Aug 23, 2010

Dungeons and Dickens: Steampunking your RPG, Part II

The last Dungeons and Dickens post on steampunking your RPG was more about steampunking Middle-Earth than this one will end up being, but I want to reference that was my goal in accumulating all the following links. My gaming group was using I.C.E.'s Rolemaster system, and steampunking the MERP modules, all of which are brilliant and sadly out-of-print. However, I think these resources and the way I used them will be helpful for anyone looking to convert a current fantasy campaign to steampunk, or for someone just seeking a repository of steampunk links. Those who read the last post will know that that I started my gaming group's adventures in a Moria-turned-penal colony, which gave me an isolated location from which to develop how the world had changed because of the introduction of industrialization to Tolkien's pastoral secondary world. If I'd started it with the characters free to roam, it would have required a lot more initial preparation on my part, and I'd recommend a similar approach to those of you looking to steampunk an existing fantasy campaign. That way you don't have to go into seclusion for a year to research the Industrial Revolution in order to be ready to run your campaign.

In my own experience, it was the choice of minis we used that dictated some of the world-building decisions. We have an extensive collection of figures in our gaming room, but we wanted to have steampunk ones to help us grasp that the PCs were carrying pistols, not swords. Here's a list of links to some miniature lines we considered as we ramped up to the actual campaign.

Paper figures, for those who like their minis cheap:  Victorians...gunfighters...pulp heroes...pulp sci fi...
The exceedingly rare and hard to find GURPS Steampunk Box Set
Late period, but close enough for most of us:  Call of Cthulhu figures
Some great historical figures...at a size pretty close to traditional gaming figures (1/72 scale - we used 25-28mm)
Another possibility are the figures for "Horrorclix", because they have stuff like this figure. Trouble is, it's a collectible figure game - so you're likely paying for individual figures out of box.... But there's definitely some cool stuff.
My old fantasy fave, Reaper miniatures has some good figures as well - a cowgirl,and a Monster hunter.
Brigadegames' Victorian Age Figures, includes a couple of dual pistol weilding gangsters!
These sky pirates also might interest some of you.
While not precisely Victorian, these were among the figures we ended up with for our first round of minis: "High Adventure" figures.
1. Jolly Good Chaps - from the "High Adventure Series" (1890's-1930)


2. Armed Archaeologists


However, things didn't kick into high gear until I came across Privateer Press's Warmachine and Iron Kingdoms line of figures. This is what I wrote to our players when I found them: "The long rifleman with the broad hat seemed an option for Nathaniel, while the man in the gas-mask could be either Taylor or Jeff - Taylor, because of the Alchemy, Jeff because of the ruined face. The guy with the two guns held up...well, I like him a lot, but I like all the two fisted shooters in this lot. There's a big burly sunnuvabitch with a bald head and beard - Thorower post shave, with a new outfit and a John Henry hammer in place of the axe? Of course, there's always the two fisted axeman for Thorower...There's a guy with a huge wrench who might be Blaine, and several general heroes...I thought they captured a lot of the spirit of our game, if nothing else." Below are the images that jumped out at me, and links to the site we ordered them from:

The male figure on the left has blades under each gun, which had me considering all sorts of alternate weapons - in a world where the Elves reforged Narsil, putting blades on the undersides of pistols seemed a cakewalk. This lead to the idea that the Elves made prettier, more efficient pistols as well. They were the first race to produce repeating pistols with cartridges, not ball-and-powder.
What's more steampunk than a bald guy with a really big-ass hammer? He's ready to work hard, and pound the shit out of orcs.
This figure and the one below are gun-mages, and it got me thinking about the idea of weapons that could fire spells as bullets. We never saw the actualization of that idea until the very last games, but it was an idea born from looking at the miniatures.
This became the outfit for a half-orc character (just having those in Middle-Earth is a testament to how much we altered the secondary world), who was a master of explosives. While he died in a gunfight before we saw the full realization of the concept, the idea of a gas-masked Zorro-like figure had a lot of romance and concepts built into it. 
What was interesting about this figure is that it gave birth to an idea of a staff with a lightbulb on it, which was a focal character concept later in our campaign.
Hero with sword AND goggles. The world took shape through figures like this one.
And this fellow, in conjunction with the Gun Mage, got me thinking Stephen King's Dark Tower series, which lead to the development of the Rangers of the North, the Faradrim, into the Gunslingers.

Once the idea of the Gunslingers as Rangers of the North crystallized, I was able to see how the PCs would get out of Moria, and began formulating story hooks for the characters. In other words, I relied on these minis to help me form up how the world looked. In addition to minis, I found the images from CGSociety's challenge to steampunk myths and legends a veritable gold mine of further story concepts. The climax of the first part of that campaign featured an escape from Moria on a steam train headed East to West, the reverse of the direction the Company of the Ring took. The train was driven by a mysterious stranger named Ravas Grau, the last name being German for Grey, an oblique reference to his real identity. The train burst through the Western Gate, but could go no further, as the line only went to just outside of Moria. As the heroes gathered in one box car, Ravas Grau and his assistant pumped a bellows/hot air system that inflated a dirigible balloon above the box car - a truly steampunk escape! However, even as the box car lifted away from its train bed, the Balrog of Moria came in angry retribution to destroy the heroes. Next came the big reveal, as Ravas Grau, with a massive wrench in hand, dove from the box car at the oncoming Balrog screaming, "You shall not pass!"

Those are the moments a DM lives for. There were several stunned looks and dropped jaws as everyone realized I had included a major Tolkien hero in the game...something I had never done before. Weeks later, I came across this image in the CGSociety Myths and Legends images, and knew how Gandalf the Grey would return in a steampunk world. It fit nicely with our gunslinger motif, and also lead to the idea that unlike in LOTR, Gandalf's Istari spirit could not return to the Undying Lands and then come back as Gandalf the White - the Dwarves built the steampunk arm for him, after his near-death battle with the Balrog. This lead into the idea that magic itself was being sucked out of the ground by Saruman and his industry. Accordingly, we were able to play with ideas of energy shortages, eco-justice, and take a different approach to the finale than I had originally envisaged. You can read our posts about all of that starting with this one at the original Steam Lords blog. You may also note that these posts have been a condensed version of content from that blog.
Many of you are likely interested in game mechanics, and for that, I can say succinctly that your best resource is RPGnow.com. They have the most and best steampunk gaming resources. Search "Steampunk" and you'll get the majority of the resources I'd recommend. However, I'd like to highlight a few as well.

The Castle Falkenstein line of books:

Originally a print series adapted by GURPs, this is a fully late Victorian world; the use of faerie magick will remind some of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell: more on Falkenstein HERE. If you're looking for a full system, this one is very cool. Even if you already have a system, I found the Falkenstein books indispensable for story and flavour. The Lost Notebooks of Leonardo DaVinci were something we saw as being a potential campaign, to retrieve the books and build the various infernal engines contained within. We took the idea of using playing cards instead of dice and converted the idea into using Tarot cards as a randomizing element in the game - when players roll a 66 in Rolemaster, it's usually bad and "left field." Something bizarre. To help me decide on that, we used a deck of Victorian Tarot cards and a Tarot dictionary to guide what would happen next. Comme Il Faut includes a section on speaking in Victorian style, which I found really helpful.

Castle Falkenstein
Memoirs of Auberon the Faerie
The Steam Age
The Lost Notebooks of Leonardo DaVinci
Six-Guns and Sorcery
Comme Il Faut
Book of Sigils

For the D20/3.5/Pathfinder crowd (of which I now belong)...
Sorcery and Steam This book is devoted to the idea of transforming a currently medieval fantasy setting to a steam one. I liked it quite a bit. Another book devoted to converting fantasy to steampunk is Steam and Steel, which is an excellent source of  feats, prestige classes, and weapons, as well as a guide for building your own in-game fantasy steamworks.
Paris: The Spectral City Babbage Edition A thorough campaign setting for a historical steampunk setting. I love it just for the full description of a traditional seven-course dinner - I like to have those details as a DM. I highly recommend it.
Gamemaster's Guidebook to Victorian Adventure This is but one book in the Imperial Age line, which has grown extensively since I first ordered their stuff. The Imperial Age is for those wanting to run a straight-up Victorian Steampunk game. No conversion necessary. I like what I've seen from them - they've done their homework, and this makes for a great approach if you're using D20 Modern or Past. We never got a chance to try all these out, but trust me, some day I'm going to! Who doesn't want to play a Monster Hunter?


There are other resources as well, but I haven't played them or read them enough to comment. For those who are completely green, you want to check out OGL Steampunk, or Deadlands for some great steampunk gaming options.

2 comments:

  1. might I suggest, as an addendum to your 3.5/PF list the following:

    1. Privateer Press' "Iron Kingdoms RPG" their classes take an interesting mixture of magic and automata, with less emphasis on the magic. Its fully compatible to most any d20, but specifically modeled for 3.5

    2. Gearwerks: a "Mad Scientist's Guide" great for players - and campaigns - intent on letting the most bizarre constructs, ships, and weapons a player can imagine become reality. I've recently begun to swear by both.

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  2. I love the Iron Kingdoms campaign books. I'm using bits and pieces in my Freeport campaign. Well suggested!

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