Turning up the Steam

Is it really Steampunk? A look at the backstory.

Darrell Hardy

3 minute read

Image by Dominik Bartsch
Image by Dominik Bartsch

Different folks have different definitions of “steampunk.” Some call it a literary genre, and will slap the top hat from your head if you suggest it can be set anywhere but Victorian England. Others swear by their goggles that it is an aesthetic movement, and has more to do with corsets and gears than any specific time and place. But one thing every fan can agree on is that if you’re calling your world “steampunk,” you should make sure that steam plays a role in the setting.

In Steel Dragons, steam definitely plays a role.

In the days of the Iron Lotus Empire, Imperial engineers created countless devices that were powered by steam. Steam-driven vehicles were particularly popular, both on the ground (in the form of wheeled or legged “land crawlers”) and in the air (in the shape of the soaring airships). While the advanced techniques for building these things have been lost, crawlers and airships can still be found in the provinces and the fallen lands, where steam mechanics keep them running.

Steam is also used to power the constructs made of smart steel. Automatons in particular rely on steam to give them the power they need to walk, to fight, and even (in their own limited way) to think. While smart steel constructs can draw a small amount of power from the steel itself, it’s inefficient and leads to burnout. Savvy steel shapers often carry fuel to feed their constructs, so they can use steam to do the heavy lifting.

In Shikaku, steam is generated by burning “smokestone,” which is similar to coal but burns hotter, longer, and with less smoke than its real-life counterpart. Smokestone is mined from the earth throughout the continent, though it’s more common in some regions than others. As adventurers explore the fallen lands, they note any smokestone lodes they discover, and claim them in the names of their patrons. Old Imperial mines are especially highly-prized.

With its feudal Japanese, vaguely sci-fi flavor, Steel Dragons doesn’t always match the image of the “usual” steampunk setting. But it’s got steam, and plenty of it.

We’ll be exploring the world of Steel Dragons 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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