Castle Falkenstein

Tagged: Game

Role Playing Game (1994). R Talsorian Games. Designed by Michael Pondsmith.

Castle Falkenstein is more a work of Steampunk and Magick than one of Science and Sorcery. Nevertheless, its spells and chimeras have a basis in Imaginary Science: dragons are intelligent Dinosaurs, the faerie are extra-dimensional energy beings and magick is the result of an inherited ability to alter the subatomic structure of reality. The game's setting is a nineteenth century Parallel World fantasticated by both technological and magical conceits, where spies equipped with clockwork prostheses and guided by artificial intellects infiltrate industrialized dwarfholds and the learned societies of sorcery. Much of this milieu is explicated through the story of Tom Olam, a Videogame artist who is forcibly transported from twentieth century Earth to the titular fortress, where the true King of Bavaria needs his help against evil faeries and the armies of Prince Bismarck's militaristic Prussia. The Bavaria of this world is an idyllic arcadia which, as it turns out, can only be saved by steam-powered superscience and gloriously overwrought melodrama. As a system, Castle Falkenstein is more qualitative than quantitative; player characters are summarized verbally in a diary rather than numerically on a form, and cards are used in place of dice. As in Kim Newman's stories of the Diogenes Club or Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, much use is made of fictional characters from the Victorian era. In Castle Falkenstein, however, their creators are generally present as well; not only does Captain Nemo prowl the seas, but Jules Verne is Napoleon III's Minister of Science (> Recursive SF). Playing the game evokes a certain whimsical joy reminiscent of the early works of Christopher Stasheff, a quality which may be inherently escapist. Certainly the alternate Bavaria's conflict with Prussia is also a war against modernity; at the end of the introductory story, Olam decides to stay in the alternate world, choosing its romanticized past over the quotidian present in which he is just another cog in the Videogame development machine. Ultimately, the entire universe of Castle Falkenstein may be a Ruritania.

Related works: GURPS Castle Falkenstein (2000 Steve Jackson Games) designed by James Cambias, Phil Masters is an adaptation of the original game for GURPS. From Prussia With Love (1995) and Masterminds of Falkenstein (1996) are Ties by John DeChancie which continue the story of Tom Olam from the rulebook; both are entertainingly anachronistic. [NT]

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