, the Dakota Chiefdom peopled by mechanical horse riding plains tribes and the Shogunate of the West founded by Asian railway workers on a west coast depopulated when all the fortune hunters headed back east. This back story is developed in detail and affects many other aspects of the game.
SFV needs an Engineer or game master and one or more players. The engineer creates the world and the adventures and the players create characters to explore that world. Character creation is a straight forward five step process beginning with determining your character concept. After that you pick a nationality which affects what type of characters are available to you as well as role playing opportunities. Next is selecting a Romance. Romances are a combination of alignment and character motivation. Playing within your Romance has benefits while playing against it will cause you problems .
The third step is to select a Genius or character class. This is where we start getting into the mechanics of the game. There are nine types of Genius with some having variations depending on the player's nationality or preference. The Airship Privateer is your typical independent airship owner/operator roaming the skies in search of work or a quick raid if they can get away with it. The Duellist is a weapons specialist drawn from any of the five nations so can be played as a western gunfighter, effete European duellist or a Ronin sword for hire. The Knight of Liberty Genius is restricted within the game to US citizens only but is generally equivalent to a secret agent, detective or secret society member. Rounding out the relatively normal Geniuses, is the Professional. This type of character includes everything from medical doctors to historians to farmers.
When we add Bloodore into the mixture, the character possibilities get very interesting. Of these, the Steam Soldier is the most straightforward. Equipped with Bloodore and steam power suits and carrying assorted offensive hardware, these are the fighters of the SFV world. Those players choosing the Republic of Texas as a nationality have the option of selecting the Marine variant with a focus on amphibious combat. Closely related is the Dakota Brave Genius. Centred around personal combat, the Dakota Brave can also be found riding a steam powered horse possibly equipped with a Gatling gun or two – Custer had it easy.
Moving further into the realm of fantasy is my favourite, the Bacchanalian Genius. A cross between Mr. Hyde, a traditional alchemist and a flair bartender, these characters use Bloodore infused cocktails to enhance their abilities, their bodies and how various fluids of theirs affect other players and NPCs. Moving further into the strange is the Tesla Conductor Genius. These characters are so attuned to Bloodore that they can detect and control machinery powered by it. Finally, we come to the Mad Hatter Genius. These characters have incorporated Bloodore and machinery directly into their bodies. If sound amplifying top hats, vision enhancing goggles and clockwork appendages are your idea of steampunk, this is the class for you. Enhancement comes with a price though – the more your body is modified, the weaker your grip on reality.
With Genius selection out of the way, we move on to Attributes. These are your standard RPG physical and mental statistics. Skills are also selected at this time. Each of the seven Attributes has five associated Skills. Attributes range from 1 – poor to 3 exceptional with the rare 4 indicating super-hero level power. Each attribute starts at 1 and a beginning player has 6 extra points to distribute as they see fit with the maximum value for any attribute limited to 3. Each of the 35 skills start at 0 and the player has 17 points to distribute with a maximum of skill rank of 2.
The fifth step is to calculate damage thresholds, movement, technology level, player equipment and fathom abilities. The player technology level is determined by the Genius and in turn determines how fancy your gear can be. Each Fathom in a Genius is equivalent to a “level” with the fathom determined by the player's depth or experience points. A Fathom gained also grants the player a new skill and an additional rank to an existing skill. The sixth and final step is where the player fleshes out their particular back story and character conception. That completes character creation.
With your character created, it is time to play whatever devious scenario your Engineer has concocted for you. SFV uses a straight forward success roll with a fixed target. Your attribute affects how many dice you roll, your skill adds to the highest of those dice and the Engineer can apply modifiers on top of that. After all the modifiers have been applied, if your highest die is greater than the target number you score a victory and succeed. When a character is facing off against an NPC, the die roll is opposed meaning your opponent's skill acts as a negative modifier to your roll. An interesting addition in SFV is that if you score more than one victory on a given roll, you gain a Boiler Point. If one of the dice you rolled came up with a natural maximum number, you gain a Pressure Dice. Boiler points and pressure dice can both be pooled for the whole party for future use. A pressure dice can be added to any roll effectively increasing your base attribute and boiler points can be used as negative modifiers on your opponent's rolls. The number of points or dice that can be used and the type of rolls they can be used with are limited. They are also sometimes be used to activate special abilities
Combat and Getting Hurt
Combat order is determined by the player with initiative and can either be in first in first out order allowing a preemptive attack or first in last out order allowing the player with initiative to react to the actions of their opponent. The basic combat roll is as for any other action but there are some other combat specific actions and modifiers such as dodging and hiding behind cover that will affect it.
SFV uses a three tiered damage system. Impact damage is basic bruising and minor scrapes, Wear damage covers cuts and minor fractures and Tear damage covers major breaks, heavy bleeding and other forms of very serious injury. Each level of damage bleeds over to the next. Most attacks will do impact damage with chance for a wear damage as well. It can get very bloody very quickly for non-combat oriented characters but even then there is little chance of a one shot kill.
The last twenty pages of the book are dedicated to the equipment catalogue, specifically Cogsworth's Catalog of Armaments and Rare Goods. If you are old enough to remember the Uncle Albert's catalogues from the Car Wars game, this will look very familiar to you. The layout is quirky with lots of advice and advertorials from Coggy but also covering all the important details. In a word brilliant. Some of the information is a bit off with a cutlass costing 100 eagles and a bo staff, i.e. a stick, costing 500 eagles. Some of the character packages don't quite line up with the equipment costs as well. None of this is game breaking and can easily be modified by the Engineer.
I must be absolutely honest here, I don't like the back story. It is well written and thought out but it simply doesn't appeal to me. I will not go into detail here as it is a matter of personal preference rather than any technical shortcoming in the game.
I went into some detail on the attributes and skills to show that there is not a lot of depth to this game. Character development is limited and predictable. This is not necessarily a bad thing as it keeps the system tight and speeds up play but if you like customizing your character and their skill set down to the smallest detail, this system make not be your cup of tea.
The action and combat system is quick and simple to use though in a test game we did have to re-read a few sections before we got a grip on the staged damage system. The Pressure Dice and Boiler Points are a great touch and encourage multi-character teams to build up a pool to use when the crunch comes.
The $24.95 price tag is a little high for the overall quality given some of the books out there by larger game companies. The realities of publishing mean that Industrial Dream Mills is not making a huge profit even at this price.
Would I play it again? Yes absolutely. I have experimented with converting a number of other systems to steampunk without much success. Steam Fortress Victory has done that for me in a simple to use package for fast play games. I may not use the background, but Dakota Braves are easily converted into Cape Buffalo riding Zulu, The Knights of Liberty are shoe ins for any number of Holmesian secret societies and the Bacchanalians are the epitome of dissipated London Gentlemen.