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Leagues of Adventure – Our First Session!

June 24, 2012

Leagues of AdventureSome of you might know I’m currently writing a series of adventures for the Leagues of Adventure roleplaying game from Triple Ace Games. It’s a brand new RPG using the Ubiquity engine; today we played our very first session, playtesting the first scenario.

Leagues of Adventure is a roleplaying game set in the 19th century of the classic adventure stories – Sherlock Holmes, She, King Solomon’s Mines, The Lost World, Kipling, Wells, Verne, and even Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines. It’s a world of larger-than-life characters, where you can perfect your impressions of David Niven, Terry Thomas, Margaret Rutherford, and a cast of other similar beloved figures from movies and novels of that Gilded Age. Hone those outrageous accents to a keen edge – I know I do!

As you might expect from the genre, it’s rollicking good fun to play. Unlike many other games set in and around the period, Leagues of Adventure is the first I’ve found to deal directly and without alternate world gimmicks with the 1890s adventure yarn genre. There are no red-coated colonies on Mars, no elves or dwarves, no teeming vampires or elder things or legions of subterranean dinosaurs, tripods, fighting machines, or demons forming the setting’s core. Instead, you get the world of “Journey to the Centre of the Earth” – yes, there is weird science; yes, there are steampunk elements, weird creatures, lost worlds, savage tribes, and mysterious powers in the unexplored and benighted corners of the world; but that world is very recognisably our own. There are a few differences: first, the world of the 19th century adventure yarns is the real world: Sherlock Holmes is a real character, as was (is?) Captain Nemo, and H.G. Wells is documenting real events and scientific theories. Also, Victorian science is very much at the forefront, to the extent that there are some anachronisms: rigid-frame airships already exist, a good decade and a half ahead of time, and they’re already criss-crossing the globe, although they’re expensive and rare. Imagine a Victorian world where most of the historical characters – politicians, explorers, writers, inventors, etc – are actually player characters, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of the setting!

Beyond that, though, it’s a setting firmly rooted in historical reality. You can use your history books, films like Zulu and Journey to the Centre of the Earth or books like The Secret Agent and Kim, pretty much as your source material – it’s an immensely rich setting, where the old world of the 19th century is on the turn, and the modern industrial world of great powers is coming into being.

For today’s session, we spent yesterday creating four characters to begin the campaign. Ladies and gentlemen, please allow me to present our heroes:

  • Doctor Henry Cornwallis, experimental chemist and inventor of the Cornwallis Patent Shake-a-Light and Somniferous Bellows;
  • Major Robert Carstairs, 1st Royal Dragoons, for glory and the Empire!
  • Mr Charles Montgomery, poet, dreamer, seeker of the One Truth.
  • Lady Wilhelmina fitzHugh, daughter of the 7th Earl of Cadogan, and incognito reporter for the Times.

My lady, gentlemen, please take a bow!

So, today was actually my first time playing Leagues of Adventure, after spending most of the last month since UK Games Expo assimilating the rules. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Ubiquity system, it’s basically a dice pool where you add your attribute and your skill together and roll against a difficulty. Unlike other RPGs, the criterion for a success on a die roll is whether or not the die result is an even number. As a result, you can use any dice or combination of dice: it doesn’t matter whether you roll a d4, d6, d20, whatever, as long as it has an even number of sides. This has the advantage of making averages easy to figure: if you’re rolling 6 dice, the average will be 3 successes: these means that generally speaking there’s no need to roll for a Difficulty lower than 4 – “Taking the Average” will get you a simple success. This speeds up play and prevents you rolling unsatisfyingly simple rolls, concentrating die-rolling on rolls with a good chance of failure and therefore tension. The game also has some narrative elements: “Style points” are similar to Hero Points, Bennies, and Fate Points, and can allow you to bend the rules slightly. All-in-all it’s a good clean system with a lot of scope for flexibility; I found it pretty intuitive to pick up.

As it was my first session, I found myself slightly off-target when matching Difficulties against Skill ratings and structuring Extended Roll encounters – nothing major, but I’ll be more accurate next session as I get more familiar with Ubiquity’s parameters. I was also quite surprised by how much variance there was in the Ubiquity system between actually rolling the dice on the one hand and Taking the Average on the other – I’d expected the results of both to be quite close, but the number of times the dice rolls came up with overwhelming successes or failures was startling – we even had one Critical Failure (where the dice roll no successes at all), where Doctor Cornwallis, balancing on a roof and trying to punch a villain, ended up almost falling to the ground far below! That said, the system performed well and the game ran smoothly. Next session we’ll focus more on earning Style points – we went through them like loose change!

The Leagues of Adventure setting felt great – very authentic, instantly familiar, and with a strong vein of nod-and-wink humour at the foibles of the time. Not much combat – but, by Jove, firearms are dashed dangerous, what? Major Carstairs got shot once with a heavy revolver, taking 5 damage, and went down like a ton of bricks! Struggled to his feet, did up his collar, and dashed back into the fray before collapsing, bleeding profusely. Bit of timely first aid helped, though.

My next task is to structure social encounters / social combat much more solidly: skills such as Diplomacy, Influence, Intimidation, Con, etc, all get a lot of use in Leagues of Adventure, which is a very society- and interaction-oriented game, and I feel my own GMing would benefit from them being structured turn-by-turn with some zingy crunch. The PCs were doing a lot of interacting so we’ll emphasize the mechanics for those next session.

We had an absolute blast playing Leagues of Adventure and some wonderful laughs as we all tried to behave like larger-than-life Victorians. We’re aiming to play again next weekend – the second third of the scenario awaits!

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