5 Great Steampunk Tabletop RPGs
Steampunk is a genre near and dear to many hearts. It features many elements of alternate history and speculative fiction that appeal to a wide audience. The costumes, often inspired by Victorian dress aesthetics, are bizarre and wild. Not only is it brimming with creative design opportunities, but it’s also prone to conflict. Colonialism, classism and other societal ills are ripe for the picking and can produce big and powerful stories.
Tabletop RPGs allow people to explore these darker themes in safe and comfortable places through the lenses of fantasy and fiction. The number of subgenres and all the historical events taking place in the world at the time means you can add a touch of 19th century class anywhere in the world.
5 Victoriana: Kitchen Sink Approach
Victoriana throws a bit of everything into the mix and uses the Heresy system. Form a pool of dice using your attribute and skill, then roll and count the hits on your d6. Character creation is laborious, but offers a great degree of customization depending on the game you want to run. Third Edition features associations to focus your party, giving each character access to a set of skills and various goodies upon creation.
Victoriana places a huge emphasis on class and the role she plays in society. While it’s true that you can create a comfortable game of idle upper-class gossip, you can form an association of the lower castes and rage against British Victorian society if you wish. Two of the biggest spinoffs are Dark Harvest (gothic horror, set in the early 1900s) and Airship Pirates (22nd century steampunk hack). The various fantasy races are fully integrated into society, with humans and middle class Eldren at most.
If you like cultural critique like in Shadowrun, Victoriana hits many of the same notes. Character creation can be time consuming and create choice paralysis, but the actual gameplay is simple. It’s a versatile system that allows for a variety of game types. All players need is a set of six-sided dice and their character sheet. The next edition, set in the 1880s, revises the races and will use Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition rules.
4 Clockwork: Dominion: fast-paced card game
Clockwork: Dominion’s default setting is 1896, at the turn of the century. The Bridge, a primordial force of chaos, is slowly invading the universe. Gothic horror is its primary genre, but the card-based system allows for creative and fluid gameplay.
Social “combat” allows you to compete and hustle others in Victorian society for a better position. The initiative system makes transitions from Social Conflict to Standard Conflict seamless and keeps your party strengths relevant. If you really don’t like the round-robin style that’s becoming common in tabletop RPGs, combat does away with it in favor of a set of action cards. Whether using alchemy, charismas, or a trusty revolver, there are plenty of ways to fight the Pontus.
Clockwork: Dominion Bottom Line
The smooth running of Clockwork: Dominion’s initiative system is one of its strengths. Being able to react to combat without having to wait your turn keeps it dynamic while punishing players who overplay or hesitate. The default setting leans towards horror, but it’s adaptable and easy to run a variety of genres in the system. Keep in mind that any virtual session will require additional work to set up the card game.
3 Space: 1889: Gibson Girls Gone Galactic
Space: 1889 seeks to boldly answer the question of what would happen if the British Empire expanded off the Earth and into the depths of space. Originally published by Game Designers Workshop in 1989, Space: 1889 has had many publishers.
Space: 1889 by Pinnacle uses the Savage Worlds system. Clockwork Publishing’s most recent edition uses Ubiquity’s rules. The property has spinoffs to other tabletop games, audio dramas, and even a long-forgotten video game. Rather than focusing on the ills of society and the implications of colonialism, Space: 1889 features a more idealistic tone. Most adventures take place on Mars, with the red planet taking center stage.
Space: 1889 Conclusion
Parts of Space: 1889, like many period games, are products of their time. These don’t usually dominate the narrative, but the potential problems of playing a colonialist by default remain. The system leans towards idealism, but you may want to have a discussion with your players regarding comfort levels. On top of that, it’s an interesting mix of sci-fi and steampunk fantasy from the early days of the hobby. Ubiquity in particular is a very easy system to learn.
2 Rippers: Victorian-Style Body Horror
Rippers is an offshoot of Savage Worlds from Pinnacle Entertainment. The “Rippers” are monster hunters who fight the terrors that lurk in the shadows of London. It constructs the world through depictions of many historical characters and monsters now considered public domain.
As the Ripper, you will face agents of the Cabal of Evil. The included campaign and its story beats will have you tearing through various monsters to bring Jack to justice. One of the highlights of character creation is Rippertech, where you graft monster parts onto yourself at the expense of your character’s sanity, sanity, and ability to blend in.
Conclusion of the rippers
If you’re a fan of the monster hunting genre, especially the World of Darkness vibe, Rippers can be a great side move. It has a strong energy from Hunter: The Vigil and Hunter: The Reckoning in a Victorian steampunk setting.
1 Blades in the Dark: Steampunk Heists
Blades in the Dark is a team-based collaborative tabletop RPG set in the industrial age city of Duskvol. It is still dark and mysterious and terrifying creatures lurk in the darkness. Like many citizens of Duskvol, player characters are part of their own gang. You can select one of many archetypes, from the gun-throwing Hound to the genius Spider or the tinkering leech. The party also creates its own type of gang, be it mercenaries, occult investigators or black market dealers. Blades in the Dark goes to great lengths to minimize the party’s loss in planning details, allowing action games to run smoothly.
Downtime actions allow you to do a lot of work, but also require coordination to make the most of your free time. The world is dark and dark, and the characters you create will almost all be criminals of one sort or another.
Blades in the dark
The Duskvol setting straddles the line between steampunk and gaslamp. Character advancement and creation is an intuitive affair and encourages collaborative storytelling. Each member of the party has a clearly defined and useful role. Tracking different task clocks requires significant accounting, especially as the distribution grows. Blades in the Dark is great for heist-style gameplay and the d6-based system is easy to understand.
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