Castle Falkenstein (role-playing game)
|High adventure in the steam age|
1st edition cover
|Publication date||1994 (1st edition)|
Castle Falkenstein (abbreviated CF) is a steampunk-themed fantasy role-playing game (RPG) designed by Mike Pondsmith and originally published by R. Talsorian Games. The game is named for a legendary unbuilt castle in the Bavarian Alps. Players play the roles of gallant adventurers, facing the intrigue and derring-do of Victorian adventures such as The Prisoner of Zenda.
Rules and setting are presented in the form of diaries of a number of characters within the game, the main being the author's alter-ego "Tom Olam", a game designer from our world magically transported in New Europa.
- Best Roleplaying Rules of 1994 Origins Award, Castle Falkenstein, R. Talsorian Games, Mike Pondsmith
- Best Role-Playing Product of 1995 Nigel D. Findley Memorial Award, Castle Falkenstein
The game's system uses playing cards instead of dice to simulate action. The system is geared towards live action role-playing, and players are required to keep an in-character diary instead of using a character sheet.
The system is fairly unusual and has been praised for its ease of use and utility within the game. The cards-for-dice was not done as a gimmick, but rather a design choice that fit the mood and tenor of the game. This was unique as many systems were moving towards more generic rule systems at the time. Falkenstein was notable for doing the opposite in order to achieve the proper atmosphere within the game.
Castle Falkenstein came out in time when many games were focusing on storytelling rules, fewer mechanics and more focus on an interactive story, but also when most of these games were dark dystopian futures (e.g. Cyberpunk 2020) or dark horror modern age (like Vampire: The Masquerade). Castle Falkenstein was notable for being set in the Victorian era and on the European Continent; as opposed to England where the vast majority of Victorian-based RPGs are set. Players were encouraged to actively work together to build the plot of the game (again a notable departure) and replicate the heroic adventures of Victorian literature.
The game is set in the world of New Europa, a label which is sometimes applied to the Old Continent, sometimes to the whole planet, during the Age of Steam, or the 1870s. The world resembles our own, with a number of major variations: the denizens of Faerie do exist and mingle with humans, with whom they have struck an uneasy alliance. Creatures and beasts from myth and legend exist, as do a number of characters that are considered fictional in our world. Magic (spelled Magick) works, and has allowed technology to stretch in unexpected directions. The game introduces Engine Magick which helped propel the Renaissance via a magickally enabled Industrial Revolution. These subtle changes to New Europa’s history has made it quite divergent from our own history.
The reader’s journey through this alternate world is aided by an ego character, Tom Olam. Tom is from the real world who gets spellnapped into the world of Castle Falkenstein. It is through Tom that the player understands this world and he is used as an example of how the players are to create and play their own characters. Tom’s writing becomes the template of sorts for what the players need to do with their own characters. Tom Olam is a computer game designer, something that Mike Pondsmith has later gone on to do.
In 2016, Fat Goblin Games signed a deal with R. Talsorian Games to produce new supplements for Castle Falkenstein. The first of these supplements, Curious Creatures, was published in October 2016. Additional supplements and adventures followed and are continuing to be released through 2018.
Castle Falkenstein was ranked 45th in the 1996 reader poll of Arcane magazine to determine the 50 most popular roleplaying games of all time. The UK magazine's editor Paul Pettengale commented: "Castle Falkenstein is one of those games that people tend to either love or hate. It has a unique atmosphere, combining alternate history, celtic mythology, steampunk and a somewhat whimsical, fairy-tale feel. Likewise, the rulebook itself is quite different from many, being laid out as a novel, with important information pulled out in sidebars, and the rules coming later. This reflects the main thrust of the system, which is heavily geared towards roleplaying and storytelling over game mechanics and numbers, and drops dice in favour of a couple of packs of playing cards."
- "Origins Award Winners (1994)". Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts & Design. Archived from the original on 2007-08-30. Retrieved 2007-09-18.
- "Products: Castle Falkenstein". R. Talsorian Games Online. Archived from the original on 2013-07-01. Retrieved 2007-09-18.
- Haring, Scott (December 1994). "Pyramid Pick: Castle Falkenstein". Pyramid. 10.
- Vasques, Luiz Felipe (1999-05-03). "Castle Falkenstein Playtest Review". RPGnet. Retrieved 2007-09-18.
- Pondsmith, Mike (December 1993). "Castle Falkenstein Preview". Pyramid. 4.
- Pettengale, Paul (Christmas 1996). "Arcane Presents the Top 50 Roleplaying Games 1996". Arcane. Future Publishing (14): 25–35.