Sunday, 17 February 2013

Steampunk is the new Dark Ages

While 2012 was pretty much the year of the Dark Ages revival led by SAGA and Dux Britanniarum (with Dux Bellorum and others in their wake), 2013 looks to be the year of steampunk. Not only did the Polish Wolsung setting set its first steps in the miniatures market last autumn, Northstar has entered the fray while West Wind is including them in their Gothic Horror series.

I've been severely tempted over the last weeks by the new In Her Majesty's Name miniatures and rules (sponsored by Osprey). But they're just a bit too expensive. Just like most of the current steam punk miniatures, including the new West Wind Empire of the Dead kickstarter most seem to be going at about just below €3 apiece on average. I'll be interested to know which overlapping characters from these two sets will prove the more popular.

My well worn copy
The late 19th century does have a pull on me because of the way it links up to crime and horror (Frankenstein, Dracula, Cthulhu) novels of the age. Kellow Chesney's The Victorian Underworld is one of my best second hand buys ever. I paid 2 pounds 50 p for it and enjoyed it from cover to cover. Gonophs, cracksmen, beggars, pension holders and of course the exploits of Bendigo, the great boxer for whom thousands would gather in the countryside to see him win against Ben Caunt.

I actually don't care for the steampunk elements much. Then again the Chinese Tong and Egyptian brotherhood factions in IHMN have no steampunk weapons at all. The real steampunk parts of EotD are also few and far between. I'm sure the rules will reward machinery when players start to power up.

I would just as happily roleplay with the civilians, small time crooks and bobbies. Venture into some gang wars and Lovecraftian horror. Luckily there is ample supply of miniatures from this age, ranging from pulp adventure to Victorian Britain and from wild west to colonial (ah, the Darkest Africa series...), but none of them exactly cheap.

If possible I'd like to run a Cthulhu based RPG campaign once around Dutch colonial history with elements of piracy and Indonesian witchcraft from Dutch colonial literature. You could use quite a few of the Anglo-Saxon miniatures for the Dutch setting, but there would be a couple of specifics you can't find now. For the long run though, because I have no clue about this setting at all.

But my question to you now, dear folks, is what will 2014 be the year of? I have a hunch myself, but will not reveal until next weekend. Looking forward to seeing your ideas!


  1. I'm of the same mind about steam punk. I think Victorian cities were weird enough without clockwork steam power suits. But I agree with you, I think it will be to 2013 what the Dark Ages was to 2012. As for 2014, I haven't got a clue. Looking forward to what you think will be big next year.

    1. Hi Michael

      I spotted a flawin my argument there. Steampunk is not much weirder than Ctulhu, I guess.

  2. Kellow Chesney's "The Victorian Underground" is one of the gems in my collection. It's a tremendous book. The chapter on the racing and sporting underground is incredible. Chesney has a tremendous style. A great choice.

    If you liked it, Jan, and wanted more of the same, I got a lot out of Mayhews "London Labour and the London Poor" (abridged version) and William Fishman's "The East End 1888". (Be warned though, Bill Fishman's book is utterly heart-breaking and deeply depressing at times.) We found them to be perfect for Call of Cthulhu games set in the 1880s.

    1. Thanks Sidney,

      I might have a peek at Fishman's sometime. Mayhew is long (even when abridged) and Chesney uses it extensively.


I appreciate comments. Let me know what you think!