Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Review: Leagues of Adventure

Leagues of Adventure is a Victorian Steampunk/Weird Science game from Triple Ace Games.  Though calling is "Steampunk/Weird Science" is selling it really short.  I actually have a lot to say about this game because I really, really like it.

Note: I am reviewing the hardcover and PDF versions of this game.  The hardcover is nice with a nice sturdy binding, full color cover with b&w pages and color inserts.  The PDF is the same and weighs in at 262 pages.

Leagues of Adventure (LoA hereafter) is the first Ubiquity game I ever purchased. I think what drew me to it was that it was very much a "Steampunk/Weird Science" game which was something new for me.  All my Victorian games tend to be Victorian/Magic/Gothic Horror games.  Ghosts of Albion, Cthulhu by Gaslight and even Victoriana are ones that spring to mind the quickest.  So this is a period I am intimately familiar with; one I really love and enjoy.

Maybe it is my read on it, or by design, but this game is more pulpy, two-fisted action than other Victorian games.  Sure it is not pulp to the level that Hollow Earth Expedition is, but the shared DNA is obvious.  Even a couple of the archetypes felt similar.  So if your idea of Victorian era fun is dark, smog soaked streets at night hunting a lone killer...well this game can do that, but it is also better suited to hunting down a rampaging elephant in the heart of the city let loose by a society with aim opposed to yours.   Or hunting down a secret cult planning on releasing a virus in the city.

Certainly one of the many inspirations for LoA is another League, the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.   Indeed, the cover even invokes the movie a bit.  Hey. I know the movie sucked compared to the comic, but it was still big stupid fun and I enjoyed it.

If you are familiar with the Hollow Earth books then this is one is set up along a similar idea.  Though the chapter titles wonderfully worded and sound "Victorian".  A huge plus in my book.

The Introduction is the typical what is this game, what is roleplaying, what is that house, where does that highway lead to?  Sorry. That was the Talking Heads.  Not really needed by anyone reading my words here, but still nice to have.

Chapter the First: What Has Been & What is to Come, covers a history of events from 1890 to 1899.  Dates are listed, wars are discussed and various rulers of nations are listed.  Good background information for any Victorian game.  The best bit might be the "Who's Who" it includes a mix of real and fictional people of the Victorian age.  If you play any Victorian game or have a passing interest in this period then this list has a lot of familiar names.   Still, great to have.  My ONLY complaint about this chapter is that it would have been better served as an appendix.  It is just a collection of lists with no narrative or context.

Chapter the Second: Concerning the Nature of Character & Inherent Qualities.   I want to pause to really soak that title in.  I am a Victoriana geek. I love that, sounds like a scientific paper that would dabble into meta-physics.  But all that aside this is the chapter on character creation.  Moreso than HEX this game is focused on Nationality because, well surprise, the Victorians were.
Since LoA is a complete and contained game, the full character creation rules are present here. This is good since the archetypes and motivations are slightly different.  Primary and Secondary Attributes are the same with the same point spread. Skills are given the same point spread as HEX but the skills themselves are slightly altered. Talents are also present with more of a Victorian flair.  The focus here is very much the "everyman" adventurer.  Sure having money or connections help, but these are slef-made men and women. So no supernatural talents just yet.  Under Resources we get to real meat of this game.
Characters are expected to be part of a League.  It is a great way to get dissperate and often unimaginable types to real Victorians of people together to adventure.  Each League can even have a wealthy Patron to provide the gear and expenses.   There are a number of clubs and leagues presented.  All with different hooks, skills and motivations.  It really is a cool way to get beyond the "you meet in a pub/bar/inn".  My faves are the Fenian Society, The Hollow Earth Society and the Temporal Society.  There are lots more, but making a new one is a breeze.  Hellfire Club anyone?  Actually this looks like a good way to introduce one I have played around with in the past, The Order of Lincoln's Ghost.
What follows are the color insert pages of the stated archetypes.  We got another Big Game Hunter here too, but it is interesting to see the differences between the LoA and HEX versions.
One minor nitpick...There is a pioneering Aviatrix. Yeah I know in a Victorian game a woman would never be around a plane, well that doesn't concern me (watch the Hayao Miyazaki movie "Porco Rosso" and then we can all stat up spunky girl airplane pilots).  No my issue that the first plane flew two years after Victoria was dead.  Ok, Ok this game also has a "Temporal Scientist" in it.  So my nitpick will fall on deaf ears.  I fix this by just setting my game in 1901.

Chapter the Third: The Mechanisms of the Known & the Unknown.  AKA Game Rules.   Here are introduced (or reintroduced) to the Ubiquity game system and dice.   I appreciate simple mechanics in my games and Ubiquity really is about as simple as you can get it.  Check your dice pool, roll the number of dice and add up the successes.  This works great with the pulpy-style of HEX. In LoA you get a more action-adventure orientated Victorian game.

Chapter the Fourth: Fisticuffs, Firearms & Falling With Grace.  or Combat.  Again. Love these chapter titles.  This is our combat chapter.  Truthfully if you have read and understand Chapter 3, then this is the logical extension of that.  There are other issues, but really it reads smooth and easy to follow.

Chapter the Fifth: Trappings, Necessities, Weapons & Conveyances.  Equipment.  Like it's older cousin this chapter has huge list of equipment.   I am pleased to see that the prices are given in British Pounds, schillings and pence (as any proper Victorian age game should) but also there is a listing for cab fare.  Read Sherlock Holmes sometime; the many kept several cabbies in business all by himself.

Chapter the Sixth: Of Physics & Metaphysics.  Ah. The chapter on steam punk weird science.  We start with what is the most important for this game; Inventions.  The Victorian time is often seen as a time of wild inventors, well you can do that with this game. The invention creation rules are really fun and simple. We follow with gadgets (smaller items), weapons, vehicles and moving on to the "living creations" aka your Frankenstein's Monster.  There are plenty of sample inventions to give you ideas or at least an end goal.  I say as a GM don't make an Ornithopter available to characters just because you have the stats for it.  Make them invent it.

Chapter the Seventh: A Guide to Navigating the World of Adventure. or the setting.  We start by talking about the style of the game.  Will it be gritty, adventurous, pulpy or cinematic.  There are tips on how to do all of these.  Personally for this game I prefer the pulpy action.   This chapter also covers adventure ideas, goals and hooks. All of this against the backdrop of a world during the turn of the 19th Century to the 20th.  The "modern" world is coming.
This also includes guideline on creating a "Villainous" league.  Every Justice League needs a Legion of Doom.  A few detailed examples are given.

Chapter the Eighth: Of Travel & the Unseen Marvels of the World.  The is the world overview for LoA.  It is a pretty healthy chapter too.  Lots of places are covered from around the world, both known and mysterious.  As well as factual and fanciful. I found this to be fascinating reading to be honest and really it makes this book worth the price to any GM running any sort of Victorian game.  It may or may not be compatible with what other game you are using but the ideas are a gold mine.

Chapter the Ninth: Stalwart Friends & Fiendish Adversaries.  The chapter of Mooks, NPCs and some creatures.  We get some generic mooks, "Thug", "Cultist" and so on as well as some named NPCs. Notable, Col. Sebastian Moran and James Moriarty of the Holmesian Canon.  Lo Peng, Dr. Moreau, and The Mad Monk.   For monsters we get a nice collection; Intelligent Apes, Gill men, and some dinosaurs.  We round it off with some normal animals.

There is a list of Recommended Reference Materials.  A Character sheet and a good index.

What can I really say about this book.  I am inordinately fond of it.  There is no magic worth a damn in it (normally a deal breaker) but I still enjoy the hell out of it.  There is a feeling in this game I can only describe as the "Thrill of adventuring".  In Ghosts of Albion people adventure because there has been some terrible murder or other crime committed by magic. In Cthulhu by Gaslight it is because of some terrible, unknown horror lurking in the shadows. In Leagues of Adventure the conversation is more like this:
Scientist: I do believe there are dinosaurs in the Amazon.
Big Game Hunter: What's that you say? Geeves, pack my trunks and guns we are going to South America!
Aviatrix: No too much, I am still working the issues out of my airship.  Better just take the guns.
Big Game Hunter: I like the cut of your gib girl! Geeves, just the guns then!
Scientist: There is a chance that the Explorers Club might beat us to it.  Though their scientist was at University with me, he can barely read ancient cuneiform let alone a map.

This is a game about big adventure. Frankly I get excited every time I open the pages.

Later I want to talk about using this game along with other Victorian era games.


Anonymous said...

I wholeheartedly agree about the fun and enchantment of Leagues of Adventure; it's a blast! If you'd like to shift the game to those fog-shrouded streets and mysterious mansions of other Victorian fiction, Wiggy has you covered there too. A new setting supplement called Leagues of Gothic Horror is now on Kickstarter (for art and hardcover printing costs, the writing of the 160-page book, and its companion stretch goals, is done). It is as deep and inspiring as LoA, and being Ubiquity, serves to amp up the horror and atmosphere in any of the games from HEX to All for One, to Space:1889 if you wanted.

Wiggy said...

Thanks for the review Timothy! Very much appreciated!