Steampunk is a venue for adventure, no doubt about that, with science and technology unhindered by the laws of physics, societal norms from any culture past, present or future, and only as much historical accuracy as fits the whims of the moment.  It is, simply put, a realm where anything is possible under the guise of skimming whatever we want from an idealized – or grossly imperfect – version of the 19th Century. With that in mind, a strict definition seems to almost cheapen the genre, so we will discuss it in general possibilities, and break it down into two parts: Steam and Punk.


“Steam” in this case sets up the technology of the world, and to some respect, the historical context of that technology. The two simple rules of thumb are

  1. If it is mechanical in any way, it can run off steam or clockwork gears, and
  2. Any scientific theory can be considered reality if it sounds convincing enough in a drawing room over a snifter of brandy.

Some possible Steampunk scientific theories include

  1. The earth is hollow.
  2. The earth is actually a giant electromagnet (at least in regards to metallic objects in space).
  3. Elementals exist in both nature and urban settings.
  4. Automatons and robots are possible.
  5. Cloning and weird bio-sciences are possible
  6. Anything can be made to fly, hover or swim.
  7. There is air on all planets and moons, and possibly between them as well.
  8. Babbage Engines (early computers) can do anything.
  9. Time travel is possible.
  10. It is easy to mechanically modify people.
  11. The space between all things is the Aether.

Of those, the one most relevant to this story, is #11, although in the pages we tend to say that The Aether is The Space Between All Things. More on that later.

Fueling Steam Engines

In real history, steam engines originally ran off wood. Eventually, they ran off coal, which created a significant pollution problem. In some Steampunk literature, machines (human sized automatons, for example) can run off coal dust, consuming it as fuel. There have even been stories written about experiments into Uranium (minus the unpleasant side effect of radiation poisoning) being a cheap and easy source of heating water to run steam engines.

In most cases, Steampunk gadgets simply ignore the massive fuel requirements unless it suits the narrative. If it seems fun to have people scooping logs or shovels full of coal into the massive furnace of a forty foot tall robot during a chase scene, then they do so. If a person has a steam-powered helicopter backpack, we simply choose to ignore that they would have to have a ranging inferno and an enormous amount of water on their back in order to operate it.

The Alternative: Eldritch Copper

The universe of this game proposes a mythical element called Eldritch Copper, a solution similar to the Uranium answer, but unique in that it is mystical in nature and so are its side effects.

Eldritch Copper is copper which has, for whatever reason (spent time near the earth’s magnetic poles, recently come from the electromagnetic fluxes in the center of the earth, fell from the sky in a meteor shower, etc) stored up a large amount of potential energy. When released, as a bare minimum this energy creates significant sustained heat from a small contained source capable of powering smaller, more compact steam engines.

In this world, Eldritch Copper is the primary source of energy, but overexposure to it (a common occurrence with factory workers and miners) in humans leads to bouts of madness lasting as long as a week. It can also be consumed in powder form as a drug, giving its user visions and boosting their mystical abilities. The only antidote (a leaf known as Purple Bitter) is just as expensive as the element itself. In the Noble Folk, over exposure to Copper causes the Horrid Transformation, converting Elves, Fae, and Fairies into Orks, Goblins, and Gremlins, respectively. Dwarves are immune to both the benefits and the drawbacks.

The Era

Mixed in with that Technology, are the sensibilities and aesthetic of the 19th Century, usually, but not always like an exaggerated Victorian London. That holds true here even though this is a completely fictitious fantasy world.

For example, here are a few simple guidelines if you lived in steampunk setting.

  1. While taking cover in a firefight, don’t be afraid to stop everything and sit down with a relaxing glass of whiskey. Comment on the smooth oak taste, regardless of the impending doom you’ve set out to prevent, or the horror you are investigating.  Once that refreshment period is over, continue on your adventure.
  2. Nearing the end of the day? Start talking about how much good a full night’s rest will do you. Describe your bed and how many hours sleep is most healthy.  Continue your vitally important mission tomorrow.
  3. Treat every word with an “or” in it as if it were spelled “our.” Some unsavoury fellows might sell you some strangely coloured tonic with an odd odour and flavour to it. Even if you don’t write the words, think of them that way.
  4. Can’t sleep one night? Head down to the local brothel, smoke a cigar or two in their parlour and discuss your worries and problems with the local madam, one of the employees, or perhaps a buddy or contact of yours who is highly likely to show up. Throw all gender norms for the time period aside as to who might be playing what role in a brothel.
  5. Get used to tossing the word “manservant” around in casual conversation.
  6. Never eat anything common. You didn’t eat chicken and beans, you had Filet Mignons Lili Saute’ of Chicken and Lyonnaise Vegetable Marrow Farcie. Go to great lengths describing the little details of what you eat.  Every time.
  7. Take a moment to obsess over whether you’re wearing this year’s fashions or if you need to upgrade your wardrobe, even if you’re dirt poor.
  8. When a harried individual bangs on your door at 3am with some information vital to you, pause and demand their calling card before hearing them speak, and then take some time analyzing the intricacies of that calling card.
  9. If you are upper class or lower class, treat the other as a completely different species, because in practical terms they are. If you are middle class, pretend you are upper class.
  10. Bored? Head down to the local factory, mill, or mine. There will always be trouble waiting there.  Alternatively, the wretched slums also work.
  11. Don’t be afraid to modify yourself with an iron cranium, pincers in place of one of your hands, a big magnifying gem in place of one of your eyes, or some ridiculous number of tattoos. Combine these with formalwear. Or just undergarments, either way.
  12. If you are a scientist and find yourself experimenting on human subjects, come up with some logical and elaborate justification for your actions and feel no remorse for these unfortunates. It’s all in the name of progress.


In most cases, “punk” refers to people striving for individual freedoms in a world where such things are generally oppressed or otherwise put down. Long story short, the more emphasis on the punk part of the world, the less pleasant a place it is to be. Gritty, dark, and entirely free of happy endings might be a good way to think of a purely punk setting. Fortunately, most stories work on a scale a little shy of pure punk.

Some common ways people might defy the norms of Victorian Society in their outward appearance.

  1. Women might wear men’s clothing, or they might wear comfortable or practical clothing, and actually participate in science and adventuring.
  2. Tattoos and piercings
  3. Carrying weapons all the time.
  4. Modifying themselves for appearance or function with mechanical alternations such as artificial limbs or eyes.
  5. Displaying gadgetry and inventions on their person, such as powered gauntlets, mechanical wings, or technologically enhanced goggles.

Some common things to rebel against

  1. Capitalism
  2. Nationalism
  3. Non-Representative governments
  4. All politics or government, or taxes pay them.
  5. Abuse of human rights
  6. Abuse of rights of privacy
  7. Classism
  8. The unequal distribution of wealth
  9. The celebration of debauchery and self-indulgence, particularly by the wealthy.
  10. The “ideals” or “morals” of society
  11. Exploitation of any group
  12. Racism
  13. Sexism
  14. Technology
  15. Secret Societies
  16. Wars or misuse of military

Steampunk World Views

To sum up,

A STEAMpunk world is one where not only has technology progressed faster than the historic pace, but it has done so to the benefit of society in general. While there might still be a significant economic difference between the classes, food is plentiful, and cities relatively clean.

A steamPUNK world is one where the technological advances primarily benefit the upper classes, the government, or the military, many times at the expense of the lower classes. The economic difference between the classes is harsh and cruel. Take anything positive from the STEAMpunk world and add “only for the upper class,” to the end.

Fantasy Steampunk

While putting “fantasy” in front of steampunk may seem redundant, in this case it is used to incorporate a specific element not common in most steampunk literature. Given the popularity of the belief in fairies during the 19th Century, it isn’t a giant leap to add such creatures of the imagination into a steampunk world.

It allows for some throwback items, like swords, metal armor, and crossbows, mixed in with incredible steam-powered inventions.

In this world, humans remain the dominant race in the cities. They improved food production based on large clunky machines they powered from the strange new Eldritch Copper mined and sold by the dwarves. Elves cultivate Purple Bitter, the only known cure for the madness caused by overexposure to the ore power source.  In that way, the three primary races are in balance.

About Fae

Fae are a step halfway between elf and fairy, averaging four feet tall with hollow bones and wings so they can manage a sort of unimpressive flight. They are the “middle children” of the Noble Folk, less regal than the elves, and far more sophisticated than the fairies.

About Fallen

As mentioned before, when any of the Noble Folk overindulge in or spend too much time around Eldritch Copper, they undergo the irreversible Horrid Transformation. This adds a new set of the “Fallen” into society, for the most part shunned by their own kind. Gremlins are captured and forced to fight over bags of Copper dust for the wagers of screaming crowds.  Goblins are usually recruited by thieves and spies, but some take to science and make new names for themselves there. Orks, reduced from near-immortal creatures of art and philosophy to vulgar brutes, become mercenaries, bodyguards, or they enlist in random wars hoping a stray bullet, beam, or explosion will put them out of their misery.

The Aether (or Aethyr)

The Aether is a mystical substance that exists between the particles of all things. It is very conductive to energy and matter, but porous to them as well. Entering the Aether is entering literally the Space Between All Things.  Given an extra dimension within regular space, particularly where energy flows more freely and gravity has little role, citizens would rush to take advantage of it.

The first invention to take hold was the Window, which takes the form of a frame of Eldritch Copper around a sheet of glass. It allows one to look into the Aether, into the corresponding space on the other side.

After that came Quest Engines, which are little machines made from the Aether, where they merge with the surroundings and become effectively invisible. Trained Aethermagi can still see them rushing about, and looking at one they give the impression of a crab, with bent legs ending in sharp pointed spikes, and a series of five brass spring stalks rising from its back and ending in spherical stones, polished and painted to look like wet cat eyes.  Looking even closer, one can sometimes make out a thin silver cord back to the Window that spawned them. They travel at the speed of thought, out to great distances depending on their quality and the proficiency of their owner, and send back the sights and sounds they encounter. Through these, a person can gaze into their Window and search the Aether for miles in any direction.

Quest Engines created a mobile audience, and once that happened, Guilds and entertainers rushed to obtain Gates, which were like Windows but much bigger and more expensive, and which allowed people and objects to actually cross over into the Aether. After that, the Aether became the central hub of information.  One town crier could stand in the same spot every day, surrounded by untold numbers of invisible Quest Engines, while shouting out information for people miles and miles away to hear. Aethermagi could leave messages written in the fabric of the space between all things, Guilds could move cargo easily, and the wealthy with too much free time had a new realm to explore without leaving the comfort of their own homes.