Fate of Falkenstein: Setting Notes

Schloss_Falkenstein_Planung_Gemälde_Historismus_LudwigMore on hacking Fate Core (Evil Hat Productions) to play Castle Falkenstein (R. Talsorian Games). Actually, this has little to do with conversion of game mechanics, and mostly to do with the published setting.

Overall, I really enjoyed the setting and the fiction, particularly in the main rule book and in the companion book, Comme Il Faut. The system was a good idea but not well executed mechanically  and mathematically speaking, so after a few tries I started looking for patches, hacks, and conversion; I think the oldest conversion notes I have (1995) were for Theatrix, a system I have often described as a precursor of Fate.

These difficulties with the system were amplified with every supplement published; like many (most?) systems of its day, it was not robust enough to survive the splatbook “Newer, Bigger, Better!” treadmill effect. I still own, in addition to the two key books, The Book of Sigil, Steam Age, a PDF copy of the GURPS supplement Ottoman Empire, and I think I may have The Lost Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci somewhere in a box. (I pasted the complete list of supplements at the end of this post for reference, in order of publication.)

But the setting, the setting idea, was so much fun! And at a time where I was sick and tired of dungeons but also getting burnt out on the angst of the World of Darkness, a welcome relief with its heroic, swashbuckling atmosphere. I liked that it was more hopeful than our own 19th century, and the point in time when it was set immediately made me dream of an alternate timeline where we would not have the Scramble for Africa, a shameful, genocidal affair that screwed up our world for the 20th and 21st centuries.

The original line of supplements talked about North America (too much), and Asia (not enough); the further GURPS supplements from Steve Jackson Games gave us the Ottoman Empire. But we didn’t get more than hints about sub-Saharan Africa, nor on Australia and the rest of Oceania, India, and South America.

One thing we did get regarding Asia was that Dragon lords reigned over Cathay, Nihon, and Koryo, which made me think of a series of books I’ve enjoyed tremendously: the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik, set in the Napoleonic Era (so several decades before the Castle Falkenstein era). Not to give spoilers if you haven’t read these fun books, but in this alternate history, the interactions of humans and dragons change the landscape considerably. However, there is no magic or fairies; dragons are entirely mundane creatures, if terrifyingly powerful.

[By the way, if you are a Temeraire fan and a Fate fan: some years ago, John H. Kim used a Spirit of the Century hack to run adventures in Temeraire’s world in Korea, Dragons of the Yellow Sea.]

Still, it’s easy to borrow ideas from Temeraire, blank areas from Falkensteinian fiction, and a serious case of wish fulfilment fantasy on my part to imagine that perhaps alliances between the various peoples—Dragons, Dwarfs, Faeries, Humans—have produced a different balance of power in sub-Saharan Africa which will be a major obstacle to later New European imperialism, much in the same way that Mike Pondsmith imagined a different fate for native peoples in North America in Six Guns and Sorcery.

So in my Falkenstein world, there is a strong Africa with empires protected by alliances between the peoples. You can bet I will be stealing liberally from Nyambe: African Adventures (Atlas Games) and Spears of the Dawn (Sine Nomine Publishing) for local colour…

Castle Falkenstein cover - CF6001  Comme Il Faut cover  - CF6011 Steam Age cover  - CF6021 Six Guns and Sorcery cover  - CF6031 The Book of Sigils cover  - CF6041 The Memoires of Auberon of Faerie cover  - CF6051 The Lost Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci cover  - CF6061 CF_gurps_cover Ottoman_Empire_gurps_cover

Top image by Christian Jank, who imagined Falkentein Castle (the location) in our world. His art served as inspiration for the talented William Eaken when he in turn illustrated the game book Castle Falkenstein (R. Talsorian Games).

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