Tuesday, 8 June 2021

[NEWS] HELVÉCZIA: Picaresque Fantasy RPG (NOW AVAILABLE!)

Helvéczia

“Venture into a rugged land of stamp-sized, steadfastly independent petty states, populated with robber bands, pious clergymen, wig-wearing philistines, adventurous countesses, and wily cheats: the cantons of Helvéczia, a territory of forbidding mountain ranges and endless forests betwixt rival empires. (…) A re-imagination of old-school fantasy role-playing in a late 17th century Switzerland that never was, Helvéczia is a fast-paced and colourful game of guns, dames, deviltry and steel, based on swashbuckling tales, penny dreadfuls, local legends, and the strange stories of the Brothers Grimm.”

After its debut at the North Texas RPG Con, I am pleased to announce the publication of my pseudo-historical RPG, Helvéczia. Published as a 204-page hardcover and a lavish boxed set (which contains the hardcover book, a regional adventure supplement, nine map sheets, and more), this is a self-contained game system taking you to a strange alternate-world Switzerland where danger lurks in the deep forests, and even weirder things are afoot in the high mountain valleys. In Helvéczia, you can…

  • get surrounded by a band of brigands, shoot your way out, and make your getaway on one of their horses…
  • seduce an adventurous countess, and lose all your money to her in a game of cards (how did she do it?!)…
  • get devoured by giant frogs lurking in an abandoned well…
  • blow up the Devil’s stagecoach and live to tell the tale…
  • die in an unlucky first aid attempt (many such cases!)…
  • hunt wolves from horseback with grenades…
  • learn useless sciences like Hermeneutics and Vacuum Theory, then find them surprisingly useful…
  • get captured by the Inquisition, and escape from their clutches with the aid of a Holy Bible they gave you for your final night…
  • team up with the Inquisition against a blasphemous nest of fishmen…
  • dig up the fingerbones of a hanged man for the Skeleton Key spell, and procure a tanned dogskin for Emilio Sciarelli’s Spectacle…
  • play cards with the Devil for your immortal soul!

All of these, and more have happened in Helvéczia games (although some took place in the land of Catalonia, for you can play the game in other pseudo-historical milieus with a little effort).

Look, ma! Very Irate Geese!

As it should be evident, this is not a game concerned overmuch with historical accuracy or physical realism; rather, it aims to be a fast, swingy, colourful romp with high stakes and a lot of fantastic detail. It is not grim, and not particularly dark (although the past, indeed, is a foreign country – do not expect 21st century America or Europe). You do not have to be a student of history to appreciate Helvéczia (although an interest in it does not hurt): if you like Grimm’s strange and bloody stories, swashbuckler romances by Dumas and others, or swords-and-stagecoaches films, you will be right at home. Above all, this game is a love letter to the penny dreadfuls and cheap picaresque novels describing the lives and changing fortunes of scoundrels, bravos and never-do-wells – adventurers in the truest sense!

A Miraculous Escape!

Unlike many “OSR” systems, Helvéczia departs somewhat from the usual B/X lineage, and uses a simple, heavily streamlined and modified version of the d20 System (abandoning its more cumbersome aspects, and subjecting it to a lot of tinkering and polish). Players will no doubt be familiar with the game’s four classes, spell memorisation, the procedures of the combat system, or saving throws and experience points. Helvéczia employs this familiar framework, and puts its own spin on it. Everything is altered to fit the game’s subject matter, and it all fits into a closed, six-level advancement scale: even the mightiest heroes or the most ferocious monsters are found in this range. Yet, even low-level characters can accomplish much, and you do not have to be high-level to make a difference. There is no level scaling in the world, or in the published adventures: it is up to the players how to navigate Helvéczia’s pitfalls and dangers, and succeed or fail by their own decisions (and the fickle dice). This is, also, a complete game: everything you need is found in the rulebook, from rules, spells, monsters, magic items (mostly new) to GM advice, random tables, a starting adventure, and a brief setting guide. The rules are intended to be easy to learn, and the book can be picked up by beginners rather quickly.


Version Comparison Chart

Helvéczia is available in two versions: a more affordable hardcover, and a complete boxed set. The hardcover version ($40) includes:

  • Helvéczia, a 204-page hardcover rulebook, with a cover by Peter Mullen, and interior art by a host of period artists;
  • an A3 overview map of Helvéczia by Sean Stone, providing an overview of Helvéczia’s geography on one side, and its main cantons, towns and territories on the other;
  • a deck of 32 cards in case you want to play a hand with the devil – according to Hungarian card sharp traditions, the tried and true blue Piatnik card set, NO IMITATIONS ACCEPTED!

Hardcover edition

The boxed version ($60) includes everything above, and then some in a sturdy, hand-made box filled to capacity with goodies. Thus:

  • Helvéczia, a 204-page hardcover rulebook, with a cover by Peter Mullen, and interior art by a host of period artists;
  • Ammertal and the Oberammsbund, a 72-page regional supplement describing two cantons in Helvéczia in a hex-crawl format, and containing three larger and two shorter adventures, along with other miscellance (this supplement is also available separately);
  • an A3 overview map of Helvéczia by Sean Stone, providing an overview of Helvéczia’s geography on one side, and its main cantons, towns and territories on the other;
  • eight more A3-sized, double-sided map sheets offering player and GM hex maps for the entire extent of Helvéczia, and some of the surrounding territories (two of each map included to last multiple campaigns);
  • a deck of 32 cards in case you want to play a hand with the devil – according to Hungarian card sharp traditions, the tried and true blue Piatnik card set, NO IMITATIONS ACCEPTED!;
  • a folder with character sheets, sample characters, and a calendar booklet to keep strict time records with for a meaningful campaign (the folder doubles as a collection of reference sheets).

Boxed edition (four-volume, antique edition of Gil Blas not included)

Is it fun? We think so. Judge by the results of last Sunday’s expedition to the tunnels and chambers beneath the small town of ___(Redacted to protect the place’s good reputation)____, which lead right to the very depths of HELL!

  • Angelo Rossi, the Italian Vagabond, fell into a pit, where he was torn apart by headless walking corpses.
  • Brother Jean-Ambrose Lazard, a very sinful Franciscan, was captured by devils, and boiled in a fiery cauldron.
  • Tristan de la Croix, a French Soldier, was captured by the beautiful but wicked Gudrun von Oberhöllen, one of the aristocrats of Hell, and for disrupting her wedding night, imprisoned in a cage for the lady's perverted fancies. (Some might not find this so bad.)
  • Ivan the One-Eyed, Cossack Champion, fled in panic, and in madness did he emerge from the depths below!
  • Finally, Werner Lösung, German Sharpshooter, rescued Gudrun's handmaiden, the beautiful and innocent Elsie Schreck (who went to Hell for swearing, once!), but had to ask the Devil's assistance through cards to return to the surface of Helvéczia while hiding in a wardrobe (dragged through a painted cupola sky by diabolical giant owls). Since he had nothing else to pay the Devil with, Werner had to sign the contract (but at least he got to marry Elsie).

Want to die horribly in HELL and suffer ETERNAL DAMNATION? This is your game. Want to become a brigand leader? That, too, can be arranged. Reach sixth level, defend your doctorate in theology, and retire in style to your very own abbey? Not impossible. Win the hand of a fiery Gypsy girl after forgiving your mortal enemies? Certainly! Die in the last round of the last combat of a long-running campaign, and get decapitated by a vampire lord you had loosed on the world several sessions before? Could be, could be. Such fates, and more are in store for those who brave dust, gunfire, weird beasts, secret societies, and stand fast in the eternal struggle between Heaven and Hell!

IMPORTANT SHIPPING NOTE: As you might guess, the boxed set is large, and heavy. Accordingly, every boxed copy ships separately from other ordered items, and – unlike the smaller zines and modules – every boxed set incurs a separate shipping charge. Please note also that boxed sets have been found to ship slightly slower than regular mail, so expect some extra time or delivery.

Kämpft weiter!


15 comments:

  1. Finally, my days of waking up at 3am and desperately checking to see if this has been released has come to an end.

    So excited about this, congrats on the game!

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    1. And thus started our protagonists's days of waking up at 3am and desperately checking if this has been delivered by the post office.

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  2. Looks fabulous. Congratulations on seeing the fulfillment of your hard work Melan! I hope to find the funds to buy a box edition. :)

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  3. Isn't that the bottle of wine we had on the Sunday game?

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    1. Yes it is! In my defence, it was not drunk at an actual Helvéczia game, so it is not against the rules.

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  4. What I should read to prepare for this delight to arrive? Where Should I start?

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    1. René Lesage's Gil Blas is a great book to read. It is long, but you don't have to read the whole to get an idea, and it has more plot in 30 pages than modern fantasy novels have in a trilogy.

      It is much more grim than Helvéczia, but Moorcock's War Hound is an inspiring book, and I consider it his masterwork.

      The works of the Grimm brothers are great, too, but the best book to get for Helvéczia is not their Fairy Tales, but Grimm's German Legends. This is a ready-made collection of adventure seeds, and filled with great mood. However, a complete, unexpurgated edition of Fairy Tales is also very good, for the tales which are typically NOT included in the usual collections - the weird, bloody, or nonsensical fragments that make for good game fodder.

      Stanley Weyman's Under the Red Robe is quite excellent, and fairly short.

      As movies go, any 1950s-1970s European swashbuckling movie will do. Honestly, these are not great works of art, and fairly interchangeable, but they are great fun. One particular work off the top of my head (and which I did not know until very recently) is the Italian I Picari (The Rogues, 1987). These are written specifically on the basis of two Spanish picaresque novels.

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    2. Excellent!These will keep me busy on the long wait, thanks!

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  5. And not to forget about a classic that also originated from Hungary, just like Helvéczia, now freely available in some languages, such as in this Victorian English translation:
    https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/34770

    It is listed in the Recommended Reading of the rulebook, and already mentioned at Melan's blog:
    http://beyondfomalhaut.blogspot.com/2021/04/news-helveczia-announcement-and-preview.html?showComment=1618609517980#c5723934759965759264

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    1. Thanks! I'll look into that as well.

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  6. Thanks to Helvéczia, I've learned that the set of cards that I've always considered as "mariáš cards", Czech cards or perhaps just THE cards are actually Hungarian. Or, I guess, Austro-Hungarian (and borderline Swiss, containing imagery from William Tell).

    https://welovebudapest.com/en/article/2017/1/18/explainer-hungary-s-unique-playing-cards

    So here's to our shared heritage, and of course I've already bought the box. :)

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  7. Finally!
    Would it need a lot of work to run Castle Xyntillan by Helvéczia rules?

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    1. I've asked the same question and got a reply here:

      http://beyondfomalhaut.blogspot.com/2021/04/news-helveczia-announcement-and-preview.html?showComment=1620416509067#c6457373585816291331

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  8. Congrats on the release!
    Purchased, and can't wait to get my hands on my copy down here in the deep antipodes.

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