Shrouded in Steam, We Walk These Streets
Tomorrow, Jobbers Tales #2 is coming. It’s in our new signature streamlined digest format. The plan is to increase the releases of adventures for RunePunk as well. There are countless stories to be told in ScatterPoint and we intend to tell some of them. Folks have also been asking if we were ever going to get around to doing guidebooks. The answer is yes. I’m sorting out the structure and diving into the District of Dark Hope, GreyMesa. The exact schedule of how all this is going to turn out is up in the air, but I’m excited to be writing for the setting I first cut my teeth on. The madness where I learned a lot of things, made some friends, and discovered the laborious process of constructing an entire milieu from my imagination.
While steampunk is hot and all the cool kids seem to be wearing goggles these days, let’s go back a few years. This is definitely a retrospective piece, so imagine your screen is doing the fuzzy flashback camera to come to settle upon me in its crystal clarity in Spring of ’04. At the time, I was one of a handful of folks who glommed on to China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station and I absolutely loved it. I was exploring new systems and stumbled across Savage Worlds in my quest and procured a copy through the Pinnacle Forums. Another guy had a copy at his shop–it was pretty much sold out everywhere and through its print run, so it was catch as catch can. Shane was at the helm and getting a license required going through some steps. I sent a short pitch in, stating I wanted to work on RunePunk, and the elevator pitch was Stormbringer meets steampunk. He gave me the high sign to put something together. I presented him with the bare skeleton of the setting book at Archon ’04, he read through it, and my contract with Shane was signed in the front of my copy of 50 Fathoms. Pretty cool, eh? We could say the rest is history, but that’s leaving a lot of the story out.
I knew I’d get better. It made sense. I’ve seen other companies start out a bit rough around the edges and they either improved or disappeared. I didn’t want to make mistakes, but I did. The art could’ve been better, but not having connections, I muddled along the best I did. The writing could be better. The editing could be better, but we were all learning. (This was one of the first things Jodi ever edited.) Savage Worlds was still young, but despite these faults, people were drawn to the setting. At the time, there was nothing else like it on the market. Castle Falkenstein was Victorian steampunk mixed with traditional fantasy elements. Deadlands had steampunk and magic, but was drenched in Western tropes (and we love it because of that). RunePunk took its own path. I drew inspiration from a number of my influences, Fritz Leiber, L. Sprague de Camp, Michael Moorcock, and China Influences. Over the course of developing the setting, it had evolved radically. The Victorian elements were still present, but this was an entirely new and twisted city, a city beyond time and space, a massive, sprawling city with a definitely dystopian vibe (thanks, in part, to Mervyn Peake and his delightful Gormengahst books). ScatterPoint came to life, a phoenix risen from the ashes, with people far removed from the sprawling metropolis of their past. The races are weird and different, and underscore the Gothic elements of the city. Humans still survive, as they ever do, but work in harmony with half-demon Malakar, ghostly Andari, the ratlike humanoid, Ferren, and their machine-men, the Overwrought. I spent a lot of time anguishing over place names, people names, and the names of the races and every little detail until I was completely satisfied with them. This process took about two years. At the same time, I was learning to develop new mechanics while I learned the game. Believe it or not, I did not go into this as the rules guy I have become.
To tell the stories you want to tell, you have to be able to let the players create the characters you want to be the actors in the story. You cannot compromise. Well, technically, you can, but if you do, you are cheating yourself, and your work will ring hollow and untrue. I brought Racial Edges to the fore in Savage Worlds with RunePunk, unlike anything which had proceeded it. I created a well-regarded plot point, and lavished as much attention on it as I was able. When I was finished, I was spent. It was two long years of work. Two years of lovingly crafting something utterly unique. Every second was worth it.
I have been longing to get back to the city, to ScatterPoint, to see old friends, familiar faces, and steam-shrouded old haunts. People continue to play RunePunk and we have released a handful of things for it, but not what it deserves. I, for one, intend to finally rectify that. I’m ready.
Until next time, I bid you, dear reader, adieu!