There are many in the Steampunk community that have sat down at a table, pulled out a character sheet and rolled some dice to determine the odds of surviving against some horrific monster or devious trap. Yes, Role-Playing is a familiar hobby to many with experiences ranging from the classic fantasy of Dungeons and Dragons all the way up to the gothic horror of White Wolf. Everyone has their favorites that they look back on fondly, or still like to pull out and give a spin from time to time with several friends over drinks and snacks. Steampunk is certainly not without its Role-Playing Games.
So if you’re interested in introducing Steampunk to your table top adventures where do you start? One thing that we’ve been blessed with as far as RPGs go is variety. Everything from Weird West to Colonialism in Space and right on to Supernatural Horror is possible with the sheer number of options to choose from. Below is a short list of some of the better known and more intriguing options available to you. By all means not a comprehensive list, this is just to get you thinking about what kind of game you’d like to run.
Deadlands Reloaded – While technically a Weird West game, Deadlands has been adopted by many for its strong Steampunk approach. Set in a world that is pre-apocalypse thanks to the machinations of demons bent on bringing Hell to Earth, Deadlands has always had a Steamy feel thanks to portable Gatling guns, automatons and insane forms of travel. A definite Western feel, the creation system still offers a wide variety of options that has even recently included adding some Far East flavor to the game. Asians were, after all, a very integral part of winning the West.
Currently Deadlands uses Savage Worlds, a rather easy-to-learn system. While you do have to pick up two books, the core rules are thankfully very inexpensive at only $10 with the Player’s and Marshal’s Handbooks coming in at $44.98 combined; a bit steep but still one of my favorite games out there. An enjoyable aspect of the game is the use of cards and Poker as a means of determining magic. Classic and D20 versions of the game are available in PDF format.
GURPS: Steampunk – Generic Universal Role Player System has been out for years and is designed to make new settings easy to apply. Co-written by Stephen Jackson, well known for games such as Munchkin and Illuminati, GURPS Steampunk is one of the oldest books out there. Flexible and easy to work with, it offers suggestions for a setting but leaves enough room for creating your own. The separate Steampunk book gives you all the details you need to know to add Steam to your campaign.
To play along you’ll need to pick up the GURPS Basic Set which gives you all the information you need to know on running the game in the first place. The set goes for $34.99 online for books and $24.99 for the PDF. The Steampunk setting book is another $7.95 in PDF format and finding a hard copy will be somewhat difficult due to it being out of print. Still, if you don’t mind using a computer and only printing out what you need, it’s a good bargain for a classic game.
Iron Kingdoms – A number of years ago Privateer Press unleashed a new Steampunk setting on the miniatures battle world called Warmachine. Seeing a great deal of interest in the world, as well as the potential for a RPG to go along with it, they released Iron Kingdoms. A brutal, fantasy world, the setting is great for those who want to add a bit of other-worldliness to their gaming and get away from the past. Various races and creatures walk alongside the dominant humans and robots, with adventure available around every corner for those seeking it.
Iron Kingdoms is currently a D20 system though the new and revised rules are due to come out this summer. Getting away from D20 and fixing other issues that cropped up, Privateer Press hope to make their RPG line as strong as their miniatures line. Old versions of the books are still available in PDF format, though in this case I’d advise waiting for the revised rules.
Abney Park’s Airship Pirates – One of the newest games to come out, the band Abney Park leveraged their songs and familiarity to create one of the better post-apocalyptic settings for Steampunk. Set in a world in which the band was able to travel back in time to try to stem the tide of colonialism and over-industrialization, everything went pear shaped. Now, characters live in a world dominated by a single great Empire and try to survive in the now twisted and deadly ruins of a world long gone. Its Mad Max meets Captain Robert’s imagination.
Airship Pirates uses the Heresy System created by Cubicle 7 for their Victoriana game. It will be a system familiar to anyone who’s used to combining stats and skills in order to determine what you roll for. You only need the book itself and several D6′s to get started. The core book is currently sold out on the Abney Park website, so other online retailers are your best bet. The game retailed originally for $49.99.
Space: 1889 – One of the grand-daddies of Steampunk RPG. Using an alternate history in which Victorian Science Fiction becomes Science Fact, it literally is a game of Victorians in Space. Created over twenty years ago, it helped shape and set the standard for many Steampunk ideas which have since come along. In many cases, the setting of Colonialism in Space might seem a bit uncomfortable for some. Done correctly, it can certainly lead to an enjoyable romp, replicating the marches of European explorers through the wilds of distant lands, facing off strange beasts and finding lost temples. High adventure, and tea, for everyone.
A paperback version of the book is still purchasable for around $29.99 on some online retailers. PDF format is also available and proves to be a little easier to get a hold of. Space: 1889 uses a D6 system with the classic stats and skills being added together to determine dice pool and roll for successes.