Of all the ages in Kronocalypse, the Steam Ages has undergone the most evolution during the design process.
I started just knowing I wanted steampunk.
So what images does that conjure up? First the superficial images: clockwork, top hats, goggles. Digging a little deeper, I think steampunk is about the bright side of technology. The telegraph lets us instantly send messages to people across the country, mass production allows us to buy all kinds of new consumer goods, and steam engines enable us to travel around the world in eighty days. Anything us is possible.
This image of the steam age is the one I focused on in the preview adventure Ug See Big Thing That Fly, with Baron Vanderwile’s zeppelin and Block the clockwork man. The forthcoming We’ve Got a T-Rex takes these ideas further with a Millennial Fair (based largely on the 1893 World’s Fair), which shows off great advances in technology like the lightning gun, and horseless carriage.
But there’s a dark side to progress. I knew I wanted the cyberpunk age to focus on the wealthy exploiting the teeming masses, so for the steam age I looked to a different kind of exploitation: imperialism.
After centuries of being confined to a few small continents, Lomia (the nation where the PCs start), and other nearby human-dominated countries finally designed ship able make long voyages across uncharted seas. They discovered whole new continents teaming with natural resources. There were native inhabitants, but they were conquered with wonders of technology.
While this design was going on, I started playtesting the core plot point campaign, and one of my players asked if she could play a sky pirate.
Now I hadn’t planned on there being sky pirates, but once she put the thought in my head it was a no-brainier. It allowed me to add in a few more of my favorite RPG tropes without designing a whole additional age. Continuing with the pirate theme, I eventually decided firearms technology in Kron’s steam age was at least a century behind transportation. While biplanes soar through the sky, you still need to muzzle load your flintlock musket.
That’s the short version of how we got to where we are with Kroncalypse’s steam age. It might evolve further based on internal playtesting or your feedback. For now I think it’s a pretty solid vision:
The light of industry casts a shadow of imperialism. Zeppelins fire cannons to fend off raiders. And goggles. Lots and lots of goggles.