Curmudgeon Reviews

| Tuesday, 29 July 2014 | |
I was born in the White City, the City of Broad Shoulders, Hog Butcher to the World. Chicago’s fantastic growth from but a Midwestern swamp to the world’s greatest railroad hub, a sprawling metropolis of over a million residents by the time of the World’s Columbian exposition of 1893 epitomizes the Steampunk genre, particularly one set within the United States.

All told, I lived 36 years in what later became the Rust Belt—a memorialized region built on the coal, steel, steam, and industry of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Today, much of the region from Pittsburgh and Rochester to Milwaukee and St. Louis lies in abandoned ruins, scarcely recollected monuments to that former glory of progress, industry, and optimism.

It was these roots that probably led me down the rabbit hole into Steampunk.


What is Steampunk anyway?

We all know what steampunk is right? and when it took place?

If you have your own definition already, then you may be sorely disappointed with my personal definitions, which I generally keep fairly loose and broad. I’m not a particularly dogmatic person to begin with, and my contributions will reflect my personal sensibilities. I’ll back up my beliefs and opinions based on my sense of history (my BA degree), geography (my profession is cartography), and technology.

To me, Steampunk reflects the age from about 1860 to very roughly 1925. The American Civil War was the mother of invention for many of the marvelous devices and weapons that make up the Steampunk world. In 1863, Jules Verne—the father of science fiction—wrote “Paris in the Twentieth Century,” one of the first science fiction stories. That war brought about many technological advancements from the gatling gun to the gun turret. Photography and the telegraphy, inventions from the previous 20-odd years, became widespread in a way that could not be imagined prior to the war. I probably won’t receive very many arguments regarding this date.

But the 1920s?

World War I is rightfully the end of the steampunk era. It was the time when the horrors of technological advancement replaced the optimism that technology represented. Mustard gas, the Paris Gun, tanks, Zeppelins and airplanes became the reality that steampunk era hoped for. It was the end of empires, the end of innocence, and the end of imperialist expansion.

The Russian Civil War (1918–1922) was the last conflict in which cavalry played a major role, and much of it was fought along isolated railroad lines through the expansive taiga. Following in the footsteps of Burton, Speke, Livingston, and Stanley, Percey Fawcett was the last of the great Victorian explorers; he disappeared in the Amazonian jungle in 1925. And while H.P. Lovecraft was finally starting to write his best known works in the 1920s, they often reflected the more innocent times before the Great War.

BORING! What about gaming?

Unlike my co-contributors, I don’t play IHMS. Frankly, there are so many other systems that I just haven’t wandered into that realm. Not that I won't. I just haven't up to this point.

Fear not, however. My experience is a bit more old-school. I’ve tried to adapt Deadlands (with the newer Savage Worlds system) into a more Steampunk setting and I hope to do the same with D&D 3.5/Pathfinder rules. As long as I find victims…er…willing participants, I’ll try almost any game system, and I’ll be happy to report it here.

But what I really love are the miniatures themselves. North Star, publisher of IHMS, has a number of very fine miniatures. But there are numerous other foundries out there that produce terrific minis that perhaps you might not have heard of. I hope to expand the horizons of what is possible instead of simply illustrating what is. Given my background, most of what I intend on reporting upon will be about 28mm (25-32mm…because I'm not dogmatic!) and suitable for individual RPG rather than armies vs. armies.

Lastly, while there are many systems and minis that I would love to cover, every thing that I’ll report on will be with a budget in mind. Come September, I will be entering graduate school here in Maine, and my playtime budget isn’t where I’d like it to be. Unless a generous manufacturer chooses to share their wares, I will necessarily be forced to report on what I can afford. That might even suit most of you, the readers of this blog. That will also limit the game systems that I will be able to report on as well.

Unlike Paul, I don't know French. I can't offer a White Wine Sauce, but I do enjoy a good ale. I hope you'll all enjoy what I present.

auf Wiederspielen,
-Ken Groß


6 comments:

inhermajestysname Says:
29 July 2014 at 21:41

Hi Ken, a couple of points worth noting:
1. Osprey publish IHMN, not Northstar. Nick was kind enough to support the game with a small range of figures but we encourage players to use whatever figures they fancy or have to hand and have written a full points system that allows you to do just that.
2. IHMN, despite the publishers' label on the front of the book is not Steampunk. It is Victorian Science Fiction, in that it is written with a full appreciation of the beliefs and sensibilities of the period and based around the works of the early science fiction writers. Steampunk is a wonderful fantasy but contains much that would not be recognised by the people of the time, including very liberal attitudes to both good manners and sensible dress :)
Cheers,
Craig

David Drage Says:
30 July 2014 at 05:22

Ken,

Welcome to the team. I am happy to say that you have a somewhat different take on VSF and Steampunk to my own, so it should add an interesting degree of variety to the blog!

Ken Gross Says:
30 July 2014 at 08:42

Craig,

I am terribly humiliated! I KNOW that Osprey Publishing is responsible for IHMN, and yet my brain suffered an epic fail as I was writing this. Please accept my apologies for typing too quickly and for not double checking my facts before hitting "Publish!"

Regarding "Steampunk" vs. "VSF," I had a feeling that someone out there would point out something. That is why, in fact, I made such as effort with outlining my notion of the timeline.

I should, however, point out that the name of this blog is "Steampunk Miniatures Review," and in keeping with the style set by David, I chose to use the more fantasy driven term.

In addition, I should also point out that Osprey itself describes IHMN as a "Steampunk Skirmish [Wargame]." (http://bit.ly/1ldoGNT)

Lastly, I also did point out that I'm not particularly dogmatic. In my personal opinion (which is easily refutable), I believe that aspects of VSF, Steampunk, and even early Pulp overlap. For instance, Frankenstein's Monster—a creature created through science—potentially could find a home in any one of those three genres, depending on how it was applied. I personally am more intrigued with possibilities than with hard and fast rules. It gets me through real life, too.

Incidentally, my coworkers were talking to each other during break yesterday about attending comic conventions and cosplay and the like. Someone mentioned that Trekkies never show up to these events, but Star Wars fans do. Why? Because one show is rooted in science and one is rooted in fantasy.

One could easily say the same thing about battling the evil Martian Armies with a Maxim gun as opposed to tackling the Zombie Apocalypse in the Old West. Both are based on imagination, not facts. Let's just keep the fun in the game.

Speaking of fun, the next time the Royal Martian Fusiliers set forth from Olympus Mons Station, don't forget your umbrellas:

http://bit.ly/1oLf0za

David Drage Says:
30 July 2014 at 09:23

With this blog I have tried to cover all the different aspects of VSF/Steampunk. I am very aware that there are very different opinions about what VSF is and what Steampunk is!
I will add a page to the blog that lays out my definition of each sub-genre. We can get into a discussion about my definition once the page is up...
I gave the blog the Steampunk title as it was snappy (and yes, populist).

I certainly agree that Craig's rules are VSF, rather than Steampunk. Personally I would like to see a little more of the fantasy in them, but I think he has covered that online with the publication of the free IHMN Gothic supplement.

Paul oftheManCave Says:
30 July 2014 at 10:32

Welcome to the fray Ken!
I can see that you are already delightfully embroiled in the associated debates :-)

Ken Gross Says:
30 July 2014 at 14:52

When I break down doors, I always go looking for trouble.

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