So the Golden Age of Steam is a love letter to Steampunk, Westerns, Sherlock Holmes, Jules Verne, and to a lesser extent HG Wells, Robert Louis Stevenson, Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and many similar influences. As we work on the manuscript I’d like to throw out a rough guideline for folks wanting to play GAoS using the Starfinder rules as there are some things that Starfinder does by default that would be out of place in a low fantasy steam western.
Races: So, do aliens live among us? Sure you could run your steampunk as a humans-only club, however, you could also have clockwork automatons, hollow earth mole men, moon men, Martians, lost city Atlanteans, and many folks enjoy an unhealthy dose of Lovecraftian horror with their gaslight adventures. So I don’t see where having aliens would necessarily ruin Steampunk. Is your big game hunter the best shot on two worlds? Does your Martian Investigator apply intellect vast and cool and unsympathetic to the problem of solving crimes? I leave that decision with no judgment to the individual group of players and their GM.
Classes: Tonally there is not a lot of magic in steampunk, everything is pluck and ingenuity. So you could run using only the mundane classes. No Mystics, Technomancers, Solarians, and some of the mundane classes lose class abilities. Only the Envoy is unscathed. I’m going to do a deep dive on Mechanics that aren’t Drone or Exocortex, Experimental Apparatus, or Vehicle seem the most likely candidates, but Experimental Weapon mechanic is a fine genre choice for steampunk.
The presence or absence of magic in the setting does not affect the Envoy’s class features.
The presence or absence of magic in the setting does not affect the Mechanic’s class features. I am more concerned with many of the Mechanic’s class abilities, in a Wild West game, an experimental apparatus or weapon might still be feasible, there were lots of guys inventing stuff during the period. A Drone Mechanic would probably be out of place in anything but a Steampunk game. An Excocortex mechanic? That all depends on how you handle the questions under the Computers section.
The presence or absence of magic in the setting does not affect most of the Operative’s class features. Mentalist’s Bane might be less useful, but as there could be Mesmerists, Hypno-Rays, mind control technology, and mind-affecting drugs this class feature isn’t at all out of place for the setting.
The following class features (and lesser abilities under their heading) would not be available to a Soldier in a no-magic campaign.
- Gear Boost: Anchoring Arcana
- Fighting Style: Arcane Assailant
Skills: Without Magic, the skill of Mysticism is probably the only skill that doesn’t belong.
Feats: Without Magic, the following feats (and their lesser greater versions) serve no purpose; Agile Casting, Combat Casting, Connection Inkling, Harm Undead, Mystic Strike, Psychic Power, Penetrating Spell, Spell Focus, Spell Penetration, Spellbane, Technomantic Dabbler.
Equipment: In westerns, the baddest bounty hunters and vilest criminals often carry basic guns and equipment, they might be rare, pearl or ivory grips, nickel-plated, gold, and silver inlaid engraving. They are still very normal guns, with no weird physics involved, it’s not necessarily a story about gear.
“Six men came to kill me one time. And the best of ’em carried this. It’s a Callahan full-bore auto-lock. Customized trigger, double cartridge thorough gauge. It is my very favorite gun.”
It is my very favorite gun, can you imagine hitting a new level and Jayne drops Vera (This is the best damn gun made by man.) in a pawn shop somewhere or trades her in on a newer model? No? I can’t either, so one of the things we’re going to delve deeper into is a system by which either characters can modify their weapons into better versions which works fine for Steampunks…
We have several possibilities for Wild West purists; we could have a system of scaling weapon damage that’s more level-dependent and doesn’t feel like a gear treadmill. In the real world gunfighters hold onto the same gun for decades like Wild Bill Hickok held onto his 1851 Colt Navy revolvers and killed Davis Tutt with a single shot at 75 yards. There are grim and gritty rules, where the damage stays the same over time and characters don’t gain inflated hit points over time. There are also rules from D20 Star Wars where damage from critical hits goes straight to hit points and avoids stamina altogether that keeping combat feeling a little deadlier and in that system, the NPCs didn’t have Stamina either.
Steampunk and Scientific Romance when we open up the works of Verne, Burroughs, and other fantastic authors you might have ray guns, or if you incorporate anime like Steamboy or Kabaneri the Iron Fortress you get steam-powered pistols and rifles. Using a steam-powered index I wrote previously you might assume 20+ years of improvements in your setting from when Verne wrote about the Nautilus until countries of the world began fielding submarines, the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen leaps forward from lever-action firearms to automatic rifles and a steam-powered velocipede might look an awful lot like an early motorcycle to the casual observer.
Automatic rifles. Who in God’s name has automatic rifles?-Allan Quatermain
Shee-niou high-tech Alliance crap! In the series, we mainly see scopes and laser sights, some bipods, and extended magazines.
Five or so levels of gear,
“We’re gonna die.”
“We’re not gonna die. We can’t die, Bendis. You know why? Because we are so very pretty. We are just too damn pretty for God to let us die.
We are so very pretty, after you hit third level add your Character level to your KAC/EAC stretching the value of your first 5 levels of armor and alleviating the need for all characters to constantly be on a gear treadmill. Nobody likes grinding and in the show when the crew makes a big score they buy fresh fruit and new parts for the ship that desperately need replacing.
No power in the ‘verse, River has powerful Psychic abilities and badass combat skills, but there isn’t a lot of magic in Firefly. So while you could have Mystics and Technomancers and Solarians in your ‘verse you can probably get by with just Mechanics, Soldiers, Operatives, and Envoys.
Other Cybernetics steam-powered limb replacements are perfectly in-genre for steampunk, western might only be a metal hook/claw prosthetic made by a civil war doctor or blacksmith or peg leg carved by a ship’s carpenter. Victor Frankenstein was young in the novel, if he survived the events o the novel, he might still be alive during the American Civil War. If he didn’t survive, his recently discovered research might help you attach new limbs from donor tissue. Biotech really depends on your influences, if Doctor Jekyll and the Invisible Man’s Adrian Griffin or their like are part of your world then what we call biotech could all be chemistry.
When Paizo created Starfinder they tried to reduce people’s reliance on the big six magic items. Starfinder does have some ability score-boosting items, in the form of biological symbiotes, magic, and implants. Our mad scientists might brew up stat-boosting elixirs if you’re not wanting to accommodate stat boosters, you might want to evaluate either the starting point buy, or the increasing the amount of stat increases gained at level to build in the stat increases the items would have granted. That’s probably worth its own post.
Computers, there are no Spell Chips in the western setting, Babbage never built a working difference engine, Lady Ada did design early programs, if you want computers in your steampunk, I highly recommend Gibson and Sterling’s The Difference Engine. Do Martians have thinking machines, have the Atlanteans improved on the ancient Antikythera mechanism?
Technological Item, the Regeneration Table, and Unlimited comm unit are probably the only things too far outside the setting.
Magic Items, don’t exist in the setting. Hybrid Items, don’t exist in the setting. If your GM wants to let you rework your character you don’t necessarily need a Mnemonic Editor, just do a training sequence at your next level.
I have toyed with making very generic talismans (tokens?) for the setting because there was still a lot of superstition butting up against the age of reason, the men of science had their books, but everyone else had medallions of the saints, good luck charms, scarves or sashes given to them by a loved one, and many other spiritual traditions you could ascribe to your character based on ancestry or background without me appropriating them in the text. Since Starfinder eschews permanent bonuses, your mechanic might have a Saint Eligius medallion that they kiss before the important Engineering check to save the airship. Such a token might grant a reroll or roll twice take the highest, either once a day, or once until you spend resolve to recover stamina.
Vehicles, there are trains, stages, steamboats, horses, and hot air balloons in the old west. There were also steam velocipedes and carriages. If you bring in Verne then we get airships, submarines, and a whole host of other devices outside of their time. I believe a lot of smaller things we’d call vehicles, larger ships, and even trains might use the starship rules.
Starships: Oddly enough really big trains work kind of well as starships where some of the expansion features like a medical bay work just fine as a purpose-built train car. The Martians and Moon Men might bring actual starships, really large airships and Nemo’s Nautilus could be built as starships as well just because the rules for Starships and vehicles are finally pretty robust after Tech Revolution and Starship Operations Manual.
A note on Airships, Giffard flys his dirigible in 1852 it runs on a 3hp steam engine and demonstrates controlled flight, not a gosh-darned thing happens again until 1896 when Alberto Santos-Dumont puts a gasoline-powered engine on a balloon. Ferdinand Zepplin quickly develops the modern blimp 3 years after that. Airships are an indelible part of the steampunk genre and in order to make them work, we have to assume that Giffard has access to the same commercial small high-pressure steam engines that early motorcycle inventors were working with and that progress made by Zepplin at the turn of the century is made by Giffard and his cohort of aeronauts in the 1850s instead. Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin got interested in aeronautics during the American Civil War, but doesn’t start building his first airship until 1899 at the ripe old age of 60?
Magic and spells don’t exist in either setting played straight. Steampunk might have some mystical powers and mesmerism.
Game Mastery I would copy the bounty rules I wrote for Bounty Boards or Personas and then convert credits to Dollars and Pound Sterling. The initial bounty rules were based on the credits per encounter table from the Core Rules. I’m going to be creating a Bounty Hunter supplement with random tables to create criminals and known associates on the fly but also designed to help the GM with the kinds of questions that a Bounty Hunter or Investigator might ask. In the 1800s the highest bounty ever $50,000 was on Lincoln’s assassin, his coconspirators were worth $25,000 each. Well-known bank robbers Frank and Jesse James, the Daltons, as well as three members of the Cole Younger gang were all worth as much as $5,000 each. Sometimes bounties were part reward and a split of the money recovered its going to be an interesting writeup.
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