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. The 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 it’s hardly punk. This is the article about how Punk is your setting.
So what is Punk? In our definition we’re going to its a struggle against the system. In the 1800s of our own real world there were many people struggling for rights and privileges that we take for granted now. So could your steam powered setting be a utopia where everyone’s every desire is seen to, everyone has equal voice in determining their future and that of humanity? You could but it’d probably be a Steam-topia story and not a very Punk one.
Could you have a setting like Victorian England with people struggling to end slavery, get the right to vote, to own property, to go to school, to not have children laboring in sweatshops, not have poison in your candy because its cheaper than sugar, people struggling against industrialization stealing their jobs, of course you could and it would be on the very punk side of Steampunk. In the 1800s there were a lot of little guys and some very big establishments.
So what about everything in between?
Let’s find out. What I’m finding out is that there isn’t a through line for greater or lesser control because aside from owning you, controlling what you say and do and what you believe and think, there’s shades of control like education affecting what you think, surveillance controlling what you say, property rights controlling who owns cars, land whatever, who can marry, who can vote, what kind of jobs you can hold. There’s also permissive societies where something is still illegal on the books long after the social taboo has waned. There are cases where vague laws are enforced selectively against some and not others. So you may end up with a 3 or 4 rating where everyone in the society cares for one another but the government is very hard on the people, Revolutionary France comes to mind. The controls knobs are not just the government, but also economic and societal.
Zero — No struggle for anything, everyone has an equal voice, equal say in their government or no government at all and everyone just gets along. There isn’t a lot of inherent conflict present in the setting. However maybe despite this someone decides to climb the tallest mountain or something to challenge themselves. When you eliminate man against man, man vs nature and man vs self still persist as potential storylines. There’s still illness and natural disasters.
One — Direct, not representative democracy, everyone votes on everything. For this to run well everyone should be well educated and there are no restrictions on education or the ownership of private property, freedoms of speech, religion, association are all guaranteed.
Two — Representative democracy, the upper classes are classically educated to run the next generation of government. Lower classes are allowed to work in the shops, but not enjoy the full fruits of their labors and live in rented housing. Education for the poor is just enough that they can contribute to labor. Religious freedoms and speech are abridged. Voting only accessible to the upper class which perpetuates the system.
Three — Our real 18/19th-century world. Slavery exists, child labor exists, no food, drug or environmental regulations exist to protect people from tainted goods. Not everyone can vote, go to school, practice trades, run for or hold office, own property.
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 and the Nautilus challenged all the governments of the world, mostly England, that’s pretty punk. Captain Nemo was a well educated, scientific genius and Indian royalty, so he’s still a rich guy having adventures. Captain Nemo giving away his technology to Japanese peasants during the Meiji Restoration to fight off the US and other foreign interests, Chinese peasants fighting foreign influence, Africans resisting colonialism, that would have been very punk.
Six — More widespread voting and property rights for the majority, some education and professional restrictions (lawyers, doctors, pharmacists) still exist along race, gender, or class boundaries. Child labor is legal, modern worker protections do not exist.
Seven — Slavery is illegal, not everyone can own property. Not everyone can vote in free elections to choose their leaders. Slavery was abolished in England in 1833 and 1865 in the United States. Slavery around the world tied to human trafficking and sex trafficking continues under different guises and names.
Eight — Slavery is legal and a part of the economy providing labor as a commodity. Other flavors of coerced labor would fall into this category, whether conscripted, punishment for crimes, laborers addicted to or controlled by narcotics and hallucinogens.
Nine — Communism under Stalin? Stasi in Germany with everyone reporting on everyone? 1984 type surveillance becomes practical with computers, but in densely populated areas telephone wires and wax cylinders could spy on high-risk targets? Secret police and neighbors reporting on neighbors would be the extent of this until technology enables better spying. The Spanish Inquisition and Witch trials would be the low tech version of this. McCarthyism in the US would have a similar level of paranoia.
Ten — Highly regulated authoritarian society with no free speech, no freedom of belief or a forced belief in the state-mandated religion, no freedom of assembly or association, no freedom to own property, people might be property, access to education is limited as a means of control and the only learning available is limited to the tools necessary to do your soulless task in the greater machine?
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