Wednesday, April 22, 2009

an idea

Recently a certain idea has been spinning around in my head. I think I want to try to build a steampunk-themed RPG, particularly inspired by the books of China Mieville (who, by the way, is an awesome writer). It'll probably be mostly based on D&D, since that's what I'm most familiar with, but there'll definitely be significant changes. For a variety of reasons, projects like this that I start are almost never finished, but maybe it'll be different this time. Anyway, I'll record my thoughts here as they come, and we'll see what comes out of it.

The most important thing about a steampunk RPG is that the focus should be very different from that of a normal D&D-type game. In D&D, most problems can be solved by quests, and in particular by fighting. In a steampunk world, most problems can be solved by science, and fighting is what happens when things go wrong. I'd like to make a system in which combat is as simple as possible, and science (research, invention, etc.) is as deep and complex as combat is in D&D. This seems to me like a fairly ambitious goal, and I have only the faintest idea so far of how I'd accomplish it.

Of course, if I'm going to make an RPG, I'm going to have to come up with a set of basic attributes. I'm far too picky to stick with the classic six-stat system, or any eight-stat, three-stat, or other pre-existing system; I'm going to have to come up with my own. In particular, I think I'm going to throw out the traditional balance between physical and mental abilities; people's brains are more complex, more varied, and more useful than their bodies, particularly in a steampunk setting. So right now I'm thinking of either five or six attributes: two physical, three or four mental. Physical would have to be something like strength and dexterity; mental must at least include intelligence, creativity, and self-expression. (I wonder if I'm the first to suggest the inclusion of a creativity stat?)

Next up are character classes. I know, not every game has to have classes, but even free skill-based games like Shadowrun end up with characters that conform to certain basic archetypes. You have your fighter, of course, your adventurer, with weird weapons and gear, who provides the muscle and the grit for dangerous undertakings. (There's a great Mieville quote about adventurers that I'd love to put here, but I left my Perdido Street Station at home.) You have your scientist, your mad inventor, with a head full of chemistry and biothaumaturgy, or whatever obscure branches of pseudo-science attract your interest. You have your socialite, your artist, writer, painter, or sculptor, politically active, reads the local seditious newsrag, knows all the cafes. You have your thief, your criminal mastermind or street thug, who knows the underworld, does the dirty jobs, can get you anything from anywhere if you're willing to pay the price. And you have your engineer, your craftsman, your blacksmith or glassblower or golem repairman, who can turn a scribbled blueprint and a page of equations into a real working gadget. It seems to me that at the very least, a steampunk game (or at least a Mieville-inspired one) needs to support characters like these.

From these rantings, maybe you can get an idea of what I'm thinking of. Unless I forget about it altogether in the next week, expect to hear more about this, and perhaps even some actual mechanics. Oh, and if you're not an RPer, feel free to ignore this and related posts. It's just something I do in my spare time. You should still read China Mieville, though, because he's awesome.


  1. Oooooooooh. Steampunk RPG! I'd totally play that. :D Steampunk's recently become an interest to me, thanks to my brother showing me casemods and GG.

  2. Sounds like a cool idea, I'd play it. I actually have a China Mieville novel. P: You should at least try and put it together, ya know? :'D

  3. you should decide some of the stats rather than on random roles on tests of some sort, like some way to see how creative a person is... i know that seems much more difficult, and more flawed, but a more creative person will instantaneously have a more creative character.