I’ve never seen the appeal. Well that’s not quite true. Back in my youth I loved to play Chaos Engine on my Commodore Amiga. I liked the premise for the game but could never get my head around it’s inclusion in a setting or as a setting in itself.
This months RPGBN Blogging Carnival is all about Steampunk and hows and whys of fitting it into your game. And do you know something? It’s actually made me remember enjoying a steampunk element in the games I used to play and until now I don’t think I would ever have realised that was what it was.
In my early days of roleplaying the one setting we constantly went back to was Dragonlance. I’ve still got the hardback 1st Ed AD&D version of the setting with my handwritten corrections and house rules for use with the 2nd Edition core books. It’s the one setting I always look upon as being the root of every high fantasy setting out there. Some people reach for Greyhawk for that award but as I have never actually read a Greyhawk book never mind played a Greyhawk game I’ll stick with Dragonlance.
Now where does the Steampunk side of things come in you might ask? Well for some it’s obvious but for those that don’t get it try thinking of the Tinker Gnomes. Born with the desire in life to build, improve and design whatever comes into their little minds. They invented the catapult as a method of speedy travel long before someone else retasked them as a weapon of mass destruction. The inventing and building side of things is quite generic but they way our GM would describe the Gnomes and their home on Sancrist always struck a chord with me. It’s possibly the same reason why gnomes in World of Warcraft have never appealed. They’ve taken what I liked about the Dragonlance Gnomes and whilst griming them up they’ve just turned them into cartoon mechanics.
In the novels they were always described as being very similar to Leonard da Quirm from the Discworld novels but on various kinds of narcotics be that cocaine or LSD. They were effectively Gully Dwarves with supercharged inventive brain. Where my resident GM took them though was to the edges of known science. There was nothing comical about them what so ever. You basically had a group of people that were that driven in their quest that they forgot to eat and sleep for days on end. The contraptions they built were very similar to the steampunk designs you see in genre specific games but they were always tempered with the Dragonlance setting. You almost never found guns of any kind and although the gnomes were building Babbage-like counting machines they were never reliable enough to provide them with any real advantage over the other races. It was all very steampunk though and it worked perfectly in the setting.
We did find it a little strange however when during one encounter we came across a Tinker Gnome that was more than a little blood thirsty. They just wanted to invent things and improve things but our GM had decided to make one go slightly mad and had him purposely create a weapon. Our players kept meeting up with him as he perfected his new weapon over the years and every time there was some sort of improvement or tinkering done to it. It wasn’t so much the invention either but the gnomes dark personality that got me. How many traditional gnomes do you know that want cause people pain and find better ways of doing it?
When they first met the gnome was carrying a metal bucket on his back with a small fire underneath it which he used to throw boiling water on his enemies. It was not very user friendly and having to reach behind and grab the bucket whenever you wanted to throw the water meant he was covered in burns and always ended up getting really annoyed because his one shot weapon missed and needed refilling and heating before it could be used again. This then turned into a larger bucket and a heat proof hose to fire the water. In its final incarnation it was a huge barrel of water sitting on an exoskeleton with a hose and wand attached that fired out compressed steam for several meters in front of the Gnome. Not only could this burn his enemies at a distance further than he could throw the bucket but he could also use the wand as a cutting torch or even as a lightsaber. The drawback with this version was that the barrel was that heavy and the exoskeleton that slow that he could never hit anything he was fighting unless it happened to be a brick wall.
It’s these sort of adaptations that make me want to try and squeeze a bit of steampunk into my games but I’m always afraid I’ll go to far and ruin the setting. Maybe Dragonlance’s idea of just enough to make it different but that ineffectual that it makes no difference is the way to go?