How to Build a Convincing Steampunk World
If you’ve gone past the standard fantasy genre and want to bring a new setting to your players or readers, then you want to give Steampunk a try. One reason why fantasy is so beloved is that it’s familiar. It draws on tropes and history that everyone has some understanding of. Steampunk does something similar. Here are a few steps on how to make your steampunk world convincing.
1. Create a Solid History
Steampunk describes a world in which steam power overcame electrical power. While there are sub-genres within Steampunk, the parent genre itself is all about steam-powered inventions. It’s an industrial revolution built on the power of steam.
It’s also typically set in the Victorian era with the appropriate culture and clothes attached.
In order to make your steampunk world convincing, you need to firmly establish a point in history where your world branches off. Take a look through the busy historical events that occurred within the Victorian era. If your players or readers are well-versed in Victorian history, then you’re free to choose an obscure point in time that they may recognize.
Those who aren’t well-versed in Victorian history may need a broader and more general point in time where your world makes its own bold tangent.
Once you have that point, it’s time to create your world’s history. How does it differ from real history? Who is responsible for emphasizing steam-powered engines and inventions? What’s kept the society from further advancing into electrical power? What does the political structure look like?
Having a few key points in your world’s history can help you give your world a legitimate background that feels real and convincing.
2. Make Distinct Social Structures
Steampunk differs from fantasy worlds in that the stories are mostly in an urban setting. The adventures in a fantasy world have players exploring tombs, dungeons, and distant lands. Steampunk worlds focus mainly on the city or cities, themselves. While you may be zooming through a war-torn wasteland on a steam-powered motorcycle, it’s likely that most of your story takes place within the city, itself.
That’s because the city should be huge.
It should also consist of blatant social structures. You should have the ruling class, the nobility, the merchants or tradesmen, the common workers, and the poor. Each one should reside within their districts. While there’s likely going to be transitional areas, you can make your world feel more convincing when your NPCs react to a player or character who doesn’t quite belong in the district they’re traveling to.
Each social structure should have their own clothes, hairstyles, the architecture of their homes should be different, and even the syntax or vernacular they use to speak with should vary slightly.
All of these details can make your steampunk world convincing and feel real.
3. Make Zany Inventions
A hallmark of steampunk is the incredible inventions that are made. They don’t have to make sense. They just need to be flashy and loud. You can always include standard steampunk tropes like steam-powered airships, Gatling guns, and eyepieces, but this is the moment where you can unleash your creativity.
Perhaps there’s a central engine that powers your city’s lights and electricity. Why not come up with some incredible invention for that? Perhaps it’s a steam-powered man or woman that’s been tricked into slave labor. What consequences will the city face if your players or characters choose to free the engine and remove central power from the city? What kind of chaos will ensue?
Why not have fun with your players by inventing incredible weapons for them to use? Or inventive enemies for them to face?
Inventions that are out-of-this-world, based in steam power, and are just a lot of fun to use can make your steampunk world more enjoyable to be in and appear more convincing.
Build Your Steampunk World Today
Worldbuilding a steampunk world can be a lot of fun. It requires a different kind of creativity than typically used to build fantasy worlds. Following the above tips can help you build a steampunk world that is rich in life, fun to be in, and seems realistic. Let me know in the comments some details of your own steampunk worlds!