About Steamscapes

Steamscapes is a new game setting for Savage Worlds. It is a realistic alternative historical approach to steampunk. As such, it contains many of the things you would expect in a steampunk setting - airships, automatons, electricity gone wild - but places them in a real-world context. The world of Steamscapes is recognizable but changed. You will find many familiar faces and places, but their roles are not always what you expect.

Inspiring Diversity with Sample Characters - Steamscapes: Asia Teaser #1

It is time! We are close enough to at least the digital release of Steamscapes: Asia that we can begin to preview some of what we have been doing. This teaser coincides both with our preparation for Gen Con and with the arrival of several key art pieces by the wonderful and talented Cami Woodruff. These pieces are being used for some of the sample characters in the chapter on game resources, so I thought I would take a moment to talk about how art and character design can go together to inspire roleplaying of diverse, non-stereotypical characters. (Note - all our sample characters were created as Seasoned, so if they sound a little extra powerful that's because they are.)



Dev Notes 21 - Constraint and Choice in Roleplaying Games (Part 2)

In the last Dev Note, I talked at moderate length about four different kinds of constraint that can be experienced in roleplaying games in a variety of ways. I also discussed some of the implications for each of them in terms of play experience. In this note, I want to examine how designers can address each of these constraints with intentionality and conscious choice to make the game that most fits the play experience they want to craft. I am going to show this through the lens of a game I am currently designing.


Dev Notes 20 - Constraint and Choice in Roleplaying Games (Part 1)

Give me a genre, a location, and something you might do on a date...

As roleplayers, we often think of ourselves as improvisers. My friends at the One Shot Podcast Network (Patreon funding now!) are actually trained in this particular mode of performance, and they have excellent insights into how such training supports their gaming. Part of the fun of improvising, both on stage and in gaming, is the power of making choices in the moment. And because we enjoy this, sometimes we think that more choice is always good, that the freedom to make up whatever we want will let us explode in fountains of creativity. It turns out that this is not the case. And trained improvisers know this very well, which is why so many improv exercises and performances begin with the selection of constraints.

Whose line cast

Welcome to roleplaying, where the characters are made up and the dice don't matter.

Constraint is not the opposite of choice. It is merely the practice of having the available choices or parameters for choice presented to the chooser instead of created by the chooser. In the absence of external constraints, we all first narrow our own list of choices before making our final decision. No one considers all possible options equally and chooses from them. Whenever we come too close to doing that, we inevitably suffer analysis paralysis. There are just too many choices for us to consider, and we shut down rather than moving forward. One way or another, we need to make the list more manageable.


Dev Notes 19 - Escapism is a Dial, Not a Switch

As much as I enjoyed Birdman, I felt that it contained a certain amount of artistic insecurity even beyond that portrayed by its main character. The movie as a whole offers a straw-man depiction of how people in the theatre feel about film - this idea that stage looks down on screen because it views screen as less serious, more worried about popularity and money than art. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth, and in fact we are in something of a golden age regarding the love-affair between stage and screen. People and shows move between the two all the time, and no one is seriously arguing that one medium or the other is more inherently artistic. Had this movie been written in the late 80s, I might have bought it. But now? Not so much.

But this insecurity is not unusual. A similar thing happens in most art forms. A categorical distinction grows to define that which is serious from that which is not, and then we start arguing about what specific pieces go where and why. In the midst of this argument, one word almost always appears: escapism.



Dev Notes 18 - Roleplaying the Other

In my previous two Developer Notes, I have discussed assumptions that people have about both game settings and the writers of game settings. These are certainly among the barriers of entry that come up when players try to explain why they avoid “Asian-themed” settings, or indeed any fictional setting with real-world cultural elements that are not their own. But I think the biggest barrier lies in the assumptions of play. Yes, there are some pedants who believe it is their job to police what games are written, but we can easily ignore such folks. The people we really want to reach are the people who don’t think they can play realistic games as characters unlike themselves. So in this last installment, I want to address the idea of roleplaying the “other” - that is, playing as a character unlike yourself in a world unlike your own.


Call for writers for Steamscapes: Asia!

UPDATE - All assignments have been filled, but this was a great experience! I hope to be able to do it again in the future.

Do you want to be an RPG writer?

Ching Shih wants YOU!

Dev Notes 17 - Writing For, Not Writing About

In my last Developer Note, I outlined some of the key issues and assumptions that people have with game settings that claim to be “Asian-themed.” In that note, I asserted several times that we are doing things differently with Steamscapes: Asia. I hope that my explanations of how we are doing so support that assertion, but it does bring up another question that one might ask - What gives me the authority to write this setting? Is this even a question worth considering?


Fair enough. All questions are valid.

Dev Notes 16 - Asia, not "Asian-Themed"

I recently completed a successful Kickstarter! I was obviously quite happy about that, but I always believe that learning is necessary regardless of success or failure, so after it was over I posted a survey in the Savage Worlds community asking for feedback from those who had chosen not to back the project. Aside from the expected (but still important) reasons - such as not hearing about it, not liking the rewards, or having backed too many Kickstarters recently - one idea that seemed to show up frequently was that players are automatically turned off by "Asian-themed" settings. I saw this in replies to the forum post as well as in the Facebook and G+ Savage Worlds communities.

When I followed up to find out the reasons why, it became clear to me that there is a very strong association that players of roleplaying games have with the word "Asia," and it has nothing to do with what we are trying to develop. However, this association is so pervasive that many people were unwilling to look closely enough to even consider the possibility that we might be doing something different. For this reason, I am going to be doing a series of Dev Notes explaining how our setting differs from what has come before (and what will likely come after), how we approach the writing and development so as to avoid appropriation or stereotype, and how to help players feel comfortable taking on characters in this setting.

But first, we have to talk about how the gaming industry got to this point.

Dev Notes 15 - The Importance of Fiction

Our Kickstarter for Steamscapes: Asia has been up for a week now, and we are continuing to make good progress on that front. But I wanted to take a moment with my Developer Notes to highlight a feature of this campaign you might not notice unless you're the sort who skips around a Kickstarter page or reads everything very thoroughly. For Steamscapes: Asia, we have already hired not just one but three people to write short stories for the book - Will Hindmarch, Kevin Andrew Murphy, and William F Wu. We consider good fiction writers as essential for our products as good artists are. Allow me to explain why.



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