Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Quite Distracted By: Engines & Empires (Again!)

Yes, yes: I was already quite distracted by this game some while ago.  I'm even more distracted right now.  This game is fermenting in my mind as I look once again at E&E while reading Ben Baugh's fantastic Kerberos Club (a wonderful book for Wild Talents, a game I will never, ever play), various products from Adamant's Imperial Age line, and the old For Faerie, Queen, and Country (a flawed but inspiring book for The Amazing Engine, a game even less likely to be played than Wild Talents).  Here's what's stewing in my brain-pan:

A D&D game set in the mid-19 century.  For a few decades now, the old rationalist philosophies have been badly damaged as the gates to Faerie, previously obscure, have opened up.  Quietly at first, but then more and more openly, the creatures of legend have appeared again in the world.  Some were hiding here all the time, while others have just remembered we existed and decided to come over and visit.  Both the Seelie and Unseelie Courts have ambassadors to the Court of St. James even as a horrid Redcap stalks the streets of Whitechapel preying on prostitutes.  The Universities dusted off the old grimoires and now offer instruction in theurgy, while occult groups now enjoy success in their attempts at practical magic.  A new breed of adventurers has begun to spring up: folk who hunt down vampires terrorizing remote villages, folk who delve into the sewers to find the source of the giant, man-eating rats therein, folk who even tread the borders of Faerie itself for knowledge and profit.

Although I think you could get a lot of mileage out of "London as both Dungeon+Wilderness", the particular setting in my mind right now is the frontiers of Imperial India, probably the border country around the Hindu Kush.  The idea is that you could play a game using most if not all the usual bits from D&D: the PC's are a motley, multi-racial bunch of adventurers who turn up in some remote village to explore the wilds, fight monsters, and recover treasure. Maybe the Goblin Raiders are being stirred up by Tsarist agents.  Maybe the great dragon slain by Indra is stirring again.  Maybe a faerie palace has appeared in the remote mountain palaces, filled with gold and gems and treasures, which might turn to straw when you come back, but hey, you never know.

I have this image of playing the Butler to some other PC, something like Peter Wimsey's man, Bunter.  "Pardon me, sir, but there appears to be a somewhat gelatinous cube graudually making it way towards us.  And, if I'm not mistaken, that would be the remains of Major Lawrence being slowly digested inside the brute.  May I suggest that Doctor Blackwood attempt his monster-holding charm while I prepare the flaming oil?"
Unsurprising to my loyal, hypothetical readers, I'm already thinking about how to tinker with the game.  I am an inveterate and occasionally obsessive tinkerer with systems and I don't try to fight it anymore.  By and large, I'd want to focus the game on the human Classes.  At some, point I mentioned to John Higgins (the authour) that I felt he'd made a slight misstep with the Boxer class being out of touch with the Victorian idea of pugilism; the E&E Boxer is basically the D&D Monk.  But now that I look at it again, I think it would darn easy to reskin the Boxer to a Pugilist by just changing the Qi Powers to some thing like Animal Vitality (a good, pseudo-scientific idea of the times).

Magic is, as usual, the thing that lurks foremost in my mind, in this case being entwined with thoughts about the Fae.  As a starting point, I would use the Elf class as the basis for the Light or Seelie Elves and the Fay as the Dark or Unseelie Elves.  It's pretty clear to me that this is what the game is suggesting anyway, as Elves have an inner light that repulses the dead while the Fay have an innate personal glamour that always them to change their appearance.  In E&E as written, Elves are basically the human Scholar class with a few racial goodies; Scholars are E&E's version of the Cleric class (with both the Cleric and Druid spells from Labyrinth Lord).  Elves as Clerics?  Yep and I think it works out pretty neatly with both types tied to Light and Life.
One of the big differences between E&E and it's source-game, Labyrinth Lord, is that all spells must be found and learned., Scholars don't automatically receive them from on high.  Instead, they have to be, you know, scholarly, and research their theurgic magics.  This feels utterly correct to me and sets up a clearer dichotomy of Black and White Magicians.  But, and here's where I'm going with this, I don't think that dichotomy works as well for Elves, who might well be Fallen Angels anyway to take one theological explanation for faeries.

The release of Advanced Edition Companion (AEC) opens up a nice alternative: Elves get the AEC Druid spells, a far more comprehensive body of magics than the LL version, which would thus show similarities and differences with the Scholars spells.  And unlike Scholars, Elves don't learn spells--they just develop them as abilities.  Is that over-powering?  I don't think so because with this change most Scholarly magic items are no longer usable by Elves.

On a similar track, the Fay from E&E are basically the human Magician (i.e. Magic-User) class with their racial perks, notably the glamour power I mentioned before.  That shows that the fay are oriented toward illusion and the AEC comes though again: give the Dark Elves the Illusionist list.  Again, it crosses over with the Magicians (quite a lot), bit is still distinct.

A possibility now occurs to me: in the stories, many naughty faerie get caught out by having inhuman features, such as a tail or cloven hooves.  It so happens that Adamant's Imperial Age: Faeries has a neat little table of Unseelie Traits that I think I could plunder.  I'm not so sure on the method yet, since as written, these are used in a kind of point-buy thing for racial Levels and similar stuff and nonsense.  Still, I think an Unseelie fae might begin with one cosmetic Traits and then gain more significant ones as he levels up.

Moving on to other non-humans: Centaurs and Bird-Men are right out.  Just not in genre.  But I could see using Fauns and Halflings as kinds of minor Faerie.

Oh, and I hope needless to say: Tinker Gnomes have never, will never exist.  Period.  Mad Science! is purely the purview of humanity, even if it's sudden appearance has something to do with the resurgence of Faerie.

Before I leave the subject of Faerie, I have one other consideration: what are Faeries doing in India?  Yeah, this is a touchy one as all that wonderful Victorian faery-lore is from Western Europe and not South-east Asia.  A number of responses occur to me, but I want to keep it simple and remember that I am playing toward the stereotypical, British stories rather than doing Anthropology or Comparative Religions.  In that regard, I am fortunate in having the always cool Rakshasas available: nasty, shape-changing, illusion-making spirits anyone?  I'm going with the idea that Faeries are alien creatures who have to be interpreted by the human cultures that encounter them.  The Indian Rakshasas are the European Dokalvar and Unseelie Elves.  And the Light Elves?  Um...I'm sure I'll think of something.

Yes: I should be working on Under the Dying Sun instead of thinking about something else.


  1. Faeries are pretty much a staple of universal mythology, they're just known by different names and the Victorian gossamer winged waif imagery skewed our perception of them.

    And yes, you should be woking on UTDS much as I dig the idea of faerie India...and I dig it a lot! UTDS just has more stuff I can borrow/rip-pff for my campaign...

  2. Coming to this very late from a link you posted on my blog, but I like the idea. It's certainly a under-utilized setting.