SteamCraft by Jamie Hardy is a steampunk role playing game system and setting published by Perilous Journeys Publishing. The setting is the fictional one of Tellus, although there are similarities between it an Earth.
This supplement is available as a 217 page PDF which normally costs $14.99 on RPGNow, but was purchased at an offer price of only $4.50. Of the book, one page is the cover, there is a one page setting map, three pages for the SteamCraft character sheet, two pages of weapons tables, one page front matter and one page Table of Contents. The illustrations are all black and white with the exception of the full colour front cover; the majority of the pages inside the book have a decorative steampunk border.
The book is not divided into numbered chapters as such, although it is divided into something fairly equivalent. Some of these could be considered to be grouped together into various sections. The Introduction introduces steampunk, SteamCraft, role playing games in general and what is needed to play them.
Credit: Tom McGrath/Perilous Journeys Publishing/eGDC LtdThe first part of the book can be considered to be the setting. This part starts with descriptions of various countries and regions, divided into Arcadian Coast, Granite Valley, Badlands, Central Savannah, Northern Laurentia, Anatolia and Cymuria. Of these locations, the latter three are part of the global world setting, whilst the others comprise the Uncharted Territories, which is the area in which players will be adventuring. The Uncharted Territories are covered in various levels of detail, with the most being the Arcadian Coast, the primary civilised region that will be visited.
Also in the setting part are Society, The Fae, Religion and Noteworthy Guilds & Associations. These are largely self-explanatory, covering various non-human races, the state of technology, which includes computer programming and a sort of very primitive and limited, early equivalent of the internet, as the mechanical computers can communicate over telegraph wires, as well as the four major religions and organisations that players could encounter.
The second part of the book is the SteamCraft game itself. This starts with Character Creation, equipment and prices, an example of creating a character and various archetypes. Game Play, namely experience points, fate points and combat, is next. The book then continues with various rules on technology and magic, with spells for different magical types, and how to create new items and inventions, and a section on ships, primarily airships. The second part finishes off with how to run a game and a Bestiary of various races and creatures.
Finally, there is the Appendix, which has some Advanced Combat Rules, which are both more realistic and deadlier, as well as weapons damage charts, the character sheet and the setting map, which covers the Uncharted Territories.
SteamCraft in Review
The PDF originally lacked bookmarks; however, these were later added in an update. the index in the Table of Contents is clickable, which is useful, and the addition of bookmarks greatly improved navigation, making this one of the better supplements for this. The cover illustration is more impressive than the internal ones; the cover looks like it has been specifically designed, whilst the interior illustrations give the impression of being stock art. Throughout the book are also various newspaper clippings, which give background to the events and society of the setting, by describing events and by the inclusion of adverts.
The SteamCraft game system is a d100 based system and is fairly easy to understand; most tasks require rolling under the required, possibly modified, number using a d100. The experience system is rather odd, not so much in how it is used as in how experience points are earned. Experience points are used to develop the character, but it's the method of earning the points that is a bit strange. The book suggests awarding 20 experience points per hour of game play, and this reward is not related at all to what a character might have done in that hour - unless the GameMaster decides otherwise, activity performed has no bearing upon them. It seems that, in this case, experience points are not really needed; what you have is a sort of odd cross between a storytelling system and a dice-based one.
Credit: Cathy Osborne/Perilous Journeys Publishing/eGDC LtdThe magic system has some differences, but it is easy enough to understand, and quite a few of the spells have familiar-sounding names - familiar to those who have used magic in other systems. There are no true character classes; there are, however, a number of archetypes listed which show the skills that would be needed to develop a character along the archetype's lines, but there is no reason why these should be followed; characters can be developed any way the players wish, inside certain rules.
The world as a whole has various countries that certainly have a familiar feel to them; as it says in the introduction, this isn't Earth, but there will be familiar bits. This includes gods that have been taken from various older religions and some of the described countries have a familiar base.
The Commonwealth of New Arcadia, and some of the nearby areas and countries in the Uncharted Territories, are the most detailed, and have a map - although the map could be improved upon, perhaps by making it bigger and available as a separate file. This is the region where adventures are expected to take place. The Commonwealth has elements of Victorian England and the American Old West, and some colonial influences, by the looks of it including Australia. This country also has elements of a modern police state.
As well as the Commonwealth, there are ancient empires, undead and elements of advanced technology and magic; this is not just a pure technology setting. To further develop the setting, there are also some supplements available. SteamCraft: Shadows Over Newport is a combination of citybook and setting, with some new rules and items, and there is also the three part adventure, SteamCraft - Wake the Dead.
The setting is interesting, but some of the actual game system elements seem a bit lacking, such as the previously mentioned experience points, and some of the types of magic look to be better to choose than others for players. It isn't made clear as to whether or not it was actually playtested, but it would be necessary to run an adventure or campaign to make a definite decision on the system itself.
Having said that, this is a complete system in one book, and there are items, skills, magic and creatures included, although the latter in particular would benefit from being expanded with more creatures and more spells and items wouldn't go amiss either. Being a percentile-based system, it might be comparatively easy to adapt the setting to another game system; doing so, however, would make around two-thirds of this book - the part taken up primarily by the game system - rather unnecessary. SteamCraft is an interesting steampunk game setting, but it's difficult to judge its value as a game system.