We’re writing game supplements for Wild West, Victorian and Steampunk games and while the Wild West and Victorian stories have some real world history we can tie them to, Steampunk varies widely as a genre. Thew first thing we always look at is there is probably some steam, but not a lot of punk in the setting. Rich white guys travelling the world and having adventures may be a fun genre, but its hardly punk. Anyways I’ll write a whole article and scale for that one, be on the lookout.
So what about the Steam? In our own real world we had many steam powered inventions, many of these were later replaced with gas powered or electric devices. A world with no steam might be mainly powered by manual and animal labor, windmills and watermills. Could you have an industrial revolution powered by windmills? Maybe, it just wouldn’t be very Steampunk.
Could you have a setting like the Steamboy movie with enormous city sized land battleships powered by steam cores the size of a cantaloupe, of course you could and it would be very Steampunk.
So what about everything in between?
Lets find out.
Zero — No steam power, the steam engine and its enabling technologies are never developed and the world continues to function solely powered by human and animal labor, windmills, watermills, sailboats, chain weights such as those used in clocks, spring motors which not only power childrens wind up toys but pocket watches, record players and trolley cars. If you don’t have steam engines, you probably shouldn’t have electric or diesel engines either.
One — Steam engines are still the novelty there were in the 16th century.
Two — Steam powered ships use existing ports and waterways, but railroads are probably more scarce due to the need to build train tracks, and thus enormous teams of horses and wagons move a great deal of freight between the landlocked cities. The factories are likely unchanged, but steam tractors and traction engines don’t exist, farm labor is still horses/oxen and plows.
Three — Our real 18/19th century world and the industrial revolution that it enabled. Widespread use of steam powered locomotives, steamships and factories. Big steam powered boilers turning the wheels of industry.
Four — Everything we had in our real world, and more Zeppelins, steam cars, trolleys, monowheels, home appliances powered off the central coal boiler, more fire extinguishers (grenades, buckets, sprayers) everywhere.
Five — Captain Nemo’s Nautilus is powered by an atomic or nuclear pile/reactor that produces steam and spins a turbine, etc. It happens to be steam, but the U-Boats of WWI could have done very much the same work using Diesel power. 20k leagues was serialized in 1869, Germany’s first U Boat was built in 1851, they were building multiple submarines to a design plan in 1890 well within the steam era. So lets say 20 years ahead of the curve. Robur the Conqueror’s Albatross probably belongs here too.
Six — Compact steam pressure tanks allow small vehicles, power tools, weapons to be powered off of a portable pressurized steam tank that can be refilled in many homes and stations around the city. Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress (甲鉄城のカバネリ Kōtetsujō no Kabaneri) is a decent example of portable steam powered devices. We might have Steamboy’s off road train engine, it wouldn’t have been too out of place in Kabaneri.
Seven — Dr. Arliss Loveless giant mechanical spider, H.G. Wells’ Land Ironclads would fit in well here.
Eight — Mortal Engines have literal moving cities, not steam powered in this instance, but if it were it would be about here. The voracious need to keep consuming other resources is very in genre.
Nine — City sized fortresses powered by the cantaloupe sized Steam-Macguffin, other than there being only one made nothing says they couldn’t have made more of the steam balls and had huge fortress wars.
Ten — I don’t even know what would go here. Whole steam powered worlds? A Space station with the power to destroy a planet?
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Designer at Evilrobotgames.com