One of the great joys of steampunk is that you don’t just dress up as a character. You embody a character.
In this way, the steampunk subculture and role playing games (RPGs) share much in common. Steampunks create characters and narrate their adventures through costumes, writing, and events. RPGers add layers of gaming and strategy for a fully immersive experience inside a unique world.
Launched in 2011, Brass & Steel is a hybrid paper-and-pencil RPG system blending elements of tabletop gaming and live action roleplay. The story is set in a slightly alternate Earth c. 1905. Colonial empires exists as we know it, but paranormal occurrences have influenced all of history, leading to widespread, scientifically-justified divergences such as Arcanism and Lucid Dreaming.
“We’re lifelong gamers,” says Ken, of their inspiration for the storyline. “Both as consumers and as storytellers.”
After a trip to GenCon in 2010, where they observed large numbers of steampunk cosplayers with no dedicated events, Ken, Greg and their compatriot Shane Bauer determined to design a steampunk game system of their own.
They were eminently qualified for the task.
Ken explains, “Greg has a PhD in History, and I have bachelor’s degree in it, too. We are into history as well as being lifelong gamers. So we thought, ‘We can do this.'”
A year later, they did. Brass & Steel debuted on DriveThruRPG.com.
Despite being history addicts, Greg and Ken agreed that copying history verbatim was not their cup of steampunk tea. “I do this for a living,” Greg grins. “I don’t want to do it my spare time as well.” Ken, who now works in IT by day, shared similar sentiments.
This conviction led them to infuse their setting’s history with subtle but important paranormal elements, which Ken also calls “inflection points.” These divergences from historical fact drive fresh story opportunities in an otherwise-familiar landscape.
“We’re the only steampunk RPG out there that has an explicitly real-world setting,” Ken notes proudly.
By aligning their world just closely enough to real history, Brass & Steel makes it easy for players to do “a bit of historical research” on their chosen location to fill in the details, while leaving some wiggle room for flights of imagination.
That being said, this is also no gaslamp romp on the streets of London.
Instead, Brass & Steel starts on the fringes of the colonial epicenter, Constantinople, where player characters commence an “intense geopolitical tussle” between magic, technology, and empire. They can trek the world’s most glittering cities, sail the skies in fanciful airships, or plunge into uncharted territory—all while forming alliances with other players, guarding secrets and solving mysteries.
“We’re actually stepping into the long-dormant niche of Castle Falkenstein,” Greg says, referring to an early steampunk RPG that featured a slightly-altered version of 1870s Europe. “We have no elves, no vampires, and no zombies . . . Products of mad science, however, are entirely possible.”
Sounds ideal for seasoned gamers, right? But what about newbies who want to dabble in RPG?
“We’ve designed the system to be easy-entry for new players,” says Greg. “If you’ve never played an RPG before, you can come into a Brass & Steel game and have a great time.”
Over the years, the two have met dozens of players who love the system, many of whom run Brass & Steel gaming groups of their own. One couple even got married after meeting in a Brass & Steel group. (What better endorsement than that?)
“Brass & Steel is designed to be easy to learn, fast-paced and very fun,” says Ken. “We wanted to make playing Brass & Steel feel like starring in an adventure movie with the players as the heroes.”
Steampunk or not, who hasn’t dreamed of starring in an adventure movie? Snag the quick-start game for free, or invest $9.99 in the official full rulebook. Even better, reserve a pass for Midwinter Gaming Convention in January, where Ken and Greg will run a special game (ideal for newbies like me!) on Steampunk Invasion Saturday.
I’ll hope to see you there . . . and in the meantime, learn more about Ken, Greg, Pamean Games and Brass & Steel at their official website.
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