Inquisition of the Week: Your Steam is Punk

steampunkWelcome to the 144th installment of Inquisition of the Week, our weekly column where we pose a question- often in poll form– to which we want to hear the opinions of our reading audience. Though we often focus on gaming topics for our questions, our questions can take any form about any topic… whatever we want to inquire about.

Last week, we asked about the power sources of 4th Edition D&D, and which one most appeals to you. The results are in, and Martial was the most popular, powering the Fighter, Ranger, Rogue, and Warlord to greater heights just by their muscles and wits. Next most popular was those who tap into the Arcane energies such as Bards, Wizards, Warlocks, Artificers, Sorcerers, and Swordmages. Primal was next, followed by Divine, then the mostly un-released Psionic, with the power-haters last.

This past week saw the release of the Eberron Campaign Guide. While I’ve followed Eberron since its acceptance into the D&D campaign setting contest (where it beat my entry, which I can’t promise wasn’t titled “Ninja World”) but I have yet to run or play in any kind of Eberron campaign. Between Bartoneus’s new found obsession with the world, e’s love of the setting, and the release of the 4e version, that may soon change. Some of the resistance to playing it before has been a dislike among some of my group to steampunk. While Eberron is more nuanced than simply a steampunk setting, there’s some clear resistance to the idea.

While I’m not as enamored with steampunk as some people, I do think it’s an interesting genre for an RPG setting. There’s plenty of possibilities for different player characters, as well as fascinating gadgets. But what do you think about the genre?

[poll id=”134″]

If you have any experiences playing a steampunk game, we’d love to hear about that too.

About Dave

Dave "The Game" Chalker is the Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder of Critical Hits. Since 2005, he has been bringing readers game news and advice, as well as editing nearly everything published here. He is the designer of the Origins Award-winning Get Bit!, a freelance designer and developer, son of a science fiction author, and a Master of Arts. He lives in MD with e, their three dogs, and two cats.


  1. Tom Cadorette says:

    Eberron really *isn’t* steampunk. Then again, as Jess Nevins points out, what we call steampunk today isn’t really steampunk. 🙂

    In any event, sure, Eberron has high magic elements that resemble technology, but I think that’s where the similarity ends.

  2. Hence my saying Eberron is more nuanced than that. 🙂

    I think it’s the impression it gives off from art and such, with Warforged and lightning rails and all.

  3. That’s a ‘yes’ for me.

    I can understand some people not wanting any technology in their fantasy … but for those that do, classic Steampunk offers a retro feel that’s a little less harsh on ones sense of escapism that the developmental extremes of Iron Kingdoms, for example. For me, the additional intrigue that comes with a not-widely-understood level of Renaissance technology can add a very sepia-tinged sense of the unknown while still remaining more in the realms of fantasy than reality.

    Of course, this is all par for the course from someone currently working up a homebrew Steampunk world for 4E.

  4. I enjoy me some Steampunk.

    As for the Steampunk/Eberron question, I think it comes down to this for me:

    Steampunk is (at its roots) Sci-Fi, as applied to a victorian-ish era mindset.

    Eberron (the part that people claim is Steampunk) is Fantasy, as applied to a victorian-ish era mindset.

    So while the underlying mindset is similar, the execution and result are very, very different.

  5. Lunatyk says:

    I never been into steampunk… though I don’t dislike it per se…

  6. I’m a fan of various genres but Steampunk is definitely something that fascinates me more than most others. I have to say Graham’s analysis of steampunk vs. Eberron seems to be right on the money.

    To this day one of the first things I think of when I hear steampunk is still a clockwork tarrasque with a steam breath weapon from one of Dave’s epic games.

  7. (Pedantic Nitpicking alert) Having been a fan of Gibson’s work from the moment he published Neuromancer, I think that many lost the meaning of what (theme)Punk means.

    The Core concept of Punk is a bleak world with a lot of Attitude. Characters blur the edges between hero and anti-hero and such. Thus, I don’t think that Eberron qualifies as Steampunk, much like Girl Genius isin’t Steampunk either.

    Regardless, Eberron fells to be an awesome Magitech environment and I’d love to be introduced to it. I decided not to buy the 3.5 books because I don’t play in published settings but the buzz is indeed louder and louder. I’m tempted to look at it for sure.
    .-= The Chatty DM´s last blog ..Guest Posters Wanted: Gen Con Hiatus =-.

  8. The_Gun_Nut says:

    Would you consider the Iron Kingdoms to be closest to steampunk in that regards? Since the continent of Western Immoren is locked in a state of heavy warfare, with one foe that is literally god-like in power that desires the end/subjugation to all life in the world, the world looks pretty bleak. There is some hope, but it is a candle against the bonfires of war.

  9. I’ve played a Victoriana game with steampunk. It was a light-hearted game, which one of the players thought meant comedy game. He blew his character up accidentally, thinking nothing bad could happen. Turns out the character was OK, because the cave was filled with plotonium.

    @Graham: Eberron isn’t really fantasy applied to Victorian sensibilities. It’s fantasy applied to 1930s noir films. It has far more in common with the Maltese Falcon than anything else.

    @ChattyDM: I wouldn’t have called Eberron steampunk either. However, I can safely say that the 3.5 campaign setting book is beautiful. The 4th ed Player’s Guide changes the beautiful noirish artwork from the original to decent fantasy artwork. I’ve no idea what the inside of the 4th ed Campaign Setting book looks like.

  10. @KBKarma –

    Good point. I was more thinking tech level when I said Victorian, but attitude is very Maltese Falcon.

    So put “Technological” in between “Victorian” and “mindset” in my previous comment, and it’s better.

  11. Thasmodious says:

    I generally dislike Steampunk, not my thing. And since I loves me some Eberron, you can count me in the crowd that doesn’t think what Eberron does is steampunk at all.

  12. I was planning to run an Eberron campaign (none of my group has played that setting before). There was a lot of resistance to the technology of the setting, so I adapted it to a “young Eberron” setting where the technology is just beginning to emerge and isn’t fully utilized yet. So far, so good. Maybe some day I will get them to play in the real Eberron 😉

  13. All the D&D games I GM are in Eberron. Because of my players, the feel of the culture tends to gravitate toward a more modern take rather than Maltese Falcon or Victorian-era, but the tech level is where things get fascinating. To me, the appeal of steam-tech is to see familiar applications fulfilled by strange devices. Instead, I use magitech.

    The way I look at it, Eberron is in a sort of Earth-parallel development, but they use magic instead of science. People will always be willing to pay for things that help them communicate, travel, do things more efficiently, and make war. Eberron has been steeped in the arcane for so long that a lot of devices that are magic in my Eberron serve the same purpose.

    Instead of radios (IMC), there are skulls with wands sticking out the top called ‘chatters’. You take out the wand and point in the direction of another ‘chatter’ and your voice comes out on that other one, and vice versa. Even in core, there are birdskull communicators made in sets to talk with each other over miles. Instead of guns, there are pistol-gripped wands. Instead of internal combustion engines, there are bound elementals. Instead of loudspeakers, there are simple sound-amplification spells. Etcetera. In my campaign, the Giants even experimented with early forms of ‘cogitators’ to do sums and intelligently control very complex magical reactions (although using bound, willing ghosts to do the thinking probably isn’t the best way to mass-produce computers :P).

    In Eberron, people still need these sorts of things done, but they use magic means to do it.

  14. Well, I’m convinced that Eberron is not steampunk, but that perception by people’s first exposure to it is out there.

  15. I think if Eberron, for whatever bizarre reasons, gets a wider audience interested in Steampunk then it’s definitely a good thing.

    Also it appears I just broke 1,000 comments here on CH, and Dave informed me that apparently I’m only 75 comments behind him. Several years ago I had a sizeable lead, what happened?! I’m coming for you Dave…watch out!

  16. I enjoy steampunk, but I’m actually more partial to its often forgotten cousin “retro-futurism”. That’s a when a story is set in how the past envisioned the future. Stuff like “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow” and “The Rocketeer”. It is a way to do a more light-hearted steampunk. Plus you get to play with zeppelins and jetpacks!
    .-= Nicholas´s last blog ..Dungeon Notes #24 =-.

  17. @Nicholas: Retro-Futurism! Woohoo! What I think is really interesting is when things like steampunk and retro-futurism are applied in subtle ways to something like the way that Batman (specifically The Animated Series) has a lot of aspects of retro-futurism in it that seemingly popped up at random! Also there’s the the fact that ‘The Rocketeer’ is still one of my favorite movies, so I’m definitely with you on being more partial to it.

  18. Lunatyk says:

    @Jayj: that’s kinda what I do with Exalted, use magic to make modern (and future!) use equipment… in fact, I think I’ll steal the radio-skull idea!



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