Friday, May 31, 2013

Play, Projects, and a Panel

A shorter post today, wrapping up this month. Today closes out the RPG Blog Carnival for May. Next week I’ll do a round-up post for “Campaigns I’d Like to Run.” I’ve read some interesting and amazing posts on the topic. The carnival for June starts tomorrow with the topic “Favorite NPCs” and hosted by Arcane Game Lore. I’m looking forward to what comes out of that. NPCs, done right, can drive the action of a game forward while avoiding info-dumps and walls of text. Today I want to go over the games and talk about a few projects.

I’m currently juggling five campaigns, plus one I’m playing in. The steampunk school campaign, Libri Vidicos, has hit the third act and a full six years of play. We began Feb of ’07. We’ve had some interesting turns, including a couple of moves to the tragic as we begin to see how the various character arcs will wrap and if they’ll be able to stop the bad guys or not. Likewise, The Last Fleet continues to move along- we have several key forces out on the table. I expect we’ll also reach a climax in that story this year (after two years of play). The final f2f campaign, The New Dragon- L5R using homebrew rules, has just really gotten underway. It is a seasonal game and we’re in the second season now. The players had some good discussions about choices in between them. I’ll write up something about that soon. On G+, the Changeling Lost Vegas campaign continues apace. We’re at session 17 of that, with the group close to finishing their tasks for the Courts. At that point I’ll check in the with players and see how they want to proceed- continue on, change of the structure, introduce new approaches. On Roll20, we’re at session fifteen of the second arc of the Mutants & Masterminds campaign, First Wave. I’d hoped to do this one in twelve sessions, but we had some plots take longer than I expected. Plus I’ve had a hard time maneuvering the pieces to get to my end-game. I expect we have at least three sessions to go in that one before I wrap it up. We’ll take a break and then I’ll return for a concluding, more cosmic, arc.

I’ve backed a number of gaming Kickstarters, and I’ve been happy with most of them. I like being able to contribute to interesting projects and I’d say about half I’ve gone in just at the pdf level. Three have popped up on my radar I want to mention- two I’ve backed and one I’m still thinking about.

Time Heroes: A project put together by my Play on Target co-host Andrew Goenner. He’s created a wild and fun game setting with time-travelling agents in a cartoon style. There’s a mix of Ghostbusters, Cartoon Action Hour, and Time & Temp in what he’s created. He’s also one of the first to build on the Fate CORE mechanics for his work. I expect we’ll be seeing more of that. I like the base engine Evil hat’s created and I’m excited about how designers like Andrew implement and change that up. I’ve backed it and I’m pretty sure I would have even if I didn’t know Andrew.

Kingdom: I’ve said it before- Microscope changed my games. It has been one of the best tools I’ve found in the last few years. Beyond the actually game, it has helped me think about how collaboration and sharing can happen at the table. At least three awesome campaigns have come out of that, plus many sessions of play with the game itself. Now Microscope’s creator Ben Robbins has produced another game, Kingdom. In this, the group builds a community to play in- a hospital, a steampunk school, an assassins guild, a space colony- and plays out challenges to that community. It is awesome. It’s the kind of thing I love from my games, and I’m looking forward to running it.

Chuubo's Marvelous Wish-Granting Engine: So here’s the one I’m struggling with. This is a game created by Jenna Moran- creator of Nobilis and some of my favorite bits from Weapons of the Gods and Exalted. It is a game explicitly in the spirit of Miyazaki movies and Adventure Time. Right there I’d be pretty much sold- where do I send my money? However, the game’s being released through Eos-Sama. That makes me a little nervous. They don’t have the greatest track record. The Legends of Wulin game had major problems. If you hunt on RPGNet you can see several extensive threads tracking delays, misstatements, lack of information, and other problems. You still can’t find a hard copy of that game easily. I’ve seen people split on reactions- some people saying they’ll never buy from them again, and others irritated, but willing to give them another chance. In particular they mention that the pdf arrived on time. And that’s probably the level I’d want to go given the price points on offer. That pricing structure kept me away from some other rpg Kickstarters- in particular WW ones. The lowest price for a pdf is $25, which I’m sure does represent the value of the game, but mentally puts it a little out of the range I’m willing to spend on the electronic version of a sight-unseen game. I keep vacillating on this- I may eventually back it, but I’m not sure. But I wanted to point it out to others who might be interested in it.

ConTessa, the free online gaming convention by women for everyone, is coming up in late June (21st to 24th). You can see more about that at the webpage. Since it is an online convention, they still have room for women who want to run panels or games. Anyone can participate in those panels or play in those games- I’,m hoping to get a chance to try out some new games with interesting people. My wife, Sherri Stewart, will be moderating a panel Collaborative World-Building and Gaming. I’ll be participating in that and Brad Murray of VSCA (and co-designer of my beloved Hollowpoint) has kindly agreed to join in the conversation. Sherri’s working on a couple of other guests and she’ll have the details when she knows for sure. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

23 Campaign Concepts: Things I'd Like to Run

As we get to the end of May, we begin to wrap up this month’s RPG Blog Carnival theme “Campaigns I’d Like to Run.” You can see the announcement post here, with tons of links to great responses in the comments there. You still have time to post a response if you have an idea. You can see more on the RPG Blog Carnival here. Next week I’ll put together a organized post which goes through all of the submissions- at least the ones I know about. 

To finish up my contributions, I decided to write out all of the little campaign brainstorms I’ve had recently. In the past when I’ve had campaign change-overs I’ve done big lists of pitches for the players to consider (you can see some here and here). For this list I’ve tried to get down on the page all the random ideas I’ve had bouncing around. Ideally these are all new to me- not featured on previous lists. Some of them are pretty fleshed out, while others are more sketches or hooks that appeal to me. A few really deserve a post of their own- and could be easily put together for play. I suspect many of these will appear as Portal options if I get around to running Ocean City Interface. 


1. Victorian Shadowrun: A world with Steampunk technology, perhaps run rampant. Then the weird mystical wave rolls through, changing things and returning magic and creating the various fantasy races. We take up five or ten years on, with Queen Victoria herself having been transformed. Perhaps take a different spin on the fantasy races- borrow from For Faerie, Queen, and Country or even Magicians of England. Most importantly, bring in cyberspace by stealing the Etherscope VR concept. Cybertech might be steam or might be more like Rippers.

2. Victoriana X-Men: I fell in love with the X-Men during the Byrne era, and I love it when it is more science-fiction or space opera than conventional superheroics. I know some people despise Grant Morrison’s run on the books, but he had some interesting sci-fi roots concepts. In any case, this might be one of those hidden campaign seeds. For this you sell the premise and it only becomes clearer as the campaign rolls along that it is something else. Borrow a little bit from the Kerberos Club, but without a publicly recognized patron. Everyone has a singular power, gifted by the Nimbus, a sign that appears when they use the powers. They’re feared by the general public, but have been brought together in this Victorian Era to fight for recognition. They battle secret steam scientists, Martian invaders, updated monsters, and a cabal of Nimbus users who wish to rule the world. Inspired more than a little by the Aaron Diaz's illustrations

3. Superheroes Beyond: I’m a big fan of Batman Beyond and I’d love to do a campaign which riffs on that. For years I ran a Watchmen-style vigilante campaign. One of the last iterations of that was more Cyberpunk than supers. I don’t necessarily want the grit of that. I like the four-color, slightly darkened version of the world presented in the TV Show- with ubiquitous tech and legacy heroes. Ideally I would run this as a sequel to another supers campaign. That would allow me to play with existing characters and give the players some buy-in to the setting. Perhaps a substitute version could be created by using Microscope to build a history?

4. Ghost Worlds: Characters wake up in a Silent Hill-esque world. Realize they’ve been stolen from the real world and have to make their way back through obstacles and tricks. A surreal fantasy or horror land. The hook is that when they sleep, they have visions of the real world and see the nefarious plots the possessors of their bodies are undertaking.

5. WoD Fantasy: I kind of like the nWoD system for its simplicity. I wonder if you couldn’t strip things down and use it to do a more classic or directed fantasy game. Magic could easily be lifted from Contracts in Changeling or Spells in Mage. Some of the combat options in Machine God Chronicle might make that decently easy.

6. Crime & Punishment: A superhero game with an odd twist that justifies some of the problems of a classic comic book world. Supervillains have some common origin- an incident, a recurring genetic event, or something else. The world’s done relatively gritty in relation to them. The problem is that if supervillains are killed, they come back- sometimes in a new form, sometimes not. They take over someone’s body or something. Perhaps more like a Time Lord reincarnation in a different place- and something they’re not enamored of. Regenerating isn’t any fun. The only option is incarceration, but like Arkham Asylum, it is only a matter of time before they break out.

7. Adventure People: I’ve been thinking about how one could run a solid spy game in the 21st Century. One idea is to go totally retro and run a campaign set in the ‘60’s or ‘70’s. Night’s Black Agents has another approach- suggesting the breakdown of order and the establishment of a new apolitical foe in the form of the undead. Then there’s Spycraft’s competing agencies, which has some appeal- cool code names, weird factionalism, and more a sense of super-villainy than practical espionage. But if you’re going to create a cartoonish version of the world for these kinds of stories, why not go all the way? This campaign would be about super-spies, action heroes, and high weirdness. It would essentially be The Venture Brothers rpg. Ideally I’d get the players to create a tight-knit yet dysfunctional unit. They’d go on a mix of research, exploration, and counter-espionage missions. Everything would be over the top and insane. Ideally I’d use something with plenty of room for adaptation and improvisation, like FATE.

8. No Man’s Land: Dark Knight Rises borrowed liberally from a number of comic arcs, including bizarrely enough "No Man’s Land." In that long, long, multi-book event arc, Gotham’s struck by natural disasters, goes into anarchy, and is declared no longer part of the US. It becomes isolated, ala Escape from New York, and things go downhill from there. All of the “Bat Family” and their extended titles end up spending a year trying to establish and maintain order against lawlessness and gangs, many backed by arch-criminals. There’s some interesting stuff in the series, but most of it is messy and more nonsensical than most. That aside, it does offer rich territory for stories.

I ran a super campaign set in New Orleans once. It had been devastated by Katrina and then by a massive supervillain attack. That later disaster had been at least partly the fault of superheroes. One of the themes of the campaign was about restoring faith in superheroes. But it ended up being more conventional. I’d like to do a campaign which aims squarely at reconstruction. The characters first have to reclaim the city from lawlessness (ala NML) and then help with rebuilding. Along the way they will make themselves a symbol of one kind or another. Would probably work best as a street-level superhero game.

9. Space Station Zebra
I like Ashen Stars which offers the players a ship as a shared resource. But on the other hand, I like players having a static “home” they can live in and interact with. That’s why I run so many city-based games (a rut I perhaps need to break out of). I wonder if I could do a “first season” of Ashen Stars where the players patrol and protect a space-station or a particular planet. It might be a little like Space Precinct. It could be done as a vetting process- with the PCs then getting a ship to take out for adventures. I’d be borrowing more than a little from DS9 and Babylon-5.

10. Abstract Suikoden
I really love the idea of the Suikoden video games. In most cases the players begin as members of the orderly society, but then get pushed out. They have to find their own course and become heroes. Within that set up we have two key elements: 1) the establishment of a base which can be expanded and 2) the recruitment of many NPCs for support and active roles. With the latter, some require conversations to recruit, others storyline actions, and some optional side-quests. I think a campaign explicitly built on that model could be fun. Once players build up enough people, they could begin to send them out on resource & objective missions, increase their reach still further.

11. What Doom?
I’d like to run a post-apocalypse/crash game with a couple of distinctions. One, what happened wouldn’t be certain. Either the nature or the source of the disaster would be uncertain. Related to that mystery would be figuring out how to live and deal with that threat. I’m not sure how to set that up- some kind of shelter, cryogenics, or shared amnesia. Two, the game would be a building game- with the community having a central hub: facility, ship, caravan, which would need resources and development. Three, the game would be run online, with reservations and a revolving cast- depending on players and characters (like if they got killed they’d miss a session or something).

12. Conspiracy X-Com
My friend Steve beat me to the punch a little with his very cool campaign idea, Fight the Future. I like his approach. I’ve also been thinking about how you could bring the X-Com experience to the game table. I’d do that by making the first part of it more like ConX, stripping out everything except for the alien portions of it. In any operation, you’d go in first as investigation agents to check things out. Once the threat had been assessed, then the team can gear up and head in for an assault. Another way to play that might be for everyone to have two characters. The investigator and the squad member. That could be particularly cool.

13. Build-a-Bugbear
Extra Credits has mentioned the concept of making even mundane mechanics/sub-systems interesting through novel play mechanics. I’ve mostly done building games through resource management and menu choices. (OK, we’ll spend on building the fortress up rather than the farm fields; OK I spend my Green Mana to make this Magical Cake). I’d like to figure out some mechanics which would make building things- crafting, nation-building, alchemy, community development- more interesting. Reign has dimensions to track with some of those concepts, but I wonder if I can develop an engaging sub-game that doesn’t distract. That’s one of the things I admire most about the video game Puzzle Quest. They take the basic concepts and them modify and switch them up for several of the sub-games.

14. The Future Will Destroy You
What if magical power was discovered and developed, but you had to be kind of a dick to use it. To harness the true forces, you had to be a selfish person. (A little like Unknown Armies, but even more out there). That’s the classic model of the Evil Wizard from Conan. Transplant that to a modern setting where douchebag, slacker, and emo sorcerors have managed to destroy society. The players would be Conan-like post-apocalypse barbarian avengers with guns.

15. Luchadore Hunters
I’ve just started watching Supernatural; only though the end of the first season. The show isn’t great yet- but there’s a vibe I really like to it. I love the road-trip and Americana feel to it. Going through the backroads with occasional stop offs in major places, tracking things through rumors and bits of apocrypha, and a weird network of supernatural hunters. I’m also a fan of Hunter the Reckoning- in the many different flavors it presents, from long-suffering lunatics to superhero vampire slayers. I’d like to do a HtR campaign with a different origin for powers, a campaign that borrows stylistically from Supernatural and thematically from Lucha Libre. The PCs would be hunters to the weird and strange. They’d roll into town and look into matters. And when they figured out what was going on- that’s when the masks would come out. By donning those, they’d gain the powers they need to fight evil. The Masks would be unique- each with a story to them. The PCs would put down the monsters and then hop in their car for the next town.

16. Steampunk OTE
Way back in 1997, Pyramid Magazine published “An Assignation with Her Exaltedness” offering ideas for using Over the Edge with Castle Falkenstein. That remains a supremely awesome idea; steampunk fits perfectly with Al Amarja. But I don’t think I would necessarily use the CF backdrop. I might build something of my own- stripping the best ideas from various steamtech rpgs. I’d want something a little grittier and with some odd tech, so The Kerberos Club and Etherscope for example. It would be fun to do twists on the various ideas- perhaps the Kergillians look more like something from War of the Worlds? The weirdness of the Cut-Ups would be closer to their original surrealist origins (though that’s a post-Victorian invention).

17. Skyship 7th Sea
I have to admit that someone’s comment on G+ inspired this. I had one of those “why didn’t I think of that…” moments. I like the world-building in 7th Sea- the nations are interesting and well-done. Like L5R 7th Sea manages to riff on history, but make it fantastic enough that players find it open and inviting. But a sea-based, for example pirate game felt limiting to me. I wanted the chance to explore the whole of the map while keeping the ship theme. Now with skyships I can do that- perhaps steamtech, perhaps magic, perhaps a combination of both. Players can have their raids and sailing, but still travel to the distant hinterlands. And I’ve been thinking that you could keep sea ships as well with their being too great a disparity. Skyships would have sails which only worked in the absence of wind- an inverse sympathetic magic. The greater the wind, the slower they would go. Storms would becalm them. They would also be vulnerable to the presence of water- too much close by would negate their effect. This would mean such sails couldn’t be used on water. Storms could also be dangerous as they could bring too much water close by. I imagine there would be airships, sea vessels, and then those ships which could change sails. I have to think more about the impact of that….

18. Witless Minions
I have two versions of this that I’d like to actually get around to running. On the one hand, there’s the version I created for one ofthe 24-Hour RPG contests a couple of years ago. I’m actually pretty fond of it. I like to think that it didn’t do as well because it came later in the alphabet, but that’s rationalizing. Still it offers cool and adaptable ideas- and would be worth going back to rewrite and expand. I’d use that if I want a more action-oriented approach with capers and such. On the other hand, if I wanted a more narrativist approach, I’d return to the DramaSystem frame I wrote up- Malign, Inc. I like the idea of that being done as a BBC miniseries.

19. Arclight Revelation Tianmar
I like the concept of this RPG I wrote- steampunk, post-Martian Invasion, anime school life contrasted with secret adventures in mecha suits. What’s not to like? I’d like to explore this world a little more and figure out how the rest of humanity lives. To do so I’d probably need to go back and take a hard look at the mechanics I came up with. One of the requirements of the 24-Hour design process is to come up with a new system. That doesn’t necessarily mean I came up with the best one for the genre. I like some of the systems- especially the character creation ideas.

20. A War on Christmas
The other DramaSystem pitch I wrote appeared on the Pelgranesite. I put that together in a few hours, but it feels surprisingly compelling to me. The idea of underground revolutionaries battling against a land run by a power-mad Santa Claus appeals to me. Honestly, I would watch a show like that- especially a BBC miniseries with that premise. This could also be a nice break mini-campaign to run around the holidays. With some planning, it could be quite amusing.

21. Microscope Supers
So far most of our experience with Microscope has centered on fantasy worlds- of the dozen times I’ve played it (either for campaign creation or as a game of its own), only once have we done sci-fi. I’m really curious about what a collaborative superhero universe would look like. My first thought was to set some boundaries- like tracing events from post WW2 on. But the more I think about it, the more I like the idea of anything goes. Start at the beginning of time with Eternal-like creatures? Or perhaps a more modern evolution- with supers arising out of a conflict like Vietnam? I’m curious to see origins- singular or multiple. I always think of supers as a genre requiring a certain amount of experience and buy in. But what might it look like with people who aren’t as into it crafting the background?

22. Colony Six Has Fallen
One of two ideas I had for Game Chef that I didn’t write up. This one borrows heavily from the concepts behind the video game FTL and the rpg Fringeworthy. The player’s space exploration/empire proceeded through a series of gates or warp points. The PC party is at the end of a long chain of that exploration, when something goes wrong- some kind of attack or catastrophe which disrupts the system. Now the party has to make their way back- with incomplete information about where the gates exit to or what has happened on the other side. When the group heads through, they have to find the next egress point and carry out whatever tasks are necessary for repairs or analysis. While the gates and events would be episodic, the spine of the game would be about resource management. Equipment break-down, loss of NPCs, diminishing supplies, etc. Eventually the use of the most powerful things found would be a critical choice. Ideally going through a gate would allow a choice to the players based on some scattered info they could obtain.

23. Bad Robot, Worse Robot
In a future time, people will work together to build some cool cyborgs. Of course they get out of hand- and in a Blade Runner-like move they’re made illegal and destroyed. But some still exist- blending in with humanity. These have been made by strange eccentric scientists (ala Mega Man, Astro Boy, or other secret robot families). The PCs would be good robots, trying to protect humanity, maintain their secrecy, and battle against the bad robots. Well, most of the PCs would be. At the start of the game, assuming four players, the GM would shuffle five red and one black card. Each player gets one card, if they get a black one, then they’re actually a bad robot. In play, if all the other players agree- they can grab the remaining player and “reverse his polarity” making them good if bad…and vice-versa. The game would be about a mix of social challenges (going to parties, trying to avoid eating too much, understanding human emotions) and fighting off bad guys in set-piece battles. Good robots would always have the option of solving problems through brute force- usually with collateral damage in human lives. But they want to do things with more finesse. Characters would have a Stress and a Suspicion track. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

History of Steampunk & Victoriana RPGs (Part Six 2010)

Here’s my question: what does the Punk in Steampunk mean? For some genres built from that phrasing- Cyberpunk and Splatterpunk for example- I see that element at the forefront. I can read that 'punk' as about creating disquiet or disturbing the audience and society. Often there’s an additional dystopian quality. The characters are often marginal, pushed there by the forces of corporatism and technology, but embracing those means to attack the system. They’re anti-authoritarian. That punk's both a response to the broader culture and to the narrower culture of parallel literatures. The work of Gibson and others kicks at conventional sci-fi approaches.

So what’s the punk in steampunk for rpgs? An argument could be made that in many steampunk games, the players fight against authority or stand outside it. But that’s simply a general trend in rpgs. More often than not PCs (and players) fight against societal structures or stand against them. As well many classic steampunk games have you actually serving as agents of order or supporting the status quo. Consider Castle Falkenstien. Victorian approaches seem to represent a flip side- a polar opposite of punk- with an acceptance of authority, superiority over the marginal, and the inevitable triumph of technology. Some games buy into the romance of the period, such that steampunk becomes a set of trappings to wear. There are a few games which embrace the punk of steampunk: a/state, for example. I almost wonder if we need another genre title, like Steamtech or Steampop? Engines and Empires and Brass, Blood & Steam, listed below, make cases for a new approach like this.

You can find an explanation of my arbitrary labels on the first list entry. I’ve focused on core game lines or supplements offering a significant shift or change to the setting. So if one module offers some steampunk bits, I’ve left it off the list. Chaosium had two interesting supplements worth mentioning that don’t quite fit. Mysteries of the Raj covers India for Cthulhu by Gaslight and Devil's Gulch presents a weird Western city with supernatural elements. This year also saw a number of excellent free pdf rpgs in this genre: Watchmen, Ring of Changes, Newsies & Pickpockets, After the Fall, and For King and Country. To keep the lists manageable, I leave those off. I welcome discussions and suggestions as I work through these lists. I've arranged the items chronologically and then alphabetically within the year of publication. I break the time periods down arbitrarily, trying to keep the lists manageable.

(2010, Steampunk, Victoriana) A steampunk campaign sourcebook based on the Spirit of the Century SRD. It comes in at about 48-pages. The first quarter has a general discussion of steampunk. On the one hand, this material isn't that useful for enthusiasts of the genre. On the other, the author does consider specific elements- like Ruskin's work and the Victorian sense of purity. The history of the genre feels more like padding. But it makes an interesting argument about the concept of 'punk' representing counter-culture in the broadest sense. About twelve pages cover the rules additions to SotC- skills and gadgets mostly. This feels a little underdeveloped. The rest of the book offers a sample campaign frame and adventure. The author's enthusiasm and skill come through in the product. It could be useful for those playing some form of FATE. I'd like to see more- perhaps with a different art style and graphics. I'm not a big fan of computer model images.

(2010, Steampunk-esque) A French RPG based on a comic book series. This is probably a edge-case for inclusion on the list, but it was so weird I had to add it. Wikipedia describes the source series thusly (translated by Google from the French with some clean up): "The series is an allegory fantasy (and not an alternate history as the parallel story joins our historical reality in 1939). Born on the battlefields of WW1, in the breath of gas and X-ray weapons, superheroes took over the "gentlemen-vigilantes" of the late 19th century and the control of large European capitals. The (public) made them icons. Scientists are fascinated by their power. Yet somewhere in the Austrian Alps, a city sprung out of nowhere announced a threat that may erase even the memory of their existence."

"The authors faithfully authors bring to life the situation in Europe before the war as well as actual "primitive" superhero characters from European folk literature and geopolitical context of the 20th century, in a gesture both archaeological and critical whose ambition is to allow us to reconnect with a repressed collective imagination, and dispel the historical fallacy of thinking that the figure of the superhero is a uniquely American invention. The universe, which also stages vehicles and imaginary technology is called "radiumpunk" by its creators. The word is derived from the term steampunk (which refers to the fictional universe whose technologies are based on steam) and highlights the fact that the technology of the Brigade Chimeric world massively employs radium, whose discovery by Marie Curie serves as a historical divergence."

(2010, Steampunk-esque) An alternate history of the English Civil War. In this world, the clash between Royalists and Parliamentarian forces come to a head at the Battle of Nasby. The Royalists represent the privilege of the nobility and the rights of the King. But they’re also dedicated to stability and turning back radical innovation, especially in the Church. In this world they bring to bear the forces of magic, in the form of alchemy. Against them stands the Parliament, also known as Roundheads, an amalgam of legalists, Puritans, religious minorities, social radicals and the like. They have harnessed the power of Clockwork devices and war-machines, crafted and managed by Mechanic Preachers. Both sides find themselves forced into alliances with old enemies. At Nasby, the horrific battle ends with the execution of the King and a sea change in the nature of society. Clockwork & Chivalry begins six months after those events. The players can work to make the world a better place or plunge it further into chaos.

So why put it on this list? Because it represents the best of the steampunk spin-off genre Clockpunk. But more than that, it brings into focus some of the concepts of the clash of technology and society. I think those questions- usually posed as good vs. bad uses of technology- make for the most interesting steampunk approaches. Plus this is just an awesome rules set. I've written reviews of the original core book and the Divers & Sundry supplement. I also have a couple of posts thinking more about those here and here. Since then Cakebread & Walton have published a revised and even stronger version of the game.

(2010, Victoriana/Steampunk) A sourcebook for Labyrinth Lord or any other OSR game. The author plots out some interesting definitions at the start. He reads steampunk as a genre where " and technology are malignant forces which have been let loose upon the world to pollute and despoil nature, to enslave the free-willed individual, and to help the greedy few to line their pockets at the expense of the starving many." I'm not sure I entirely agree with that given the range of interpretations. This he contrasts with Gaslight Romance, a form with a more positive ethos. Engines & Empire he calls a 'Gaslight Fantasy' which asks questions like "what happens to a magical world—a world sitting at the center of a supernatural struggle between good and evil—when it advances to the point of Industrial Revolution?"

E&E itself offers solid material in a serious package- 254 pages trade. In addition to the racial classes, you get Boxers, Experts, Fighters, Mages, Scholars, and Techs. Rules, Monsters, and other mechanical details take up about 60% of the book. The rest is given over to detailed world-building for Gaia and the nations of Arcadia. This is given a classic OSR presentation, with lots of history and political detail. The material's evocative, the maps excellent, and the use of classic clipart some of the best I've seen. I like the echoes the real world in the naming conventions. It left me wanting more- greater discussion of society and daily life, more resources for presenting this world at the ground level to the players. If you're thinking of doing a fantasy world with a dash of tech, I'd recommend this as a resource.

(2010, Steampunk) An explicitly steampunk game setting that also calls itself Steam-noir. While still embracing pulp, it places and emphasis on the steamtech elements of the setting. Technology and life revolve around the needs the these machines (harvesting vapor from the clouds for example). Steam-pulp might actually be the best way to describe this. HH&FF uses the Realistic Advanced Roleplaying Engine or RARE System. This is a class and level-based game. Beyond that I've had a hard time finding much out about the game. It appears to be stand-alone; no other products have been produced for it. The core book's fairly chunky, coming in at 293 pages for one version, and half that for another (which I think covers another game engine).

(2010, Steampunk) This is an odd rpg product which came out of nowhere. Flightless Terror Games released this in three separate volumes (perhaps echoing D&D): Adventure Codex, Character Codex, and Equipment Codex. It seemed to be part of a multi-part program, with rpg as a precursor for a video game product called City of Steam. These were announced simultaneously, with TNE pitched as a means of whetting people's appetite for the game.

However some kind of shift in approach occurred later. The video game's forum states, "we thought it only fair to let you all know that Dave (the writer, David Lindsay) does not intend to pursue writing the series. The three core books...will remain available as-is, and you are free to roleplay using the rules within, but further editions or installments will not be released. Rather, Dave will be focusing on the development of City of Steam and any subsequent game titles...Furthermore, much of the content and lore found in the books can and will not be featured in City of Steam, as so much has been changed or dropped already to fit the video game medium. As such, please be aware that much of what you find in the books may not apply to City of Steam itself despite the shared setting."

The original system for The New Epoch was d20-based; the published verison apparently uses a house-developed COPG system which I believe is d30 based. It still appears to be close to OGL with classes and a like approach. The setting itself is a fully mechanical world, with a steampunk vibe. It includes magic as well. I like the sense of everything being built on top of the past, leaving that history as a mystery to be explored.

(2010, Steampunk-esque) This may be a more marginal entry on the list, but I've seen it mentioned on a few others' steampunk lists. I'll admit that the cover has a little of that look to it. We've seen a number of revisions of Oz in recent years- on television (Tin Man), movies (Great and Powerful Oz), toys (McFarlane's Twisted Land of Oz), comics (The Oz/Wonderland Chronicles), and other rpgs (Adventures in Oz: Fantasy Roleplaying Beyond the Yellow Brick Road). As many others have, this game goes for a grim-dark approach to the classic setting. The steampunk elements seem to come from the aesthetics (the look of some of the automata) and the conflict between tech and magic in this version of the setting. The Witches are engaged in an ongoing conflict, with border zones where tech and magic operate differently. The Emerald City is described as a dystopian steampunk metropolis. I haven't picked this up, but I am curious.

(2010, Victoriana) A setting for the Quick-Ass Game System (QAGS). The players take the role of gentlemen adventurers in the service of the Crown. Only 50 pages long, the supplement is about half rules adaptations and character building and half the background. A good deal of that latter half is given over to a sample adventure. I like the idea of a club background- that's a classic framing device and a useful patron. The Kerberos Club and Castle Falkenstein both go into more detail about these concepts, though for a more fantastical setting.

(2010, Victoriana/Steampunk) Space 1889 got new life in reprint form after GDW went under, but even that finally ran out. I was suprised, then, to see it reappear as a core setting for the most recent version of Savage Worlds. It appears prominently in the Savage Worlds Deluxe. But the presentation differs slightly from the original. The earlier Space 1889 focused on crisp lines and the romance of the British Empire on Mars. This version definitely sells the action, with fast, furious action and steampunk dames on the front cover. I haven't had a chance to see how much this actually shifts the tone and approach of the original. If you believe that system matters then powering this with Savage Worlds has an impact. To add to the complication, there's a slightly later German version of the setting, using the Ubiquity Roleplaying System. It is my understanding that an English-language version of that edition will be published soon.

(2010, Steampunk/Victoriana) The original Kandris Seal is a setting for HERO 5, later done for d20 Modern, created by Lisa Hartjes. That offers a modern battle between sinister supernatural overlords and a secret society dedicated to fighting them off. Steam, Savants, and The Kandris Seal offers another take on the setting: an alternate history filled with fantastical steamtech and other inventions. The same basic conceit remains with the players usually operating as agents of the Thaumaturgia in a perpetual struggle with the Keepers of the Broken Circle. Despite the dark battle, SS&tKS offers a kind of triumphal tone to the technology, closer to Victorian romance than later dystopian readings.

The sourcebook itself covers a good deal of ground. It spends several pages arguing the various genre distinctions before moving on to a dozen+ pages on elements of the age. The actual Kandris Seal timeline and set-up covers a little under thirty pages and runs through the end of the great war. Mechanics, from characters to gadgets takes up another forty pages. It wraps up with a sample adventure and bibliography.

(2010, Steampunk) Publication of the Steamfortress Victory began with a sample adventure, A Day at the Fair in 2010. That established the basic premise and described the setting. In an alternate 1900, the discovery of "Bloodore" in Georgia leads advanced steamtech. In turn, the assault of the airship Victory which lays waste to Chicago on the first day of the World's Columbian Exposition, leads to the shattering of America into five nation-states. Players are thrown into the middle of the Great Steam War. It is a neat idea, and it is nice to see a steampunk game which focuses on the United States and has a compelling backstory.

SV seems to have originally been published by Industrial Dream Mills, but now comes from 20 Eyes Entertainment. The core book, The Player's Workshop, came out the same year as a Day at the Fair. A few other publications have expanded the material. The Engineer's Manual offers GM advice and additional rules, A Steampunk Christmas Carol presents another adventure, while Core Mechanix offers an overview of the basic rules of the game. The most recent publication (just a few weeks or so ago) is World of Steamfortress Victory. This offers a mechanic-less look at the setting and moves the meta-plot forward. For those most interested in world-building and the ideas on offer here, it might be the best place to start.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Campaign Prep: Nuts & Bolts: Play on Target Ep. 11

For this episode of Play on Target we return to the concept of Campaign Prep- this time focused more on the crunchy bits. Once you’ve decided on a campaign- what do you do next? This connects to our earlier episode, How Do You Approach Campaign Planning? I’m pretty pleased with how this show turned out. There’s a strange tension in being the host. On the one hand, you get to direct the conversation and keep things on track. You can hear me restating ideas to track where we’ve been. On the other hand, you have to dial back your own input a little to follow the flow of the conversation and give everyone else a chance to answer. Also note the very cool new graphics on the landing page. I did the old ones; these are much cleaner.

It’s interesting to see how much all four of us have moved to a more explicitly improv and reactive approach over the years. That kind of improve isn’t necessarily easy- it takes serious thinking at the broader scale to make it work. It takes know about the world and about story. We had a GM who had great ideas- superb conceptual campaigns. He could generate awesome and interesting stories and sessions. But he never managed to grasp the free-flowing sessions which should have riffed on the players’ ideas. You could tell when he wasn’t prepared. Instead of coming up with concepts or building on what we wanted to do, he’d shut things down and kill time until the end of a session. Part of that came from the strength of the vision he had. He knew what he wanted and how things ought to look. But sometimes that didn’t take into account the characters’ (and players’) desires.

I don’t mention it as much in this episode as it probably deserves, but the most important shift I’ve made in the last ten years regarding campaign prep is focusing on collaboration. That can be minimal- simply having the players create their characters and then building a campaign to that. I did that with a recent superhero game where they choose Year One versions of existing comics characters. Who they chose defined the world and the plots (Thor implies Asgard; Nightcrawler means Mutants). Or it can be much more intense- having them build the history or city for the campaign. That cuts out a good deal of the classic GM approach to campaign construction, even some of the nuts and bolts bits. It does mean having to pick a system or develop your own mechanics to match that. I’ve done that with several campaigns successfully- Last Fleet; Relic Hunters; and Changeling Lost Vegas.

I’ve written a number of posts on Campaign and Session Prep, here are a few particularly useful ones:

If you like RPG Gaming podcasts, I hope you'll check it out. We take a focused approach- tackling a single topic each episode. You can subscribe to the show on iTunes or follow the podcast's page at

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Seven Settings: Campaigns I'd Like to Run

Several submissions for this month’s RPG Blog Carnival theme- "Campaigns I Want to Run" have surveyed multiple campaigns- wish lists of a sort. Some have been in established settings or used classic campaigns (The Enemy Within, etc). In recent years I’ve leaned more and more to building my own settings and campaign frames. I do that in about three-quarters of what I run; Changeling the Lost and Legend of the Five Rings are two exceptions. But even there, I’ve had control over the material for the most part. In my f2f campaigns for both, players  learned about the setting and background mostly from me. I have a several groups, few of whom feel the need to go out and buy the books or research the background. That might seem lazy to some, but it’s actually refreshing and keeps things open-ended. The players get to discover and experience the setting at the table, coming in with fewer preconceptions. I have a good sense of what they know beforehand and I can play to that. Some odd bits have emerged from that as I’ve riffed new things. I have to keep that in mind when I run the online Changeling the Lost game which has players who know more of the background.

In any case, I still steer away from published settings- mostly because I like the idea that I own what I make up. If I come up with an awesome idea, I don’t like it beholden or dependent on someone else’s IP. But…but…there are some settings I am really drawn by…that I’d be willing perhaps to run in. That I really want to run in because I love the ideas at play. So here are seven published settings I'd like to run in. If you’d like to join in the RPG Blog Carnival, write up a post on the topic. When you have it up, put a link in the comments of that original post (or this one) or send me an email. At the end of the month I’ll do a comprehensive round up of them.

I like old Mage: the Ascension. It’s my favorite of the oWoD games, but one I’ve never gotten a chance to run in its original form. I used some of the elements as backstory for my Ocean City Interface game. The reality war and struggle between paradigms appeals to me on the macro-scale, but I also like the micro-scale implications of having to live one’s life carefully- trying to affect change while avoiding backlash. I’d enjoy a modern, low-level game of this.

But I’m more interested in one that deals with some of Mage’s sources. I really love Ars Magica, especially the early approaches and material which were more open and fantastical- and less rigid and historical. I love conceptually that you can trace a line from that game to the Traditions of MtA, with Mage: The Sorcerers Crusade in the middle. For many years now I’ve worked on a campaign on and off which would actually tie those together better. Part of what I had planned got screwed over when someone in the group lifted elements from my game world to use in his, so I have to go back to the drawing board on that. The key concept of the campaign would be this. MtSC posits a war between the Council and the Order of Reason. But that struggle looks very like the modern one, with the OoR somewhat having the upper hand and a dominant control on reality. In my version both create significant paradox- with the rationalist approach just as dangerous as the imaginative one. A war between the two sides ended in a stalemate, with fallout and backlash. The campaign would take place during a period of truce between the two sides. There would be attempts to negotiate and bring together the conflicting sides. It would be a Chantry-style campaign, with members from both camps in one place. There would be a greater threat in the air, forcing the two to join together.

I’ve written about this before. I really like the weirdness of the setting, and the brightness of everything. I’d love to figure out how to handle air combat in a way that’s both abstract and satisfying. The original Crimson Skies rules are too detailed; but some hybrid that mixes elements of the Clix version, Wings of War, and even Car Wars might work. I want those air combats to be tactical, but fast. FATE could do it, but it might be too simple. The other trick is figuring out how to balance play in the aircraft and play “on the ground.” I actually think I might be able to get this to the table- if only as a portal for Ocean City Interface.

Another one I’ve written about before. I’ve tried to isolate what I like about it. Some of it is the atmosphere and imagery. More of it is the imagined version I have of it in my head versus the actual background as written. My version isn’t quite as dark- the institutions aren’t quite as corrupt, and even the ‘bad’ families and factions actually have a role and a purpose. So, as I suggested before, closer to Legend of the Five Rings. In my earlier post I mentioned I would do a family building exercise and then have the players help build some of the history. I’ve done something like that with my recent L5R campaign with some success. Another option would be to figure out how to make this even more A Game of Thrones. Narrow some of the scope and have the players as a powerful faction attempting to either seize control or prevent others from doing so.

I don’t know much about this- in fact, I’ve only glanced at the titles of these books. But bizarrely I keep being drawn back to the idea. Not necessarily the actual idea of the idea, but the one I’ve developed in my head. I like the idea of a Musketeers Alt-Earth campaign which has elements of magic and perhaps even steampunk. I really loved Steven Brust’s Khaavren Romances which managed something like this, with all of the levity of Dumas’ novels. I also dig some of the ideas present in Lace & Steel, but that’s almost too fantastical for what I want. I think what I’d really like would be a Swshbuckling game that lifts some of the core concepts from Clockwork & Chivalry and brings them to a pseudo-historical France. I think my players could more easily buy into some of those concepts (ritual alchemy and clockwork engineers) in the context of a genre they know through movies and TV shows. The English Civil War, not so much. Does that bear any resemblance to Regime Diabolique? I don’t know. I’m almost nervous to pick the book up now and be disappointed.

It has been almost two decades since I’ve run Call of Cthulhu. I most often ran with a modern setting, rather than the default 1920’s. I love the concept of The Armitage Files. I’ve read some bloggers who have run the campaign and I’m amazed at how vastly different they are. I see this set up as a challenge- trying to come up with a compelling and interesting new take on the fly. The problem I have lies in the groups. I have some players who might enjoy this, but others who aren’t as interested in horror or historical. I’ve considered running this online, but I’m not sure how well the tension of CoC (or ToC) translates to that medium.

Steampunk and samurai- how can you not like this? Part of what’s kept me away from this is that I run a Legend of the Five Rings campaign. I’m a little worried about too much cross-contamination. I’ve thought about doing this set in “the future” of Rokugan, but I don’t like the pressure that puts on the current timeline. I think what I’d rather do is take a look at this closely and play up the Wuxia and Ninja elements as well. Perhaps I could throw in some ideas from Wu Xing the Ninja Crusade. Someone mentioned to me that there’s a set of gearpunk fiction set with a samurai background. I might have to track that down.

I’ve run in this setting before, and I’d like to go back again. I’d like to do another tale of the heroic Dragon-Blooded and their battle against the forces of anarchy and destruction which threaten the realm. They’re by far my favorite kind of Exalt- caught between personal power and the need to work together to be successful. Outstanding PCs exalts recognize the destructive impulses of the familial in-fighting and can look beyond it. I’d probably go back and reboot the campaign and campaign city I enjoyed so much. However I’m not sure what I’d use to run it. Exalted 1e has some serious problems, even with the more balanced DBs. I dislike the combat in 2e and 3e is far off and appears to be as crunchy as the others. I really want a system that rewards the anime feel of the setting, while at the same time has room for all of the cool Charms and other bits.

Monday, May 20, 2013

History of Steampunk & Victoriana RPGs (Part Five 2009)

For this point forward, the lists go by year. I could have consolidated them a little, but they become a little unwieldy and over 4K words. 2009’s significant as there’s a groundswell of independently created and freely distributed rpgs, not only in steampunk, but other genres. Some of these are modest, the result of creation competitions. But others are impressive demonstrations of their creator’s skills. From these emerge all kinds of new creative directions.

Steampunk itself is a kind of splinter, arising during a rebirth in exciting speculative-fiction. I’ve written about Cyberpunk and rpgs before. Steampunk’s a neologism apparently coined by K.W. Jeter to echo cyberpunk. It has grown and become a loose amalgam of ideas- as you can see by these crazy and diverse lists. I think what’s interesting is to consider the other variant forms which also spun out. I’d argue these grew more out of steampunk than cyberpunk- and we’ve seen many of them pop up in rpgs:
  • Dieselpunk: Gas and engines- usually hitting in the period between the two wars. I’ve left several of these games of the lists as they’re often more pulp-oriented. But the awful Children of the Sun described itself as dieselpunk. 
  • Radiumpunk: Radiation and breakdown seems to be the theme of this. The game Warsaw on this list reflects that, but there are others. 
  • Clockpunk: Clockwork and wind-up devices- often associated with Da Vinci. The excellent Clockwork and Chivalry’s the best example of this. 
  • Electropunk: Weird electricity- sometimes associated with Teslapunk as well. The recent Ghost Lines calls itself electropunk. 
And of course there are many, many more. You can see a partial list at the Wikipedia entry on Cyberpunk derivatives. My favorite of these is Decopunk- I have to figure out how to build a game in that genre.

I left off several interesting products. Beat to Quarters and Krutrök & sägner are both cool products close to this period, but just outside. The latter’s a Swedish game which translates to “Gunpowder & Fairytales.” It deals with the clash of myth and man as the Napoleonic Wars spread to Sweden. Scarrport: City of Secrets is an interesting product, but the steampunk elements seem to be pretty marginal. Likewise the excellent The Day after Ragnarok has some of the cobble-tech feel of steampunk, but is more focused on pulp adventure. I also left off several interesting free rpg products. Cloudship Atlantis, Doom and Cookies, and Genius: The Transgression. The latter’s an amazing and complete new line book for nWoD featuring Mad Science. I also left off the Polish rpg Trójca which appears to be solely self-published.

You can find an explanation of my arbitrary labels on the first list entry. I’ve focused on core game lines or supplements offering a significant shift or change to the setting. So if one module offers some steampunk bits, I’ve left it off the list. I welcome discussions and suggestions as I work through these lists. I've arranged the items chronologically and then alphabetically within the year of publication. I break the time periods down arbitrarily, trying to keep the lists manageable.

(2009, Victoriana) A Victorian-era superhero supplement for Basic Roleplaying. It suffers a little in coming out the same year as The Kerberos Club (IMHO). This campaign setting borrows liberally from League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The players serve as super-powered operatives for the British Crown. The volume’s fairly light, but would be at least a good starting point for GMs thinking about doing supers in the period. Has the added advantage of using the BRP system which many players know through Call of Cthulhu.

(2009, Victoriana) Available in both OGL and Savage Worlds flavors, Gaslight Victorian Fantasy offers a pretty basic alternate Earth backdrop. It feels like a solid house campaign expanded and detailed for others' use. The presentation is fairly basic with heavy use of period stock art that doesn't necessarily fit with the text. Essentially it offers a classic Victoriana backdrop with a little magic and some non-human races thrown into the mix. Secret Societies get the bulk of the background and discussion. That's an interesting concept and one worth developing. The timeline and background's directed to the particular alt history, so it isn't as useful for general reference.

(2009, Victoriana/Steampunk) Ironically, a supplement in which Queen Victoria wasn't born. Instead the Crown ends up in a massive mess of aristocratic lines and factions. It includes copious amounts of weird steamtech. One of themes seems to be that kind of engineering taken to 11. This supplement's aimed, at least in part, towards Infinity Agents trying to figure out how to work within the cultural structures. It did get me thinking about why we haven't seen a GURPS Steampunk for 4th edition. Wouldn't it be relatively easy to slam together the 3e products GURPS Steampunk, Steamtech, and even Screampunk into a single hardcover volume. But then I realized that having those products available as pdfs in some ways negates the need for a new edition. Given the relative closeness of 3e and 4e (with the exception of some combat tweaks and the character creation bits), you don't need a new edition unless you bring something really new to the table, as they did with GURPS Horror 4e.

(2009, Victoriana) One of my favorite settings, The Kerberos Club presents incredibly well thought out Victorian superheroes. The set-up offered has an internal consistency missing from other games. The Kerberos Club of the title is the patron group which brings together people with unique talents and abilities. They stand outside society, protecting it. There's a nice dynamic of cooperation and opposition between the club and the powers-that-be. The book offers ideas and background for running a campaign in the early, middle, or late Victorian era.

I highly recommend this book and a readable resource on the era. It may not be as detailed as some others, but it is a pleasure to work through. The world-building on display here is excellent- and really wrestles with some of the implications of having women, non-humans, and "ethnics" with powers operating in this culture. The FATE version of this is especially good (and complete), but there's also a Wild Talents and a Savage Worlds version you can buy. You can read my full review here and some further thoughts here.

(2009, Steampunk) Here again I violate my rules and include another free pdf. However, I've seen Lady Blackbird discussed, played, and adapted in multiple posts, so it has some legs. Done in just ten pages, LB offers a simple resolution system and sketches out a premise: flight from a marriage, a secret smuggler, and capture by an imperial vessel. The story begins with a ticking clock putting the events into motion. The world is writ lightly as steampunk with skyships and a tech aesthetic. MJ Harnish has a review of Lady Blackbord that lays out the essentials, Dare I say the perfect one-shot game?.

(2009, Victoriana) A Czech RPG, which might be read as "Tales of the Empire" and is based on FATE. The translated publisher blurb reads, "This book contains the rules of the game Tales of the Empire and everything needed to play. This is a role-playing game from the environment fantastic Victorian 19th century where magic still flows through the country. This fully illustrated book contains a detailed description of the environment as the Victorian era, a system with a strong emphasis on storytelling and weaving stories, sample adventure or perhaps ready-made characters for the game. The game is fully playable without expansion manuals."

The wikipedia entry adds, "The game world is based on the historic Victorian world of the nineteenth century, when the streets of London filled choking smoke of factories and forges, while steam engines powered the industrial revolution. But it added to the charm and the line on which the authors argue that there are in addition to technology. English nocturnal streets and in the game through wizards, goblins and elves and among people living in coats and hats dwarfs, fauns and other strange creatures.

In this game are rampant murders, mysterious disappearances, strange rituals, evil magic and strange creatures, which bypasses the streets and ancient English forests. Powerful houses mages here lead their disputes and sometimes struggle in the bleak British streets in a world of magic and Feria. Various factions in Parliament and House of Lords are trying to influence and enforce their intentions and often hiding behind policy deadly and dangerous intrigue and conspiracy. The world itself is described in the manual, supplementary books it then expanded to other features and options. The basic book is a large section devoted to the British Empire , which is the focus of the game, but the next section describe the environment and other parts of the world."

(2009, Steampunk) In his screenwriting book Save the Cat! Blake Snyder presents one of my favorite phrases, "Double Mumbo Jumbo." This refers to anytime a story already has one bizarre or weird premise and then adds a completely different second one. Like if Godzilla were attacking and the only solution was to travel to the Court of the High Queen of Faerie...

Of course many role-playing games do this and manage to work just fine. Consider how many steampunk games on these lists add in Elves, Magic, and other fantastic elements. Shadowrun's the poster-child for this actually working and surviving. Which brings us to Queensguard. This is a setting monograph for Call of Cthulhu which functions as an adventure or mini-campaign, but to get to that it sets up an entirely new world. It is an alternate history America in the mid 1800's where steam-technology serves as the lifeblood of industry. And America has royalty, like the Queen of Manhattan. The characters, in service to that Queen, have to battle against forces of the Mythos. For me, this is a little too much, I like my Call of Cthulhu a little more straight. But on the other hand, it might serve as a nice bridge for CoC gamers over into a more steampunk fantastic setting. Eric Dodd has a nice review of this, American Cthulhu Steampunk.

(2009, Victoriana...?) OK, this one's something of a reach, but worth putting on the list. From time to time I'll read a campaign idea that blows my mind and yet I can't imagine actually running it. This Favored Land is one of those. A sourcebook for Wild Talents, it presents secret superheroes during the American Civil War. In the same way that Godlike really considers the implications of supers for wartime, TFL puts them in the context of this period. The designers present solid and rich material, worth reading for anyone interested in running a game in this era and place. Like everything I've seen from Arc Dream, you can dive into this book and mine all kinds of ideas.

9. Warsaw
(2009, Steampunk-esque) A strange looking French rpg which covers a later period, but has a weirdly broken-down steampunk vibe to it. The publisher's blurb (as translated on RPG Geek) reads: "Warsaw, 1964, the conflict which began in 1914 has not ended in 1918. After half a century of war, belligerents have mostly withdrawn from the conflict. Two totalitarian empires remain: the Komingrad (last incarnation of the USSR) and the NeuReich (the legacy of William II's Empire) facing each other relentlessly and without mercy. These two blocks, engaged in a destructive war of attrition, are now fighting in Poland, especially in Warsaw. The country is locked, surrounded by huge walls. Poland has become a vast no man's land between the two armies. A no man's land populated by civilians, resistance fighters, a forgotten population and prisoners of war.

This confrontation has led to terrible pioneering innovations. Zombie soldiers, insane with superhuman abilities, gun wrapped Zeppelins which ravage the last sections of wall still standing in the martyr city. Completely isolated, the city has been forgotten by the rest of the world, which simply waits cautiously for the end of the conflict….People have joined a faction (resistance patriots, smugglers, anarchists or deserters) and try to survive. You're one of them.

Warsaw is uchronian pulp, a kind of battle of Stalingrad with degenerated inventions and mechanical monsters. A city in ruins, inhabited by packs of cannibals and soldiers altered by rusty prosthetics. In this metropolis surrounded and besieged by foreign armies, what are your choices? Simply survive, fight the invader, enrich the black market or try to bring peace, that peace which now exists only in banned history books?"

There's an interesting article on this and other French rpgs on Wired.

(2009, Steampunk/Victoriana) A Polish rpg, aka Wolsung: Steam Pulp Fantasy. This is part of a fairly large line which includes many supplements and at least one board game. In 2012, Studio 2 published an English translation of this massive core book (512 pages in digest format). The game has a well-developed backdrop of a highly alternate Earth which mixed steamtech and magic. In some ways it looks like an archetypal approach to that mix. They have two free introductory pdfs available- one presenting the general ideas and the other the world itself. Worth taking a look at if you want to easily set up a steampunk campaign that contains multitudes. The blog Bring Your A Game has a pretty thorough and favorable review of the English edition which you can read here.

History of Steampunk & Victoriana RPGs (Part Three 2004-2006)
History of Steampunk & Victoriana RPGs (Part Four 2007-2008)
History of Steampunk & Victoriana RPGs (Part Five 2009)
History of Steampunk & Victoriana RPGs (Part Eight 2012)
The Year in Steampunk & Victoriana RPGs 2013 (Part One: Äther, Dampf und Stahlgiganten to Owl Hoot Trail)
The Year in Steampunk & Victoriana RPGs 2013 (Part Two: Pure Steam to World of Steamfortress Victory)
The Year in Steampunk & Victoriana RPGs 2014
History of Post-Apocalyptic RPGs
History of Horror RPGs
History of Superhero RPGs
History of Wild West RPGs
History of Universal RPGs