Victorian Gamer archive – Winter 2000

Victorian Gamer archive – Winter 2000

https://web.archive.org/web/20110807175653/http://www.jimskipper.com/victoria/2001-1/index.html

Winter 2001

Welcome to the Victorian Gamer


Ezine for Role-playing in the Victorian Era


Welcome back!

After a long hiatus, Victorian Gamer ezine is back in business. I have been working on a wide variety of projects, but I have gotten a lot of requests for more Victorian Gamer. In order to meet my various demands, I will be publishing VG as Quarterly.

Articles

The Sociology of the Babbage Engine
including an alternative timeline for putting the Babbage Engine into your game.

Features

Reviews

  • Boilerplate Website
  • Victorian Science Fiction
  • GURPS Castle Falkenstein 

    The Social Impact of the Babbage Engine

    including an alternative timeline for putting the Babbage Engine into your game
    and ideas for creating a Steampunk campign



    Alternative Babbage Timeline

    Actual historical events in bold face.


    1791 -Charles Babbage born
    -Samuel F. B. Morse born
    1808 -James Nasmyth born
    1822 -Difference Engine proposed
    1823 -Treasury backing for Engine
    1829 -James Nasmyth joins Henry Maudslay’s workshop
    1831 -Henry Maudsley dies
    1832 -Charles Babbage writes On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures
    1834 -Difference Engine project collapses
    1839 -James Nasmyth designs the Steam Hammer
    1844 -First demonstration of Morse’s telegraph and code
    1845 -Prince Albert intercedes to begin construction of the Analytical Engine
    -James Nasmyth recruited to design machinery to manufacture Engine parts
    1848 -John Stuart Mill writes Principles of Political Economy
    1850 -F. C. Blakewell patents copying telegraph
    1851 -Great Exhibition (Crystal Palace)
    -Analytical Engine exhibited
    1852 -Ada Loveless dies
    1854 -Morse invents a devise that translates Engine Formulae from punch cards and transmits them to an Analytical Engine via telegraph lines.
    1855 -French build Moteur Analytique
    -Wilhelm Gatter builds the Analytischemaschine
    1856 -First Analytical Network established
    1859 Origin of Species by Charles Darwin
    1860 -Humanism Protests and Riots. An organized movement to restore humanity’s premier place in the world oppose Darwin and Babbage. Protestors are arrested en masse by Police and Army directed by a Government controlled by wealthy industrialists.
    1861 -Citizenry registration program begins. All citizens are required to carry identification papers. There is a midnight curfew and police may make random checks to identify known protestors.
    1868 -Karl Marx writes Das Kapital
    1871 -Charles Babbage dies
    1872 -Samuel F. B. Morse dies
    1880 -American Herman Hollerith devises the Census Engine. Data on every American citizen can now be stored and retrieved.
    1890 -James Nasmyth dies
    In our attempts to define SteamPunk, we compared it to its companion, CyberPunk, to decide what it was all about. One common factor was that they study the relationship of society to technology. The nineteenth century is a perfect setting because of the rapid growth of industry and the powerful effect it had on society. The Luddite movement shows to what extremes people went to oppose technology, and what extremes the government would go to suppress such opposition. What then if Charles Babbage had been successful in constructing an Analytical Engine? What might the social repercussions have been?

    Charles Babbage has been rediscovered not only as an inventor of modern computing, but also as an economist with a keen understanding of the Industrial Age. While working on his Difference Engine, he did considerable research on manufacturing, visiting factories and workshops to discover their methods and hopefully learn some methods that might help in the construction of his Engine. The result of that research was a book, Economy of Machinery and Manufactures in which he attempts to present not only the results of his research, but also suggestions for the improvement of the manufacturing process. Babbage focuses on the division of labor as a key means of improving efficiency in the factory. Much of nineteenth century manufacturing was still based on craftsmen, skilled individuals who worked a project from start to finish. Babbage, as had Adam Smith before him, observed that manufacturing could be broken into components or phases, each of which required a different degree of skills. Whereas a craftsmen got the same pay, usually a higher level pay, for working a whole project, many elements could be performed by unskilled or semi-skilled laborers for considerably less money. The true craftsmen would be reserved for only those parts of the project that truly required their skills. In this way, more items can be manufactured at less cost. Further, Babbage felt that investments in machinery that could flawlessly and continually execute some phases of the project could further decrease cost by eliminating human workers altogether.

    Babbage came very close to formulating the sort of assembly-line process that would revolutionize manufacturing.


    Charles Babbage


    Difference Engine


    Karl Marx

    While other machines took on the labor of the human body, the Babbage Engines took on the labor of the human mind. Babbage proposed that a division of labor of mental “work” could also be made. Such a thing had been accomplished by one Monsieur Prony of France, who had been tasked with producing logaritmic and trigonometric tables to aid France’s transition to the decimal system. Prony designated three levels of intellectual skill into which the project could be divided. Babbage uses this project as an example of where a “calculating engine” could be effectively employed. The 60 to 80 “computers’ (persons who perform computations) could be replaced be a single machine. The Analytical Engine even further expanded the ability to replace human minds.

    Charles Babbage was certain that he had designed a “Mechanical Intelligence,” in that his machine was capable of taking in data, processing it and making decisions based on the outcome of sub-processing. We realize today that the Engine, as our computers, would have been no more intelligent than the Formulae put into them, thus the intelligence lies in the Analyst (programmer), not the Engine. At the time, however, Babbage and others felt that they had captured the essence of intellect.

    If the replacement of unskilled and semi-skilled workers by machines caused riots, what might the realization of Artificial Intelligence resulted in? I imagine it would be comparable to the strong reaction to Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species. The combination of Machine Intelligence and Man’s close relation to animals would have been devasating to the Victorian mind set and would likely cause rioting, not among the workers, but among the intelligentsia and the devoutly religious.

    Karl Marx felt that the modern factory was dehumanizing. According to Nathan Rosenberg, Marx draws heavily on Economy of Machinery and Manufactures and refers to it in Das Kapital. However, he drew from the material a completely opposite conclusion from Babbage. Where Babbage saw the minimizing of the workers skill, division of labor and employment of machines as an efficient means to increase production, Marx saw it as deriving the worker and degrading him into no more than a component of a machine. If Marx had had an Analytical Engine to consider, he know doubt would have considered it the ultimate exploitation, taking away from man the one power he possessed over machines and animals.

    Making a SteamPunk Campaign

    If we bring all these elements together, we have a great foundation for a SteamPunk campaign. The campaign can be run from various perspectives and can be designed with various levels of historical authenticity, but a complete exploration of the repercussions of machine computing in science, technology and society can quickly become mind-boggling.

    One thing to consider when designing a campaign is that reality is shaped by perceptions. Today, we take computers for granted. They are everywhere. Some people are not impressed by their abilities, others are awed. We have seen that society adapts to them and where computers eliminate some jobs others are created. But in the Vistorian era, the perception would likely have been different. And it is the difference in the perception of computing that makes room for excitement.

    Keeping the campaign more historical, the Analytical Engine should be no more powerful than a current programmable calculator. It received input from punched cards and generated output on cards or perhaps paper by means of a typing machine. The dynamics of a Luddite movement against the Engines would come from the public’s perception of the Engines’ capabilites rather than the reality.

    Set later in the century, campaign dynamics could posutlate an authoritarian-like regime that uses Hollerith’s Census Engine, which can store and retrieve data on every citizen, as a basis for a mandatory identification system. Players may be protestors who oppose the invasion of privacy or police who root out criminal elements using modern tools of Analysis

    In a more imaginative campaign, Analytical Engines may turn out to be more powerful that originally conceived. They could form the foundation for an international network of Engines exchanging information and putting more power into the hands of the Industrialists. Individuals from all backgrounds may protest the construction and use of Engines, violently or politically. Players may be those who oppose the Engines and execute raids on places they operate. The Players maybe hackers and their associates who practice espionage against the Engines and their Masters.

    Of course, Analyical Engines may simply be background in a broader campaign. Other things to consider are the other areas of research that could be affected by computing power, such as physics. The foundation of quantum physics was being set by the end of the century. How much faster might it have developed with Engine power to aid in some of the mathematics? How much sooner might the Atomic Bomb have developed.

    Below is a descriptive alternative history for use in any campaign that may want to use Babbage’s Engines.

    History

    Charles Babbage was born in 1791, the son of a banker. He took an early interest in algebra and became a brilliant mathematician and one of the founders of the Astronomical Society. A key problem in the practical application of mathematics was the production of tables used for navigation and astronomy. These table were produced by “computers,” people who tediously calculated each entry. These extensive tables then had to be laboriously verified.

    In 1822, Babbage proposed a mechanical devise that would calculate and print the tables. In 1823, Babbage met with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who gave Babbage a grant to proceed. Babbage brought in Master Engineer Joseph Clement and the work began in Clement’s workshop. Work proceeded for six years, but became bogged down by arguments between the two men over ownership of tools, hardware and designs. The Prime Minister, the Duke of Wellington, was persuaded to intervene and granted the project more money, nationalized it hired Clement as a government employee. Despite that, arguments continued when Babbage decided that he wanted to move the project to his house on Dorset Street where he had built a workshop. Clement refused to move and the project died completely by 1834. By this time, Babbage had come up with a new idea. He now proposed what he called an Analytical Engine. The Analytical Engine would be a much more powerful machine, capable of storing a thousand numbers of up to fifty digits in its memory and performing calculations to 20 decimal places and to a sixth order difference. Furthermore, this machine would be programmable.

    Babbage recruited C. G. Jarvis, a former draughtsman of Clement, to begin design of the new engine. Further aid to the cause cam from Augusta Ada Byron, the Countess Loveless. The only daughter of Lord Byron, she intelligent and strong-willed, and one of the few who saw the true potential of the Analytical Engine. She wrote the first Formulae (programs) for the Analytical Engine. She helped promote the project through a campaign of well-thought out papers, often in collaboration with other engineers and scientists.

    Alternate History Begins Here

    In 1845, Prince Albert took a personal interest in the project and met with both Babbage and Lovelace. The Prince consulted with the Prime Minister, Robert Peel, who had been considering an appeal from Babbage for funding for his new Engine. Despite misgivings of some of Peel’s advisors and vocal opposition from Babbage’s Nemesis, Reverend Richard Sheepshanks, a secretary of the Royal Astronomical Society, Prince Albert encouraged Peel to provide additional funding for the project, contributing some of his own money. However, the Prince-Consort insisted that a working model be produced by 1850. Fortunately, Babbage and Jarvis had completed the designs and Babbage had managed to acquire the few completed components and model of the Difference Engine. Engineers were hired, including a team from Italy due to the interest and influence of L. F. Menabrea. With the help of James Nasmyth, who in 1839 had developed the steam hammer, they developed a die system to mass-produce the numerous gears and cams required for the machine. The team realized the most of the components could be produced identically in batches and then assembled by semi-skilled labor, greatly reducing the cost and increasing the speed of the project. Babbage developed what he called the “assembly line” process.

    The project quickly outgrew Babbage’s Dorset Street workshop. Indeed, as the pieces came together, it was realized that a decision needed to be made where to assemble the finished Engine, which would be quite large and difficult to move. It is uncertain who decided it should reside in the Bank of England, but it was there that it finally ended up, in basement room. The Engineers were set up in the Bank to assemble the Engine from the sub-assemblies that were put together in Babbage’s workshop from components manufactured using Nasmyth’s die presses, which were being marketed to various industries.

    The Analytical Engine was completed on February 14th, 1850. The first test proved a success and succeeding, brought the next demand from Prince Albert. In 1848, Prince Albert had developed an idea for a Great Exhibition of Industry and Trade to be held in 1851. Despite a lack of interest in Parliament, Albert was able to generate interest among industrialists and gentlemen and succeeded in getting Government, as well as private, backing. The Prince-Consort decided that the Analytical Engine should be a central display in the Exhibition and asked Babbage how difficult it would be to set up the Engine in the Exhibit Hall that would be built and create a set of Formulae that would be of interest to Industry and Trade and the General Public, as well as Academia. Babbage consulted with his Engineers and determined that with the skills and processes they had developed, the could produce a new Engine in time for the Exhibition and assemble it directly in the Exhibit Hall, rather than move the original.

    Ada Lovelace was tasked to train a team of Analysts to develop useful Formulae for the Engine. On May Day, Queen Victoria rode in a procession to the Crystal Palace and officially opened the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Fountain. From there, she was lead to the Analytical Hall where the giant framework or ornate iron supported the elaborate clockwork brass and pewter gears, partially screen by ornate metalwork. The steam engine driving it was running outside the hall, transmitting power by means of a drive shaft running through the glass wall. Ada Lovelace, although weakened by the cervical cancer that would kill her the next year, was on hand to feed in a series of punched cards for a specially prepared Formula.

    After the elaborate and loud interaction of gears and cams, the Engine’s Curved Line Drawing Device began working, in time producing a large line portrait of the Queen. With the movement of a lever, the Engine produced another smaller, but otherwise identical drawing to great applause. Such portraits, made to order were sold throughout the Exhibition, but the true power was demonstrated to visiting scientists and industrialists. Astronomers and Mathematicians showed the most interest. Industrialists were keenly interested in the mass production parts and the assembly line process of manufacturing the device. Babbage also began presenting speeches on the employment of Engine-controlled machinery in factories.

    The publication of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species was the final straw.

    In 1861, in response to continued problems, the Government instituted mandatory registration of citizens and issued photographic identification cards. Use the techniques developed by Andre Disderi in 1854 that lead to the cartes-de-viste craze, multiple photos of individuals were taken, to which were added name, date of birth and registered address. The copies of the card were kept on file and the data entered into the new Central DataBank. Morse’s teletypes were installed in police stations around England, allowing them to research any individual. Police created reports that were filed by teletype, to be punched on cards and stored in the DataBank. Additional an after hours curfew was imposed in London. Police were authorized to stop any citizen found on the streets after 2:00 A. M.

    Links

    Economy of Machinery and Manufactures by Charles Babbage
    Babbage: pioneer economist by Nathan Rosenberg
    Babbage’s Intelligence: Calculating Engines and the Factory System by Simon Schaffer
    Das Kapital by Karl Marx

    Victorian Technology

    A Hodge Podge of Inventions


    The Pedespeed – 1870

    The Pedespeed

    About the same time that roller-skating was becoming a popular pasttime (the first roller-skating rink opened in London in 1975), an inventor came up with a competing wheeled skate that never quite caught on. Each skate consisted of a single wheel, some 14 or 15 inches in diameter, with footpads and a stout wooden support that strapped to the calf. A ladies version of the pedespeed features a shield, what we might today call a fender, to keep their dresses from being caught in the spokes. One can see that such a design might prove more graceful than the four-wheeled variety of skate, althought perhaps more difficult to master.


    An Improved Swimming Device – 1880

    An Improved Swimming Device

    The brainchild of American inventor, William A. Richardson, this device features a long shaft with a bouyant panel upon which to rest the torso and both hand and foot cranks to turn a four-bladed propeller. This rather novel vehicle was capable of speeds of four to six miles per hour.


    A Novel Unicycle – 1884

    A Novel Unicycle

    All manner of odd conveyances were dreamed up in the nineteenth century. Many combinations of wheels were tried, from one to four and occasionally even more. The unicycles, of which there were many designs seem the oddest. The particular model was particularly strange because of the odd design of the pedalling system. In the particular engraving, it is not entirely clear how one enters or exits the craft, though no doubt there is a gap in the spokes on the left hand side.


    The Talking Watch – 1895

    The Talking Watch

    A Swiss watchmaker by the name of Sivan apparently was the first to execute the talking pocket watch. It contained a phonographic disk made of vulcanized rubber engraved with recordings of a voice calling out the hours and each quarter of the hour. Sivan also apparently built alarm clocks that called out “Wake up” at the designated time.

    About this same time, talking dolls designed on a similar principal were developed in America.

     

    Victorian Dining

    Formal Dinners

    By Jim Skipper


    Food is very important to me. Looking up recipes for this section is always fun. To expand the section, though, I hope to include broader articles on the topic of dining.

    In the month of November, Americans look forward to Thanksgiving, not just a time of giving thanks, but a time of togetherness and dining together. But in the nineteenth century, when dining in hotels and restaurants was uncommon and society was closer knit, dinner-parties where frequent and events of great import.

    In London, during the Season, it was required that invitations be sent at least three weeks in advance. So many parties were held that people needed plenty of notice to avoid conflicts. It was conceivable that one could attend a dinner party every evening.

    There were two essential typs of dinners, diners a la francaise and diners a la Russe. In the former, the dishes were served at the table, the host usually responsible for the carving. A la Russe meant that the butler prepared diners’ plates and then placed on the table before them. The butler would ring a bell to indicate that each course should be brought from the kitchen to the dining room. Servants were expected to remain quiet and move efficiently. One did not address the butler or footman, but merely caught his eye.

    A significant custom was that of never drinking alone. Before taking a drink, one would catch the eye of another diner, nod and drink.

    Another important part of the dinner party was the quantity and variety of the food. Numerous wines were also required. Following is a sample menu.

    FIRST COURSE
    Hare Soup – Soup a la Reine – Pheasant Soup – Puree of Grouse

    SECOND COURSE
    Larded Pheasants – Cold Pheasant Pie – Grouse – Larded Partridges – Hot Raised Pie of Mixed Game

    ENTREMENTS AND REMOVES
    Apricot Tart – Vol-au-Vent of Pears – Maids of Honor – Compote of Apple – Charlotte Russe – Plum Pudding – Dantzic Jelly

    ENTREES
    Salmi of Widgeon – Salmi of Woodcock – Lark Pudding – Fillet of Pheasant and Truffes – Curried Rabbit – Game Patties

    THIRD COURSE
    Snipes – Golden Plovers – Wild Duck – Pintails – Quails – Teal – Woodcocks – Widgeons

    DESSERT
    Preserved Cherries – Filberts – Dried Fruit – Ginger Ice Cream – Figs – Strawberry Ice Cream – Pineapples – Pears – Apples – Grapes – Lemon Water Ice – Orange Water Ice

    – from Beeton’s Book of Household ManagementAfter dinner, the butler would prepare the fire in the drawing room where the ladies would retire to drink tea, while the men remained in the dining room to drink port and perhaps smoke cigars.


    Hot Raised Pie of Mixed Game is a complex dish, but quite worth the effort.

    INGREDIENTS
    1 pheasant
    2 guinea fowl
    2 wood pigeons
    4 lamb chops
    8 slices of bacon
    1/4 lb. ham, cut into large pieces
    5 large anchovy fillets, chopped

    Bone the birds and set aside the bones. Coat the pieces of bird in spiced pepper. SPICED PEPPER
    1 tbs thyme
    1 tbs marjoram
    1 tbs savory
    2 tbs ground nutmeg
    2 tbs ground cloves
    black pepper
    cayenne or chili powder

    Halve the lamb chops and wrap each piece with bacon. FORCEMEAT
    All of the livers from the birds, diced
    2 tablespoons clarified butter
    2 slices of bacon, chopped
    3 shallots or scallions, chopped
    1/4 lb. mushrooms, chopped
    salt and pepper

    Cook the livers, bacon, shallots and mushrooms in the butter for 3 to 4 minutes, then puree in a blender.

    Spread the forcemeat across the bottom and up the sides of a large pie dish. Lay the lamb chops on the bottom and fill the rest of the dish with the birds, ham and anchovies, distributing them evenly around the dish.

    PIE CRUST
    2 cups whole wheat flour
    4 1/2 oz shortening
    1 egg
    Mix the shortening into the flour then add water until soft dough is formed. Roll out the dough and cover the pie with it. Punch a couple of holes into the dough.

    Cook the pie for 1 1/2 hours at 300 degrees. Then add stock to the pie through the holes, enough to cover the meat.

    STOCK
    2 slices of fatty bacon
    2 pig’s feet
    1 onion
    1 carrot
    1 celery stock
    mushrooms
    1 garlic clove, chopped
    a dozen peppercorns
    2/3 cup Madeira
    1 tbs red wne vinegar
    1 tbs red curratn jelly
    1/3 cup mushroom catsup

    Put all the stock ingredients except the last three into a large pot with the bones from the birds, cover with water and bring to a boil. Simmer 45 minutes to an hour. Strain then cool and add the remaining three ingedients.

    After adding the stock, use remaining pastry to cover the holes. Glaze the crust with beaten egg and cook another 20 minutes at 350 degrees.

    This pie was generally served hot, but also makes great leftovers. The stock recipe is more than enough for use in the pie, but what remains can be served as a soup.

    Bon apetite!

    Web Site Review

    Boilerplate

    If you are looking for a great idea to throw into a Steampunk campaign, you must take a look at Boilerplate! Boilerplate is the story of the world’s first mechanical man, which premiered at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition held in Chicago. Complete with photos, posters and other great art. The history of the mechanical man is presented in an engaging set of pages that bring to light a forgotten episode of robotics history.

    The site also includes a wide array of links that provide more information about the era. In fact you will find so many useful links (tucked into the text) on this site, you can easily find yourself browsing for hours. I will not give away to many of them here, but one of interest to many Victorian Gamers will be Historical Modeler’s Forum

    Of particular interest is the political cartoon depicting the threat of mechanical men replacing human workers. This corresponds to the earlier fears about the Babbage Engine replacing the human mind and traces its roots back to the Luddites who protested machinery replacing semi-skilled and unskilled workers.

    Paul Guinan is a noted artist whose work can be found in a wide variety of places from book covers, comic books and collectible playing cards that listing them is beyond the scope of this page. Check out the website at BigRedHair.com for Paul and his wifes work.

     

    Book Review

    Future Perfect

    American Science Fiction of the Nineteenth Century – An Anthology

    Reviewed By Jim Skipper


    Future Perfect
    H. Bruce Franklin
    Rutgers University Press, 1995
    Future Perfect is a collection of 21 short stories and selections from American authors of the nineteenth century. Each of these stories are classified as science fiction, although all are from a time before the phrase “science fiction” was introduced.

    Franklin is the John Cotton Dana Professor of English and American Studies at Rutgers University. He has written a number of books on culture and history and edited other anthologies

    Many of the authors are immediately recognizable: Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allen Poe, Herman Melville, Jack London, Ambrose Bierce, Washington Irving, Edward Bellamy and Mark Twain. While the other names are not as familiar, they deserving of their place in the ollection.

    The stories are divided into sections by theme, “Automata”, “Marvelous Inventions”, “Medicine Men”, “Into the Psyche”, “Space Travel”, “Women’s Work” and “Time Travel”. Each section and each story has a well-written and scholarly introduction. These essays help place the stories in the context of their culture. They also provide information about other stories and authors that you might want to research.

    An intersting section for the Steampunk crowd is the collection of Automata stories. The word “android” originated in 1727. Mechanical men appeared frequently by the end of the nineteenth century. Some stories dealt with the problem of automata taking jobs away from humans.

    A few of these stories make good sources for adventure ideas and all of them are good reading. If you want to build a Steampunk campaign or Victorian Scientific Romance campaign, these stories will help instill the proper atmosphere.

    You can get it from Amazon.com at the link above, but there are copies much cheaper available from Amazon’s Auctions or zShops. I got mine at Half Price bookstore, although a large section of the pages are upside down.

     

    Game Review

    GURPS Castle Falkenstein

    By Jim Skipper


    GURPS Castle Falkenstein

    160 Pages
    Suggested retail price $22.95
    Stock number 6099
    ISBN 1-55634-438-4
    GURPS Castle Falkenstein Web Page


    I just picked up a copy of GURPS Castle Falkenstein and immediately read it to review for this issue. Before beginning my review though, I want to explain some prejudices I had going into this. First of all, I am a GURPS fan. Including this newest addition, I have thirty GURPS books, none of which are Traveller books (I do have the 1982 hard-bound copy of The Traveller Book). I like new and innovated playing systems as much as anybody, but I like that I can go from one campaign to the next in GURPS and pretty much know the rules.

    On the other hand, R. Talsorian’s Castle Falkenstein has cool rules. The card based system of play was new to me and really added character to the game. In fact, Steve Jackson Games’ online magazine Pyramid has an article on how to incorporate playing cards (standard or Tarot) into GURPS games. If Talsorian’s Castle Falkenstein had weaknesses, it was the vague nature of the system and the way it seemed to change substantially from CF to Comme il Faut.

    That being the case, I was not sure what GURPS could add. It seemed to me a trivial matter to create GURPS characters and vehicles that could be used in a CF setting without having to buy a book about it. But, as a public service, I have the book and here is my opinion about it, for what that is worth. Also, I will try to avoid too much comparing of GURPS CF with Talsorian CF

    For those not familiar with Castle Falkenstein, it is a game that takes place in an Alternate Earth in the nineteenth century. In this world, Magick exists and Dragons evolved from dinosaurs. Faerie creatures are energy beings from the void between Universes who invaded our world and are just barely held in check. Jules Verne is the Minister of Science in France and has written articles on Captain Nemo and his extraordinary submarine, and has had build an enormous cannon. Frankenstein and Dracula are both real, as are Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty. Charles Babbage built his Analytical Engine and now mechanical computers run industry. It is a world of culture and adventure.

    The first thing I noticed was the artwork. GURPS CF is full of artwork from the R. Talsorian books. I have not checked to be sure, but I think ALL the artwork is from the R. Talsorian additions; all the same artists are listed in the credits. The main difference is that what was beautiful full-color art is rendered in grey scale here. Also, the artwork does not seem as integrated with the text as it was in Talsorian’s version. One disappointment is the map, which in Talsorian was a two-page spread, here takes less than half a page and is grey-scale.

    The second thing I noticed was Phil Masters as the lead author. If you have done any research on the web regarding Castle Falkenstein, Victorian adventures or Steampunk, you will have seen something from Phil Masters, such as this page or the newer version of it. You will see Phil Masters name on several good GURPS books and many other RPG’s. He also claims to make a living as Paradox programmer. That is pretty scary. 😉 But, with Phil Masters on the project, It stands a good chance of being a good book. GURPS CF has nine chapters:

    1. The World Of Castle Falkenstein
    2. The Known Lands
    3. A More Civilized Age
    4. Dramatic Characters
    5. Dragons, Dwarfs and Faerie
    6. Magick!
    7. Steam, Steel and Science
    8. Important Personages
    9. Falkenstein Campaigns

    Chapter 1, The World OF Castle Falkenstein, gives a brief background of the world of Castle Falkenstein. With some of the material split out to sidebars, and having dispensed with the narrative style of the original, it is not as entertaining a read and somehow seems less complete. Choppy might be a good description. I felt that if I had not known so much about CF already, I might have easily become confused about what was going on in this world.

    Chapter 2, The Known Lands, gives brief descriptions of the major nations of the world. These descriptions are far from adequate to successfully plan a campaign in any location. Anyone wanting to set a campaign in any country or city would need to do considerable more research. A nice set of city maps would be nice, but then, I have a particular fondness for maps.

    Chapter 3, A More Civilized Age, discusses society, including what makes a gentleman and a lady, how to dress and so forth. Most of the treatment is brief, but there is an excellent treatment of Social Classes and there place in the GURPS Status levels. There is a brief discussion of crime and the underworld, and law enforcement. One weakness, clearly, is how limited space is devoted to Victorian culture and its mindset, an important part of what makes playing in any Victorian era so much fun. Perhaps the authors, lacking space, assumed that those who might be interested in Castle Falkenstein and Victorian gaming in general either already know that are willing to research it more. I suppose that just makes websites like Victorian Gamer and all the other sites like it important.

    Chapter 4, Dramatic Characters, is, to me, the heart of the book, particularly if you have been wanting to play CF with GURPS rules. They provide a long list of character templates to create suitable characters for a campaign. Like Talsorian, GURPS CF suggests creating goals for your character and keeping a diary. It then goes on to translate many of the important characteristics of CF characters in terms of advantages and disadvantages, and skills. The twenty three character templates are excellent bases for character design (and all right out of Talsorian).

    Chapter 5, Dragons, Dwarfs and Faerie, describes the various non-human races and presents a wealth of background information. The list includes Dragons, Dwarfs and Faerie. Faerie folk are actually energy beings from a non-physical plane who have invaded the world. They have a variety of powers and weaknesses. Generally, the Faerie fall into two camps, the Seelie, who have good relations with Humans, and the Unseelie, who, if given the chance, would hunt Humans into extinction.

    Chapter 6, Magick!, is one I was eager to read. I was curious how GURPS would present the use of magic, which seemed so elegant in Talsorian, whereas I find GURPS Magic mind-numbingly rule-centric. Fortunately, GURPS CF, right up front, states that this Magick is more akin to GURPS Voodoo than GURPS Magic. A significant quote from the sidebar is “…GURPS Basic Set spells will not work in Falkenstein games” (emphasis theirs). CF Magick is much more flexible than most magical systems and ultimately more powerful, although it is slower and less flashy than other systems.

    Magick in Falkenstein is carefully controlled by Sorcerous Orders. Each Order possesses one or more Lorebooks that contain spells. The Orders tend to guard their Lorebooks jealously but it is not too unusual for Magick-users to join multiple orders.

     

    The difficulty in Magick is not learning or casting the Spell, but in drawing the Thaumic Energy required to cast the Spell. Magick is not powered by the magicians personal store of mana, but by drawing Thaumic Energy from the air. Casting a spell requires identifying the base spell to be used, then calculating the Thaumic Energy Requirement (TER) based on a variety of factors, such as duration, range and subject. Rather complex dice-rolling rules determine how the magician gathers energy and casts the spell. Although harmonics is mentioned, it lacks the flavor of Talsorian and is not explained well enough.

    Falkenstein Magick-users must have the Magery advantage and Ritual Magic as well as a 5-point Unusual Background for access to a Lorebook. Each Lorebook is treated as a separate skill.

    The chapter goes on to explain the major Sorcerous Orders and the contents of their Lorebooks. It also discusses Artifacts, Wards and Unraveling (using your own energy to power spells).

    Chapter 7, Steam, Steel and Science, discusses technology with emphasis on using GURPS Vehicles to design steam-powered equipment. Personally, I find GURPS Vehicles difficult to use. GURPS CF has a number of vehicles and equipment defined and tables of standard weapons and gadgets.

    Chapter 8, Important Personages, gives GURPS stats and backgrounds for a number of the major characters in Castle Falkenstein.

    Chapter 9, Falkenstein Campaigns, discusses a variety of flavors of Castle Falkenstein and does not miss the opportunity to discuss using other GURPS books in your campaign (never miss a chance to sell). Though brief, many of these suggestion open some unusual doors and can add variety to any campaign. There suggestions give great starting points for someone who has had difficulty in coming up with a good campaign.

    At the end, GURPS CF has a nice page that shows how to convert from Talsorian CF to GURPS.

    In summation, GURPS CF adds nothing to Castle Falkenstein. It is an admittedly good translation from one system to the other, compressing material from the original CF and Comme Il Faut into one book. If you already own Talsorian’s CF, there really is not much reason to buy this, unless you absolutely have to play it in GURPS. If you do not own the Talsorian version but you are interested, then GURPS CF is a good book. It lacks the color and flavor of the original, but it full of good information, great ideas for campaign development, a wide list of characters and a more fun magickal system. I liked it and am glad I bought it.

    GURPS Steampunk

    As a Pyramid subscriber, I had the opportunity to look at GURPS Steampunk. As soon as I can get ahold of a final copy, I will review it here. I confess to having some doubts about the material, but perhaps I am prejudiced by my own very strong ideas about how Victorian era world books should be put together. I downloaded some of the sample pages available at its web page and it may be better than I fear.

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