Steel Dragons: Japanese, not Japan

Why we created an entire new world.

Darrell Hardy

3 minute read

It’s no secret that one of the original inspirations for Steel Dragons was Magic Realm, one of the first examples of a deep, complex fantasy adventure board game. When we started kicking around ideas for our own game, there was never any question that its theme would likewise be some flavor of fantasy. But the more we thought about it, the more we realized that worlds “sort of like Europe but with magic” have been done to death, dug up, reanimated, and done to death again.

Yes, Tolkien did it. So have hundreds of other writers. And yes, D&D has certainly done well with it. But we wanted to find another, less well-trodden path.

Heading East

We swore off elves, dwarves, knights, and wizards. Instead we set off to the land of honorable samurai, stealthy ninja, and feuding daimyo. Feudal Japan is just as exciting as medieval Europe – and when you start adding steampunk and other strange technologies, it can be just as fantastic as any game of spellcasters and magic swords.

Enter Shikaku [edit: This name is likely to change]

Steel Dragons is very much a feudal Japanese setting. However, it’s not set in Japan.

Middle Earth has all the trappings of Europe. So does Westeros – it even sort of looks like Britain if you squint. And yet neither of these famous fantasy settings is actually based on any historical time or location; they are pure fantasy.

In the same way, the Steel Dragons setting of Shikaku embraces the look and feel of feudal Japan, but is a unique world unto itself. This isn’t an alternate history in which steam power transforms feudal Japan into something new. It’s not Earth history at all. It’s not even Earth.

Like Feudal Japan, but Different

There are lots of differences between Shikaku and the feudal Japan of the real world, but the biggest ones are:

  • Geography - Japan is a series of islands. Shikaku has islands, but most of the adventures take place on a single large land mass.

  • Technology - Steam devices didn’t really exist in feudal Japan. And even if they did, the technology of Steel Dragons is beyond what could have been developed at that time. (“Smart steel” technology nudges the setting into the science fiction camp, where it roasts marshmallows on sticks made of liquid metal.)

  • Astronomy - At night, two moons light up the Shikaku sky. No, it doesn’t directly affect the world that much, but it tells you at a glance that you’re not on Earth.

Something New

By ditching the standard European fantasy tropes and embracing an exciting new vision of steampunk feudal Japan, we hope you find the world of Steel Dragons as intriguing as its the game play.

We’ll be exploring Shikaku more in the weeks to come. If there’s anything you’d like to know about the world in particular, feel free to ask in the comments below. You can also follow us on Facebook or Twitter, to be informed of all of our updates, or join the mailing list, where we will post major updates on the game, as well as bringing you other news of digital tabletop games.

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