I’m envisaging Inferno as a game you can play in a number of ways.
The most straightforward way to play Inferno will be as a game of tabletop adventure. Players take the role of a member of the Inferno club engaged on a series of dramatic exploits. Between exploits characters have a chance to pursue their own agendas and attend meetings of the Inferno club.
For tabletop play you’ll need between three and six players, a comfortable parlour, or at a pinch, a billiard room, a number of decks of cards, paper, and pencils. For best results a gentleman’s personal gentleman or lady’s maid should be on hand to serve refreshments.
The turnsheet version of Inferno envisages a game for a larger group of players – twenty or more. For each year of game time the GM provides a description of the annual meeting of the Inferno club, news of interest, and the requests of the various houses.
Play consists of the players submitting written turnsheets describing the actions of their characters during the year. The GM adjudicates the results, and relays these back to the players along with any additional information they might have uncovered.
To play this version of Inferno everyone playing will need access to a secret communications network, and a small staff of clerks to handle the encyrption and decyphering of messages. Fortunately, in the 21st century such resources are commonplace, rather than being exclusive luxuries, as they were in the 19th century.
A secret meeting, full of fabulously dressed, extraordinary individuals, all plotting and scheming with the fate of the world at stake? Yes, that does sound like it would make an excellent LARP game. Particularly as the Inferno club’s exceedingly strict and inevitably enforced rules about respecting the physical safety of other members means that literal backstabbing is off the agenda.
For a salon game of Inferno you’ll need access to a suitable set of rooms. A discrete private gentleman’s club or reasonable sized country manor should suffice. In addition you should assume two members of serving staff per club member, all sworn to secrecy, and just to be on the safe side, keep a mesmerist on hand to ensure that the staff and any passers by remember nothing of what transpires. You may also need a suitable safe, for members’ jewellery, secret documents and weaponry.
It’s easy to see how an ambitious GM or team of GMs might combine a turnsheet game with occasional tabletop sessions to resolve any dramatic exploits that come up. Turnsheet games could feature occasional tabletop sessions when suitable moments emerge in the game. The original game of Inferno featured sixty players meeting weekly for a salon larp game, writing turnsheets, and occasional, brief ‘tabletop’ sessions.
Inferno is a world of secrets. As characters rise through the ranks of the Inferno club they can expect to learn more about the world they’re part of. But there are also plenty of things they won’t be told, and numerous questions they’d be better advised not to ask. But since when has that stopped a curious mind?Unravelling one or more of the great secrets at the heart of the Inferno will be a solid arc for a tabletop campaign.
In addition, there are secrets that need to be uncovered if players are to realise their ambitions. Those getting involved in science and magic (primarily the Earth and Water houses) will find that investigation and discovery is key to making progress.
Player versus player?
As you may have noticed, it is anticipated that members of the Inferno club may find themselves in opposition to each other. While the twelve houses are all working toward a single, secret aim, approaches differ, and the club is rather taken with Mr Darwin’s notion of the ‘Survival of the fittest‘. Members of the Inferno club are frequently given secret orders by their houses, orders which may, on the surface, appear to clash directly with the objectives of other members or even the expressed wishes of the club. Wise club members know better than to question this apparent discrepancy and trust in the wisdom of their superiors.
As to what constitutes fair play club rules are quite clear. Permanently injuring another member is not acceptable, and neither is destroying their power or resources. On the other hand, if you can take their resources and demonstrate that you can make better use of them – well then, that’s something to be applauded.
Inferno will be built on Neil Gow’s Card of Fate system, used in the much loved Duty and Honour and Beat to Quarters games of swashbuckling Napoleonic adventure. I’ve been helping Neil playtest the second edition of Duty and Honour, and I’ve been building on the fantastic work he’s done for that to create a system that will do the world of Inferno justice.
Some key reasons for choosing the Card of Fate system to work with are…
- It uses an ordinary pack of cards, which feels just right for a 19th century game
- It’s grounded in conflict resolution rather than task resolution so every test is meaningful, and the action moves quickly from dramatic high point to hight point
- It’s got great mechanics for social contests, anyone who has played Duty and Honour will know that the officers’ ball or an interview with a prospective father-in-law could hold as much peril as the battlefield. Perfect for Inferno.
- Characters have shared and individual agendas, In Duty and Honour a party is assigned a military mission, around which individual characters pursue their own agendas. In Inferno dramatic exploits take the place of missions, with orders from a house and the character’s own agenda providing additional goals.
When can I play it?
Inferno is currently in development, and there’s a lot to do. I aim to have a quickstart illustrating the basic mechanics and a one-shot adventure ready for release in a few months. As more of the system and background is developed there will be more releases and plenty of playtests.
I imagine there’ll be a Kickstarter in 2022.