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Hack For More

MORE FILLER: Steampunk, huzzay!

by Edward McEneely
Dec 21,2004


Hack For More

MORE FILLER: Steampunk, huzzay!

The Feng Shui game was a horrible, awful fizzle. Of course. My inability to pace things properly and keep the speed up in the fight scene slowed everything to a painful crawl, which is not a pace you can play a Feng Shui game at. About thirty minutes in, I realized it just wasn't working, and the players very kindly agreed to let me put the session out of its misery.

Instead of gaming, we again discussed possible filler campaign games; by now I had my heart set on a steampunk game, either Space: 1889 (with GDW's patented "great background/bad mechanics" design style), or (pleaseohpleaseohplease) GURPS. To everyones surprise, Seth revealed that he didn't really hate GURPS, that the whole thing was blown out of proportion, and that as long as we had those pictures of him and the duck, he had to do what we said anyway.

Well, hot damn! I mean, Steampunk, oh boy! The players all said they wanted more interaction, and I'm hellbound to give it to them. They're getting a fully-realized world here. I'm putting a hundred and ten percent into this. This means, of course, that they'll get bored a session into it, but I have so much fun playing around with GURPS Vehicle builder that I may not even notice for a month or two.

So, ladies and gentlemen, I give you my preliminary thoughts on my steampunk world:

The game is set in 1883, the apex of British power, a year before the battle of Majuba. For the most part, the world is much as it was, save for the introduction in 1870 (during the Franco-Prussian war) of "walking-ironclads" and working analytical engines in 1880. (The walking-ironclads are convenient; I had worked out a bunch of different models for the Germans, French, British, and Americans already for a prior forlorn hope, so I have a number pre-existing should I need them.)

The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is Mr. William Ewart Gladstone, a member of the Liberal Party. The President of France is M. Jules Grevy; the Prime Minister of France is M. Jules Ferry. (This was a pain in the ass to look up. Do you know how complicated dual-executive systems are? Add to that the French propensity for short-lived governments...rrrgh.) The Emperor of Germany is Kaiser Wilhelm I of Prussia. The Chancellor of Germany is---of course---Otto von Bismarck. The President of the United States is Mr. Chester A. Arthur. The Czar of Russia is HRH Alexander III.

There's a joy to knowing this minutia that I think is lost on my players, and probably my readers. It is, for example, unlikely that any of them would care if a French Foreign Legionnaire in 1883 carries an 11mm Chassepot single-shot bolt-action pinfire or an 8mm Mdle 1886 Lebel bolt-action magazine rifle, but dammit, I know I'm just guessing. I suspect it's the devotion to trivia that cripples most of my games; I focus on the little details, rather than the plot or setting.

One of the real pleasures of historical gaming for me is research. I like to read about the period, to try and get a feel for the mood. As it happens, I've already done quite a bit of research on the era, but I'm re-reading Tuchman's The Proud Tower (essential reading for any 1880s-90s game), Byron Farwell's books about the Victorian Army (Mr. Kipling's Army and Queen Victoria's Little Wars are near-perfect sourcebooks for any colonial Anglocentric game), and, of course, period literature, in the form of the complete Sherlock Holmes. The goal here, of course, will be to get the players to fall into the vocal rhythms of the era, rather than speaking like hip postmodernist pop-culture junkies. Of course, I'd be happy if they had fun, too, but I'm not going to go overboard here. Actually, I'd be just as happy if I could manage to capture the rhythms and mannerisms of the period, much less the players. Steampunk is a great idea, but I've never seen a steampunk setting that worked all the way (Gibson and Sterling's The Difference Engine comes apart like a meccano set under the influence of powerful electromagnets near the end there, and they're pretty much the best of the lot...don't even talk to me about The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen; Alan Moore should've quit after Watchmen, when he was still good). Of course, since almost all the other steampunk stuff was made by really talented people, and as we've seen, I'm practically an impotent child when it comes to running a game, this should go really well, right?

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What do you think?

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