Just a disclaimer right off the bat: I was one of the writers on the first edition of Victoriana, and some of my stuff has survived into the second edition. Also, I’ll be writing for Cubicle 7’s version starting with a new equipment book. I’ll be reviewing the PDF version of the book:

Victoriana is marketed as a steampunk/fantasy setting, but it’s really more of a early industrial period fantasy setting. A lot of the early material had a “Shadowrun transposed into the Victorian period” feel to it — the use of the classic fantasy races, the lower orders versus the evil corporations(or in this case the imperial government…and corporations.) The science fiction/speculative fiction elements of the setting are downplayed in the core book in both the first and second editions, leaving it up to the GM and players how much technology they want in the game. The lack of “steampunk” (a term I hate, but it’s ubiquitous enough I’ll have to deal…) seems to be one of the major complaints about the universe, but I’m glad to say it’s being addressed in an upcoming sourcebook, Marvels of Science and Technology.

The second edition tossed the Fusion engine that the original had borrowed as it’s system and has moved to a dice pool mechanic. The basics: you roll the number of dice equal to the attribute and skill that is applicable. 1s and 6s count as a success. The GM rolls “black dice” with those successes counting against the successes of the player. (Example: Rory the navvie is trying to lift a chunk of stone. The GM decides the heavy rock is a difficult task. Rory rolls his 2 dice in Strength and 3 in Athletics and gets 3 successes. The GM rolls the 3 black dice for the difficulty and only gets one success — Rory has 2 successes, hiking the mass onto his shoulder.) Fate dice and points work to alter the results of your rolls.

Combat uses the same basic mechanic: Roll initiative and combat tasks as opposed tests — the player and their opponent rol their applicable attributes and skills and the one with the higher successes wins. Damage is rendered by the number of successes (weapons add dice for the test) against one’s health. Armor counts against the number of successes: hit someone for 4 points but they have armor of 2…? You did 2 to their Health.

Magic also works the same way, but cost the character “manna” — spiritual energy to use spells.

Character creation is relatively easy, although there’s a “rank” or level system that I found extraneous — but not onerously so. The character gains experience points for use to buy skills, assets, privileges, and talents; there is another set of points that are given to improve the characters’ “rank”. All players start as beginner characters, at level one and can rise to 20.

Overall, the look of the book is nice — grayscale watermarking and art of decent to good quality, along with some Dore prints from his London works. The cover is done up to look like embossed leather. For the style, I’d give it a solid 4 out of 5. For substance — the world’s history, politics, and the class system of England are well rendered, as is the magic system. There are some issues with the alternate history; some of the altered events aren’t explained, and when doing alternate history it is a good idea to have a reason for the alterations. Overall, substance is excellent — 4 out of 5. The system is solid, easy (although if skimming it comes across the opposite), and the background is crunchy, if lacking in the steam side of the equation.

If you like your Victorian settings more fantasy than science fiction, it’s a definite buy. If you’re a steam fan, you’ll be a bit disappointed (but not for long!)

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