I ran the initial Compromise and Conceit campaign for about 2 years in Sydney, Australia with a variety of different players, and I aim to restart it in the next 6 months. The last version was played with my own rule system (which was bad), but I aim to restart it with a variant of AD&D (or just with AD&D 4e if my variant proves to be bad).
I think the skill system underlying AD&D is actually really good, and a lot more versatile than I might have admitted to a few years ago. So with some redevelopment it could well suit the kind of world which Compromise and Conceit is.
Compromise and Conceit was interchangeably referred to as “the World of the Essential Compromise”, and it was based around this fundamental idea, that the Victorian era was an era of Essential Compromise. I never do anything original, and so I got my original idea for compromise from Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age, in which one of the characters gives a disquisition on the difference between Victorian and modern notions of hypocrisy.
In the case of our role-playing world, the Essential Compromise consisted simply of the use of Demons, and more generally Infernal Technology, to power a golden age of Victorian (and more generally, European) power in the world. The Victorians had a similar, real compromise with technology, of course – their rural way of life (still much-valued by the British today) was destroyed by the Industrial Revolution and they had a real price to pay for their newfound wealth and the maintenance and extension of their corporeal power. In my role-playing world, they pay this price in Infernalism rather than Industrialism, and the industrial world develops more slowly, and is infected and overrun with Infernal technology.
In this world the original Infernalism was discovered in the 16th Century by Shakespeare and his peers – Ben Johnson, Cristopher Marlowe and Spenser. Marlowe’s play Dr. Faustus was written as an allegory and a warning about the use of the Infernal powers his peers were uncovering, and he subsequently eschewed the use of the new powers. At that time magical power was derived directly from the conjuring of demons, as described in Marlowe’s play, but in later years this coterie of conjurors started to research the use of magic independently of their conjured benefactors, and magic was slowly reintroduced into the world. By the Victorian era it was highly advanced, being organised into schools throughout Europe, having infiltrated the church as “Divine” magic, and having a profound effect on industry through the discovery of new materials and production techniques. In this Victorian era they have steam trains, but do not use coal – instead a Fire elemental drives the train. By this means the Victorians have avoided the physical corruption of their environment attendant upon industrialisation, but in the eyes of authors like Marlowe they have invited the moral corruption of Infernalism. This, in essence, is the Essential Compromise.
Such a compromise necessarily involves the conceitedness of believing that the pursuit of English power is so important as to warrant such a hazardous compromise. It also involves another conceit (in the sense used by metaphysical poets) of dealing with the devil to further the will of god. Thus the name of the campaign, and the definition of the essential dynamic driving the adventures therein.
Interestingly, in this world the non-christian nations also have a powerful magical history, and they use it to defend their interests against European incursion. This gives further impetus to the Infernal project. In this light one cannot view the Infernal project as a European embellishment on existing history, but a whole alternate history of the world, in which European contact with the Orient and the New World reveals to them the importance of having adopted Infernal powers, since all the Heathens were doing it anyway.
This campaign is suitable for a system cut from the whole cloth of AD&D. But I have a plan to make a more specific system, in which combat is more deadly and magic more versatile. I have always thought that AD&D wizards were too weak, and now is my chance to test this complaint against reality…