More on steam…

Continuing from yesterday: I’m working on a steampunk RPG because I have a particular genre philosophy which I don’t think has been effectively met yet. The game must be about Props, because that’s essential, but there must be an inherent steampunky aesthetic to the props, and to talk about that I’d like to briefly mention my old fried Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura.

Crafting was a major part of that game, at least if you went the non-magical route, and so it is likely to be a major part of my game (though I’m not even close to sure of the mechanics as of yet). The idea was easy enough: you get a blueprint for something, say a Tesla gun. It asks you for two ingredients, always two… in this case, a Tesla rod (a short-range electric weapon) and a sniper rifle. Now, on the one hand, there’s something ludicrous here: there’s nothing in a sniper rifle that makes sense in this application–it fires bullets super-fast using applied chemistry, and a Tesla gun fires bolts of electricity. Bits of the Tesla rod make sense, until you note that the primary ingredient in that is a shocking staff, a melee weapon which needs have no ingredients that send the bolts of energy flying. But that’s part of this aesthetic… pieces of gadgets aren’t really there for the reasons they would be in real life. No no… they convey ESSENCES. The staff has the essence of electricity in it, which is lent to the rod which alters that essence to bolts. Next, there’s the sniper rifle… it’s got chemical energy-powered bullet propulsion, but really it’s got the essence of distance… that’s what it brings to the party, and that’s the logic we need to have on hand when we set about crafting.

So that’s what I want to work in. And the first step of that is to look at the ridiculous steampunk frippiries… the gears and pipes and blinking lights… and say “Okay, these need to make sense. Even if they’re just hot-glued on and not connected to the mechanics, they have to have an essence which they bring to the party”. And from that we get the four Styles, the closest thing this game has to traditional attributes.

If it is Props which make an Adventurer, and we are here of the assumption that it is, then what is it that makes the particular class of Adventurer which we would call Steampunk? What is it that separates the paragon of Victorian science from those lesser sorts of adventurers (note the lack of capitalization) who delve dungeons and sling spells? What distinguishes a proper Adventurer from a pulp-noir detective or a Lovecraftian un-hero or even an atom-age science hero?

Well, Style, of course. Doesn’t it stand to reason? Oh, certainly, there are ideologies to be dealt with… there is a zeitgeist unique to the steampunk world, but that’s not as fundamental as the fact that, blast it all, if you’re a steampunk Adventurer, you have gears all up on your hat and whatnot. You’ve got springs and wires all sticking out of your shoes and winding up your calves. Your watch is decked out in flashing lights and gems of a modestly alchemical bent. In short, your Props are covered in Steampunk Filigree: decorative nonsense in a particular decorative mode.

Oh, but it’s not nonsense, is it? Though an observer might think that you have merely hot-glued some old cogs to your battered top hat, they don’t realize that, because you are a Steampunk Adventurer, this fashion of Decorative Filigree actually works! Gears and cogs are used in watches, which are meant to be unerringly precise, yes? And so it stands to reason (a certain sort of reason) that gears and cogs are emblematic of precision in all their forms. Thus if you have rifle which is covered in gears, it is de facto a more accurate rifle than one without! The logic is unerring. So too, if pistons and valves are used to provide the raw power to machines–they are the muscles of automatons–then an object decked in pistons and valves must allow its operator to use more force. A hat with such mechanical fripperies isn’t useless: it allows your thoughts to be more forceful, granting you a greater capacity to think your way through a puzzle.

Springs and wires are essential to the tools of thieves and assassins–hidden blades rely on the silent transfer of energy–and so objects of that bent are especially subtle, and lights and gems are the domain of alchemists and other fringe scientists, and objects of that construction can better perform acts of alteration and manipulation.

Accuracy, Force, Subtlety, and Alteration. These are the Styles of a Steampunk Adventurer, and they are bound immutably to gears, pistons, springs, and lights, respectively. A Steampunk Adventurer’s Props are ever-accompanied by one or more of these decorative elements, which enhance its abilities in a way which makes perfect, logical sense.

Styles and props, you see, work together in a manner drawn from my own Lifestyles of the Lich and Famous; a prop gives you a pool of dice, and your styles determine the die types it contains. Gluing gears to your hat means that you can pick up an extra die for Accuracy when you’re using that prop (which, if it’s like most hats, means that your Mental Accuracy–that is to say, your perception–is extra strong).


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