So much of steampunk is about taking on the role of a different person. Inventing a name, a history, a costume, even a whole new personality. If you want to take things further, to live out that character’s life and undertake their adventures, then maybe it’s time to go one step further. Maybe it’s time to try a steampunk roleplay game.
Playing in Other People’s Worlds
Tabletop roleplay games (RPGs) have two big advantages over the computer versions. One is that they’re more social – you can play with a group of friends, rather than losing yourself alone in the glow of a screen. Secondly, they let you play characters you invent, rather than the ones the computer program designers have created for their story. This gives you more freedom, more flexibility, and the chance to play out the life of your very own steampunk character.
Fundamentally, you need only a few things to play. First, a group of friends. Second, a volunteer from that group who will run the game. They’ll describe the world, craft the adventure and play the people the heroes meet along the way. Third, a rule system, and whatever accoutrements it requires. And lastly somewhere to sit and play.
Many of the best games are simple to play and come with their own world for you to explore. Lynne Hardy’s Cogs, Cakes and Swordsticks is perfect for a steampunk occasion. Set in the Empire of Steam, a version of the Victorian age full of marvellous inventions and top-notch afternoon tea, it’s simple to play and doesn’t need lots of equipment, meaning you can play in your favourite teashop, or coffee house should there be no such hostelry in your area.
If you’d like something with more rules or a fantasy feel then Privateer Press’s Iron Kingdoms transports you to the same setting as their steampunk fantasy wargames. Years of development mean that there’s a rich pre-made world to explore, and the high fantasy setting lets you play as anything from a powerful magical warrior to the controller of a steam-powered robot, living a life of action and adventure.
There are as many settings as there are games, from the weird west of Deadlands to the steampunk colonialism of the classic Space 1889, so you can pick a flavour of world that suits you.
Playing in Your Own Worlds
Alternatively, many steampunks prefer to roleplay in their own invented worlds, or to invent those worlds and then invite their friends to come and explore. To do this you can take a specific game and strip away the setting, adapting any rules that don’t suit your needs. It’s a very steampunk approach, tinkering with the mechanics of a game. There are also games designed for you to create your own worlds.
Savage Worlds is well suited to pulpy action adventures. It has simple mechanics and characters can be created quickly to let you get started. It’s designed for action adventures, and to be used in many different settings, so if you want your characters to face lots of fights and chases it could be perfect.
If you want something more sophisticated, or less dominated by combat, then Steve Jackson Games’ GURPS (Generic Universal RolePlaying System) remains the benchmark for an adaptable system. As well as the core rules there are several supplementary books providing ideas and rules specifically for steampunk games, giving you a huge variety of options to choose from.
Playing at Making Worlds
Another generic game, Microscope offers a whole different way of playing. This is a roleplay game in which you invent the world as you go along, playing out scenes from its history, deciding what the great events are. You could explore the history of an alternate Victorian age, or spend time developing a steampunk empire that lasted a thousand years. Anything goes, you don’t even need dice, and it lets everybody share in the worldbuilding.
Living the Life
If you really want to live your character’s life then you could go full-on and try live action roleplay (LARP), in which you not only imagine your character’s life but dress up and act out their adventures. LARP is run by local groups getting together and creating their own games, so if that interests you then search for a group in your area, or see if there’s a game in the schedule at a nearby convention. It’s a lot of fun, but a lot more effort than sitting playing at a table.
So what are you waiting for? Go grab a character sheet and a nice cup of tea – it’s adventure time!
Andrew Knighton is a steampunk author and freelance writer. The first book in his Epiphany Club series is available for free on Amazon Kindle. He blogs about board games for Boardgameprices.com, and about all things steampunk, science fiction and fantasy at Andrew Knighton Writes