Improvised Radio Theatre - With Dice

Improvised Radio Theatre - With Dice! is a podcast by Roger Bell_West and Michael Cule, in which we pontificate on role-playing games.

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There Would Probably Be Some Aristocratic Totty Involved 01 December 2016


This month, Roger and Mike consider steampunk, the tendency to add magic to everything, and epic games.

We mentioned GURPS Steampunk 1: Settings and Style, Just Glue Some Gears On It (And Call It Steampunk), Victoriana, Airship Pirates, Castle Falkenstein), the Lippisch (not Horten) powdered-coal ramjet, the Admiralty Fire Control (not Plotting) Table on HMS Belfast, Girl Genius, Mary Sophia Allen, Acoustic aircraft location, Mary Gentle's book 1610: A Sundial in a Grave, Boot Hill), Top Secret), Gangbusters), Traveller), GURPS Technomancer, The Grognard Files, Worlds of Wonder), and Dragonmeet.

Michael notes that the map he was talking about was the continent of Kanos, from Questworld.

Music by Kevin MacLeod at

  1. Posted by Owen Smith at 06:49pm on 03 December 2016

    I'm playing Space 1889 though it's a bit variant, run by Bob Dowling. We're currently finding out about the ancient martians and how the great martian machine works, this is the thing that holds the atmosphere in and increases the gravity etc. But all the normal Space 1889 stuff is there ie. liftwood, the ether etc. Engineering of etheric devices is a big feature.

    I have also played, under Bob a long time ago, the campaign of being the group of young characters sent out of a chinese(ish) village because they were running out of food in a famine. This was Bob's Empire campaign and from a lowly start over many years (more than a decade) became epic with magic powers, blowing up volcanoes, ensuring the emperor was not overthrown, infiltrating and pretending to be nobles and ultimately ending up being above them, in a sideways sort of way.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 03:32pm on 06 December 2016

    Does your liftwood provide an infinite energy source, like the original Space 1889 version? (Personally I think any steampunk game that includes inventions should have a reasonably competent engineer/scientist among the players.)

  3. Posted by Robert Wolfe at 09:52pm on 06 December 2016

    Your comments about Castle Falkenstein struck a particular cord with me. I too have considerable fondness for the game even with its unusual card mechanics. None of the three games I have planned to run have happened and neither did the two games in which I planned to play.

    When I consider the source of goodwill I have towards Castle Falkenstein, there are three main lines of thought that come up:

    1) the fantasic side works to draw from classic fairy tales more than from Tolkien. This removes a certain level of monotheistic hierarchy of angels in favor of the chaos of the wild hunt from playable non-humans. 2) the setting has a European continental focus. This was particularly unusual when presented to me as a gamer in the southern part of the USA. Compare and contrast with Victoriana which advertises its anglophilic focus in the title. For example, historically the era of the unification of Germany is not discussed with much detail in general education around this area. Sedan is known as a type of chair rather than for a capitulation. This focus forced an additional lair of research forward when I wanted to run it. One which I appreciated and benefited from. "Who is this Bismark Chap?" indeed. 3) The magic in the setting called to me more from the literary tradition of Holmes than Gandalf. I think Michael used a term in this podcast which I have written on three Falkenstein character sheets: "Consulting Wizard". I find the idea that a wizard first and foremost has an additional level of perceptiveness which can be used to manipulate energies rather than simply having a facility for producing discrete magical effects to be particularly compelling.

    Somehow I have never used the "exiles from the tribe" origin to start a group. Thank you for that. It's given me the key I needed for planning a Tekumel game.

  4. Posted by RogerBW at 09:56pm on 06 December 2016

    I'm deeply dubious about the CF card mechanics, even having heard the Esoteric Order of Roleplayers playing the game, but if I ever see a game being run at a convention I'll certainly try playing it.

  5. Posted by Phil Masters at 07:49am on 07 December 2016

    The Falkenstein card mechanics... had potential, but maybe weren't as thought-through and playtested as they should have been. There were various abuses possible. They looked more like a flourish to add on top of a very narrative-based freestyle sort of game than anything else.

    I had a soft spot for the game, but it had a lot of flaky aspects. The alternate history made no real sense (and probably wasn't meant to), and there was definitely a feeling that Mike Pondsmith had chucked in everything he thought was cool, whether or not it fitted together. The best approach was probably to take a subset of the game elements, in a limited geographical area, and forget about the rest.

  6. Posted by Owen Smith at 09:27pm on 11 December 2016

    I suspect Bob's Space 1889 liftwood can create perpetual motion. But if you did it might deplete faster, because liftwood depletes as you use it. Depleted liftwood is great for shielding etheric devices, and it also makes very fine furniture.

    There's sort of an unspoken agreement that we don't poke at the bits of the game that would obviously break. And it's quite a cinematic game. Anything that amuses the referee is more likely to work for example, which is how we got away with an ice ship cleaved from the south polar cap being sailed down the canals. Cool pictures are encouraged, if you want a new outfit then find a great picture of it and Bob is more likely to let you have it.

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