11. Private Eye
(1993, Victoriana) A German-language game where players take on the roles of detectives in the Victorian era, ala Sherlock Holmes. The name's a little odd to me as I usually associate the phrase "private eye" with Noir. I've listed this as 1993, but this is actually the publication date of the 3rd edition. I've had a hard time tracking down other information on the game. A Google-translated document I found suggests the earlier editions were amateur-press or fan produced. A larger, hardcover fourth edition appeared in 2008.
12. Tradition Book: Sons of Ether
(1993, Steampunk-esque) Mage the Ascension presents a war over shared reality, fought between mages who want to move the world towards their view of reality. The bad guys have a monolithic view of that reality, while the "good guys" of the Traditions have a freer and more fragmented approach. The Sons of Ether are one of these traditions, with a love of mad science and an aesthetic borrowed from Steampunk. The background for the Sons of Ether sourcebook cites the usual suspects - Babbage and Lovelace - and the author has clearly read The Difference Engine. I'd say this is the first time we see a distinctly "steampunk style" faction in an rpg. The art has all the classic motifs: goggles, gears, Victorian dress, and so on. MtA itself isn't steampunk, but it smartly borrows from a rising trend. White Wolf's always been good at incorporating those ideas and laying the groundwork for future use. As the Mage line evolved, you would see more and more of these aesthetics appear in the game and art.
(1993, Steampunk/Victoriana) We had a local game store which, in the early days, almost always bought at least one copy of new and oddball rpg products. That resulted in a kind of orphan section of the shelves where these games went to sit for years: Nightlife, Whispering Vault, Dracula, Adventures in High Fantasy, and many others. Eventually they'd gather enough dust or show the thumb-marks of a thousand rejecting perusers at which point they'd drop back to the used section. Wooden Suits & Iron Men was one of those games I remember sitting, unloved, for years.
The supplement itself is a world-book for Nightshift Games' short-lived DUEL System. It has a Babbage and verne-inspired future, populated with massive gadgets and, I believe, the first Steam-Mecha I saw in a game. The title's a nod to the Avalon Hill classic Wooden Ships & Iron Men. The focus for the supplement is on the gadget and machine creation system, for building great steam monstrosities. That's a particular theme we'd see much more of in later games. The product itself is fairly light, coming in at only 24 pages.
14. Castle Falkenstein
(1994, Steampunk/Victoriana) Castle Falkenstein raised the bar for Steampunk in RPGs. It takes the classic Vernian tropes and expands them. Steam machines, gadgets, and technology become central to the setting. But those devices aren't presented as an unquestionable good- there's consideration of the dark side of industrialization. The Steam Lords of the setting, primarily from England, face off against a heroic element which combines technology, magic, and diplomacy as a force for good. Cooperation, liberalism, and democracy counterbalance groups focusing exclusively on a single source of power (technology or magic). The setting smartly brings magic into the mix, making it more accessible for conventional fantasy gamers.
That's necessary because the game itself makes a number of radical leaps in system and presentation. Cards are used in place of dice, there's an emphasis on narrative, character skills are abstracted, and players have to keep journals for their story. The mechanics submit to the genre conventions in a new way. In fact the system supports the ethos of the setting. The first-person narrative of the rule book explains those design decisions in a way few other games had. The core book manages to balance narrative with presentation of the background. It offers a lovely package- one of the nicest looking games of the period. I've heard criticisms that the alternate history presented is a little weak - but once you bring in sorcery, the Unseelie, and arcane engines, I think pretty much anything goes.
There's a certain irony that Castle Falkenstein comes from the company which brought the grit of Cyberpunk to gaming. But they share a similar focus on appearance and aesthetics as a crucial game element. For better or worse, style and feeling define these games. CF also produced a number of amazing supplements well worth hunting down for anyone interested in Steampunk gaming. I reviewed the core book earlier By Sword, Steam and Magic. I've also done reviews for most of the supplements to the line.
(1994, Steampunk) A French RPG I've had a hard time finding much about. One online commenter said, "Ecryme was an ugly game that was somewhat foolishly written in the style of a series of first-person narratives by characters attending a scientific congress. As a result the game was unreadable, even to me." The game's striking in that it appears to be one of the first Western steampunk RPGs to explicitly divorce the genre from a historical or alternate historical setting. Instead while it bears cultural similarties, it is a fantasy world made up of cities connected by bridges. Between them lies "ecryme" a liquid which eats through anything save metal and stone. The world has steampunk technology, some strange magical powers, and industrial overlords. The designer apparently wrote two novels based on his setting.
16. Masque of the Red Death
(1994, Victoriana) Alongside Forgotten Realms, TSR's Ravenloft consistently sold strongly month after month in our local store. Ravenloft itself owes more than a little to Victorian literature, Dracula and Frankenstein, by way of their horror movie treatments. On the other hand, Masque of the Red Death fully embraces the Gothic literature and imagery popular in the Victorian era. This "add-on" to Ravenloft presents Gothic earth, using the D&D rules to offer a game more akin to CoC. Literary characters and historical figures both get character write-ups.
The boxed set itself is pretty massive, with a main 128 book describing the setting and background. That's accompanied by three separate 32-page adventures, a DM's screen, poster, and a map. The main booklet's a useful resource for anyone running Victorian Horror in the late 19th century. It is a striking and interesting product. It does beg the question how well D&D can emulate horror or a non-fantasy setting. White Wolf's Sword & Sorcery line pushed a version of this for d20, but I'm unsure how much changed between the editions.
17. Midgard Abenteuer 1880
(1994, Victoriana) In some ways this feels like a version of Masque of the Red Death for the German fantasy system Midgard. It focuses on Germany of the period. The line did well enough to spawn about a half-dozen supplements. The game's historical fantasy, with the players fighting classic monsters of the period so far as I can tell. The blurb from the current German publisher Effing Flying Green Pig Press makes the pitch (via Google Translate), "(MA 1880) takes you to the 19th Century and brings the era of the Great Adventure back to life: Learn strolling mummies, bloodthirsty werewolves, vampires and seductive art know people running amok. Fight ingenious master criminals, anarchists, and death-defying power-hungry secret societies in the tradition of Sherlock Holmes or Indiana Jones. Experience with Emin Pasha, Queen Victoria, Charles "Chinese" Gordon, Henry Stanley and other personalities story that is fancier than any fantasy. Or take part in the discovery of King Solomon's treasure chamber. Or invent a time machine and travel to the Morlocks."
(1994, Victoriana) A purely subjective choice on my part, but I think a case can be made for Planescape borrowing heavily from Victorian culture and tropes. First, consider the Gothic fantasy-industrial design of the city. We have soot, smoke, and workhouses. The place feels Dickensian. The neighborhoods, the rot, the mazes - all common to fantasy settings, but given a weird mixed technology chic. Second, the cant and speak which emulates and directly borrows from British Street talk, so that everyone sounds like Artful Dodger. Third, the figure of the Great and Majestic Queen overseeing her Empire in the form of The Lady of Pain. Fourth, the bringing in of the Modrons which add a certain metal and gear look to everything. Fifth, the Factions as classic Victorian secret societies. As with those, they're driven less by practical purposes than by weird ideologies and new philosophies. I'm sure other parallels could be made - certainly Tony DiTerlizzi's art and design contribute to the impression. He notes borrowing from Yoshitaka Amano's style, which includes the often steampunk-y FF work. I'm not saying all of Planescape reflects this, but certainly the key city of Sigil feels this way.
Planescape remains my favorite of the classic TSR settings. I hope they release all of this material as pdf, but I also hope they eventually present a reprint or print-on-demand option for it.
19. Age of Empire
(1995, Victoriana) A rules-lite rpg set in a fantastic version of the Victorian Empire, complete with magic and monsters. Written by Gareth-Michael Skarka, I've had trouble tracking down concrete information on the game, save that it went off the market after Microsoft objected to the name. I don't know if that's true or an urban myth.
(1996, Steampunk) With Deadlands, steampunk as an element explodes. CF and others had begun to use some elements, but they never had the reach that Deadlands did. It made it fun, awesome, crazy, and lunatic - splitting it away from the Victorian and Vernian cultural influences. Instead we have gears, robots, gadgets, and mad science by way of Ghostbusters; Wild, Wild, West; and Saturday morning cartoons. All kinds of manic steam science stood alongside the undead, Cthulhoid spawn, and gambler mages. PCs could play a Mad Scientist right out of the gate. They had their own sourcebook with Smith & Robards. Several supplements focused on the "New Science" as well - The Collegium and City o' Gloom. Steampunk science, like everything else in the setting, is a double-edged sword. Useful but destructive - it is the fever dream of industrialization.
21. The Golden Dawn
(1996, Victoriana) This is honestly one of the strangest sourcebooks I've ever read. At the time Pagan Publishing was putting out some of the most amazing and interesting Call of Cthulhu material. They still do today - but at a much reduced pace. So, as with many people, I went into this expecting an amazing and Lovecraftian spin on a group I'd seen discussed in every single rpg touching on the modern occult. What I got instead was a potent, sober, exacting, and meticulous presentation of The Golden Dawn as it appeared in the real world, with suggestions on how to integrate that into a campaign. Even the adventures step away from classic cosmic horror to have the players dealing with the return of a King Arthur.
This offers the best sourcebook on Victorian Occult and Mysticism. It isn't a conventional CoC book. Instead its one of the best researched and presented historical sourcebooks I've ever seen. Unfortunately it still isn't available as a pdf and original copies go for high dollar on ebay and Amazon.
(1996, Victoriana-esque) I only discovered recently that this setting came from an rpg published in New Zealand in the 1980s. I haven't been able to locate specifics on that, so I'm listing it here under the later edition. The game has the players becoming goblins in an awful, awful Victorian-esque setting. You embrace the rudeness, filth, and suffering of that period. Malcolm Dale and Klaude Thomas published designer notes (found here). The game draws heavily on Mayhew's London's Underworld. It combines that with a fantasy setting to create a unique and unpleasant setting - with PCs suffering various forms of mistreatments like "Fed to Pigs" or Pawned to Surgeons." A useful resource for those running Steampunk Fantasy who want a distinct and septic non-human underclass.
History of Steampunk & Victoriana RPGs (Part One 1983-1996)
History of Steampunk & Victoriana RPGs (Part Two 1997-2003)
History of Steampunk & Victoriana RPGs (Part Three 2004-2006)
History of Steampunk & Victoriana RPGs (Part Four 2007-2008)
History of Steampunk & Victoriana RPGs (Part Five 2009)
History of Steampunk & Victoriana RPGs (Part Six 2010)
History of Steampunk & Victoriana RPGs (Part Seven 2011)
History of Steampunk & Victoriana RPGs (Part Eight 2012)
The Year in Steampunk & Victoriana RPGs 2013 (Part One: Äther, Dampf und Stahlgiganten to Owl Hoot Trail)
The Year in Steampunk & Victoriana RPGs 2013 (Part Two: Pure Steam to World of Steamfortress Victory)
The Year in Steampunk & Victoriana RPGs 2014
History of Post-Apocalyptic RPGs
History of Superhero RPGs
History of Universal RPGs
History of Wild West RPGs
History of Licensed RPGs