“If you could make any game you wanted, and were guaranteed not only enough money to build it to your precise specs, but even guaranteed that it would be a success (in other words, setting aside all financial considerations), what would you make?”
This is part 3 of a 5 part series exploring some of the pen-and-paper settings which have come to my mind as a result of contemplating that question. Note that, unlike most of my other posts where I refer to PnP RPGs, in this series of posts I’m talking about setting, not system. I’m not presenting in any particular order, either… just posting them as they come to hand while I scan across my bookshelves.
The Victorian Age, the mere half-century, give or take, from the 1860s to the start of the Great War (WW1) has always been another setting that has intrigued me. It was a time of remarkable advancement and creativity: many of the technologies we take for granted today went from sideshow curiosity to commonplace acceptance in this period. It was also a time of adventure and exploration: the farthest reaches and darkest corners of the globe, from equatorial jungles to the poles, were explored and mapped, their wonders revealed for all to see. Discovery and transformation were the watchwords of the age.
The fiction of the age was filled with the same sense of mystery and wonder, the same exploration of “possibility”. The works of Jules Verne, Arthur Conan Doyle, Poe, Shelley still excite the imagination even today, when some of the “marvels” they discuss seem commonplace, even mundane.
Space:1889 is set in this age, and runs with one of the more interesting scientific postulates of the time… specifically, what if the concept of the Ether (or Aether) had actually been an accurate description of the way the universe works, the “substance” with which space was filled? What if materials had existed allowing manipulation of this “fifth element”, and travel to the other planets became possible using Victorian technology as a result? What if Lowell’s Canals of Mars had been true canals, as he had imagined? What if a breathable atmosphere was the norm, not the exception, amongst the planets of the Inner Solar System, as had once been thought?
It’s a whimsical reality from the perspective of 100 years of hindsight, perhaps, but it has a certain nostalgic appeal, I think.
For my part, I’d be looking to incorporate additional elements from the fiction and myth of the time, beyond even what the Space:1889 setting currently entails. Secret societies (Illuminati) and criminal conspiracies would definitely be a part of it. A Hollow Earth and Counter-Earth (i.e. the world of Gor) would be possible ideas that might fit well with the theme, for example. An aerial combat element is already a big part of the setting, and mixing in additional concepts from Crimson Skies and similar “pulp fiction Air Wars” alternatives might be a possibility.
Implementation of various aspects of Victorian society should make for an interesting juxtaposition of concepts, as well. The adventurer and explorer clubs of the time are a relatively close analog of player guilds in MMOs, and systemic elements could be added to make the connection much more direct. Colonialism and related espionage are strong elements of the Space:1889 setting that could be played up to provide alternate activities as well.
Two things that I would largely shy away from, however, are overt magic use and the “steam-punk” concept. While either or both might be appropriate in general, they would change the focus of the setting drastically. The Space:1889 game in particular is about relatively ordinary people doing extraordinary things, not extraordinary people in general. The difference is subtle, but important I think. Also, many others, especially indie devs, are already pursuing those particular concepts in force… my goal here is to look for somewhat distinctive takes that others have largely overlooked.
As an alternative to the absolute moratorium on magic and steampunk above, I might instead implement multiple perspectives on the theme. There might be a high-fantasy-flavored version, a steampunk-flavored version, and a gothic-flavored setting alongside the “main” one, and some level of crossover/intermingling might be allowed via “Dimensional Engines” or similar mechanisms. There are a host of different takes on the general Victorian Age (and temporally concurrent Wild West) theme: I’ve included a few samples of covers I’ve run across just briefly reviewing my bookshelves, below.
Space:1889 has a theme and flavor that are relatively unique. The characters are relatively normal people doing some amazingly courageous (or stupid) things, and having some incredible adventures as a result. There are a few games set in this era, but they are relatively few and far between at present, and I think it might be an interesting setting to explore. Commentary?
Tomorrow: With strange aeons, even death may die…