Fine, I'll admit it. I'm a closet steampunk. Which is -not- to say that I have closet full of spiffy custom or DIY quasi-period threads, have a computer with a wicked lacquered wood and brass or go to conventions and speak in my best imitation old-school Queen's English (though I wish I did!). What I mean to say is that I have a fondness for the aesthetic, read steampunk fiction and lurk in steampunk forums. There's some great creativity going on there, and it's worth taking a look at. So, what is it, anyway?
Steampunk is usually represented as Victorian futurism... that is to say, mostly contemporary people trying to imagine a future that Victorian-era people might have foreseen. Clear as mud? Okay, okay... think of heroes in top hats and/or corsets riding dirigibles, fighting mad scientists with death rays. Or in steam powered exoskeletons. Not all steampunk is necessarily Victorian-based... a lot can take place in a fantasy setting, with the primary steampunkiness coming in technology having the flavor of that era but generations ahead in function and complexity. I'm including a sample reading list at the end for those of you interested in looking at the literary genre.
Off the page, you'll see steampunk enthusiasts at conventions, making really cool stuff and/or online in various forums devoted to the subject. Without a doubt, steampunks are the best-dressed geeks around (and I say geek affectionately, as I consider myself one!). It's hard to find a group of people so obsessed about their wardrobe... or their cool toys! A browse through the interwebs will reveal to you a very active bunch of people making amazing case modifications to computers, creating amazing clothing, action figures and mock weaponry. And T-shirts, presumably for when they're not wearing corsets or waistcoats. But, all that aside... what about gaming?
Quite a few games recently have incorporated steampunk into their theme over the last few years, to varying degrees. I am not going to try to go over all of these; this is not a comprehensive overview. But the ones I'm including here are games that have caught my eye and/or crossed my game table. So here they are... a delightful smattering of ludological diversions that, perchance, you may ask friends to indulge in should they come a-calling!
Around the World in 80 Days: Based on Jules Verne's classic and a Spiel des Jahres nominee, Around the World in 80 Days isn't necessarily the strongest steampunk-themed game, but I feel it belongs here. It's a race against time, and against other players. You collect various types of travel cards and spend them to advance to the next location. It's pretty simple, and it's pretty accessible for non-gamers.
Aether Captains: I've heard positive things about this game but have not yet tried it. It's a solitaire dice game where you are the pilot of a war zeppelin fighting air pirates. I primarily included it because... it's hard to get more steampunk than war zeppelins. Enough said.
011: This is one that caught my eye for it's excellent art. The only game that has not yet been released, it is based on a novel and the game itself is a collaboration between game designers and a symphonic metal band called Therion. The BoardGameGeek entry has some card images and I recommend checking them out. They went all out with the steampunk theme, and photography figures heavily into the graphic design. Based on the description, it appears to be "competitive cooperative"- meaning that everyone must work together, but in the end one will win. Castle Panic has a similar mechanic. So... that's all I know about the game. But it's one that I'm very interested in trying.
Lady Blackbird: This is an indie RPG module with a light rules system that looks a lot like The Burning Wheel (I think it is some sort of BW Lite, but I could be wrong). The module seems very flavorful, and has very interesting pregenerated characters. It's a free download, so try it out! This was recommended for inclusion by Joseph Giddings. Thanks, Joseph!
Airship Pirates: This is a new RPG that I'm looking forward to trying out. The system it uses is from the Victoriana 2nd Edition (another steampunk RPG I missed!). I know very little of this other than that it is based off the songs of Abney Park. The art that I've seen for this is pretty amazing and I can't wait to locate a copy.
Iron Kingdoms: Iron Kingdoms (IK) is actually a setting that spans multiple games by Privateer Press. In my opinion, this setting is one of the best out there. It combines sword-and-sorcery fantasy with steampunk... they call it "full metal fantasy". It's a world where where is fought by steam-powered constructs (warjacks) alongside kinights and riflemen. Here are the games this encompasses:
Hopefully you've found something you'll want to try in that list. I personally find the steampunk genre immensely fascinating, and I'm all about combining that with my favorite hobby! If you want to get into steampunk, or know more about it, here's a reading list and some resources:
Boneshaker, Cherie Priest
Dreadnought, Cherie Priest
The Peshawar Lancers, S. M. Sterling
Leviathan, Scott Westerfield
The Horns of Ruin, Tim Akers
Heart of Veridon, Tim Akers
The Difference Engine, William Gibson
The Alchemy of Stone, Ekaterina Sedia
Perdido Street Station, China Mieville
The Steampunk Bible, Jeff VanderMeer, S. J. Chambers
1,000 Steampunk Creations, Grymm, Barbe Saint John
The Steampunk Empire (I'm coffeeswiller)
The Clockworker's Guild
Brass Goggles (also coffeeswiller there)
I hope you enjoyed this! Do you have any experience with the genre, or have any games, books or anything else to share about it? Leave us a comment!