Design Journal: Steampunk, Gaslamp, Victoriania…How To Not Be Any Of Them?

As we move into the new year, I’m going to be posting roughly weekly design journals as I craft a new, as-of-yet-unnamed fantasy setting for Fate Core. My goal is to have all of the pieces in place by summer, so I can actually get to running it.

I’m a huge fan of the Thief franchise of PC games, as well as Dishonored. I’m currently playing Thief Gold, with the goal of getting through The Metal Age and Deadly Shadows before the end of February. If I finish before the new Thief game consumes my time, I’ll probably replay Dishonored with the DLC that I didn’t have before (and my new surround headphones). I am also a fan of a lot of older fantasy, particularly Fritz Leiber and other offerings in the vein of Amazing Tales (and, of course, Lovecraft), and devoured every Thieves’ World book. Pulp, noir, and sword and sorcery are more my cup of tea than high fantasy.

I want my setting to incorporate a number of elements from these seemingly disjointed influences. I’m deliberately avoiding “medieval fantasy” as the setting’s basis, but otherwise all I have so far is a few embryonic ideas, and a reasonably good looking map (which I will post at some point). But the one thing I’m completely unsure of is how to steer clear of the whole thing getting slapped with a “steampunk” or “gaslamp” label. Because my intention isn’t for it to be any of those things (I don’t even particularly like steampunk, at least as any kind of cohesive “genre”). I suppose that I should just build the setting I want and damn the torpedoes. Comparisons to this or that are going to inevitable and there’s nothing I can do about it. For sure, there’s not going to be any gears in my setting. Or gas masks. Or goggles.

Ironically, even though I’m trying to steer clear of those genre labels, I think it’s best in these situations to actually learn something about them. As I said, I’m not a steampunk fan. I don’t know it beyond pictures I see of people’s costumes or when I see a steampunk RPG title cross some news feed or in a post. So I figure at the very least I should familiarize myself with what’s already out there. Luckily Age of Ravens has a great rundown on the history of steampunk rpgs. That looks like as good of a place for insight as any.

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