Sunday, February 24, 2013

SteamCraft - First Impressions [Part 1]

I was impressed with Perilous Journeys - the previous product from Perilous Journeys Publishing - so I was very interested when I learned they were doing a kickstarter for their SteamCraft game to be released to retail stores in hardback.  Unfortunately, I could participate in the kickstarter due to bad timing so I decided to wait until the public release to get a copy. 
Fast forward a couple of months and Valentine's Day was near and the wife had "no idea what to get me" so I snuck in a request for SteamCraft.  I even mentioned the fact that she could do it all from her laptop and would not even have to drive to a bookstore.  This is a big deal for her because I am one of those people that tend to get lost in a bookstore.  I could literally browse for hours and hours.  I have tried to point out that it is similar to the way she can browse for clothes or purses but I do not thing she believes me.  Anyway, back to SteamCraft. 
We ordered from FRP Games and waited for the game to arrive.  It was my first order from them and I was very satisfied with the service.  I was kept in the loop by FRP Games during the entire process.  I received emails to let me know my order was accepted, fulfilled, and shipped.  My product was properly packed for shipment and I received it with no bends, creases, gouges, or other defects that can occur during shipping.  I would recommend FRP Games to others after my experience.
The SteamCraft game and world is detailed in a single 216 page hardbound volume for a $35.95 listed price.  I greatly appreciate the fact that this one volume is all you need to get started.  I do not rule out a game if it requires multiple volumes but it sure is more convenient on my pocketbook and reading time to get it all down in one tome.  The hardback feels sturdy, looks nice, and fits in well on my shelf of gaming products.  I hope to see Perilous Journeys get the same treatment at some point in the future.  The interior pages are laid out in a clear manner in the traditional black text on white background; grey background is used to set some information apart in the text.  The text is a nice reading size that does not put a strain on the eyes and is easy to read.
The introduction takes up two pages and includes topics such as a quick overview, a role-playing definition, and a steampunk definition. I know many believe that the "what is role-playing" section is unnecessary in modern games.  I disagree because you never know when some other interest might lead someone to a role-playing game based on that interest or something similar.  If someone has never actually role-played before then this short section is needed.  The best part of this section defines the genre of steampunk.  I had a vague idea of the genre before purchasing this book and now I know for sure what steampunk is all about.
The next section of the rulebook covers the campaign world in 55 pages.  There is a wealth of information about the Arcadian Coast and the various countries and locations within.  In addition, there are entries that cover topics such as racism, sexism, social class, the Fae, technology, science & magic, health care, religion, and guilds.  Not only is all of this information included but there are also various pages that resemble newspaper articles that have been clipped from in world sources; a nice touch that helps with immersion.
Character creation is covered in the next 44 pages of the rule book. Characters are created through a combination of selecting from the available options and spending points during a 12 step process.  The first selection that must be made is race of the character; there are 7 nonhuman races such as dwarf, elf, & gnome in addition to the Human race.  I guess you could technically consider  SteamCraft a steampunk fantasy game with the inclusion of fantasy elements like magic and the nonhuman races - does steampunk typically include those elements or not?  The selection of race will also help determine the base ratings of the attributes.  Continuing through the character creation process will result in the selection of edges, flaws, abilities, and other derived statistics.  There are no limited character classes, but there are some sample archetypes, in this game but each character is a unique combination of natural and learned abilities.  At the end of the character creation chapter is a sample walk through of the character creation process.  I would appreciate if all games put the sample of character creation in one spot instead of spread throughout the chapter.  It makes it easier to follow and double check your own character.
I had planned to do my first impressions of SteamCraft as one post but real life got crazy this weekend so I am going to go ahead and post what I have so far.  The rest is coming soon...


  1. So is adding fantasy elements like non-human races and magic make it steampunk fantasy? I don't know.

    I think the answer to the question lies in if Shadowrun is Cyberpunk Fantasy? I think the same answer would apply to both.

    Although not treated this way in SteamCraft, one should remember that magic was considered 'real' in 19th Century Earth. There were many groups such as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.

    However, magic wasn't real, so I am not sure if that helps answer your question.

    1. I think the Shadowrun part clarifies The intent of me pointing that out was basically me pointing out my large amount of ignorance when it comes to the genre. Sometimes I tend to fine tune labels beyond the point of practicality. At the end of the day it does not matter if the nonhuman races are standard for the genre or not, it is all steampunk.

    2. I don't think it is ignorance. I think there is a problem, both in literature and now in gaming, of how to correctly categorize emerging genres especially if they contain elements from more than one. I prefer to categorize the genre based on the largest theme/setting. So there are many games that are your typical D&D/Fantasy world. From here, they go and add in dwarvin made mechanical contraptions or airships - sometimes using magic, other times with technology, and then it gets called steampunk. I would still call that fantasy.

      I don't think there is a problem with fine tuning. I sort of wish people would do that more. Currently, here are things that get labeled steampunk but aren't. A fine tuned labeled would help.

      Victorian/Neo-Victorian - 19th century adventures. Perhaps alternate history, but still society, technology, and dress are mostly the same.

      Weird West - 19th Century Wild West in the US. Except you have over the top technology and/or magic, undead, etc, e.g. Deadlands.

      Steampunk Fantasy - a Fantasy world with a bit of technology. There are a lot of these around in gaming, not so much in literature.

      Steam Pulp - A more light-hearted adventure that focuses on adventuring. It focuses on sword-fighting on airships while flying to an island of dinosaurs. Dystopian elements of downplayed or ignored. Things are often over the top.

      It doesn't help that there isn't popular representative sample to look at. With Cyberpunk you could point to Gibson's work that people were familiar with. You could point to Blade Runner, later on to the 5th Element and the Matrix.

      Emerging genres, whether it is steampunk or not, lack a well known culturally relevant touchstone. In terms of steampunk, there are really only two recent things that seems to capture it. The first was a TV show ahead of its time called The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne. The other one was the movie the Golden Compass. I used to not think of the Golden Compass that way because machines seem to run off of energy or magic instead of steam, but if you ignore that, then everything else fits perfectly.

    3. Interesting observations. I think your idea of using the largest theme in the game makes sense. It makes things much easier.

      I agree with your observation about a lack of clear cut examples and standard works to identify with emerging genres. The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne was pretty awesome! I might have to see if that is on DVD.

      Great reply with interesting points. Food for thought.

    4. The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne has never been released as a DVD. Some have made put out unofficial DVD's.

      Bruce Boxlitner, Sheridan from Babylon 5, is really into Steampunk. He is putting out his own internet series. You can start reading up about it here:

    5. That just makes perfect sense that The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne is not out on DVD in an official manner.

      I just looked at Lantern City and that sounds pretty awesome! I woulld definitely watch it.