GURPS Steampunk cover

GURPS Classic: Steampunk the winner of the Origins Award for Best RPG Supplement of 2000 looks at how the 19th century saw its own time and the future.

The Steampunk GenreEdit

This chapter goes into short details on the Steampunk Genre: its style, tones, and technology. In regards to the technology side of things the concept of Divergent Technology[1] is introduced. However all TL6 items, even those that actually existed in OTL are called TL(5+1).

The Spirit of the AgeEdit

"This chapter explores major trends in 19th century history and considers how they might have been changed, or how they might have appeared in a different setting." A timeline of our history from 1815-1914 to better flesh out these concepts is provided.[2]


Concepts for characters. In GURPS 4e terms these are Cultural Templates suited for a steampunk setting.

They are Aesthete, Navy/Army officer, Captain of Industry, Clergyman, Creation, Demimondaine, Detective, Engineer, Explorer, Inventor, Medium, Native Leader, Reckoner, Reformer, Reporter, Scientist, Servant, and Sportman.

A section with Advantages, Disadvantages, and Skills is also provided.

Matters of Life and DeathEdit

Duels, warfare, the Great Game (espionage), Criminal Investigations, Health and medicine, and Inventing the Past are all touched on in this chapter.

Marvelous InventionsEdit

The marvelous technological innovations both real and imagined are detailed in this chapter. Some items (or close equivalents) that have appeared in Steampunk-like settings are listed below:

  • Land Ironclad; TL5: appeared in "The Night of the Juggernaut" episode of The Wild Wild West TV series.
  • Iron Horse; TL(5+1): a steam powered mechanical horse.
  • Advanced Submarine; TL(5+1): Captain Nemo's submarine, the Nautilus, as described in the actual novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Powered by sodium-mercury batteries with cinematic output.[3] The short lived TV series The Return of Captain Nemo retconned this to atomic power which could be viewed as TL6^ or normal TL7.[4]
  • Aerial Dreadnaught; TL(5+1): effectively a Steampunk version of SHIELD's helicarrier.
  • Sky City; TL(5+1): Bioshock Infinite's Columbia is a close analog though it could be argued to be TL6^.
  • Solar Steamer; TL(5+1): ethericly powered space ship. Close analog seen in Treasure Planet.
  • Time Machine; TL(5+n): one version of HG Wells famous time machine. This version is powered by a spring that takes 600,000/ST seconds to rewind to its full 2,000 seconds of travel time.[5]
  • Atavismine; TL(5+1): a devolution drug; a TL7^ analog appears in Monster on the Campus (1956). Likely inspired by the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde novel.
  • Automata (aka Mechanical Men); TL(5+x): Dr Loveless uses a air presured powered man in the "The Night of Miguelito's Revenge" episode of The Wild Wild West TV series .

Weird ScienceEdit

The 19th century had concepts, later disproved by later theories, that if true can result in even more fantastic inventions.

Luminiferous aetherEdit

It was known that light was a wave and Newtonian physics said that waves had to travel though something and so the Luminiferous aether was proposed. In many respects it was a repackaging of Aristotle's fifth element

  • "Reactionless" Drives: despite the term these theoretical drives were not reactionless in a Newtonian sense; they pushed against the aether and required energy in the form of fuel to do so. But because Newtonian physics had no limits on how fast or long something could be accelerated it was possible for FTL travel to be possible.
  • Etheric Shock: Given that FTL travel is possible under Newtonian physics it was reasoned something similar to a sonic boom should happen when something when past the speed of light. These etheric shockwaves themselves travel at FTL speeds.


While covered under reactionless drives antigravity 19th century physics suggest two alternatives.

  • Gravity Shields: a process (chemical, mechanical, or electomagetical) that insulates against gravity.
  • Negative Mass: matter that falls up rather then down Upsidaisium from Rocky and His Friends is a prime example of something with negative mass.

Élan vitalEdit

Elan vital was more then simply the spark of life. It also served to explain the concept of hypnotic "animal magnetism". It helped create the concept of men made from either corpses or chemicals.[6]

Psychical ResearchEdit

The Victorian era saw the first attempts at investigating apparently mystical and supernatural experiences scientifically.[7]

Magnetism in this context referred to hypnotic or a psionic power over people.

Ghosts and even magic were looked at. Magic such a setting can fall into the fairy tale magic (ala Wizard of Oz) or ritual magic (ala [Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn Order of the Dawn])

The Grand TourEdit

The world of the 19th century both real and imagined.

The PlanetsEdit

How the 19th century viewed the planets was very different from what would be learned in the 20th century.

Vulcan: hypothetical planet used to explain irregularities regarding the planet Mercury's orbit. Believed to be tidal locked with a sun side of 1200° F, twilight area of 950° F, and a night side near absolute zero (−459.67° F)

Mercury: believed to be tidal locked with a sun side of 640° F, twilight region of 465° F, and a night side near absolute zero (−459.67° F)

Venus: believed to have a mean temperature of 116° F, an atmosphere pressure twice that of Earth, and to have life. Humans would have to live near the poles as the temperature and humidity near the equator is lethal.

Mars: believed to have a mean temperature of 35° F and covered in canals.[8]

Jupiter: believed to have a mean temperature of -200° F.

Saturn: believed to have a mean temperature of -270° F. Uranus and Neptune are more of the same.

Steampunk CampaignsEdit

Four realities with very different tones of Steampunk: Etheria, Iron, Qabala, and Providence.

While first three are clearly different realities, Providence is more of a concept with a secret organization called Oculus Dei that uses the TL5 equivalent of computers (logical automata) behind world events than an actual setting.

Worlds of Steampunk expands on this.

Related MaterialEdit


Steampunk is often confused with Dieselpunk

Additional materialEdit


  1. The concept of technology that diverged from the main technology that existed in OTL
  2. This timeline can serve as the basis for an echo of the 1815-1914 period
  3. The specs in Steampunk are off the wall over the top gonzo: 1.8 billion kW/s or 1.8 tW/s which works out to be 6480 tW/h. This is more energy then is produced by any single powerplant on the planet!
  4. This is different from Robert Fulton's planned 1801 ship called the Nautilus which GURPS Steamtech lists as TL5. That ship was planned to have both a hand crank and a sail. It turned out to be too slow but Fulton came up with a steam powered version but died before the project could go anywhere.
  5. This set up is IMHO far to kludgy to model Wells' time machine and most adaptation follows the novel in avoiding the issue of what powers the machine all together.
  6. Frankenstein's Monster, in the novel is created via chemicals with the body parts made by Doctor Frankenstein via "the dissecting room and the slaughter-house".
  7. The term Parapsychology would not be coined until after the Great War and psionics came even later
  8. In 1907 Alfred Russell Wallace wrote "Is Mars Habitable?" which showed that air pressure and temperature of Mars made liquid water on Mars impossible. Wallace's conclusion would be summed up as the blunt "only a race of madmen would build canals under such conditions"