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Game Design: Step by Step

Junkmen and Soundtracks

by Gareth-Michael Skarka

February 2, 2000


Hello and welcome to the 20th installment of this column!

This week, as promised, we're going to take a look at the Junkmen.  As I mentioned in last week's installment, I have a little confession to make:  of all of the Breeds available to players in this game, my favorite, far above all others, are the Junkmen.  If I thought I could get away with it, I'd have them be the only Breed option--but of course, that would result in a far, far different sort of game.

My love of this Breed comes from my complete and utter frothing fan-boyishness when it comes to the Steampunk genre.  For those of you who aren't aware, Steampunk is a sub-genre of science-fiction (and specifically of alternate history) which stipulates a world where, as I've heard it put, "the future arrived early". Often set in the Victorian era with steam-power and primitive computing "analytical engines"...it's nifty stuff, and has yet to be done justice as an RPG.  Castle Falkenstein was OK, and surely is the best of the lot, but was just a little too "D&D with Steam" for my tastes.  Space:1889 was cool, too--but was plagued by a number of problems, not the least of which was largely ignoring what effect the colonial efforts on Mars and Venus had back on Earth.  For Fairy Queen and Country from TSR...what?  You've never heard of it?  Well, that was part of the problem.  Hell, I even designed one: Age of Empire, published in 1996 by Epitaph Studios, later distributed through Event Horizon.

But, I'm getting off on a tangent here.  What is important, as far as UnderWorld is concerned, is that the Junkmen are my tribute to steam automatons of the Steampunk genre.

I decided to make them more than that, however.  Clanking pistons and dripping oil is all well and good...but as the Tin Man will tell you, it's not worth a damn unless you've got a heart.  To that end I wanted to give the Junkmen something that would make them stand out even further on the weird-shit-o-meter (as if being a sentient robot built from spare parts and trash wasn't enough).  So, I got the idea that at the heart of these construct burns the soul of a ghost, like a pilot light on a boiler.  A ghost that some Artificer ripped from the ether and locked into a new body of metal and gears.  This allowed for a lot of cool character stuff---some Junkmen may be largely unaware of their pasts, being content in their present state.  Some might fully remember their earlier existance, but view their current condition as a second chance...a new lease on life.  Some, however, might feel that they are denied the rest that they so richly deserve, and lament over their existance, cursed to remain locked away within a metal skin....

OK...maybe that last one is more for the Vampire players out there.

Oh...and for the record, I'm aware that there are a number of similar things in a number of different sources, so this isn't entirely an original idea.  My inspiration came from a single page in a comic that ran in Doctor Who Monthly in the 80s (later put out by Marvel as a Graphic Novel entitled "Dr Who: Voyager")--which featured an automaton powered by a living soul.  Hell, you could even argue that Marvin, the Paranoid Android from Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide series could qualify.  I guess my point here is that good ideas come from all sorts of places.

Mechanically-speaking (and I'm talking game mechanics here, not steam mechanics), a Junkman receives a number of "remnant skills" from their previous life, as well as a number of Salvage Tech items encorporated into their "body".  These would be designed by the player (or, if the Conductor is feeling particularly nasty, the "body" of the Junkman could be pre-designed, with the player having to portray a newly-bonded ghost, unfamiliar with its new surroundings), using the Salvage Tech guidelines that I gave you last week.  Yes, that even includes coming up with how the devices are powered: Junkmen, unlike Artificers, have the option of having a device use their own internal power--or they could operate just like other bits of Salvage Tech, needing fuel of some variety to power the devices.

Junkmen themselves are powered directly by the Radiance (and hence, are not able to operate UpWorld), with the sentience of the ghost acting as a circuit that directs the power where needed. (Note: I'm immediately struck by the idea for a villain:  A Junkman with a "blown circuit"--he experienced a Radiance overload that increased his power exponentially, but drove him quite mad in the process.  I'll have to file that one away for later.) They are one of the rarer Breeds in the UnderWorld--I'll include guidelines for Conductors, suggesting that no more than one player per group be allowed to portray a Junkman.

*                    *                    *


A quick look behind the scenes here, at one of the first support products for UnderWorld, that we're already working on: The UnderWorld Soundtrack CD.

As those of you who have read my other column here at RPGnet might know, I'm a big fan of using background music in my campaigns.  Love it.  (Go and read my earlier installments of the music column for more on this...there's no need for me to repeat myself here...)  Well, long story short, I completely lucked into talking with someone who was interested in the idea of composing music specifically for game play.

My girlfriend's brother-in-law, who records under the name <Anvil.Chorus> expressed an interest in doing a soundtrack for UnderWorld when we visited her family over the holidays.  One thing led to another, and he's now begun work on a soundtrack for UnderWorld. It will be able to be used as background music for gaming, or as a complete stand-alone entertainment product, mixing music and full audio dramatic scenarios (similar in some ways to a radio play) to tell the tale of one man's introduction to the world below the streets.  As production continues, I will post samples of the tracks (in MP3 format) on the Prodigal Publishing website--I'll let you know here when they go up.  Until then, if you wish to sample some of his current work,  check out the Weapons Factory (a computer gaming site) and check out the MP3s that are credited to <Anvil.Chorus>--my personal favorite is "Cyborg Neurosis".  More on this part of the project as it develops.

See ya in 7,

Gareth-Michael Skarka

Underworld, and all related terms and concepts contained herein are copyright 2000 by Gareth-Michael Skarka. All rights reserved.

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What do you think?

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All "Step by Step" design columns

  1. Inspiration to Perspiration October 26, 1999
  2. Comin' wit da Nifties October 27, 1999
  3. Concepts Continued October 28, 1999
  4. Character is what you are in the Dark October 29, 1999
  5. Forces of Occupation October 30, 1999
  6. Forces of Occupation, Part II October 31, 1999
  7. Head Count November 2, 1999
  8. Subterranean Ass-Kicking, 101 November 9, 1999
  9. Next Stop, Rune Station November 17, 1999
  10. It's All 'Bout Da Merlins November 23, 1999
  11. Miscellany December 1, 1999
  12. Lords of the UnderWorld December 8, 1999
  13. Lucky 13 December 15, 1999
  14. Miracle Under 34th Street December 22 1999
  15. Gareth's December 27th 'edition' is a survey, on what you want for future Underworld columns.
  16. Statistics and Junk January 5, 2000
  17. Reality Slap January 12, 2000
  18. Once More Into the Breach... January 20, 2000
  19. The Mechanics of Mechanics January 26, 2000
  20. Junkmen and Soundtracks February 2, 2000
  21. The Iron Forestries of Hell February 16, 2000
  22. And Now, For Something Completely Different... February 24, 2000
  23. Confessions of a Language Geek March 1, 2000
  24. Flood of Ideas March 15, 2000
  25. A New Direction? March 24, 2000
  26. The Envelope, Please... March 29, 2000
  27. Generic Systems, My Ass! April 5, 2000
  28. Big News, and Magic April 12, 2000
  29. Big Guns, Razor-sharp Swords, and a Bit with a Dog... April 19, 2000
  30. What's the Story, Morning Glory? April 26, 2000
  31. And now for something completely different, Survey time! May 3, 2000
  32. The Fever for the Flavor May 10, 2000
  33. Random Acts May 17, 2000
  34. A Run Through Dark Places May 25, 2000
  35. Service Interruption June 1, 2000
  36. Endings and Beginnings June 29, 2000
  37. A Brief Return to the Underworld July 13, 2000

Discussion of UnderWorld

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Earlier Comments (Issues 1-7)

(Editor's note: I'll consolidate these when I get a chance)

Other columns at RPGnet

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