Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Tales from the Archives: The Original Adventure Entertainment - Chapter Two

Chapter Two.
A Rendezvous in Bohemia
In which Our Company of Heroes meet a Charming Diplomat, three Possible Spies and a Menacing Manservant.

The Original Invitation to the LARP>

Dramatis Personae:

From left to right in the above daguerreotype:

Katerina, Grafin (Countess) von Ulmfeld from Bavaria
Ruprecht, Ritter von Schlan, of the Austro-Hungarian Diplomatic Corps
Lady Louisa Fitzgerald - A British Widow & Traveller
Captain Alan Horatio Montgomery - A British Steamship Capitan
Captain Kenneth Campbell, of the British Black Watch regiment
Mr Geronimo Dedosliberos - An Itinerant Spanish Dentist
Dragovic - The Ritter von Schlan’s Croatian Manservant
Dr. Frederick Bletherington-Smythe - A British MD
The Honourable Cornelius Fortesque-Smythe - A Well-Travelled British Hunter
Not shown as she was the photographer:
Lady Power O’Donahue - An Anglo-Irish Adventuress

In the period of respite following their Harrowing foray beneath the streets of Paris, the party receive a Mysterious Letter. It is an invitation to a meeting at a hunting lodge in the Austro-Hungarian province of Bohemia, near the Bavarian and Saxony borders. It intimates that they will meet friends in their opposition to the Steam Lords and their Prussian allies.

In the middle of the afternoon of the 18th July 1871, that the assembled company took tea and coffee in the rustic hunting lodge of Ruprecht, Ritter von Schlan (known as ‘Otto’ to his friends), a member of the Austro-Hungarian Diplomatic Service.

In addition to Captain Montgomery and his three companions, there were several other guests at the country retreat. The Bavarian Grafin (Countess) von Umfeld, who appeared to be only Rather Friendly Terms with the Ritter, was acting as Hostess for the weekend. Captain Campbell, a serving British Army Officer claimed he was representing a group in the British Military that were opposed to the Political Machinations of the Steam Lords. He was also escorting Lady Power O’Donahue back to her home in Ireland, despite her Better Judgement.

The Ritter’s Croatian manservant, Dragovic, was waiting at table. He caused Severe Consternation amongst the guests by rushing Alarming through the dining room on a few occasions, brandishing a sabre and and Exclaiming in a Violent amalgamation of Serbo-Croat and Latin about Bogles and Bogeys.

Some of the Company dressed for Dinner.

A belated meal formed the centrepiece of an evening in which our Heroes learnt of the aims and intentions of the Second Compact. Captain Campbell seemed Overly Interested in the opinions of Montgomery and his friends concerning this matter. Talk ranged from the New Excavations at Troy to the Paris-Vienna Automotive Race. Several present expressed an interest in visiting Vienna to attend the Grand Finale of the Race.

The Assignation that went unnoticed!

Quietly, in the background Other Things were afoot. Captain Campbell believed that someone was attempting to contact Fortesque-Smythe concerning an arms deal in Prague. In fact, he had overheard a messenger passing Prussian Military Secrets to the Ritter, which was why the meeting was held close to the border. Campbell also tried to persuade Fortesque-Smythe to help support a Military Coup against the Steam Lords in Britain! This convinced Fortesque-Smythe that Campbell was a Spy.

Montgomery and his associates had been warned that a British Government Spy might be present but were not sure if it was Campbell or Lady Power O’Donohue. The Ritter persuaded all those present, excepting Campbell and Lady Power, to support the Second Compact.

The party of British Exiles sadly now dispersed. Dr. Bletherington-Smythe and Señor Dedosliberos set up a joint practice in Paris. Fortesque-Smythe’s luck was poor and with his financial assets seized by the Oppressive British Government, he made a living as a Trading Factor in Dortmund. Only Captain Montgomery joined the Second Compact as an Active Participant and remained as a Dramatis Persona in the furtherance of our tale. As you will see, Dear Reader, Fortune smiled upon the Good Captain and he acquired the command of a small steamer plying the Inner Sea.

Host’s notes:
This Chapter ran in July 1996 and was our first ever LARP event.
It didn’t go too badly although the plot lines were very simple. Everyone enjoyed themselves. The only big problem was that dinner was very late! We realised the gas oven at the lodge wasn’t working well. We thought the gas cylinder was nearly empty but discovered that a squirrel has chewed through the rubber tube connecting the cylinder to the oven! Cling film & gaffer tape to the rescue!

Worthy of High Merit: Dave (Dragovic) for being a very attentive servant and maintaining an air of barely subdued menace all weekend. Captain Campbell commented that “The Bosnian (sic) manservant always looked as if he would be as willing carve YOU as he would the leg of lamb he was serving at dinner”.

Friday, 14 October 2016

Why am I a Castle Falkenstein Fan?

Why Am I A Castle Falkenstein Fan?
This Missive began life as a simple review, but quickly seemed to transmogrify into an Opus Magnum – I blame the Boggarts.

When I first saw a copy of the core rules for Castle Falkenstein (CF) back in 1995, the cover art attracted my attention.  My gaming group had been playing Shadowrun for a while and after a quick read of the write-up on the back, I thought CF looked like a Victorian-ised version of the same theme. How wrong I was!

Most role-playing games have a chapter on the films, TV shows and books that have inspired them.  When looking at a new game this is often the section I look at first.  If it contains films and books I like, then I will be more interested in playing the game (doesn’t always work though!).

The well-hidden film and TV list contained eight films I love to watch plus Wild, Wild West, which had never been broadcast here in the UK. (though as I type, it is showing on one of our channels). 

My favourite film as a child was the Disney 1954 version of Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea.  I had a children’s abridged collection of Verne stories for my eighth birthday and that set me on a path of reading Victorian / Edwardian Scientific Romances for the rest of my life. 

The Prisoner of Zenda isanother big favourite of mine, though I prefer the 1952 Stewart Granger version.

In the film, James Mason gives a Masterclass in how to be a Falkenstein Villain. Of course, he played the Great Anti-hero, Captain Nemo in Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea too.

So CF had passed the first test with flying colours! That was enough for me to buy it.

I got it home and started reading. Then after a couple of months spent finishing off an existing Traveller campaign, I got my group of friends to try CF and things went on from there.

The things I really like about Castle Falkenstein are:

(1) I like the ease with which the Great Game can Shift Focus from Great Affairs of State, to Performing  Dashing, Heroic  Deeds and then to the Ordinary, Mundane Life (at least by CF definitions) of the Dramatic Characters that the players control. My players have, over the years, Battled Super Villains, Raced Ice Boats and had problems at a House-Warming Party due to a Resident Boggart.

(2) Using Playing Cards instead of dice is a Great Idea. You can lay a card on the table with Far More Grace or Panache than you will ever get rolling dice.  If you choose the right pack of cards, just having them on the table adds to the feel of the game.

As our Adventure Entertainment is generally orientated towards the Austro-Hungarian Empire, I found this pack of ‘Kaiser Jubiläum’ Imperial playing cards by Ferd Piatnik & Sons, of Vienna.  The Kings and Queens are pictures of members of the Imperial family and the Jacks are dressed to represent regions of Austria-Hungary.

(3) The descriptive, rather than number crunching, nature of the Dramatic Character (PC for the Uninitiated) creation. This leads you nicely into writing a short story to lay out your Dramatic Character’s abilities rather than a more abstract character sheet.  This links to the encouragement the rules give for players to write an In-Character Diary, not just to record the Events of the Adventure but also to add newspaper cuttings, daguerreotypes and so forth, which fill out the character background. I must admit that most of my players don’t really bother, despite me giving them little books for the purpose, but the few that do like it Really Like It! Their work has been invaluable to my write up of the story of our Original Adventure Entertainment.

(4)  The Way Magick Works in CF. Personally, I like the idea of Magickal Practitioners combining different elements to make the Universe Bend to their Will in the particular way they want. They can construct a wide variation of spells by modifying basic effects to control the area (or number of persons affected), the distance over which the effects are sent and the duration of the effect (amongst other possibilities). This makes for an adaptable system of Magick which the Canny Sorcerer can twist to suit their needs for the Most Surprising Results!

The idea of Thaumic Energy (that powers Magick) being a finite resource in the vicinity of the caster is Good as is the slow collection of the aligned energy needed to cast a spell. It makes Magick seem more powerful to me as you need to build up to the Zap rather than click your fingers and Shazzam!  It also acts as a balance against over-powerful Sorcerers because they can be vulnerable whilst collecting the power they need to toast you with a fire blast. Now you see why Evil Sorcerers need Henchmen in Red Jackets.

Of course, the rules allow you to try and short circuit the gathering of energy but if you want a quick result you risk problems through misaligned harmonics. Also Experienced Magick Users can gather more energy quickly so you don’t want to play against the Masters of the Talent until you are ready or you will come Unstuck!  

(5) I love the background of the Faerie Folk in CF. I am told that the idea of the Faerie having passed through other Worlds / Dimensions before reaching the CF Universe is Controversial, especially including their contact with Scientifically Advanced Universe on the way. Personally I think it helps explain the origins of certain Faerie (and besides what Game Host can resist dropping a heavy laser rifle into a Victorian world and having the power supply cut out just as the Heroes were relying on it!)

Faerie in CF are actually Very Alien (In the original Meaning of the Word – not Little Green or Grey Men) Beings enjoying a Romp in a Physical Universe. That is So Refreshingly Different to the Pointy Eared and ‘Monster Go Grrr’ versions you find in so many games.

(6) It is so easy to use your existing Dramatic Character information in a Live-Role Playing session with Very Little Conversion needed. We have made a few House Rule changes but all our Adventure Entertainments are a mixture of tabletop and Larp.

(7) The quality of the (currently) limited Supplementary Material Published. Apart from the core rules, Nine game books have been published and two of those were for the GURPS system (see the CF bibliography page on the Blog)

Comme Il Faut, for me, is the best supplement for the Game. It covers a lot of the General Background of Life in the CF world. The details of Society (Definitely with a Capital S), and Travel have proved Most Useful. There are also Rules Clarifications, Variations and updates, especially concerning Magick and Combat. The short section on Live-Role Playing was, in fact, the Inspiration that started my group of friends down that Particular Slippery Slope!

The Lost Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci is an Interesting Monograph on the Secret and Problematical Art of Engine Magick. I will admit that I find the devices in this book, though Very Difficult to manufacture, are Too Powerful and threw out the Balance of the Game in the one Chapter in which I used one.

The Steam Age is a compendium of Amazing Vehicles and Infernal Devices. I have dipped into it for the Odd (and sometimes, I Mean Odd!) Useful Piece of Machinery for my Adventure Entertainment.  For me, the little bits in the back on How to be a Mad Scientist and Evil Mastermind are the best part of the book!

The Book of Sigils has a Really Good Storyline leading you through the Ins and Outs of Many Sorcerous Orders. The expansion of the Magickal Lorebooks available is a Boon to Magicians but sadly, not of Great Use me (see below). Still it does provide a greater range of Villainous Mages and Societies for my players to deal with.

Six Guns and Sorcery is the American supplement and I quite like the description of the New World.  One of my Players ran a short game using this setting but our players seem to prefer the Comfort and Intrigues of New Europa to Life on the Wild Frontier.  I have found it handy for providing more detailed Background Information for Dramatic Characters who hail from the Western hemisphere.

The Memoires of Auberon of Faerie is the guide to Faerie Folk of all callings. The Introduction describing them, their history and how they arrived in the Falkenstein Universe is Splendid. The information on What They Are and their Motivations is a Great Aid in playing them as Dramatic or Host Characters (NPCs to the Uninitiated).  The Broad Range of Faerie described gives you an Excuse to add them to Any Scenario you are planning, should you want to.

Curious Creatures is the Brand New text from Fat Goblin Games, my review of it can be found here. I was very happy to see my Favourite Game is back on the scene and when I mentioned it to my group of friends; they immediately said they wanted to Play Castle Falkenstein Again! 

GURPS Castle Falkenstein and GURPS Castle Falkenstein: The Ottoman Empire are good solid books but I don’t play GURPS.  They do expand on the CF World and since the people at Steve Jackson Games are Nice Chaps, they have provided CF Statistics for the new Host Characters and Faeries that are introduced in their books.

So what don’t I like about it?  Only a few little niggles really:

(1) The Way Magick Works in CF, Yes I know I said I like it Myself but my most of my players don’t seem to like the extra work of building a spell.  This has meant that in all the Adventures we have run, we have only ever had two Dramatic Character Sorcerers (and one of them only for one Chapter!) I have tried to get around this by writing ‘pre-priced’ spell combinations, but perhaps what I really need is less lazy players :).

(2) The annoying inconsistencies between the various books in the series.  Some events are listed as having happened on different dates in different books. When I was drawing up details for the Rhineland States, I discovered that all three maps of New Europa in the books show different borders, especially for Bavaria.

(3) The quality of the printed books.  My first copy of the core book was a softcover one and the binding lasted less than six months. A while later, I bought a hardback copy hoping it would last longer but It disintegrated too. Admittedly, the other books in the series have lasted well, even my really, heavily used copy of Comme Il Faut.

So despite a few minor points, as you may be able to tell, I love the Whole, Slightly Over The Top, Cinematic, Swashbuckling, Over Capital Lettered, Feel to game. Yes, I’m a Castle Falkenstein Fan; because if you are going to play a role-play game then surely it is Your Honourable Duty to play one that has Heaps of Panache!