A Role-Playing Game, or RPG, system set in an alternate victorian-era europe. Steampunk, magic, faeries, and dragons are rampant, and the system is a rather unique one, focusing on storytelling over rule-play. It is a transient between pure diceless, and old-style RPGing, using playing cards at times for game mechanics. Also rather unique for a game system in that you need is the main book, and you will have all the information you need to create myriad and many cool campaigns.

Castle Falkenstein is a ruined castle on a crag in the Vosges du Nord Natural Park, in north-east France, close to the border with the German Saarland. Some of the basement levels are still intact, and said to be quite worth seeing. Legend has it that at certain times, a ghost can be heard in the cellars, striking the casks a number of times to indicate the size of the wine yield in the coming season.

Falkenstein (»Falconstone«; perhaps an even better name in English than in German) is in fact the name of over half-a-dozen castles, most of which are ruins now, but the famous one isn't the one in Vosges, but the one near Pfronten in Bavaria, which belonged to Mad King Ludwig, and which he had earmarked for the bigger-budget sequel to Neuschwanstein. God knows where he expected the money to come from, when he didn't even have enough to finish the first one; but as it turned out he was summarily dispatched before the money could ever become an issue.

Ludwig did have his set-designer in ordinary Jank draw up perspectives and plans for it, and various others make models and interior designs; these are largely preserved, as I understand it, and assuredly make good viewing wherever they're stored. I myself have only seen one picture, Jank's full view of his second design for it; in that picture, the style of the castle lies between medieval utilitarian fortification and hyper-Gothic. This is because, like Neuschwanstein, like Fonthill Abbey, it was designed to simulate several distinct stages of construction. Nevertheless, at least one of these phases would have to be »obsessed, operatic king«; there are turrets which have turrets which in turn have little turrets. It looks, in a word, amazing, and it is really no surprise that such a vision couldn't be brought physically onto the earth.

That imago of a castle is the one referred to in the game Castle Falkenstein, which takes place in an alternate reality where Falkenstein is a fairy-castle pulled in from the Otherworld according to the familiar principle, and used as the base for the European resistance against Bismarck. The real castle, on the other hand, was a 13th century keep built to mark and guard the border of Tyrol, at which it kind of sucked because it is located at such ridiculous elevation that it would have been practically uninhabitable in the winter. Then again, perhaps nobody would want to pass by there in mid-winter either...

The game was released in 1994, and is notable for placing itself in the span from »cheerful« to »Zenda-esque romance« in a period when »gritty« and »overly melodramatic cockamamie« were the styles of the day; it also predated and predicted the steampunk boom by about a decade. Accordingly, it totally failed to do at all well and left little imprint in the already quite invisible hobby. Nevertheless, it is one of very few games of that or any era that has retained its charm, and is well worth obtaining if you like roleplaying and can find a copy that hasn't fallen to bits — abysmal binding being de rigueur at the time. The setup is largely delineated above; the main thing to add is, I suppose, that the game not only takes place in that alternate 19th century of Ruritanian romance and the like, but is also lousy with dwarfs, elves, dragons and all those other fantasy trappings, but in a way that attempts to be faithful to Victorian beliefs and imagination rather than to Tolkien. It succeeds at times admirably, at times less so; especially there are occasions when modern prejudices about Victorian society are adopted in favor of the authentic state of things, and I go back and forth over whether this is brilliant or idiotic.

The game is also notable for having a design which is ugly in a super-authentically Victorian way, although I fear this is lost on most people, who just go »HUÄGH, 1994 computer effects« (and who can blame them, really?). This is characteristic; the art direction was in general extremely competent in a totally unappreciated way. For instance, at least one expansion book was illustrated exclusively with pen-and-ink drawings by Charles Dana Gibson, who drew a great deal more than just Gibson Girls, things for which he is now sadly and soundly unremembered. This gives, of course, an extremely adept depiction of a certain segment of Victorian life; but it was a masterstroke that went entirely unrecognized since practically nobody knows who Charles Dana Gibson was anymore. The prose, sadly, is rather less competent; and prangs completely now and then in its attempts to sound Victorian — really with the sensation of altitude abrupted by the sudden unexpected lurch of a plane conking out and nosediving straight into the ground; but this is only to be expected from a game designer with better things to do than meticulously imitate 19th century prose — like make his game fun to play, for instance.

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