Sunday, 3 March 2013

Steampunk! by AlienAmbassador

The City of Lost Children, © 1995

Hi there. My name is Christopher Sheets. I’ve been a journalist for more than 15 years and a gamer for twice that. I’ve hung around all the various Internet watering holes for mini gamers at one time or another. Now I tend to frequent the Lead Adventure Forum (where I’m Eisenfaust) and the Miniature Addicts Anonymous group on Facebook (where I’m me.) Anywhere else, I’m usually AlienAmbassador.

I’ve been writing a gaming blog called Dispatches from the Rim since July 2012. Hendybadger and I cover similar ground, in that we both love 28mm skirmish gaming. I focus on steampunk, sci fi and modern zombie gaming. When Ian put out a call for articles to replace some that he lost in his recent technological meltdown, I offered to write him a piece explaining the attraction of the genre that has most captivated my interest of late.

Why do I love steampunk?

I love the trappings. Cog-driven creations, devious devices, wonderful weapons, drawing rooms bedecked in gleaming brass and polished wood.

I love the vehicles. Dauntless dirigibles, resolute railroads, landships labouring across the landscape.

I love the characters. Elegant intellectuals, gamines in goggles smudged with boiler smoke, venomous villains encircled by shadows.

I also love alliteration.

I love that steampunk penetrates so many different forms of expression. Fiction, cinema, music, fashion and, of course, gaming.

Most of all, I love that it fires my imagination as few other genres of fiction do. It is the ultimate hybrid, allowing, even inviting, the admixture of Gothic horror, high fantasy, alternate history -- whatever suits one’s taste.

Just within my particular favorite flavor of gaming (28mm skirmish), three games spring to mind that fit those recipes. West Wind’s “Empire of the Dead” blends steampunk and Gothic horror; Warmachine from Privateer Press stretches high fantasy across a steampunk framework; and the upcoming “In Her Majesty’s Name” from Osprey (with figures from North Star) posits an era with a technological revolution and a clandestine war for power resources among empires of the Victorian era.

It is an embarrassment of riches for the steampunk skirmish gamer. Truly we live in a golden age.

Even beyond the many extant rulesets, figures abound for use in these games. Here are but a few. This list is meant to be expansive but not all-inclusive:

  • Armorcast: Known for their range of steampunk terrain, including the awesome Steam Mushroom. Also makes a line of effects pieces for conversions, invaluable for that smoke from a coal-fired boiler.
  • Brigade Games: Lon at Brigade carries many lines of miniatures but also produces his own, including a recent line of new VSF/Steampunk minis. I am particularly fond of the British Character Pack (although it is not yet in my collection.)
  • Eureka (Australia or USA): Eureka has an entire line, Pax Limpopo, based on an alternate Victorian world where, after the death of Albert, Victoria married Shaka Zulu. Of particular interest to steampunk enthusiasts may be the professors in the “personalities” section, each bearing a particular artificial enhancement: Heironymous Pratt and his Audio Hat, Professor McHoots and his Circular Boots and Professor Niagra and his Ocular Viagra. The entire line is worth a look, especially if you like your games to show a sense of humor.

  • Freebooter: Werner Klocke’s company is perhaps best known for its line of pirate miniatures for its Freebooter’s Fate game, but there are several selections here that are relevant to our interests. The steampunk section of the site includes the multi-limbed Doc Taranto, the Time Witch with her Clockwork Familiar, and the beautiful alchemist Sarah. All Werner’s minis are multipart kits, but the quality, I’ve found, has always been beyond reproach. Note that these links are to the English-language version of the site; its parent site is in German.
  • Ironclad: Fans of my blog know I love Ironclad and acquired the minis that will become the heart of my Ladies Auxiliary warband for Empire of the Dead from them. They have a full range of VSF minis, but I stick to the “Characters” section. Mina Harker, Irene Adler and Constance have made their way into my grubby mitts, but I want more, especially Ironclad Man. Note that they have the entire cast of “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” at hand. The Alan Moore/Kevin O’Neill comic, not the abysmal movie. Which I own. Don’t judge me.
  • Lead Adventure: Its line called 1881 includes a steampunk version of Tin Tin; a man, woman and dog all covered in armor and gas masks; and a beautiful version of Bonnie and Clyde as VSF ne’er-do-wells. They also produce a couple of nice sets of heads for conversions.

  • Micro Art Studios: The Wolsung “steampulp fantasy” miniatures game melds fantasy and steampunk and, I only recently found out, has an already popular RPG behind it. It’s also where you want to go for unusual props and extraordinary weapons. A butler wielding an umbrella; a female tinker with a giant wrench; a woman with a ladder-like weapon called a Sun Spear, whose beam is reflected by mirror-bearing goblins; an inventor with a Hellboy-like power glove. The Asian-influenced Orc faction is also very nice, but some of the clothing is too modern in era to fit easily into a steampunk setting.
  • North Star: The aforementioned “In Her Majesty’s Name” is currently the subject of a “Nickstarter” pre-order program. All the factions for the game -- Lord Curr’s Company, the Society of Thule, the Black Dragon Tong and the Servants of Ra -- seem delightful to me and, while I’m not participating in the program due to other commitments, I certainly see myself buying one or several of these upon general release.
  • Privateer: Warmachine. Do I need to say more? How bout big stompy coal-powered robots? How about, they keep getting bigger, going from the Warjacks to the Battle Engines and now the Colossals!
  • Reaper: Much steampunky goodness in the Chronoscope line and in the Savage Worlds releases for the Deadlands setting. Some of the Chronoscope entries capture what might be called the “archetypal” steampunk look -- gears, clockwork, goggles, top hats. The Deadlands figures show steampunk at work in the Weird Wild West, freeing mad science among an alternate history that includes magic and the undead.

  • Steve Jackson Games: There’s a boxed set to go with the GURPS: Steampunk book (available as a pdf) that includes a big robot, a mad inventor, a clockwork cat, and five more.
  • West Wind Productions: The Empire of the Dead boxed sets -- Lycaons (werewolves), Gentleman’s Club (humans), Vampires and The Brotherhood (a religious warband) -- and character minis are out, and much of their Gothic Horror and Vampire Wars ranges mix right in. There’s a Kickstarter currently for the 80-or-so miniatures in the EOTD: Requiem expansion, so there’s plenty to get in on for this Gothic Horror-meets-Steampunk universe.
  • Wyrd: Malifaux occupies a lot of the same psychological space Deadlands once held. Wild West-meets-Far East meets steampunk meets magic and demons and elder gods, oh my! But because it is set in another plane, it’s not married to its own version of America’s Civil War and Wild West. The narrative woven through the books is some of the best game fiction I’ve read. Some of the more steampunk-themed minis I like in their line are the Peacekeeper construct, Hoffman with his exoskeleton, the Executioner-class Steamborg and the winged Kaeris.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. As I said, we steampunk 28mm skirmish players are spoiled for choice in today’s market. There’s plenty more out there, and your google fu will reveal it all for you in short order. In the meantime, come visit me at Dispatches from the Rim as I explore this topic, as well as modern zombie, pulp and sci fi gaming.

Christopher Sheets


  1. Very interesting read, we seem to be being spoiled for choice this year.

    Wolsung is also very interesting as it reminds of one of my favourite PC Games Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura.

    I'm starting to read various steampunk themed novels lately so its certainly grabbing me more and more. Especially now Empire of the Dead is showing a bit more of its steampunk side with the Requiem Kickstarter.

    1. Thanks, Simon. I've long been a fan of steampunk fiction, but I've just now started to get into steampunk-oriented music -- Vernian Process, Abney Park, the chap-hop of Professor Elemental. Quite entertaining stuff.

      Now I just wish that, in addition to being spoiled for choice, I was spoiled for cash flow!

    2. Don't we all especially with all the new stretch goals.


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