“I am become designer, creator of worlds!” is a limited series on the ins and outs of building your own roleplaying game from the ground up—and with it a business model by which to grow and create more new ideas.
I always knew it took more effort to create something than destroy it. I just hadn’t calculated how much actual work it took also!
When I was little, my brother and I would rage across the backyard in an imaginative frenzy—playing good guys and bad (Janus would have been proud)—hopping over tree roots that were the wriggling tentacles of a monster, or hiding behind air conditioning units and garbage bins that were outcroppings of a space station. Many of our games were kept strictly to the mind, with little more than pencil and paper to breathe life into our feverish creations. Imagine our surprise when years later we discovered bound roleplaying game products at the local hobby shop—a codified system of rules and concepts so congruent to our own ideas; ideas we thought only we understood!
Now that I’m only slightly less little, my brothers-in-arms and I are laying the finishing touches on an RPG world of our own design: Pure Steam™. It’s a Pathfinder® compatible campaign setting mashup of steampunk tropes couched in an alternate history version of the real world. (Already I see the hands going up in the back.) “What’s steampunk?!”
Get ready for a half-dozen different answers. “Just take any real world object and add gears to it.” “It’s Victorian gothic horror.” “It’s the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.” “It’s H.G. Wells and Jules Verne on acid.” Maybe. Or maybe it’s just a subculture literary movement within science fiction that supposes a world where innocence, mystery, and pre-modern idealism still exist. A world of steam.
What we are making doesn’t attempt to replicate any of those things quite so literally. We supplant Victorian flavor with Appalachian. We mix World’s Fair grandiose architecture and materials science with Western weird horror. We cloak modern fantasy in late 19th-century American trappings east of the Mississippi. We stir a witch’s brew of solid crunch and compelling fluff and let the resulting “moonshine” distill in your mind. (And I may have said too much already…)
Needless, you must be asking yourself, “How did you get started on this? How could I do something similar?” Well, while it’s no guarantee it’ll work for you like it has for us, fellow reader, we dare to share with you snatches of our recipe. Go lock your doors, and pay attention now!
Before we get into it, a little backstory. Pure Steam™ is the brainchild of West Virginia-bred (aka “coal country-bred”) Adam Crockett, aka “B’omarr Punk.” I knew right away he and I shared a kinship by our related online handles—both Star Wars inspired. As we gamed together, I learned how simpatico we seemed in our sensibilities (e.g. how we each enjoyed the challenge of playing 0-level commoners, our admiration for 3e Forgotten Realms® and Todd Lockwood’s art, or the way we’d greet each other with, “Hey lover!” or “Sup sexy!” even though we’re both happily straight). He was that rare kind of person with whom I knew I could share unfulfilled wishes of creating something unique, something we both cared about, that would draw upon our collective interests and produce something we could be proud of. Contrary to whatever might be on your mind (you sicko, you!), I told him I’d be ready to help if the idea ever took off.
Step the First – Limit Yourself
And so it began as most things do: unfulfilled. Then he contacted me while I was away in Japan and requested I make good on my previous promise. I had no idea how big the project would be, so I knew it was wise for me not to get carried away and instead limit myself. I offered a simple class idea. While there was not yet any concrete ruleset and little else to go on besides “19th-century American steampunk,” the class was warmly received.
My thinking had been simple but layered. Limit yourself. Get right down there to the ground-level and scratch at the surface. I thought about the Civil War, a defining period, and the people who had fought in it. I sorted through the crowds of faces in my mind and tried to lock onto something that stood out. I used period art and I read. I wanted to create something commonly recognizable but undefined, something rooted yet inspirational, something heroic but outside the rank and file. Something I could mold and recast. The Chaplain was born.
Having “survived the proving grounds,” Adam assigned me the duty of recasting more of the classes for the game. “Great!” I thought. “We’ll keep it very limited. Controllable. A few core classes, no extraneous races, very low magic, a true role-player’s paradise where the differences are in the nuances.” I wasn’t concerned with anything else. Little did I know that I would have to greatly adjust my aim if I was to serve the entire creative process beyond my own selfish wants.
Stay tuned next week as we bring you the second half of the story of Pure Steam™, how it came to be, and the lessons learned in the doing—exclusively right here on DMing.com!