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Minireview: The Kerberos Club (Wild Talents)

Wild Talents (published by Arc Dream) has slowly grown into an impressive “alternative superhero roleplaying” game engine. Running on the “One Roll Engine” (ORE), it consists of the base book (“Wild Talents”, now in its 2nd edition) and a number of wildly different setting books. The Kerberos Club by Benjamin Baugh is one of these settings… and it’s absolutely brilliant. Yes, it’s a superhero game, but it’s very different from what you’d normally associate with that.

To start things off, it’s set during the reign of Queen Victoria, in England; think more along the lines of “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” than anything from Marvel or DC. England (and the world) has slowly started to understand that weird supernatural things lurk in the fringes of civilization, and that some people have extraordinary powers. Collectively called “the Strange”, these people are largely unknown and mostly shunned at the beginning of the era, though later on they become accepted members of society. Queen Victoria makes deals with the Fae, and actually mounts a war offensive against them, becoming Queen of the Fae at one point. She’s also becoming increasingly… strange and inhuman. The British Empire rules the world, aided by cheap labor from the Fairy Lands and the resulting technology boom. Airships (zeppelins) start to appear, and various Strange individuals slowly step out of the shadows and join polite society. The focus of their activities is social club with an amazingly liberal policy. They allow as members Blacks, Orientals, evolved animals and even… Women. Club members are well-known for exotic ventures and exploits, though not all of those are exactly applauded by society or even strictly legal. However, the semi-official approval of Queen Victoria keeps the Club safe from most enemies – though the Queen is increasingly becoming… something else.

It’s a brilliant, weird, alternative steampunk / pulp Victoriana superhero setting. It consists of three separate eras, in a way; in the first era, the Strange (i.e. the PCs) are mostly shunned by polite society and must be careful in what they do. In the second, the Kerberus Club is open about its activities and some of its members start to enter the public spotlight. Things get a bit more “superhero-y”. In the end, the Strange are bona fide “superheroes”, openly fighting crime (or doing it) in the streets of London, fighting in the riggings of zeppelin on fire, and trying to foil the machinations of Victorian-era Dr. Dooms. This gives the GM a lot of choice in what sort of game he wants to run; simply by setting the game in a certain year of this alternative history, he automatically gets a certain kind of in-game environment.

The alternative history is fun, inventive and quite gritty. I liked that last point; many Victorian “romances” gloss over the horror that was the beginning of industrialized London, concentrating on the upper classes and their nice, clean tea sessions. No such gloss here (though you can run a strictly upper-class game if you wish). The poor are desperate and filty, and the lower-to-middle classes are almost as desperate and filthy. There is no social safety net to speak of (workhouses, prisons etc were intentionally designed to be horrifying and worse that being dirt-poor on the streets, to stop the poor from intentionally trying to gain access), and many aspects of society were quite barbaric by current standings. The various social classes considered the fact that they were strictly better than the lower ones a part of natural law, and also “everyone knew” that negroes, orientals, “brownies” etc were inferior by biology and breeding. And of course, women were all good and fine, but inferior to men in most ways. The book goes into quite a bit of detail on the social aspects of the setting, while keeping it playable for modern sensibilities – the Strange by design can ignore many social constructs, but there is always a price for doing that.

Systemwise, this runs on ORE, with some very nice tweaks. The skill system used here is a variant of the stock one, and I like it a lot. In fact, I think it’s strictly better than the stock one, so I’d be tempted to use this tweak in other ORE games, too. You need the “Wild Talents” core book to run this, though there is a very nice and cheap “Wild Talents Essential Edition” available which is a “just the rules” book (the bigger core book also contains its own setting and other stuff).

If you want to run a “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” -style Victorian superhero game, this is simply the best game book for it, bar none. The setting is fantastic, the game system is solid, and the writing is fun and witty. I cannot say enough good things about this book. Get it.

Targets of Opportunity is here (sort of)

The long-ago ransomed Delta Green book Targets of Opportunity is finally here. Well, as PDF anyway. All of us ransom participants got the PDF (link was in my Inbox this morning) and will get the printed hardcover book later when it materializes. The book is also available for normal pre-order now; the first printing will be a limited hardcover run of 1000 copies (most going to ransom participants), with a paperback retail edition to follow some time later.

A quick skim of the PDF gives a very good impression. It’s a bit over 300 pages, with the traditional Delta Green layout and nice, evocative art. Haven’t read it yet (obviously) and might wait until the printed book arrives to do so, but judging by the writers involved with this thing (Greg Stolze, Ken Hite, Dennis Detwiller, etc) I expect the textual contents to be top-notch.

The book contains:

  • “Black Cod Island”, an Alaskan / American Indian scenario with related setting info
  • “M-EPIC”, a Canadian counterpart to Delta Green
  • “Disciples of the Worm”, a sinister group, with scenario
  • “The DeMonte Clan”, a menace rooted in post-disaster New Orleans
  • “The Cult of Transcendence”, one more sinister cult
  • a bunch of appendixes about game rules tweaks and hints on how to run a DG game

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Big Bad Ransom

Arc Dream is really getting into the ransom model nowadays. The latest one is from the esteemed Benjamin Baugh, for Bigger Bads: an expansion book for Monsters and Other Childish Things.

If they reach the required sum by January 15th, they’ll do a print run and the contributors will get physical copies and/or PDFs (and their names in the credits). Greg Stolze recently did this sort of thing for Reign Enchiridion, a paperback “just the rules” edition of Reign, with a few extra goodies thrown in. It actually reached 120%, so here’s hoping this one does well too.

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