The original GURPS Steampunk was published in 2000: both GURPS and
steampunk have moved on since then. This first of what's planned to be
a new series of PDF supplements does not replace that book, but
"updates and extends" the GURPS treatment of this genre.
Disclaimer: I received playtest credit in this book and therefore
did not pay for it.
Modern steampunk fandom is an unusual phenomenon. Most fannish
movements start from a canon: a particular series of books, TV shows,
etc., mutual interest in which is an excuse for getting people
together. But there is no canon of steampunk (though there are popular
books): the fandom has room for costumers who don't read at all, as
well as people who just like wearing brass and leather. So the task
here is to try to pin down just what is steampunk, and how it can
work in a role-playing context.
The first chapter, therefore, is essentially a review of sources,
starting with actual Victorian fiction, passing through scientific
romances and dime novels, on to Jeter's invention of the term
"steampunk" and the modern day. (And of course London Labour and the
London Poor.) Each major style that's contributed to steampunk is
considered in terms of the sort of game that it would logically
inspire, and thus the elements that the prospective GM can most
usefully steal from it.
The second chapter examines the real-world history of the Steam Age,
spreading a little to encompass the time from the French Revolution to
the early Edwardian era. The main subdivisions are Romantic Science
(before the accession of Victoria), the Early Victorian era (with
railway-building and imperial expansion), and the Long Afternoon (from
1870 or so to the death of Victoria, with higher technology and
African adventures). Side notes include the uses of Ruritanias, and
how to use Prussians as the villains without making them mere
proto-Nazis. The primary emphasis is on Europe and the USA, though
other places are mentioned too.
Chapter three… well, its vignette alone makes me want to run the
adventure that would follow. But this is the chapter that deals with
the crunchy bits of storytelling technique, with modes, moods, and
themes; it then moves into the technological basis for the setting (do
you have faster technology growth along the historical path, or push
it sideways with better steam or mad biology?) A box for which I take
some credit explains why airships didn't last in the face of powered
flight: it's not just that they're slow, it's that they need a massive
and at least moderately skilled crew, which in the real world drives
up costs beyond what can be borne. There are notes on inventing steam
technology and keeping it more-or-less plausible, for example by
borrowing stats from similar real-world devices, and on magic and
psychic powers (not really distinguished at this date). A final
section looks at how disparate elements can effectively be joined
together to make a reasonably cohesive campaign; this does several of
the same jobs as the recent GURPS Adaptations and is similarly a
welcome delve into the mechanics of campaign and narrative design.
The final chapter looks at society and characters, first considering
how problematic elements such as sex and race prejudice can be
effectively ignored, made part of the background against which player
characters rebel, or kept in place as components of a dystopia; a box
considers how social style can be given primacy over social substance
and the nineteenth century can be re-run as it ought to have been
("In fact, any PC with positive Status should be permitted to have any
title that the player thinks is cool, without NPCs questioning this or
treating him as a parvenu or poseur.")
For those sticking slightly more closely to the real world, social
class and the GURPS Status advantage are given detailed consideration,
including the practical standard of living typical at each level.
There's more detail on the role of servants (inside vs outside, and
how to make a game based on PC servants interesting: keep the master
mostly off-stage, or if you have a mixed party have the servants going
off to do their own things). A fine section deals with hysteria and
fainting: it's in-genre, so it needs to be able to happen, but what
causes can make it interesting? Not just monsters, but social
disorder, including gross lapses in etiquette; a new Shocking
Revelations table provides in-genre consequences of failed Fright
Checks in such situations. Further notes cover costume through the
period (including Rational Dress), etiquette, and the importance of an
array of Savoir-Faire skills.
Phil's writing is always a joy to read, and while there's plenty of
useful detail here I'd recommend the book not just to gamers but to
anyone with an interest in perceptions of the nineteenth century.
Certainly it makes me want to dust off some of my steampunk campaign
ideas, and perhaps come up with an entirely new setting; usually a
sign of a good RPG book is that I want to run a campaign based on it,
but here I want to run so many campaigns that I'm having trouble
which ones to develop into fuller ideas. GURPS Steampunk 1 is
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