As predicted, my copy of Victoriana arrived in the mail last Saturday. Since then, I've had time to read through the rules, absorb them, grok them. And here's the verdict: it's a huge, sprawling, bloated mess of a game, with a metric fuck-ton of unnecessary rules and mechanics; but also with a seed of a perfectly serviceable dice-pool game buried at the heart of it. After reading through the core book, I considered two options: (1) discard it and look for something lighter, or (2) trim the cruft.
Back in the early 00s, I remember encountering the first edition of Victoriana (the one that used the Fuzion system) in a bookstore (I think it was a Hastings), reading through it, and thinking that it was bleeding ridiculous. Fantasy races in a steampunk game, okay, but fantasy races in an alternate-earth steampunk game? I brushed it off as a silly curiosity and didn't really think about it again for another decade. Now, though, I'm certainly a great deal more confident when it comes to tearing systems apart, using games for settings they weren't intended for, and otherwise kit-bashing and kludging stuff together.
I mention this to contextualize what I'm going to say next: Victoriana is worth paring down into a lighter version of itself, because the things it has that would I like to keep—rules for fantasy races in a steampunk world, steampunk "marvels" of engineering, and a magic system that reflects both real-world arcane traditions like hermeticism and druidry and bogus 19th century theories about psychic stuff like mesmerism and animal magnetism and spiritualism and aethereal quintessence—all of that is really superbly well-executed. And it's much easier to knock away all the crap I don't need but keep the good bits of Victoriana than it would it be to take some rules-lite generic game (even one I like as much as WEG d6/Mini Six) and add brand-new homebrewed good bits.
So, to details. There's a lot from Victoriana that I want to just flat-out ignore. It has Fate Points (and "super Fate Points" called Scripting Dice). It has an alignment gauge that can actually get your character NPC'd if they get too lawful or too chaotic. (Although I do appreciate that the game's alignments—Order, Harmony, and Entropy—are basically D&D's Law, Neutrality, and Chaos.) It has lots of different mechanical gewgaws that you can buy with chargen or experience points: skills, talents, spells, psychic powers, and scientific marvels are all fine. Assets, social privileges, and character flaws, not so much. Also, there's this whole pile of complicated rules centered around whether your character is lower, middle, or upper-class—fine if you're actually trying to do the whole Dickensian crapsack smoggy streets of London thing, but hardly pertinent in a steampunk high fantasy game of the sort I'll inevitably wind up running.
Plus, the game does stupid things like keying your movement rate to your Dexterity score. And don't get me started on the Initiative system. Ugh.
But thankfully, all of that crap is really easy to ignore. In fact, reading through Victoriana and imagining how I'll run it makes me weirdly nostalgic for my earliest days of gaming: I ignored a lot of AD&D 2nd edition too. But to give you some concrete idea of how easy it would be to play a "rules-lite" version of Victoriana—and how radically different from the core rules such a beast would be—here is the character sheet meant to be used with the game as-written, and here is the character sheet I whipped up after fifteen minutes of considering what to keep and what to pitch into the dustbin.
So now it comes down to the hard business of resisting the whelming pull of gamer ADD. I really do want to test this game out sometime, but I can't imagine when I'll ever have the chance.