Saturday, June 23, 2012

Retro Review - Castle Falkenstein

If you've been reading the blog, you will already know I quite like Castle Falkenstein already. We had a chance to use the system for the Malifaux hack at Strategicon. I was able to pick up a used copy at Pair-a-Dice games, it was an almost new copy, which belies the fact that these books fall apart.

Castle Falkenstein - R. Talsorian Games

When computer game designer Tom Olam found himself sorcerously shanghaied by a rogue Wizard and a Faerie Lord, little did he suspect that he would soon become the pivotal force in the struggle to control an alternate Victorian Universe. But before the deadly game could end, he would first have to battle gigantic Landfortresses, outwit Dragons, romance a beautiful Adventuress, and defeat the Evil legions of a Dark Court determined to destroy him at all costs.
Then maybe, just maybe, he could find a way home again ...

It’s a novel. It’s a game. It’s both. It’s Castle Falkenstein™, an amazing journey into another universe just a few steps away from our own: a place where Dragons and Steampower rule the skies, Faerie Lords duel atop the battlements, and where the forces of Wizardry and Magick meet the gaslight streets of the Victorian Age. But with Castle Falkenstein™, the story never ends, as you too take up saber and spell to adventure in a distant world on the other side of the mysterious Faerie Veil: a world of Swashbuckling Fantasy, High Romance, and Magickal Technology. The world of—Castle Falkenstein

First, this is one of the first games to use the term steampunk in a Role-playing game. Space 1889 was published in 1988, Castle Falkenstein was published in 1994. (If soemone can let me know if the original Space 1889 talked about Steampunk as a genre..).

The first 128 pages of this 224 page game are background, in full-color shiny pages. (A lot of games were beginning to use a full color gloss format mixed with black&white pages at this time.) You play in an alternate Earth, on the continent of New Europa. This is a land of the impossible, a land where science fiction authors and their characters walk the same streets. A place where Faerie Lords of the Seelie and Unseelie courts mingle with Dragons descended from Pterodactyls, where magick and steampower combine. A fascinating world brought to life with narration and excellent artwork. 

Mechanically, the game only uses 2 standard decks of cards, one for everything except Sorcery; the other for sorcery, drawing power etc. Everything is skill-based. The game is much more story-telling than hard-core mechanical combat; though it can handle combat decently. Sorcery can be powerful, but it does take some time to draw enough energy (with cards) to be able to cast a spell.

Each skill is tied to a suit, the suits each being tied to a type of value: Hearts (Emotional/Romantic), Diamonds (Mental/Intellectual), Clubs (Physical), and Spades (Social/status). Your skills can range from Poor to Extraordinary, which grants a base value to which a card pull is added. For example, having an average Athletics (clubs), grants 6 as the base, if you were attempting to jump a moderate gorge (exceptional) Requiring a 10. Unless the player wants to fall in that chasm, they might want to add a fortune card from their fortune hand (4 cards which may not be discarded, only used.). All players and the Game master have a fortune hand to play from. A card which matches the linked value adds its full value, which cards which do not match, only add one. Combat is contested, each side pulling cards and adding fortune cards. Criticals are calculated with double value of the pull, fumbles are possibly, which typically results in bad things, think of cutting the fuse to a bomb, you fumble, it goes boom.

Sorcery is similar, you must pull cards from the Sorcery deck, which may not be augmented with fortune cards, a joker pull will automatically cause a spell to release as the power is too much.

All in all it's a unique system which I wish I had found many years earlier, luckily, everything IS available in PDF format, and R. Talsorian 's site says they're still releasing books, but I'm not certain the site is all that active. Clicking around the most current date I've seen is 2005. However, the PDFs are definitely available on DrivethruRPG.

Castle Falkenstein Core $16