How to Write an Atompunk World
The next sub-genre of steampunk and cyberpunk that we’ll be exploring is atompunk. When it comes to understanding the aesthetics involved in atompunk, you only need to look at the Fallout series. Yet if you want to put your own spin on atompunk or you’re wondering how you can use it in your tabletop campaign, then here are a few ideas and tips to keep in mind.
What is Atompunk?
Before you start developing your cities and NPCs, you first need to understand what atompunk actually is. The world of atompunk consists of a style that is called retrofuturistic. It overlaps slightly with dieselpunk in terms of when atompunk is set. Atompunk was first considered in the late 1940s as the war was wrapping up. Where dieselpunk focuses on diesel engines, atompunk instead turned towards an optimistic future based on nuclear power.
The idea behind it was that if humankind was able to split the atom, then they were capable of doing anything. This sense of optimism and ingenuity prompted the early invention of flying cars, technical weapons, and shining cities.
Atompunk art typically harkens back to the 1950s. In fact, atompunk, itself, features the culture and styles of the late 1940s to 1965. Pin-ups wearing spacesuits and advertising some products are common.
The clothing of atompunk is another important feature to get right. If you’re someone who likes to offer clothing options for their players, or you need to be sure you can accurately describe atompunk clothing in your book, then you need look no further than clothes that were popular in the 1950s. That means bright colors, modest necklines, and a few space-age twists.
As anyone who knows 1950s history understands, advertisements were everywhere. With a radio in practically everyone’s home and TVs slowly following suit, companies took advantage of being inside of people’s homes to hawk their wares. The Outer Worlds is another great example of using advertisements to bring your world to life. Considering it was made by the same developers who made Fallout: New Vegas, it’s no wonder that The Outer Worlds did an incredible job of portraying a new kind of atompunk world–one controlled by corporations.
Every great campaign or story needs conflict. They can be small in scope or massive. One interesting historical event that you can play with for your campaign is The Cold War. This is a period of time in which subterfuge and stealth were the orders of the day. Set in the world of atompunk, you could still have the main forces be between the United States and USSR if you wish.
However, you can also bring it a bit closer to home by pitting corporation against corporation. Or perhaps city against city. While atompunk focuses on a utopian society, humanity is anything but capable of handling utopia. You may even have the cold war break out into a hot war that sweeps your characters up into it.
Because atompunk encompasses a modern setting, your characters may even have jobs. What sort of drama can be found in each of their professions? Are they career-oriented? If so, then you can give them tests and encounters that they need to accomplish in order to please the boss and work their way up the ladder. Modern settings offer an array of new challenges and adventures for your characters to face. Of course, you can still throw in radiated monsters that plague towns on the fringe of society.
Finally, you’ll need to consider the NPCs that make up your world. Your players or readers will need to either create their own atompunk character or connect to the narrator of your story. When designing NPCs and other characters, it’s important that you understand the culture of atompunk. Because it’s set in the 1950s, there’s an emphasis on good manners, polite language, and the strict structure found within the nuclear family. That means the men are in charge and go to work and the women stay home to take care of the children.
Naturally, you can always put your own spin on this dynamic. Perhaps it’s the opposite.
The 1950s was also a time when slang was tossed around like no one’s business. You can rely on the staples like “bee’s knees,” “ain’t that a bite,” and “flick,” or you can do your search by looking through The Fifties Web to give you even more ideas. Once your characters start using some of this slang, you can make your world come to life.
Style was everything in the 1950s. Your characters and NPCs should take their hair and clothes seriously. It was a serious time of “keeping up with the Joneses.” They need the best car, the best house, the best yard, and the best family dog. Appearances are everything. Yet, just like with any restrictive and repressive society, the cracks are likely going to show eventually. How do the NPCs in your world deal with the stress? Drugs? Sex? Good ole rock ‘n roll?
You can easily develop factions in this world as well. Gangs, mafia, and scientific organizations abound. Don’t forget, too, that this era takes place just after World War 2. Many of your characters, if they were old enough to serve, may have some trauma from the war that puts a damper on their, otherwise, shiny and utopian mindset.
Create Your Atompunk World Today!
Let us know in the comments the kind of ideas, characters, cities, and encounters that you use for your atompunk world! If you have any other ideas or tips, then let the others know as well!