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
I am pretty new to this whole RPG (role playing game) scene, but creator Terry Sofian was kind enough to share the games that he and a group of collaborators designed. The first in the “Hive Queen and Country” series is called Stars of Empire and was released in 2011, with a new edition currently in the works. It is a “d-20” game, meaning that players use 20-sided dice to decide their fates during game play, and characters grow and change with each adventure.
Sofian has envisioned a rich alternate history which revolves around the discovery of a mineral that helps humans achieve lighter than air flight at a much earlier time. Between its discovery and the perfection of Babbage’s Analytical Engine within his lifetime, the human race ushers in the space age during the Victorian era. Both in the RPG and on the Hive Queen and Country website, you can see the detailed timeline on which the game and accompanying fiction is based. The shift in the timeline towards greater technological advances deeply influences the geopolitics of the entire globe. New empires are formed, new (and often uneasy) alliances are struck, and some countries, like a United States still reeling from the Civil War is content to keep its head down. For now…
Intrigued? Well wait, there’s more! Within a few decades of leaving Earth’s atmosphere, humans have visited the moon (Luna), Mars and Venus. Luna in this scenario resembles First Men in the Moon, where the hollow body houses a network of tunnels. But unlike the Wells’ story, Luna has been abandoned by its inhabitants. The most troubling discovery is there also appear to be human burials on its surface, and no one knows how they got there. I don’t want to give too much away, but let’s just say that Mars and Venus are not quite so empty. The same care and detail are given to describing the back-story of the alien races as to their Earthly counterparts, and gives another whole dimension to the types of adventures that can be crafted within this world.
So far, I have only read Stars of Empire and it is not for the faint of heart. At almost 300 pages, this is not a game that casual players will be able to pick up and learn in a single evening. But, if you enjoy d-20 games and are looking for a Steampunk world to immerse yourself in, I would definitely check out this title. There are tons of creatures, settings and characters available to create interesting scenarios and keep you engaged. The tone is realistic and the story has gravitas, so be prepared to assemble a group of serious gamers to play with.
In the RPG, Sofian notes that the game can also be played with miniatures to enhance the look, and makes recommendations on the website about where to find suitable aliens and vehicles. Stars of Empire is the first in the series and uses a timeline that ends in 1893, but subsequent books move the timeline forward through the first and second “Hive Wars,” as well as conflicts on Venus. The book includes stunning artwork by several artists including Rachel Mayo and Paul Daly.
You can find all of Sofian’s RPGs in a digital format at RPGnow.com, and Stars of Empire can be purchased in print from Amazon.
Do you enjoy tabletop RPG’s? Have you ever played anything in the Hive Queen and Country universe? Please comment below!
February 19, 2015 | Categories: Entertainment, Games | Tags: aliens, Hive Queen and Country, Mars, Rachel Mayo, Role Playing, Role Playing Games, RPG, Stars of Empire, steam punk, Steampunk, Terry Sofian, Venus, Victorian | 2 Comments