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-== What is it? ==-
The Widening Gyre is best described by its byline, “Steampunk Roleplaying For The Hero System.” It was written by Bill Keys (aka Teh Bunneh on the forums) and imprinted by Blackwyrm Publishing. The first edition was released in July 2011.
Widening Gyre has a color cover and an entirely black and white interior. The book is 8.5” x 11” and is 159 pages in length. I am reviewing a print copy that I purchased. I have not run a session using Widening Gyre but I have read the product cover to cover and have a fair amount of knowledge with the Hero System.
-== What I Like ==-
Widening Gyre opens by describing the setting. Bill describes the setting in a lot of detail and provides information on how it can be played during various time periods starting at 1861 and ending around The Great War in 1918. I particularly like the story of The Gyre on page 8.
Bill does a fantastic job explaining the different roles that the PC can take in the setting. Some games do a very poor job of this…in fact some don’t do it at all. Each time period defined in Widening Gyre has a section specifically on roleplaying in that period.
In one section Widening Gyre lists 19th century sciences. I thought this section was fun and informative.
Bill presents several Packages in Widening Gyre. These are well thought out and broad in their coverage. Packages include entries like the tech savvy Savant, Detectives, Air Pirates, and even Clockwork Men. At the end of the section Nikolai Tesla is presented as a sample character. Although I gushed at having stats for Tesla I was disappointed because he does not use the Savant Package as presented in the text. In my opinion it would have been better if whatever sample character was presented used the packages as presented.
Gear and vehicles are covered next. The vehicles presented in Widening Gyre are particularly fun. They range from steam powered carriages to the time machine from H.G. Wells.
After the gear section is a sample adventure. The sample adventure involves a car race with an hidden secret. I thought the sample adventure in Widening Gyre was actually pretty creative and unique. Often sample adventures are pretty boring but this one was nice. As an added bonus there are more cool vehicles.
The highlight of The Widening Gyre is the Steampunk Sourcebook section. This section has a TON of great thoughts on the Steampunk aesthetic and how it can be used in gaming. I particularly liked sections on Genre Settings, Genre Moods, and Conventions. Fantastic stuff.
Near the end of the book is a section called Putting It All Together that really wraps up the book nicely. Often books have tons of great data then don’t explain what you can do with it. Bill has it covered in Widening Gyre.
I really like the covers by Curtis Craddock, Bill Keyes, and Jonathan Wyke. I think the front cover conveys the attitude of the setting really well. On the back cover is a poster called Notre Dame De Vapeur that I really love. I want it on a poster!
-== What I Don’t Like ==-
There is some very brief information in the book about running the setting without magic but I would have liked to see more. My expectation is that steampunk does NOT include demonic magic.
One minor complaint that I had with Widening Gyre is that there were a LOT of quotes in the sourcebook section. At times it almost felt like there were too many.
I think my biggest gripes are around layout issues. First the text is pretty small. I’m not sure if it is the font selection or just the font size but I found it difficult to read at times. Background coloring in Widening Gyre can also be quite dark. With a dark background the text can be hard to read. The Packages are formatted with a very dark background and are especially tough to read.
Unlike the cover artwork the interior artwork is very hit or miss. There are lots of photos and several marginal drawings.
-== Summary ==-
Overall I was VERY surprised by The Widening Gyre. I guess I did not expect the amount of coverage that this genre book provides. The quality of the writing is so high that it feels like a book that Steve Long might have produced. (FYI, this is very high praise in my book.) I think Bill has written THE steampunk sourcebook for Hero with Widening Gyre.