Tips on How to Write a World with a Dieselpunk Aesthetic

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One of the most exciting genres to explore for any author, game designer, or tabletop game designer is steampunk. Yet there are plenty of sub-genres within steampunk that can offer even more exciting tales, interesting characters, and engaging stories. To help you create your world with dieselpunk aesthetics, here are a few tips to consider. 

Figure Out Your Variants

Besides being a sub-genre of steampunk, dieselpunk actually contains several sub-genres within its own right. We’ll likely write a post about each of these genres eventually, but just for your knowledge now, some of the variants of dieselpunk are:

  • Atompunk
  • Diesel Dystopia
  • Diesel Desolation
  • Diesel Noir
  • Deco Punk

The general public are likely more familiar with Atompunk. The game series Fallout has done well in creating a strong fanbase by introducing them to the ideas and aesthetics involved in Atompunk. If you want to explore this sub-genre further, then one idea might be to give the official Fallout board game a try. This is a great idea for those interested in making a homebrew tabletop campaign in an Atompunk world. Those who just want to understand the aesthetics for their own book or other projects may enjoy taking a dip in the Atompunk-styled world. 

All of these sub-genres aside, you need to decide what aesthetics and themes you actually want in your world. Vanilla dieselpunk is a world that focuses on retro-futuristic technology. The setting is typically in the 1920s and often extends even to the Second World War. Because this is a time where civilians were coming out of the Great War, your campaign or book can really come to life when you allude to how society was functioning following the end of the war. What was the general feeling about life, family, politics, and war, in general?

In regards to dieselpunk, itself, you’ll see most of technology powered by diesel engines rather than steam engines which is typical of steampunk settings. It imagines a world that was not hit by The Great Depression. Instead, the world, and particularly the United States, blossomed in both industry and economy. New innovations were made. Technology was developed quickly. 

Many consider dieselpunk to be the dirtier side of both cyberpunk and steampunk. The heroes are typically from the common workforce. They may even be societal pariahs. Yet their unique skills or talents drive them to help change certain aspects of the world that they disagree with. Fate grants them a chance to better themselves and society as a whole. 

Use Propaganda to Push Your Story

One of the most important aesthetics in dieselpunk is its tendency to use propaganda to push society into believing in certain things. Dieselpunk is when the radio takes its place as the king of entertainment and information. Radio dramas, war news, advertisement jingles, carefully dictacted propaganda, all of these elements are what brings a dieselpunk world to life. 

You should include them. 

Why have certain NPCs offer quests and missions to your characters when the radio can do it for them? If you have regular jingles, broadcasts, or even radio dramas, you can really add something unique and immersive to your story. Perhaps your characters hear a particular piece of news from a broadcast that prompts them to investigate something. Maybe someone is suspicious about the new fish factory that just opened up and a certain jingle only stirs their suspicions further. 

If you want to know how to do jingles and propaganda right, then you need to play The Outer Worlds. This game did an incredible job of writing catchy jingles that can easily get stuck in your head. Yet as you explore more certain corporations further, the jingles start to take on a new meaning. If you want to truly surprise and shock your players or readers, then creating jingles that have two different meanings–one they discover later–could be a great experience for them. 

Another aspect is radio dramas. You don’t have to come up with long-winded dramas. Even a drama that only has a few lines can make one of your characters extremely interested. The idea is to create an immersive world. In a world that’s made up of dieselpunk aesthetics, you can be sure that they’re going to be listening to radio dramas in their everyday life. 

The Conflict

Every good novel or campaign needs a conflict. The setting of dieselpunk can offer plenty of them. Some love to actually use World War 1 as their preferred conflict. Much like World War 2, it was as impactful at home as it was abroad. People had to come together to create the weapons and technology needed in order to defeat their enemies. 

Putting a dieselpunk twist on this could include experiments. This is an aesthetic often used in settings that include World War 2. Nazi experimentation is rampant. You may find your characters facing experiments gone wrong, advanced weapons, perhaps even some incredible machines that are powered by a diesel engine.

Perhaps the conflict comes after the war. If one of the World Wars went poorly, what would the world look like with a dieselpunk twist? Is there a world at all? Perhaps your characters have to survive in a world where having an automobile means life. Which means they need to do everything in their power to keep their automobiles running and fueled up. 

Since this is also the time of corporations, perhaps there’s something amiss in the mass-produced food everyone is eating. Mind control? Experimentation not unlike trying to awake Mutant genes from The X-Men series? The possibilities are endless.

Humans or Fantasy Characters?

One final tip to consider is to ask yourself what the citizens of your world look like. While dieselpunk typically focuses on human history, it doesn’t necessarily need to. Why not imagine the 1920s with elves, dwarves, and half-orcs running around? Perhaps half-orcs are a new experimentation from the Nazis, acting as super soldiers? They may even be enslaved. 

Dwarves could be the heroes of the dieselpunk world with their uncanny ability to create incredible engine-powered technology and machines. 

Elves may be involved in the corporations or perhaps they’re a band of naturalists who chafe against the new world of fuel and steel. Of course, you could always follow the Diminished Elf trope and make them the large majority of the poor in the cities. 

Once you figure out the species that you want to use in your world, you can then take known tropes about them and fit them in places that make sense in a dieselpunk world. Or you can completely turn their tropes on their heads and try something new and exciting. Perhaps World War 1 or 2 is actually a massive-scale war fight between the elves and dwarves or the elves and humans or dwarves and half-orcs. 

I always figure out the origins of my species before I start laying out history. I figure out how they got there and what industry they would be involved in based on the regional and geographical area that they migrated. Then I can start developing history for them. You only need a small basis for their history before launching them into the modern world. A modern twist on elves, dwarves, and other fantasy characters could be a lot of fun to explore!

Start Your Engines!

Let us know in the comments if you end up running a dieselpunk campaign or include the setting in your next novel, podcast drama, or game. What are some tips you can offer the others?

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