RPG Story Time – Ian’s Steampunk Circus

Years ago, I had a sad. I had moved away from my uni town of Chichester, and my old gaming group were no longer round the corner; they were a two hour train ride away and I had a job in London that involved an exhausting and expensive commute, and as a result we saw each other less and less. No more evenings-into-early mornings of Magic the Gathering, and no more regular RPG goodness. We’d ended Elberwick months ago, but we’d still had one-night sessions of D20 Past. But I was back in my hometown of East Grinstead, and I had only Ian  around to do RPG stuff with.

D&D 4th edition had been out for about a year, and I was still deluded enough to think that it was a good game. I’d just picked up the Forgotten Realms Players Guide for the sexy new Swordmage and genasi stuff, and was desperate to run a game. One day, Ian and I were talking, and eventually talk turned to Warmachine and RPGs.

“Why don’t I run a steampunk RPG?” I said.

“OMG YES.” was Ian’s reply.

And thus we started a new campaign, with Ian as the sole player. I’d played in and run solo campaigns before, with mixed success, mostly good. Solo campaigns end up being bigger on story rather than combat, as you can make the narrative very personal and in-depth.

All this falls apart when you have a player who has a ton of character concepts. Eventually, we narrowed the characters down to four; a dwarf cleric, a warforged fighter, an elf ranger, and a half-elf warlock. As D&D 4th is very combat-orientated, we hit upon an idea; one of these four characters would be the main character who the story revolved around, and the other three would essentially be extra muscle and walking plot hooks. Ian would run all four characters.

Due to Ian’s love of all things short and belligerent, we decided that the dwarf cleric would be the main character; Fargrim Steel, expert mechanic! One of the awesome things about D&D 4th is that it’s very easy to re-skin and re-flavour; instead of a cleric, Fargrim was a “mechanist”. Instead of Healing Word, he had a “Regenerative Accelerator”, instead of Lance of Faith, he had a “Photonic Handcannon”, and so on. There was liberal use of the words “voltaic”, “pneumatic”, “alchemical”, and so on.



Fargrim had been imprisoned by the Authority, the human-supremacist empire that were the bad guys of the campaign; basically, all non-human races had either been wiped out or enslaved. Dwarfs were press-ganged as mechanics and scientists, elves were snipers, saboteurs, and trackers, half-elves and genasi were genetic experiments created by the Authority special ops, and so on.  Fargrim had caught the attention of the Authority because of his breakthroughs in “artificial telekinesis”, aka repulsor technology, which the Authority’s Department of Innovation had a massive science-boner for. The campaign started with Fargrim in an Authority detention centre. Luckily he was going to be rescued by…


His brother, Kargrim! Kargrim was essentially Alphonse from Full Metal Alchemist, in that he was the soul of Fargrim’s brother bound into a suit of armour following a terrible accident. He was a warforged fighter with rocket fists on chains, just like Mr Wink from Hellboy 2. Kargrim was there to bash down doors and utterly ruin the day of everyone behind those doors. Kargrim simply did a Kool-Aid Man and blasted a hole in the detention centre walls, ready to save his brother. Meanwhile, on the other side of the prison were two Authority agents who were also trying to break Fargrim free…



Natasha and Mantis! Natasha was a Russian elf sniper with a steampunk spider animal companion, and Mantis was a half-elf warlock with creepy vampiric powers. These two had basically had enough of the Authority’s bullshit, and were ready to break Fargrim free, escape, and do… something?

So, yeah. We put some our favourite elements from Star Wars, Eberron, Warmachine, Hellboy 2, Metal Gear Solid, Warhammer 40,000, and several anime (Escaflowne, Full Metal Alchemist, Elfen Lied) into a blender, and hit the switch. We ran the campaign for five sessions before it finally fizzled out, but it was great fun. We had the prison break session, then a highway escape (so throw Matrix Reloaded in there as well), then a few sessions as the characters explored Fargrim’s workshop (which was crawling with Authority goons)… and then we made up a second group of four characters (a goblin mage, a genasi swordmage, and what was essentially a Big Daddy and Little Sister from Bioshock) with the deluded idea that the two groups would pursue separate story lines until finally coming together in an epic climax, probably involving a zeppelin, giant steampunk robots, and eldritch horrors.

That obviously didn’t happen, but we had fun while it lasted, and it was great practice for me to DM and for Ian to play; actually, I think this campaign was his first real tabletop RPG experience, bar some meddling with Inquisitor when we were at school.

I miss that mishmash campaign setting sometimes. Then again, I’ve just recently got the Iron Kingdoms Full Metal Fantasy RPG, so who knows? Maybe the Authority will make a comeback, and maybe the Steel brothers will be there as well to put them in their place. We’ll see.



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