VSF

IE_BannerBeing in the main a utile and eclectic compendium of information and resources for simulating the fantastical adventures and speculative conflicts using vigorous imagination, miniature figurines, and scenics cunningly crafted.

Victorian Science Fiction (hereafter VSF) records visions of the future by writers at the turn of the last century and their followers into the present day. My definition of VSF is a loose one. I include the scientific romances of H.G. Wells and Arthur Conan Doyle (Martians and lost worlds), the adventure fiction of H. Rider Haggard (lost races and ancient treasures), alternate historical works such as that of the modern Harry Turtledove (the other side won the war), and a smattering of steampunk such as Gibson and Stirling (Charles Babbage made a computer). Some of the rules I include are “straight” colonial or exploration games which can easily be adapted to VSF by incorporating the themes and accoutrements of the genre.

I will note that this page was au curaunt somewhere ’round 2006. As there have been innumerable advances in VSF in the intervening years, I intend to bring this compendium up to date bit by bit.

Inspiration • Roleplaying Games • Wargames • Miniatures • Scenics

Inspiration

Adventure Gaming in a Kinder, Gentler Time by Walt O’Hara. A VSF page by a true genius. Walt is responsible for one of my favorite games, Le Grand Cirque.

DyeHard’s VSF by Bryan Broocks. Nicely illustrated with a number of detailed how-to articles. Bryan’s site was instrumental in my choice to try VSF with 15mm figures.

Darkest Gaia by Jim Stuht. Recounts the adventures of Sir Peter de Gee across the globe. Loads of inspirational photos, including an amazing collection of vehicles cobbled together from toys and such.

Felix’s Gaming Pages — Space:1889 by James Clay. A nice collection of links and inspiring photos of minis. Of particular note is an article about gaming in the world of the Difference Engine. I’ll note that Felix’s blog was updated as recently as yesterday (1/18/15) and so is very much alive.

Frank Reade’s Victorian Airships by Paul Guinan. Scans of the covers of Frank Reade Weekly Magazine. Paul Guinan is the creative gent behind Big Red Hair, and the creator of Boilerplate the Victorian Era Robot.

GASLIGHT Page by the Dogs of War Gaming Club. Features a particularly nice scratch-built airship project.

Morval Earth by John Mumford and Alan Hamilton. Morval Earth is fascinating because it is home to both a fantasy and VSF campaign. There are some excellent pictures of scratch-built flying conveyances.

Parroom Station by Robert Charrette. VSF of the Englishmen on Mars school. Offers a line of 28mm miniatures, including some League of Extraordinary Gentlemen figs.

Ponape! Victorian Piracy and Adventure in the South Pacific by B.C. O’Leary. “The setting is a Spanish held island in the Pacific, loosely in the 1890’s, full of native headhunters, rivaling military factions, pirates, black birders, unscrupulous opportunists, and those adventuresome settlers (somebody has to be the targets).” A lavishly illustrated site which is sure to inspire and astound. Includes some nice scratchbuilding suggestions. N.B.: The original site has gone to the ætheric winds; this link brings you to the past via the Wayback Machine. Alas, some of the pictures did not make it… I suspect that the creator now maintains a blog at Irishserb’s Miniature Adventure.

Rivets & Steam by Al. A smashing VSF resource using GASLIGHT, including some house rules. There are GASLIGHT stats and rules for dinosaur hunting and now zombies!

The Steam and the Flame by Rob Beattie. Copiously illustrated inspiration for putting The Sword and the Flame through VSF paces.

SteamTrek by Stephen Vossler. “These are the voyages of Her Majesty’s Æther Ship Dauntless. Our mission, to explore romantic new worlds, seek out life, and expand civilization, to boldly go where no gentleman has gone before. ” A PBEM game with a nice supporting website. This is what I had in mind when I wrote the Pangæa Prophesy setting for my NAGS Society Worldbook (scroll down a bit to get to the free download).

Tales of Zimdar by Scott Mathews. An extremely nice VSF page. Features an online GASLIGHT character creator that prints to business cards. Lots of battle reports and some helpful terrain building advice. Like Ponape, this venerable site has not survived. The Wayback will get you there, but much assembly is required. The creator now maintains a blog at Essjam’s World.


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Roleplaying Games

Adventures and Expeditions by GASLIGHT by Chris Johnston (LMW Works, 2003, $19 pdf). The rpg member of the GASLIGHT family. Purports to require the GASLIGHT core rules, but I imagine one could muddle through without them. Essentially a guide to fleshing out your GASLIGHT Main Characters for a roleplaying experience. I like the Newsman Experience system, which reminds me of Jim Wright’s battle reports from Jimland. Includes a number of adventure ideas and one complete adventure, “The Curious Case of the Desert Submarine.”

Castle Falkenstein by Mike Pondsmith. (R. Talsorian Games, 1994, $20 pdf; GURPS version: Steve Jackson Games, $9.99 pdf). Setting, presentation, and rules combine to render this an original. While the core rules are currently out of print (save in the GURPS incarnation), the supplements are still available. The players’ book Comme il Faut provides excellent guidance for getting into authentic Nineteenth century character — even dressing like one, should you care to. The Lost Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci and Steam Age will inspire. Six Guns and Sorcery is simply one of the best RPG supplements I have ever read.

Dark Continent by (New Breed Games, 2001, out of print). Dark Continent is an excellent guide for organizing expeditions into Darkest Africa. The boxed set includes a Players and GM Guide, (108 and 140 pp.), digest sized Catalogue of Goods and Gazetteer of Zanzibar and two lovely 11×17 maps to record one’s discoveries. Well-researched and thorough, VSF elements would have to be imported though DC does feature an African magic system. DC is an excellent resource to flesh out your excursions into Jimland or Ubonga. This one is quite out of print and will no doubt serve to be an elusive quarry.


Etherscope by Nigel McClelland and Ben Redmond (Goodman Games, 2005, $39.95). A fascinating steampunk setting, with an alternate Victorian timeline advanced to 1984. Uses the d20 system, thus making it useful for any Victorian setting.


Forgotten Futures by Marcus L. Rowland. Based upon the science fiction (properly termed Scientific Romance) of Rudyard Kipling, Arthur Conan Doyle, and others. The core rules include advice on game mastering and campaign design, copious period illustrations, and detailed adventures. The books serve as examples of literature skillfully adapted to the RPG genre.

Full Light, Full Steam by Josh Roby (Kallisti Press, 2006, $10 pdf). I’ve not seen this one yet. Looks to have an anime-meets-Æronef vibe going for it. The preview looks interesting, though….

GURPS Steampunk by William Stoddard. (Steve Jackson Games, 2000, $34.95). GURPS Steampunk is an excellent resource for the Victorian era and its more fantastic imaginations. Lots of history, personages, gadgetry, and four sample campaigns. GURPS Steam-Tech provides more inventions while GURPS Screampunk adds gothic horror to the mix. For the record, every one of these links works just fine after nearly a decade. If nothing else, SJ Games is reliable.

Hollow Earth Expedition by Jeff Combos (Exile Game Studio, 2006, $39.99 for hardcover, $19.99 for pdf). Pulp rpg with simple premise (and therefore lending itself to depth) — adventurers explore the Hollow Earth.

OGL Steampunk by Alejandro Melchor (Mongoose Publishing, 2004, $5.99 pdf). This is really a “fantasy” steampunk sourcebook rather than standard Victorian fare, but still useful for inspiration as it is based on d20.

Passages by Justin D. Jacobson and Richard Farrese (Blue Devil Games, 2006, $32.95 in print, $13.95 for pdf  If you just wait nearly a decade, the prices drop;— just follow the link and the pdf falls from the cloud to you). Looks to have that Victorian humor about it.

Space:1889 by Frank Chadwick (Game Designer’s Workshop, 1988; reprinted by Heliograph, Inc., 2000). The original hardcover is one of the most beautifully produced rulebooks I have ever encountered. Space: 1889 is a science fiction game based upon the same literature as Forgotten Futures in which explorers achieved space travel in the Victorian Age. The rulebook is interspersed with tidbits about Victorian culture, politics, and personalities. The illustrated equipment list is gorgeous. Space: 1889 is a perfect example of how an alternate world can integrate history and literary speculation. Heliograph plans to reprint the entire Space: 1889 oeuvre.

Terra Incognita by Scott Larson (Grey Ghost Press, 2001, $22.95). Terra Incognita is a roleplaying games of exploration, intrigue, and mystery, featuring adventurer-scholars whose exploits span the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth centuries. Armed with extensive training, unpredictable technology, and unimpeachable discretion, NAGS Society Members travel to the Four Corners of the globe — exploring unknown lands, investigating mysteries, and uncovering ancient knowledge. I wrote this one, so I’m not exactly impartial. I include it on this list for completeness.

Voyages Extraordinaires by Matthew Hartley, Steve Blease and Mike Baumann. (Wessex Games, £6.50). A roleplaying complement to Aeronef. From the website: “The basic rules for adventures in distant realms and a combat system that allows for human characters to successfully battle large beasts such as elephants and dinosaurs, as well as the inhabitants of Mars and Venus. An optional complete exploration timeline from 1788 to 1899, mixing fact and fiction. Character templates for over a hundred different character types with their unique traits. Three introductory scenarios following the adventures of Professor Peterson, the most noted scientist in the Empire.”


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Wargames

Adventures in Jimland by Jim Wright (2003, $19). Jim has written hundreds of pages of fiction regarding the exciting goings-on in Jimland, “Where anything can happen.” The rules describe an excellent, simple game for exploring a mysterious saurian-infested corner of the Dark Continent. Far and away my current favorite game.

Aeronef by Matthew Hartley & Steve Blease (Wessex Games, $7.57 pdf). Rules for 1:1200 æthership combat, a la Space:1889. According to the website: “Whereas other Victorian Science Fiction games have tended to concentrate on detailed one-on-one battles with a single ship per side, Aeronef puts you in command of up to a dozen flyers, ranging from nippy aerial gunboats, to massive dirigible bombers. Aeronef challenges you ability as a tabletop commander. Do you send your aeronef in to challenge your opponents gunboats and risk letting his bombers slip through and destroy targets on the ground? Or do you go after the bombers and hope you get them, before the escorting gunboats get you?” Both Wessex and Irregular Miniatures, among others, sell appropriate miniatures, though it would be relatively easy to scratch build some as well. Has a related rpg — Voyages Extraordinaires.

Afriboria by Rudi Geudens (from the Antwerp Fusiliers, free). Based in Richard Borg’s Battle Cry & Memoir ’44, and therefore, the new Battlelore as well. Lots of testimony to how fun it is. Rudi created beautiful cards and stickers for you to print out for your dice.

The Black Amazons in King Solomon’s Lost City of the Diamond Mines in the Elephant’s Graveyard at the Source of the Nile by Chris Ferree (2002, free). Vying with GASLIGHT for the Best-Really-Long-Title-for-a-VSF-Game. Formerly available on the By Jingo! website; now on the wayback machine and here.

Bog-a-Ten by Malcolm Randle et al. “Being a lively distraction for gentlemen and ladies not of a nervous disposition, involving cards and miniature figures.” Malcolm Randle’s article from Ragnarok 31, Back to Bog-a-Ten (freely available online) does an excellent job of describing the rules, clearer in many ways than the published rules.

A Fistful of Tripods by Ty Beard (1998, pdf, free). Rules for playing the Martian invasion in five time periods: 1890s, WWI, 1920s, WWII, and the modern day. Uses Ty’s Fistful of TOWs rules.

G.A.S.L.I.G.H.T. by Christopher Palmer & John R. “Buck” Surdu (LMW Works, 2000, $14 pdf). Properly Glorious Adventures in Science Loosely Involving Generally Historical Times. A popular set of skirmish rules for VSF. The GASLIGHT family now includes the Journals of Victoria Hawkes: The American Civil War by GASLIGHT (scenarios, rather good fiction, terrain building tips), Battles by GASLIGHT (rules supplement for large scale battles) and Adventures and Expeditions by G.A.S.L.I.G.H.T. (the rpg). All supplements require the core rulebook.

Iron Stars by Daniel Kast (Majestic XXII Games, 2004, $17.95 softcover, $9.95 pdf). An Æronef-style game of warring Edwardian spacecraft. The book comes with paper counters (or, if you buy the pdf, pages to print out on cardstock) so you don’t need to have miniatures to get started.

Le Grand Cirque by Walt O’Hara (2003, free). A VSF racing game run at many conventions through the years. Pick your contraption and be the first to complete Le Grand Cirque. Here’s a photo report: Le Grand Cirque du Cowtown from Historicon ’01.

Mammalian Mayhem by Chris Peers (Brigade Games, $18). “Wargames rules for big-game hunting prehistoric, modern and mythological.” I don’t have this one yet.

Martian Empires by Mike Lewis (Black Hat Miniatures, £10). Redcoats and French Foreign Legion on Mars wargame. Black Hat Miniatures and Regiment Games do 15mm figures in support.

Saurian Safari 2/e by Chris Peers. (Brigade Games, $18). These rules perform as advertised — straightforward guidelines for hunting and killing dinosaurs. Even if you don’t use the system, the description of dinos and their characteristics is helpful.

Sir Harry & the Dinosaurs by Roger Webb (Society of Fantasy and Science Fiction Wargamers, Ragnarok 39, 2003). An entertaining variation on Tusk (below). As there are no back issues of 39 (the Society now prints just enough issues for members and retail orders) one could wait for the rules to come online or, as I did, join the Society and beseech the author to email the rules.

The Sword and the Flame, 20th Anniversary Edition by Larry Brom (And That’s the Way it Was, 1999, $28). Strictly speaking, TSATF is a colonial wargames ruleset, but it is the founding father of Victorian wargames and has been adapted in countless variants. The Sword in Africa variant included is wonderful for conducting safaris into terra incognita and includes VSF elements which can be emphasized. See Rob Beattie’s Steam and the Flame for inspiration. The Virtual Armchair General now publishes a variety of supplements (The Kris and the FlameBoilers and Breechloaders, and The Sun Never Sets) and stand alone games (Astounding Tales and B’hoys), which, while not VSF, will serve to inspire.

Tusk and Tusk II by Matthew Hartley (Wessex Games, $4.54). Like everything concerned with Irregular Miniatures, these rules are unpolished, quirky, but a joy to play. One plays a hunter, from Og the caveman to brave Sir Harry, out to pot prehistoric prey. The dinos move or attack according to reaction tables, making Tusk an excellent solo game. Irregular makes figures for Tusk in 6mm and 15mm scales, and one can find appropriate 25-28mm minis from any number of sources.

Valor & Steel & Flesh by Robert Charrette (Parroom Station Miniatures, $25). Redcoats on Mars. Lots of detail.


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Miniature Figurines for VSF

I believe it’s safe to assert that the vast majority of gamers use 25-28mm miniatures. For this reason and several others, I have chosen to game VSF with 15mm figures and I am beginning to add 10mm and even 6mm to my collection. I plan to include 25-28mm resources in the future. For the time being, I hope that these links will be useful for those who would like to try Something Different for Queen and Country.

The best all-around resource for VSF figures is the Figure Sources page from the Major General Tremorden Rederring’s Colonial-era Wargames Page by David Helber. The Major General covers the gamut of scales and manufacturers.

Marcus Rowland has also put together a list of Figures suitable for VSF games, such as his Forgotten Futures.

15mm Victorian Era Miniature Ranges by Brian “DyeHard” Broocks (cribbed from Joseph Boeke) was extremely comprehensive circa a decade ago. I noticed that many of the links are broken and a number of the companies no longer trade, though the ranges may have been purchased by others. I will attempt to bring the list into the modern era.

15-18mm VSF Miniatures

Heroes

Figure TypeManufacturerNotes
Indiana JonesBrigade Games
GASLIGHT 15mm Adventurers Character Pack
Mad ScientistBrigade Games
GASLIGHT 15mm Adventurers Character Pack 2
Sir Harry with elephant gunIrregular Miniatures
Sir Harry Pack
British OfficerIrregular Miniatures
FZ10
Victoria Hawkes in jodhpursBrigade Games
GASLIGHT 15mm Adventurers Character Pack
Victoria Hawkes as zouaveBrigade Games
GASLIGHT 15mm Adventurers Character Pack
Rick O'Connell-typeBrigade Games
GASLIGHT 15mm Adventurers Character Pack
StanleyHighlander Studios
Space:1889 Wilderness Adventurers
Big Game HunterHighlander Studios
Space: 1889 Wilderness Adventurers
♀ NaturalistHighlander Studios
Space:1889 Wilderness Adventurers
♂ NaturalistHighlander Studios
Space:1889 Wilderness Adventurers
CusterHighlander Studios
Space:1889 American Adventurers
♀Adventurer with rifleHighlander Studios
Space:1889 American Adventurers
♂ Adventurer in armorHighlander Studios
Space:1889 American Adventurers
"Professor" WilloughbyHighlander Studios
Space:1889 American Adventurers
British Soldier w/ blast gunHighlander Studios
Victoria! British Firing Line w/ Blast Guns
Tarzan & JaneHighlander Studios
Victoria! Ape Man Set
♀in dress, boots, big pistolRebel Miniatures
15mm Steampunk Adventurers
♀with aviator hat & gogglesRebel Miniatures
15mm Steampunk Adventurers
♀in prim dress, pointing with gadgetRebel Miniatures
15mm Steampunk Adventurers
♂ in fedora, goggles, 2 pistolsRebel Miniatures
15mm Steampunk Adventurers
♂ w/ rifle over shoulderRebel Miniatures
15mm Steampunk Adventurers
Indiana Jones wielding whipRebel Miniatures
15mm Pulp Adventurers #2
♂ w/ shotgun & bandolierRebel Miniatures
15mm Pulp Adventurers #2
♀w/ pith & pistolRebel Miniatures
15mm Pulp Adventurers #2
♂ w/ home service pickelhaubeRebel Miniatures
15mm Pulp Adventurers #2