Original SA post
Wolsung Steam Pulp Fantasy
Wolsung: Magia Wieku Pary
is a Polish "steampulp" fantasy RPG, soon to be published in English.
means almost definitely 2012 here. You can read the quick test drive and a world guide on
(available also en Espanol).
So what’s the deal?
In Wolsung you play an adventurer in the vein of the best pulp heroes, have amazing adventures and the game system allows the players to introduce elements that reinforce their heroic archetype.
Wolsung is set in an alternative fantasy version of late 19th century Europe (and all the world, really), inhabited by the eight fantasy races. For instance Alfheim is ‘like Great Britain, only ruled by elven aristocracy and queen’. Jotunheim is ‘like Denmark, only full of dark spirits, haunted castles and trolls’. The world of Wolsung does not have the physics as such, but advanced magic. Therefore, zeppelins do not fly because there’s hydrogen, difference of pressures and aerodynamics – but because in the balloon there’s a bound air elemental. Magic makes many things possible – particularly the Industrial Revolution, the dragons, the liches and the Great War.
To play Wolsung you need pencils and paper, a deck of cards, at least three ten-sided dice per player and a set of tokens (preferably in two different colors). The tokens are like Savage Worlds bennies, usually they allow you to use a special power, roll another die, or add a +1 to the roll. Dice – beginning heroes get to roll two dice, do not add the results together, but the dice explode. Depending on your attribute level, you roll another die at 10, 9, or 8 (and some powers and spells allow to expand this range), add your skill level, and compare it to the TN. The cards allow you to introduce specific elements on stage, depending on your archetype; for example, if you’re an Investigator, playing a Spades card allows you to identify suspects. You, the player can say “Well, that runaway troll dressed up like a Morgovian. Doubtlessly we’ll find him in a local bar where he’s drowning his sorrows with vodka”. If you're a Daredevil, you can 'find' and activate the hidden switch that closes the gate in the very last moment of the rapid chase. The suit of the card determines what elements can you introduce, its value – whether it allows you to pass the test effortlessly or what bonus to a roll it gives you.
There are four Archetypes:
(who can play new cards to show off his experience and knowledge),
(who can introduce and use new evidence),
(creates and uses social situations), and
(introduces and uses elements of scenery). Archetypes aren’t tied to any race or profession. While you can be a detective, you don’t have to be an Investigator – a Socialite detective relies on a massive web of contacts, while Daredevil one often uses his fists and a trusty gun.
Wolsung is a fantasy world, and it’s inhabited by Eight Races, each being a combination of a strong Victorian stereotype and a classic fantasy race.
– Why do the dwarves live underground and have long beards? Because the light hurts them. They’re cold, calculating, reasonable. They are the only race that can replace more than one limb with mechanical ones – but once they replace their own heart, they are more machines than people. Obviously, they’re fascinated by technology and inventions.
A pair of dorfs.
– Elves don’t die. Old elves go into long dreams (but sometimes they can awaken). As they are long-lived, they have time to amass wealth and influence. Elves are aristocrats (they literally have blue blood), and Alfheim (Great Britain) is mostly ruled by the elven ruling class (complete with a powerful magical elven queen). Elves are also very sensitive to iron; and that’s why the aristocrats are often against progress and industry.
are what Jews would be if they came from North and worshipped Odin. They are a mistrusted, alienated nation without a country, living in ghettos, having their own religion and customs. They also invented modern golems and difference machines.
have always lived off the land, but since the world is going through Industrial Revolution, they move to big cities, and they change from inhabitants of idyllic Shires into street urchins and thieves. The halfling crime families of Scylla do not have godfathers, but witches – dangerous matrons. Finally, as halflings are matriarchal, they’re the only race which considers ogres as real relatives.
are humans, but they’re never a strict majority in any society; they’re always odd and unusual – sailors, travelers, explorers. Any idea for a human character fits.
are huge, animalistic brutes. There are no ogre women, but all sons of an ogre will be ogres (the rare girls share the race of their mothers). Ogres have this kind of animal vitality, which makes them very tempting in the age of strict Victorian morality (and as they usually work as servants, they attract trouble). Ogres aren’t exactly dumb, but they’re simple and relatively shy in the presence of someone better.
are alien. They’re Not Us. They’re a combination of an evil fantasy orc with a Sinister Foreigner – Fu Manchu, exotic temptress, perverted sheik or a barbaric cannibal. Of course, there are also heroic orcs – Vindian braves, kung fu masters or wise sorcerers. While most Vanadians (Europeans) are devoted to reason, orcs are much more spiritual.
– you know how troll basically meant any monster in ancient Scandinavia? Trolls start out as children – which are imps and little devils that annoy travelers (often they have magical abilities). With time, they civilize and become fearless, honorable Vikings; they’re obsessed with leaving a legacy because once they grow old, they grow into this:
and mindlessly rampage through the neighborhood, running on pure adrenalin.
Next: Countries and continents.
Original SA post
Wolsung part II - the countries.
What follows the races and professions, are the skills and Edges and gadgets and list of magical effects (though rules of magic are described in the “How to Play” chapter, the magical spells and powers are lumped together with character generation elements.
I’m going to skip some of the crunch until I’ll get to conflict resolution. For now, it’s enough to know that each hero in Wolsung starts the game with two or three gadgets which can be for instance a fedora and a whip, a set of tools, a trained monkey, a revved up steamobile or a +3 sword. Ordinary equipment simply allows to make the roll, and only the gadgets provide bonuses.
Let’s focus on the world, instead.
Wolsung’s world is very similar to ours. This way, instead of reading a guidebook on Lyonesse (which is out there in Polish) you can read up on London, add some steampunk/magical elements and you’re all set.
Wolsung’s world (the planet’s called Urda) recent history has been dominated by dragons and liches. In the real world kings rule because they supposedly have a divine mandate – on Urda they rule mostly because one of their ancestors has defeated a dragon in combat. The defeated dragons promised to grant their would-be slayers one last wish (one such hero wished to be happy until the end of his days – the dragon replied: “you’ve defeated the dragon! Aren’t you happy already?”. The hero said, surprised: “Yes, I am”. And the dragon killed him instantly). Most asked them to help them defeat their enemies, but often the dragons warped the wishes to their needs.
With time, the warlords learned that it was enough to bind the dragon to their family, and later, to the swords of the dynasty. They didn’t even have to deal with dragon, just the promise of sending one on their opponents would make them yield. That’s how the major monarchies have been founded – all the major states in Vanadia (Europe) command one dragon. That was the status quo, until the Revolution in Aquitaine...
(Greece+mythic Greece) – while Wolsung’s world also focuses on Scandinavian mythology, Aeol is still a land of myths and legends, you can sometimes see centaurs or harpies here.
(Victorian Great Britain+kingdom of elves) – Alfheim has a primarily elven aristocracy (you could advance, but to obtain any important post you have to be a respected adult citizen – at least 90 years old!), and is ruled by a mysterious, powerful and beautiful elven queen. Alfheim has also the largest city in the world, Lyonesse, where Mists are so thick you can get lost in time and space between them – and rumors are that the evil Butcher is still out there.
(Moulin Rogue+Verne) the country of artists, absinth, and the Revolution, inspired by France. The most devastated country on the continent, but also the most modern in many respects. Has this massive Iron Tower which doubles as the country-wide radio transmitter.
(Belgium+Shire) – the country of peaceful people trading in weapons, a unique mixture of Belgium and Shire. You can find here huge diamonds to power your death rays, or delicious chocolate.
(corrida+minotaurs) – They’re badass – they fight with minotaurs for sport. Excellent lovers, very religious (with gnomes and ormite orcs), have a very pious, beautiful queen, and are very active on the other side of the ocean.
The Holy Pontifical State
(Da Vinci Code + The Vatican + northern Italy) Now, more on the Wolsung religion will appear later, but Pontificals are basically Catholic wiccans. The Patriarch is elected from the host of cardinals – the Matriarch is a virgin appointed by signs from the Goddess. Together they rule over the church – and the largest spy network on the world.
(Scandinavia+Vikingland with some bits of Alaska, Antarctica and Mountains of madness) – a northern country of tough men and uncontrolled nature, the wild face of Scandinavia. In many cultural references, the Mediterranean gods were replaced by the Scandinavian ones.
(Hamlet+Hans Christian Andersen) – the country is full of ghosts and evil spirits, and the locals do their best to ignore them. The most significant group there is the heartless corporation Nilfholm which has a practical monopoly on contacting and exorcising spirits.
is basically czarist Russia – with Stalin as czar and Koschei the Deathless as Rasputin.
Scylla and Charibdis
– an island country of feuding criminal families, Sicily with a matriarchal halfling Mafia. They do not have godfathers – but strega, matron witches. If someone’s bad for business, they shouldn’t go fishing in small boats – otherwise some tentacles might go and grab them. Oh, and as halflings are matriarchal, they’re the only race that recognizes ogres as their children, so the Scylla has some really big enforcers.
(Florence/Venice+sky cities like Coruscant) – in Serenissima there wasn’t a lot of place to build new palaces when the Industrial Revolution happened, so the city grew up. Yes. Flying Gondolas. Also spies, conspiracies and carnival.
– (Balkans+Transylvania) You know that one. This is this country where you travel through dense woods and when the lightning strikes it illuminates the evil vampire castle. The War was started here when the Archduke was transformed into a vampire. But it’s also an analogue of Balkans, where people from two neighboring villages hate each other more than any vampire.
(Poland+magical woods land+Polish/Lithuanian Commonwealth) – Wolsung is a Polish game. You know how dragons promised to fulfill wishes to their would-be slayers? Well, the dragoness Cinder begged Piastun to spare her, and she would serve him. And he refused, becoming the first dragonslayer. Dying dragon cursed him and his land – from then on, everything in Slavia would fail – the alliances would crumble and the progress would halt. Slavia was never a great power – but Piastun, like every self-respecting dragon slayer bathed in dragon’s blood and ate her flesh. And his descendants are therefore reckless, almost completely ineffectual and completely badass.
: Ostria, Sudria, Nordia – imperial and royal monarchy, thriving on waltz, opera, and intrigues. Austria-Hungary-Czech Empire of Nicola Tesla and Jaroslav Hašek’s The Good Soldier Švejk.
– (Switzerland+dwarven secret castle) a mountain country inhabited mostly by dwarves. Switzerland with its banks, tourist resorts, and spies. Most of important things in the country are hidden deep underground.
(post-war Germany + very industrialized steampunk land) – They were until recently ruled by basically Nazi/Prussian evil lich. Now they’re all friendly and all, but they still have to deal with their dark past, and recover lost influences.
(Free state Amsterdam + Ys, the doomed city sunk under the ocean) – a city-state thriving on trade, gambling, and forbidden pleasures, a dangerous and mysterious version of Holland.
– it’s worth noting that this the only state not for PCs. Take Nazi Teutonic Knights, give them powered armor and steampunk implants and make them worship a difference machine goddess. That’s them.
You may also decide that your character will be an exotic foreigner, coming from:
Sunnir (Asia) China has a Dragon Emperor, there are pirates, ninjas, and samurai with powered armor.
Lemuria (Africa) full of list civilizations and colonial oppression.
Atlantis (South America) where the Mayans/Aztecs cooperate with the colonists and still practice blood sacrifice.
Vinland (North America) where the rebellious West is in the state of Cold Civil War with the loyalist East.
Purgatoria (Australia) – cut from the world by powerful spells, this is the prison for the worst criminals on the world.
Original SA post
Wolsung starts with character generation rules, and puts the actual rules of the game in the second chapter, so wading through the list of Edges, Gadgets or Achievements can be daunting. That’s why let’s have a look on the gaming system and what makes it tick.
Wolsung has two basic ways of conflict resolution – tests (opposed or unopposed) and confrontations.
Each player has a pool of two (more after gaining enough Achievements) ten-sided dice, six tokens and three cards on hand. When you want to roll the test, roll your dice and keep the highest result. The dice are open-ended (you reroll 10s and add them together as long as you keep getting tens) and the level of the attribute determines what value is the reroll threshold. If your Agility is very high, you treat 8, 9, and 10 as 10 on any skill roll tied to Agility, like fighting.
All tests in Wolsung are skill tests. You add a +3 if your hero is unskilled, +6 for a trained skill, and +9 for a narrow specialty. My character is normally untrained in academics but he has specialty of history of Khemre (Egypt), and whenever the situation concerns his focus, he adds a +9, but is nearly clueless outside these topics. He’s also skilled sailor and has vehicles at +6 with a +9 specialty in sailing. To your skill bonus you add other permanent bonuses, like resulting from Edges, Powers or Gadgets.
This gentleman had a large bonus to his roll
If the final result is above the TN (usually 10 or 15), you passed the test. Each 5 points above the target number is a raise. All ones are a fumble, and you can’t change it in any way. If you’ve failed, you can
- Spend a token to either roll another die or add +1 to the final result. Some Edges can replace this +1 bonus with +2 or even +5. (You can also use tokens to draw new cards).
- Use an achievement. If you were in a similar situation before, and have an achievement written on your character sheet you usually get a +5 to the roll.
- Play a card. You start with three cards and use them to introduce elements to the game. For instance, a PC in one of my games picked the Daredevil archetype, and he could introduce physical barriers and devices and the like. In a chase with a horde of skeletal golems in catacombs of the castle, he used an Ace and said “I spot a lever that activates the iron grate, pull it in the perfect moment to crush the golems”. An Ace gave him a +5 to his fighting roll.
Other Archetypes use cards in similar ways, for instance a Socialite might play a card to show his knowledge of the underworld. The use of cards is very varied. For instance, Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes is an excellent demonstration on how an Investigator plays his cards in combat scenes.
Opposed tests are similar, but stakes are involved (“I want to determine if she’s a strix”). If you lose an opposed test, you have to discard a card.
Confrontations come in three types. Combat, Chase or Discussion all use the same basic system. In combat you use your fighting or firearm skill to attack and your resistance is your Defence stat, while in discussion you use persuasion or empathy to attack, while resistance is Confidence. You can use other skills but it’s harder and more risky (you can’t exactly win a court trial by shooting your opponent).
Because the judge might just rip your arms off.
You need to determine stakes before the conflict, so that you know what players’ victory or failure means. Stakes can be fluffy (“I don’t care whether I defeat the Duke in the duel, I want the countess to sleep with me”), crunchy or a mixture of both (“Well, okay. If you win the confrontation you will lose one Constitution point and the countess will definitely take interest in you, but if you lose, the Duke will be the hero of the evening”).
Initiative is stolen from Savage Worlds. Players have various actions available to them (maneouvers in chases, powerful blows in combats, changing the formality in a discussion), and remove the markers from the opponent. At any point you might choose to perform a finishing move. You add +5 per opponent’s marker to the difficulty of such move, and if you succeed your opponent is removed from the confrontation, but if you fail you lose one marker yourself. Some very powerful abilities allow you to declare a finishing move after the roll, normally you can’t do it. A finishing move might be leading your opponent on the train tracks, a passionate kiss or a trick shot.
Normally, your character can’t die, unless you choose to escalate the conflict to va banque. Then, you can be killed, but so can your opponent.
The rest of the chapter is devoted to other dangers, like diseases, scandals (can be more lethal than diseases!), fear and magic (I’m going to describe magic in more detail when we’ll get to world details – basically there’s ritual magic, spiritualism, technomagic, superpowered Wild Talents and True Art, and the system resembles Savage Worlds trappings).
More on Edges, Gadgets and Achievements
You buy these for XP. Edges are bonuses like Outrageous Liar which gives a +5 bonus when you spend tokens on bluff rolls, some can influence your stats or give you new powers.
Gadget (not a hackwrench)
Gadgets are those special items you pick for your character. A swordcane adds +3 to fighting rolls and is a surprise weapon (free attack before the first round of combat) – so it could be customized and renamed as, say, a pair of holdout knives. There’s hundreds of sample gadgets. A PC can have 3 gadgets at the beginning of his adventures, and he can find and use more – but you first need to buy them for XP and advance.
Wolsung actually has two semi-independent experience systems. You get around 5 XP each session, but you also get an achievement. Think of the coolest thing you’ve done during the game – that’s an achievement. One character nearly split an iceberg in two with his magic – that counts as “using magic in the Arctic”. Another had an achievement “flirting with dwarven women”. Around 15 achievements give you an extra die to roll and a ‘gadget slot’. Most ordinary achievements give you a +5 bonus to a specific situation. If you risked your life to obtain them, they’re active during the entire scene. If obtaining them was a finale of entire campaign, they permanently give you an additional token. Some don’t merely give you a +5 bonus, but for instance if you have undergone the ninja training you can use a ‘ninja power’ once per game.