The back cover text of Blue Devil's Passages states ?the only Game Preperation of agreeable taste to all palates, and an excellent substitute for Cod-Liver oil.? The text goes on in a similar fashion, continuing to praise the game's ambiguous attributes using adjectives straight from a traveling snake-oil salesman's opening pitch. It concludes with testimonials from Robert Louis Stevenson and Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. Any RPG game good enough for Lewis Carol is good enough for me, right?
Passages is a d20 (more accurately an OGL) RPG set in a world in which the great stories of the Victorian age were not mere works of fiction, but fantastic travelogues written by special men and women who had found a way to journey through an infinite parallel multiverse known as the Book Without End. These travelers, called Passengers, travel to worlds where they can match wits with Sherlock Holmes, set sail with Captain Hook, or help save a young Alice from the hungry fangs of Count Dracula. Players take on the role of one of the heroes of this world. Normal citizens of 19th century Earth who have learned to pierce the boundaries of the mundane and venture into the infinite.
The core system behind Passages is the familiar d20 system, although it has been altered in a number of ways. The principle difference is that only one die, the d20 itself, is ever used. Variables that usually rely on additional dice rolls are instead handled by preset numbers and degree of success. Weapon damage, for example, is based on the amount by which the attacker exceeds his opponent's defense roll (plus a handful of other factors). Many rules have been simplified or streamlined to fit the feel of the setting. Character creation has had almost all randomness stripped away, giving the player full control over the kind of PC he wants to make.
Passages positively shines with flavor. Since the game setting is based on the collective works of some of the most skilled and imaginative authors who ever put pen to paper, a worthy GM should find no shortage of inspiration. The designers have added to this by filling the PDF with wonderful art featuring both new works and period illustrations. In addition, there are fantastic quotes from such luminaries as Mark Twain and Rudyard Kipling. Passages is very complete and looks very professional.
To help the GM set the proper scene, Passages contains a useful section detailing the Victorian era. Included is a timeline, a lexicon, and useful sidebars on such varied topics as phrenology and mesmerism. There is also information of the lifestyle, outlook, and interests of the Victorian people. There are adventure ideas aplenty as well as secret societies and GM advice.
LIKED: Passages contains everything one needs to roleplay a group of extraordinary gentlemen (or ladies) in a Victorian era inspired earth that lies parallel to a multiverse of adventure. The writing is top-notch, and the various quotes and pieces of period art add to feel of the setting. While I've not extensively tested the modifications to the d20 system such as the new damage mechanic, the rules seem to achieve their goal.
As a complete package of rules, setting, and flavor, Passages is almost perfect. Its a top-notch, well-written book with good art, good mechanics, a clever idea to back it all up.
DISLIKED: The PDF lacks bookmarks, which makes it unnecessarily slow to navigate. Also, I'd like to see more of the spread rules in actual play before I give them full approval. They seem to work well enough with some simple play testing, however, so I can't call this an actual flaw.