Wednesday, June 12, 2013

History of Steampunk & Victoriana RPGs (Part Eight 2012)

With this, I wrap up these lists. At the end of the year I’ll do a new one covering those products published in 2013. Quite a few have appeared already and we’re not even to GenCon. Kickstarter and like avenues of publication have encouraged new rpgs in general and many of these have covered steampunk or Victoriana.

Since we’re at the end of the lists I’ve gone through and roughly broken down the 121 games and products into some rough categories. I hope these might help people looking for a particular flavor of Steampunk or Victorian gaming. They’re subjective; I’ve tried to figure out the main focus of the play or setting. Items are arranged pseudo-chronologically here- basically by how they appear on the eight lists.

Pure Victoriana/Gothic: Victorian Adventure, London by Night, Cthulhu by Gaslight, Holmes & Company, Dark Continents, Aventures Extraordinaires & Machinations Infernales, Private Eye, Masque of the Red Death, The Golden Dawn, GURPS Age of Napoleon, d20 Past, Imperial Age, Victoria
Scientific Romance: Space: 1889, Forgotten Futures, Terra Incognita, Adventures and Expeditions by GASLIGHT, The War of the Worlds, Full Light, Full Steam, The Committee for the Exploration of Mysteries, Pytheas Club, Space 1889: Red Sands, Verne, Leagues of Adventure, Stars of Empire
Fantasy Victoriana: For Faerie, Queen, & Country, Castle Falkenstein, Midgard Abenteuer 1880, Age of Empire, GURPS Goblins, Sunset Empires, Victorian Age: Vampire, Victoriana, Oktoberlandet – Hammaren & Trollspöt, Passages, Fabulas, Legacy of the Rose, Magicians of England, Ghosts of Albion, Agents of the Crown, Gaslight Victorian Fantasy, The Kerberos Club, Příběhy Impéria, This Favored Land, Dark Harvest: The Legacy of Frankenstein, Finsterland, Historia Rodentia, Mechanika: Empires of Blood and Steam, Victorian Lost
Steampunk: Wooden Suits & Iron Men, GURPS Steampunk, Broken Gears, Gearcraft, Sweet Chariot, GURPS Infinite Worlds: Britannica-6, Lady Blackbird, Brass, Blood and Steam, Hardened Heroes & Fiendish Foes, Steamfortress Victory, Edison Force, Steamfunk, Über RPG: Steampunk
Steampunk with Magic/Fantasy: Gear Antique, Ecryme, Deadlands, Iron Kingdoms, Terra the Gunslinger, Mecha Compendium, Rippers, Etherscope, Tenra War, Queensguard, Wolsung: Magia Wieku Pary, The New Epoch, Steam, Savants and The Kandris Seal, Brass & Steel, Noggle Stones, The Widening Gyre
Fantasy with Steampunk: Discworld RPG, C-13: The Thirteen Colonies, Children of the Sun, Absinthe, Sorcery & Steam, Doom Striders, DragonMech, Eberron, OGL Steampunk, Steam and Steel, Exil, Runepunk, Steampunk Musha, Steamworks, Clock and Steam, Elyrion, Opus Anima, Steamworks, Sundered Skies, Engines & Empires, Carmine, Zeitgeist, Radiance, Tephra, Zobeck
Weirdpunk: Tradition Book: Sons of Ether, Planescape, Mechanical Dream, a/state, Perfect, Unhallowed Metropolis, Warsaw, La Brigade Chimerique, Clockwork & Chivalry, OZ: Dark & Terrible, Abney Park's Airship Pirates, The Cog Wars, Arclight Revelation Tianmar, Eidolon: The Electrodyne Opera

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. To keep the lists manageable, I don’t list exclusively self-published or free pdf rpgs (with some exceptions). Some not listed below include: Thief: The Role Playing Game, Anarktica: Fate of Heroes, A Night in the Lonesome October, Beyond the Ӕther, Heart's Blood, Steampunk Crescendo, By Gaslight, and Fin de Siècle. Westward was also announced and expected in 2012, but did not appear. 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.

(2012, Victoriana/Steampunk-esque) As I mentioned above, these lists focus on more formally published games. I leave off free pdf publications except in a few cases. This is one of those case- a game so sublime, so striking, it demands to be showcased as a paradigm-changing event. (NOTE: I'm only saying this because I wrote it. I'm made of lies and I'm abusing what little power I have in making these lists.)

Arclight Revelation Tianmar was created for the 2012 RPG Geek 24-Hour RPG Contest. It takes place in a world still reeling from the Martian Invasion. The Red Weed has not died off, but has insidiously infiltrated the eco-systems and created new threats and monsters. To combat this, scientists have created weapons using Martian tech and new weird science. They crafted "Steamlarks," mecha which can fight these monsters on their own terms. However these can only be piloted by the young. The players take the role of pilots in a secret weapons program- balancing school, social pressures, and the dangers of the Red Lands. ART riffs on anime- including Neon Genesis Evangelion- and steampunk conventions. The system needs work- as you would expect with a 24-Hour game. You can read more about it here. You can also download a copy of the free pdf here.

(2012, Victoriana) I HOPE throughout these lists I've done a decent job of summing up each game's core idea. At least I've offered enough that readers can decide if a product's in their wheelhouse or not. I'm going to try to sum up what I've gleaned of Eidolon. I fear, though, that I'm going to do a disservice to the premise. With that in mind, if you're interested in this I recommend you check out the free brief pdf introduction to it here.

Set in 1900, Eidolon offers a more dreamlike take on Victoriana gaming. The game itself seems to be metafictional with stories as powerrful forces and tools. Passages attempted something like this, but even that was much more literal and concrete than Eidolon. It isn't an alternate history but rather an allegorical take on our world and history. There's talk of the Literal Continent, Absolute Enlightenment, dream-fueled technology, narrative power, and Delirium. The tone of the world and play reminds me of a mad mash-up of Nobilis, Houses of the Blooded, and The Fair Folk. if you're interested in wild new ideas in games, you ought to check this out. At least take a look at designer Angelus Morningstar's website for the game or the presentation materials from his successful IndieGoGo campaign last year.

(2012, Victoriana?) OK, probably not, but I had to put this on the list because I can easily see moving this forward a little to make it work more in a later period. Based on the Brushfire wargame, it offers an anthropomorphic alternate 19th Century setting. Written for the Legend system, the rules add options for battle command, politics, and organizations. The art and design looks great- and the sourcebook includes 21 playable species. As I suggested, it looks like it leans a little more towards Napoleonic analogies, but it could easily be tuned to later history.

(2012, Steampunk) Iron Kingdoms appeared previously on this list with its d20 incarnation. This version rebuilds that from the ground up- with a new house system and integration of the world developments from 11+ years of IK, Warmachine, and Hordes. I like that everything's in one book now. The graphic design and look of the book is excellent- yet I still haven't picked this up. I need to- in some ways it offers the most accessible fantasy steampunk setting out there, with lots of cool bits to support it. My players would easily buy in to the setting. The game system, d6-based, is supposed to be interesting. It is a nominee for Best RPG at 2013 Origins (coming up this weekend).

(2012, Victoriana/Steampunk) Leagues of Adventure is the newest line from Triple Ace Games, who also brought us the excellent steampunk-esque Sundered Skies. LoA is a complete game and setting using the Ubiquity rules. It draws from all of the classic elements of fantastic Victoriana, focusing on action and exploration. The template draws from League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, with the players organized into a League themselves. A number of other games have done this, but LoA makes it a centerpiece with rivals and enemies from among these other groups. Though the publisher blurb describes it as a "gritty steampunk game" the world appears more four-color. The core book offers open setting and background material- with the sense that it will be expanded in future supplements.

One thing I really appreciate is how well TAG supports their lines. They already have three different adventures, nine mini-supplements (Globetrotter's Guide to Weird Science, Globetrotters Guide to Gothic Horror), and several free pdf add-ons. Triple Ace has jumped into a genre with many competitors, but gives a solid and well-presented take on these ideas. Anyone considering starting a Victoriana game ought to look here, knowing that TAG will continue to support and expand this line.

(2012, Steampunk/Victoriana) So here's another that's an edge case. In 2012 Xaos Publishing put out a demo packet for Mechanika, subtitled Empire of Blood and Steam. That same year they attempted a Kickstarter which didn't reach their goals. However they seem to be still pressing forward with the product line and have an ambitious list of additional products on their website. It feels a little like a "heartbreaker" steampunk game, given the roughness and typos of the demo pack and claim to a "next Gen. system" (sic).

The premise is interesting, and I assume the core book would follow through with this. Players take the role of agents of the Icarus Detective Agency. The world is a fantastic alternate history, where the dark fae of old ages existed but were put down. Beyond that, the setting seems to be a mix of public magic and some weird tech- neither particularly well explained in the demo packet. It obviously can't offer too much, but a page or two really laying out the world would be great. As it is, I can't tell what elements are open or hidden in the world, what the backstory is at all, and what the compelling difference is between this and other fantastic Victoriana rpgs.

(2012, Steampunk-esque) OK, so my first reaction was, "Oh, god another d20 steampunk fantasy setting." And then I saw the illustration on page 4 which is a tech riff on the cover of the AD&D Player's Handbook. Radiance offers a complete game which means it is complete, but also has a good deal of the core book given over to mechanics and rules. The weird thing about the book is sold as "A Complete Roleplaying Game in the Age of Electrotech" and "lets you focus on a fantastia of the late-19th century." But there's almost no specific setting background on offer. The introduction offers little sense of that tehc and what it actually means. In fact there's a feeling that the books a kitchen-sink d20 sourcebook. A page of different campaign themes at the beginning,from Classic Myth to Tolkien to Steampunk, reinforces that sense.

So what is "steampunk" about this? Well it has lots of bits thrown in amongst everything else- often with little explanations. Warmechs exist as one of the twenty-four playable races. Artificers and Gunslingers appear alongside Barbarians and Monks as classes. Steamgear and electrotech appear in the equipment, with little sense of their context. Void ships, moon rockets, and the like are lumped in with all of the classic fantasy bits...again with little discussion or explanation of where these fit. It feels like an attempt to capture everything possible, which results in more a laundry list than a coherent game. Still there are a few interesting ideas here and the illustrations are pretty awesome. As of this writing, the Radiance Players Guide is available for free from RPGNow. If you're at all interested in the genre, you should pick up a copy of this 286-page rulebook.

(2012, Victoriana/Steampunk) Stars of Empire takes a new approach to the concept of star-faring Victorian Empires (seen in Space 1889 and Full Light, Full Steam). in previous lists, I've been bothered by games set in the future which keep Victorian trappings (Etherscope, Unhallowed Metropolis). SoE instead has the developments which lead to interplanetary travel occurring about 150 years earlier. That leads to an alternate history version of 1892 with these colonial powers beyond the earth but still at each other's throats. It does an excellent job of keeping the feel of the late 19th century while at the same time building the logical changes required of this kind of world.

The additional shift comes from the breakout of The Hive, an extra-planetary organism threatening humanity's existence. That larger conflict ties this game into a larger set of steampunk concepts and publications from Aerolyth Enterprises. Called "Hive Queen & Country," it includes The Hive and the Flame miniatures rules, the Flying Machines of the World Sourcebook, and The World Beneath the Clouds: Steampunk RPG Venus Sourcebook. This last item is just wrapping up a successful Kickstarter. The Stars of Empire core book is a complete system. It uses a homebrew system, called Hacktastic, based on d20 resolution.

9. Tephra
(2012, Steampunk) Another Kickstarted rpg that handily smashed past its modest goals. It offers a fantasy world which has been affected by increasing technology. It has many of the classic steampunk elements: swashbuckling, sky pirates, and clanking robots, but it also offers bio-mutations and other forms of weird science. The setting offers several races- classic Elves, Gnomes, and Humans- but also Satyrs, oceanic Ayodin, and angelic Farishtaa. The world and background is fairly well-developed and rich. The core book is complete, offering their own "Clockwork" system which uses a single d12 for resolution. They have a forthcoming adversary book, as well as several pdfs available.

(2012, Victoriana) I'll admit I was skeptical when I heard about this. Changeling the Lost remains one of my favorite settings- I like the tension of existence and the hints of PTSD in the game background. I feared that moving the concepts back to the Victorian era would obscure things- double mumbo-jumbo. However the book's interesting and makes a solid case for running CtL in these times. I've seen a couple of Victorian Lost campaigns and enjoy the elements of the fantastic they bring to the table. You can see my full review of the supplement here.

(2012, Steampunk-esque) Technically, this actually ought to appear on an earlier list. But 2012 saw a revised and expanded version of this fantasy steampunk city for Pathfinder. This comes from the Midgard setting, though the supplement can apparently be adapted to other fantasy settings. I love a well-crafted city and Zobeck stands in the tradition of the best of them: Lankhmar, Sanctuary, Umbar, Waterdeep, Kaiin. The setting itself is high fantasy, lightly dusted with steampunk elements: schools of clockwork magic, the Kobold Ghetto, gritty tools, and the Gearforged. This setting has been expanded by several supplements Streets of Zobeck, Alleys of Zobeck, and Tales of Zobeck, but the larger elements can be found in the Midgard Campaign Setting.


  1. Not sure if it'll ever see a hard copy print run -at least not without a Kickstarter - but I'll be doing my best to get this ready by the end of the year so I can make it onto your list.

    1. I hope to do a kind of overview and look at what's cool and just on the scene later this week and I plan on mentioning this.

      I don't think I've seen anything that quite does this. The other robot game I recall is .45 the game of Automatic Fear but that does something really different.

  2. howd you forget deadlands?

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. It's taken a bit, but Eidolon is now in beta. I'd be happy to forward you a copy.