This week as part of a project that I am working on I put out a survey.
The project is a pitch document for a steampunk turn based RPG. I use steampunk with care because I want to avoid linking the game to Victorian era sensibilities, which seem to be the most common setting themes for steampunk games. I am thinking more along the lines of da Vinci Steampunk, that early industrial age/renaissance flavour that is best defined recently by Bloodborne.
I am becoming more and more interested in Industrial Age Fantasy these days. As I have said before that as we transition from the industrial age into the (mis?) information age Fantasy writers are becoming more and more confident about and interested in writing their stories in those periods. While some of the distinctions and new directions to industrial age fantasy are obvious, some are not. The themes for example, are very different than medieval fantasy.
- Setting: Industrial age fantasy steers toward the city as a primary setting rather than towns, villages, and castles. Colonies are another possibility, and if the setting includes villages and towns then they might very well be part of a colonial frontier. Themes of imperialism, multiculturalism, and cosmopolitan ideas flow from this.
- Reason: Reason existed before the enlightenment, but the clash between reason and faith reached an impressive crescendo in the early industrial era with lovely bits like the inquisition, the reformation, the thirty years war, and the Origin of Species. We might replay these debates today, but they are mostly aftershocks when compared to the upheavals of the original events.
- Technology: Magical tech is, of course, the best part of Steampunk for most of us. Who doesn’t love the idea of an ensorcelled firearm, a clockwork automaton, or some of the more bizarre devices that have been dreamed up in fantasy of late — from goblin zeppelins to steam-powered suits of armour!
- Resources: In the middle ages land was the key resource for those in power — specifically, good farming and grazing land, which could be used to provide food as well as good game land for hunting and wood. This provided food for followers and enough money to buy whatever else might be needed. While land is important into the industrial age, it is gradually joined in prominence by other forms of capital. Once energy becomes a going concern then the material used to produce that energy flavours the era coal and oil are good examples of this. lending the ages in which they are predominant a very different character than medieval fantasies.
- A Plethora of Competing Institutions: Feudal era institutions are interdependent and relatively stable. You have the Church, the Nobility, the Peasants/Yeomanry etc, and slaves. Once you get into the industrial age new institutions spring up like weeds. Popular assemblies, universities, actual Justice systems, standing armies, massive trade companies, unions, the middle class, and so on. Added to the upheaval, some of the older institutions lose their preeminence while others are destroyed entirely or rendered largely ceremonial. Naturally each institution seeks to become as powerful as possible which leads to institutional clashes like the Church vs The State, or smaller clashes like unions versus trade companies. Everyone has an angle.
In the end, even if this project doesn’t pan out I am leaning heavily toward an industrial age fantasy sooner or later.