Gaslight Victorian Fantasy, Second Edition (D20/Savage Worlds)
Publisher: Battlefield Press
Cost: $14.95 (d20 PDF)/$29.95 (d20 Softcover)/$34.95 (d20 Hardcover)/$9.95 (Savage Worlds PDF)/$14.95 (Savage Worlds Softcover)/$19.95 (Savage Worlds Hardcover)
Page Count: 352 (D20)/80 (Savage Worlds)
Release Date: 07/06/2013 (D20)/08/02/2013 (Savage Worlds)
Get it Here: D20 Version/Savage Worlds Version
I’m a big fan of Victorian era RPGs. Whether it’s my personal favorite, Cthulhu by Gaslight, V:TM Victorian, Victoriana, Bram Stoker’s Dracula or one of countless others using the time period, a Victorian era RPG is sure to catch my eye. Case in point: Gaslight Victorian Fantasy, Second Edition by Battlefield Press. What is odd is that I don’t remember a FIRST EDITION of this game and I can’t find a sign of it existing anywhere, buy hey, maybe it was a small low print run without any PDF version. Who knows? I do know that I found their game, Eldritch Skies to be an interesting one, so I thought I’d give this a shot. The end result is an interesting game that uses both rules sets nicely, but is also sloppy with all sort of errors and mediocre writing, which keeps the idea from reaching its true potential. I’m glad I picked it up, but Gaslight Victorian Fantasy will be far from my first choice for a Victorian era play session.
As you can see from the header, there are some notable differences between the two versions. The d20 version of Gaslight Victorian Fantasy is a full length RPG, complete with all the rules you need to play it. As such, the page count is slightly over 350 pages. Meanwhile, the Savage Worlds version is merely a core supplement for that system and doesn’t contain any of the major rules you need to play that game. This means you’ll have to buy the core Savage Worlds book in addition to the Gaslight Victorian Fantasy pieces. So basically the Savage Worlds release has far less content and ends up being more expensive when you remember you have to purchase Savage Worlds as well. My advice would be to go with the D20/OGL version of the game, and this is coming from someone who actually prefers Savage Worlds to third party d20 games. You get so much more for your buck with the d20 version.
Gaslight Victorian Fantasy gives you all that you need for a Victorian setting RPG. It goes into great detail about the setting and the world at large from the 1860s to the turn of the 20th century. In fact the first fifty-five pages of the d20 version are just about the setting and timeline along with places, people and organizations players might encounter. This is by far the best part of the book and it’s fun to read, but I do have to say other games using this setting (but not this system) have done it better. Of course those that have are larger companies with far bigger budgets like Chaosium and Cubicle 7, so for an indie release, I was quite impressed by the level of detail applied to the historical background.
Rules and mechanics-wise, only the d20 version is worth talking about as it introduces entirely new races, classes, backgrounds, spells and so much more while the Savage Worlds version is, as I’ve said, a supplement to everything that already exists in that system. It’s nicely done, but everything I can say about the d20 version will cover the Savage Worlds variant and more, so from here on everything will either cover both versions or the d20 specifically.
There are six races in Gaslight Victorian Fantasy. You have Beast Men (ala Dr. Moreau), Vampires, Werewolves, Ratlings, Wildlings (immortal slightly savage children) and humans. I found it interesting that the book gives a sidebar for why they put vampires in as a PC race even though vampires are extremely Victorian (Le Fanu, Lord Byron, Stoker) and yet there is nothing about werewolves being an oddity, even though the lycanthrope as we know it didn’t exist until 1931 with Universal Pictures, “The Wolf Man.” Before that, werewolves were a VERY different creature, lacked a silver weakness and didn’t have a man/wolf hybrid form. So the inclusion if werewolves as presented is not only very NON Victorian, but historically inaccurate for the time period as well. All of the races were presented in an interesting fashion, but none of the races really gelled with me in terms of the presented mechanics. Ratlings get a +9 to intelligence (and they don’t use magic) and a +9 Dex, but a -9 Str for example? Really? That’s just bad design. Same too with Werewolves. +9 CON and +9 Wisdom (WTF?) but -9 INT and CHA. Why would a Werewolf, especially one presented as a disease based “race” that can look at act human most of the time get such strange stat adjustments. How about making it form based ala White Wolf? That would have been far smarter and better designed. The game also has Racial Talent trees that you can pick from instead of class traits, but these aren’t very well defined and the nebulous nature for d20 (a system that is so rules oriented it is rightfully considered Roll-Playing instead of Role-Playing) doesn’t fit well. This lack of specifics works much better with the Savage Worlds version.
Character Classes are a bit oddly done too. You have Basic Character Classes and Prestige Classes, but we also have something in the middle called Advanced Classes. Basically they have prerequisites a la Prestige Classes, but they are much easier to meet. Again, it’s an interesting idea, but very oddly done. As well, the book is at its sloppiest and most error-laden here and it’s very hard to wade through the classes without finding errors and issues that make entire classes unable to be played. One such example is with the stat blocks showing the Base Attack Bonus, Saves, Saves, Defense and Reputation Bonuses. After the Investigator class is covered, the same stat block is accidentally used for the Martial Artist and Officer instead of what is supposed to be there. You can piece SOME of what their stat blocks should be together, but not all, making both these classes unplayable. As I’ve said this is just one immediate and blatantly obvious issues with the quality control of this book and while a PDF can be updated, I would be livid had I gotten a print on demand version, because I would be stuck with an error laden tome instead of something I could actually play properly. How this got published in this state without these errors being caught is beyond me. It’s a shame too, because I really liked the ideas and style behind the game, but the sheer number of typos, mechanical errors and crap like this ruins the read through and the playability of the game. Highly disappointing here.
After that, you have a massive list of feats and skills, spells and an in-depth overview of your basic d20 mechanics than you’ll find in all OGL core rulebooks. It’s nice to see all of these, but again, errors galore. If this was cleaned up, Gaslight Victorian Fantasy could be a blast to play through, but the book and its mechanics read more like a rough draft than a final products. The book ends things with a lot of Psychic options along with a short list of Reliquaries aka “magic items” for this system.
All in all, I’ll be very kind and give the game a thumbs in the middle instead of a thumbs down in hopes that Battlefield Press gets their stuff together, hires better editors (or any editors at all, really) and releases a fixed version of the core rulebook rather than just some errata. I feel quite bad for anyone who picked up a Print on Demand version of this book and urge them to ask for their money back or a second copy once this is cleaned up. The Savage Worlds version thankfully has nearly no mechanics errors, as the writers and team behind the game seem to have a problem with either the d20 system or the sheer monotony of having to repeat everything. Looks like cut and paste WASN’T their friends. Both versions do have some layout and formatting issues though, but if both versions get a digital overhaul, the game might reach its full potential and be worth investing in. The shape Gaslight Victorian Fantasy is in right now though? Nope, no way.