The Kerberos Club brought the action back to the middle and late s and placed it in the British Empire. In Victorian London, the greatest empire of the colonial era was at the zenith from which it would soon tumble in conflicts with the other colonial empires. And of course, that fall would usher in the Twentieth Century, the era of Spirit of the Century. One key difference is that The Kerberos Club features an explicitly superheroic world.
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A complete setting and rules system for playing out Victorian-era supers in an alternate history. Kerberos Club: Fate Edition is the latest version of this unique setting, with Arc Dream having previously published it as a sourcebook for Savage Worlds and Wild Talents. For this outing, the authors opted to include a full set of rpg rules, adapting the FATE system.
The book offers a fully fleshed out Victorian setting with superheroes. We often tend to think of modern steampunk literature as first applying a layer of fantasy to the period, but the works of that time already presented a range of early sci-fi, fantasy and pulp tropes. Kerberos Club does more than just offer Victorian Supers- it offers an impressive toolkit for GMs wanting very different kinds of campaigns. Plots, plans, and machinations occur without the waking world being aware of them.
In this early world, the Kerberos Club exists to fight in those shadows and keep the truth from coming out. They dedicate themselves as much to secrecy as to prevention. A campaign set in this early period looks like like Buffy or Call of Cthulhu , but the situation changes as the years move on. By the middle of the century, the Strange starts to creep out into the open.
Queen Victoria herself shows signs of mystical powers, becoming an embodiment of the British Empire itself. New inventions- machine men, flight devices, lightning guns-begin to appear. Steampunk and mad science technology enter into public consciousness. Britain wars with and then brings the faerie into the Empire.
In short, wonders and the fantastic begin to appear. Campaigns set in this period still have the Kerberos Club fighting against the most dangerous manifestations of the supernatural. Some take on alternate identities to better fight these enemies; street-level supers against the darkness. In many ways, this mid-century campaign frame feels most like the classic Steampunk campaign- with the uncanny existing, acknowledged and beginning to change how people live.
Kerberos Club members, themselves strange, operate more openly. But the century continues to press on and with it, an unrelenting tide of change.
Towards the end of the era, the mystical, strange and weird have reached a high tide. Here the Kerberos Club members fight openly against these threats- a team of high-power supers joined together. The authors do a great job of tracing the implications and consequences of developments throughout the period. In some ways, it reminds me of the best kinds of campaign ideas from cyberpunk.
Kerberos Club manages the difficult task of providing enough material for a GM to build three very different campaigns: Shadow Investigators; Supernatural Vigilantes; and Steampunk Super-League. The layout is solid and clear. Fate is a relatively simple rpg, focusing on storytelling over heavy mechanics.
That low-detail, high-trust approach shares narrative control between the players and the gamemaster. But players and the GM have interesting options to modify that roll. Everything in Fate—characters, NPCs, equipment, environments, situations, even the campaign itself—has one or more Aspects. Aspects are quick descriptions of something which can be drawn on in play. Scenes can have aspects as well- so if the group enters a darkened warehouse expecting an ambush, they may have to deal with the aspects Shadowy Corners, Teetering Shelving, and Stacks of Crates.
In order to use an aspect, a player must spend from their Fate point pool which refreshes at the beginning of each session. Multiple points may be spent this way. Players make invoke enemy, scene or other aspects, usually at the cost of a Fate point. The trick is that the GM may also invoke these aspects- either giving an benefit to the opposition or a penalty -2 to the roll, rerolling, or causing a change to players by offering them a Fate point.
The player may decline, but at a cost of a point of their own. Fellow players may do this as well. The exchange of Fate points and the constant interaction with the environment and situation makes for an exciting and involved rpg experience. Of course each version of Fate offers its own tweaks and takes on the system. Fate veterans will see some differences in choosing character aspects and the options available to invoke those aspects.
Kerberos uses an open skill system- players can choose from a relatively small list or create their own. The game offers a number of other new conecpts, including the novel idea of shifting damage to the environment through collateral consequences. GMs of other Fate games will find interesting new approaches here.
An rpg sourcebook like this has to offer exciting and playable material- and Kerberos immediately addresses what campaigns look like. The introduction also provides an excellent two-page summary of the Fate rules.
Players will want to print a copy of that out. The Club serves as the cornerstone for the campaign. Here the characters can interact and exist outside of the staid and prejudiced attitudes of Victorian society. In the early part of the century, the Kerberans quietly act and keep their identities and roles secret. As the era moves on, that secrecy fades and the Club takes a more active role battling against dangerous Strangeness. The forty-page chapter nicely presents a sense of that change, what it means for the world and what it means for members of the Club.
Club membership comes with a price. After describing the cryptic origins, privileges and laws of the Kerberos Club, the chapter talks about The Challenge. This is a rite of passage which potential members must undergo. Such challenges could easily serve as a starting adventure for a new character or characters.
The book provides many ideas- including how challenges can be used later in a campaign, if the PCs want to recruit new members. It is unabashedly a mechanism to gather PCs together, provide them with resources, and give them direction without imposing too many codes or limiting their choices. The rich details here include everything from the lives of hired help, to the relations to the Queen, to changing public perceptions.
All of these offer plenty of hooks and plots for a GM wanting to build a campaign. The authors have cleverly chosen these NPC backgrounds to illuminate certain parts of the world, from Automechanicals to the Faerie Courts. The chapter wraps up with a four-page summary of the history of the Club throughout the 19 th Century- broken into the three major sections, each with a different level of The Strange.
The time-line feels open enough to allow the players to shape the story- rather than feeling like a metaplot that cannot be affected. The extensive treatment of the class system and its implications offer modern players significant challenges. Playing a woman or a minority has inherent problems, beyond those of playing someone who may be outcast due to Strangeness. While the campaign structure of the Club itself offers a refuge, the Victorian world can be difficult for players used to greater autonomy.
Kerberos breaks down many of these questions- with guidelines for playing different classes for example. The chapter covers many topics like these, but never feels overwhelming.
It presents a well-constructed introduction to the era. From manners to divinities, faeries to railroads, clothing to mad science, weapons to aeroships, this chapter tours them all. That time-line runs from to in 47 pages. The authors pick and choose events, each one given a multi-paragraph story. These stories focus on the events of import to the Club- charting the rise of Strangeness and the key players of the time. Kerberos Club avoids the pitfalls of gaming alternate history- rewriting every key event through the lens of weirdness, changing every significant person into a supernatural or empowered character.
There are only a few missteps; the rewrite of the Charge of the Light Brigade feels a little too much. Generally it is great fun to read. Notably it suggests the presence of the Club at various times, but allows room for the players to slot into those stories. GMs will find excellent inspiration here. The reading is compelling in part because of the foreshadowing the authors have done.
We know that things will get out of control by the end of the century- the previous chapters have hinted at that. But here we finally see how everything goes dramatically out of whack. The Kerberos Club itself sits close to the heart of the city, and many campaigns will find that territory more than enough to play in.
The chapter opens with a discussion of life in London- from the low to the high. Important for Kerberan characters, it covers matters of crime and law as well. Two sections cover specific places in London. The first offers brief tidbits on the sections and neighborhoods of the city. The second looks at key locations such as the British Museum and Whitechapel in greater detail. These articles mix together local color, background and plot hooks for a gamemaster. This begins with character creation.
Players build their characters with choices in six areas. With a concept in mind, the player answers a set of five background questions to start the process.
They then pick an Archetype and Social Class. That choice affect which of the four Social Classes the player may choose. Next players spend 30 points on skills. The rules offer several different kinds of these, beginning with a list of 28 Common Skills Athletics, Intimidation, Stealth. But players may also bundle skills together into a larger group, creating Unique Skills.
The game also allows Strange skills- representing the unusual powers of those touched by the Strange. Skills have associated Power Tiers, ranging from Mundane to Godlike.
Tabletop Review: The Kerberos Club: FATE Edition
A complete setting and rules system for playing out Victorian-era supers in an alternate history. Kerberos Club: Fate Edition is the latest version of this unique setting, with Arc Dream having previously published it as a sourcebook for Savage Worlds and Wild Talents. For this outing, the authors opted to include a full set of rpg rules, adapting the FATE system. The book offers a fully fleshed out Victorian setting with superheroes. We often tend to think of modern steampunk literature as first applying a layer of fantasy to the period, but the works of that time already presented a range of early sci-fi, fantasy and pulp tropes. Kerberos Club does more than just offer Victorian Supers- it offers an impressive toolkit for GMs wanting very different kinds of campaigns.
I was lucky enough to play in a Kerberos Club game run by the game writer and a game convention. It was a lot of fun. I really love the tweaks they've added for this version. There's a lot there I plan to borrow for other games. I have to consider carefully how I pitch the setting to my players- what movies and comics I use as examples.