Posted on October 16, 2009 by spikexan
I’d wager that most people feel a kinship with one time period or another. Some love the Renaissance so deeply that they model their weddings around the era. For me, I’ve always held a deep appreciation for the Victorian Era. Despite the difficulty historians have attributing a date to it, I fall in line with the generalized trends and historical high points of that period. There is a rather rich environment of Victorian Era gaming; each seems to fill its own niche. Castle Falkenstein has little in common with Ghosts of Albion; however, both are fine games. One writing staple of the era is using ten words when one would do. Charles Dickens, a known abuser of this “sin,” could actually write around all the flowery language. I mention this because the title is a bit wordy and I’m going to refer to this game as Gaslight for the remainder of the review.
I’m fairly sure I could have said that in fewer words as well, but let’s keep in the Victorian spirit of excess!
Gaslight is eighty plus pages of Victorian Era goodness from Battlefield Press, Inc for the Savage Worlds system. This game offers a great deal of new character types, rules, and options for Savage Worlds line that could especially tie-in well with Rippers (although a few characters do different things in both campaign settings. If they are mixed together, then those points would have to be ignored or adapted).
Marc Gacy, one of the book’s authors, wore multiple hats for this project. Layout design was one of them. The text’s layout has a basic two-column layout, which is peppered with art linked to the Victorian age. There are no borders or overly embedded graphics to Gaslight. The corners do have images embedded into them, but this is a wise move to keep the book from feeling too spartan. The lead-in fonts look good throughout the book. These fonts also work within the book’s various tables to solid effect. Finally, the occasional sidebar in the book becomes a bit welcome just to attraction the reader’s attention. These sidebars are laid out so that they don’t distract from the main text.
Gaslight’s creators took an interesting detour with the book’s artwork. It’s a decision I
think wouldn’t work for most games, but actually panned out well for this. What they did was delve into Wikimedia Commons and find artwork and photographs for their book, such as Charles Allan Gilbert’s 1892 painting “All Is Vanity.” Why does this work? This works because there are some amazing pictures, both painted and photographed, from the Victorian Era.
Photography was finding its place and artists were trying their hardest to keep up by creating surreal effects, optical illusions, or “impossible” images. This book is loaded with amazing images. Some of these are well-known images, but the lot of them are random bits of goodness.
There are also several maps throughout the book, the best being a global map at the end of the book. Being that I’m no artist, I can appreciate sifting through thousands of photos and art pieces for the right fit. It’s a tactic that won’t work often, but was pulled off well here.
There are a few chapters to Gaslight even though the book itself doesn’t refer to them as chapters. Following the bold-faced terms in the Table of Contents doesn’t always lead to what looks like a new chapter. They sometimes drop you off in the middle of a page. I would have liked to see the breaks in the book be a little more apparent; nevertheless, these divisions are:
Terror by Gaslight: A broad look at the Victorian Era
Important Organizations and Secret Societies: Uh . . . you get the gist
Colorful Characters: Character creation through Gaslight’s options
Worldly Goods: A detailed equipment listing
Rules of Order: Gaslight’s rules on Wealth, Social Class, Languages, and Powers
The Sun Never Sets: An overview of the world and a timeline.
The opening sweep of the Victorian Era is a good one. It’s more than enough to start off a game master for campaigning in this time period while being informative enough to keep those familiar with the time interested.
There are some excellent societies to use as protagonists or antagonists in Gaslight. Of the groups mentioned in the book, MI7 seems to be the closest thing to a “default” organization. This agency, created by Queen Victoria herself, investigates the strange and impossible. Other organizations do lurk on the cobblestone streets with a satisfying range of motivations. Some of these groups aren’t even on the up and up. No, the Red Headed League is a thug version of the Legion of Super Villains (Say . . . wasn’t Lex Luthor a redhead?).
Character creation offers some new creatures and new twists to existing creatures. The book details a handful of creatures–Beast Men, Humans, Vampires, Werewolves, and Wildlings–for players to explore. These choices can make for an intriguing party of adventurers. There are also some great new Edges and Hindrances in this setting. I’m a huge fan of the Pugilist and Luck of the Gods Edges.
The equipment listing is a little bit more than tables of stats. First, it kicks off with an explanation of the Wealth check, a new addition for this setting. Money and status are so crucial in this society that it cannot be ignored. Some may not care too much about this aspect of the game. They can go ahead and drop it. No problem. The truth is though that this just provides another interesting obstacle for players. Many gamers know to load up with silver while hunting werewolves. Things get interesting though when nobody in the group can afford the silver because they maxed out their Vigor stat for that sweet Toughness score. Maybe they can save up enough money to kill the beast next month.
The Rules of Order is such a short chapter that it almost feels like an appendix. Readers will find rules for social classes, languages, and powers here.
The Sun Never Sets offers thirty pages of information about the world of the Victorian era. Ghosts of Albion may have been more detailed; however, Gaslight may squeak past in terms of scope. Readers are given looks at multiple countries on every continent. Even barren Antarctica is included (you have to have some means of reaching the Hollow Earth). A timeline of 1859-1901 pulls up the most of the weight at the end of the book. This timeline follows the thinking in many RPGs. Real events are sprinkled with fictitious ones for added effect. A bit of strangeness occurs in the timeline. 1888 has three events attributed to it. These events deal with Jack the Ripper, a time traveler, and the Hounds of Baskerville.
After the timeline is complete, there is a full page calendar for that year (and that year only). There is nothing in the book to explain why this year is important. It’s not the “default” year or anything. Just a curiosity. A second bit of oddness comes with the final notation to the chronology. It turns out that the Martians have hit London and the fate of everything is at risk. Seems a big bit of history to totally ignore throughout the rest of the book. I don’t know why the authors bothered with such a jarring addition.
Gaslight makes for a fun game, especially with groups already primed for this setting. I
think groups unfamiliar with the time period will also enjoy the additions to Savage Worlds this book contributes. At the least, gamers can mine it for excellent character tweaks in order to make their character just a little more unique. With all this said, I’ll give these scores to this game:
Layout: Four out of Five Dice
Artwork: Four out of Five Dice (tactic pays off for this work)
Writing: Four out of Five Dice
Overall: Four out of Five Dice (excellent Savage Worlds toolkit/setting)
Review by Todd Cash