[OSR] "The Steam Hack"

I was experimenting with Twitter and FB but Neil asked me to copy my musings here:

‪I might have some time over the next 2 weeks. I'm thinking of typing up the 1st draft of a game that's been at the back of my mind for a bit. I've got someparts in my head. Should I share my design process and Twitter/FB or both? Some of my motives are not 100% honourable ‬
There's a great OSR game called The Black Hack. Stripped back, three chord D&D. All you need to play D&D in 20 pages. After it came out, loads of people published their own "Hacks". Even though D&D levels don't work for SHRPGs, I wrote "The Super Hack". It took a night.

I try to justify this in that I did playtest it - a bit. It does work. And it gives people wedded to the D&D template a cheap and easy SHRPG to play.

Yes it was basically a cash in, as well as an experiment, but it's a real proper game and brings in a couple of quid each and every month.


Hell, it's got a four star rating.

So now I'm thinking of writing "The Steam Hack". Steampunk rules.

Again the D&D template doesn't work for Steampunk, and I wouldn't be writing it to play myself.

I've already got a Steampunk game which I f@cking adore.


I'd be writing it as an experiment. As a cash in. To give those wedded to D&D a steampunk game they can play.

And because I can.

But this one is going to take a bit longer than one night. Steampunk is less combat oriented than D&D and SHRPGs.

But I've got some ideas.
‪The Steam Hack (2): disclaimer - if I do start posting my ideas and you give comments/feedback/suggestions I make no promise that this will be credited if a final product ever appears. It may just disappear into a black hole and when it appears I may have forgotten who said what.‬
(That last one got me a "telling off" from Newt on Twitter - along with some really useful advice.

For the record, I really don't mind differences of options or being told off when I make mistakes. I am someone who raises his head above the parapet sometimes and I don't always get things right first time. So I appreciate it when someone corrects me - especially if they turn out to be right.)

‪#TheSteamHack (3) - one key to OSR/Hack games is character classes.what classes in a Steampunk game? Engineer, scientists, ex- soldier, high society - once you start pulling the thread it goes on and on and some overlap. ‬

An equivalence with D&D classes is also useful.

‪Steampunk as a setting is meant to spark creativity, not limit choices. ‬

I've got an idea for "half classes" that you is and match to make a range of types. So far I've got:

Martial, Service, Scientist, technical, social, medicine, crime, commerce. Martial + service = soldier

‪Service + social = officer, service + technical = airship pilot, service + criminal = police officer, social + medicine = Harley Street etc.‬

Different half classes would have access to different skill sets. Most would add 3 to hit dice but Scientist would add 1 and Martial 5.

‪So most combinations would be 3+3= d6. Scientist combos would usually be 1+3=d4 - our Mage equivalent. Martial characters would usually end up as d8 - our fighters. We'd need to give scientists a big boost to encourage their selection and limit martial types a bit.‬

‪Last weekend I played "Owl Hoot Trail" - cowboy D&D - where D&D spells were DIRECTLY replaced with Steampunk devices. I'm seriously tempted to lift that for scientists. ‬
#THESTEAMHACK (4) the other "big idea" I had was about skills. TBH is combat based.Steampunk games are about using skills. The resolution system in TBH is binary. Skills need a more granular resolution.

What I though was, apply the "difficult opponents" rules to all challenges.

TBH you roll d20 under Str to hit an opponent. If the opponent is a higher level than you you add the level difference to the die roll. Neat rule.

I was thinking - apply this to all skill uses eg. Piloting. Airships could have levels.

Piloting a level 5 airship would be harder than a level 1.
#THESTEAMHACK (5) my other idea was to mate the use of skills with the "resource dice" rules. Ie. After using a skill you roll the die to see if it depletes. To represent fatigue etc. I hadn't thought this one through yet.
#THESTEAMHACK (6) aka "the wall". This is the stage where I hits issues/probably shelve the project. I tried two things - starting to type a text based upon the standard TBH template (I used my Superhack as a basis) - & listing the Steampunk "skills"/assigning them to classes.

The design juices just didn't flow when it came to listing the skills. I used a list from an older game as a basis expecting to kickstart my ideas but it didn't.

TBH etc has rules for Armour. These aren't needed in Steampunk game but I need to work out replacements for balance and justify this a bit.

Equipment-Steampunk players will want loads of cool gear but a lot of this I'd want to keep for scientists. Like skills, the muse hasn't struck.

ATM it feels like I've got some ideas but I'm missing a key element to kickstart my ideas and glue everything together. SLEEP ON IT!


Rune Priest
Are you over thinking the classes a bit? This is a Black Hack hack, so keep it broad and about the general type of thing they do:
The Action Hero: jumps around, breaks stuff, normal dumb hero stuff (fighters).
The Inventor: mad scientists and genius engineers (magic users).
The Seeker: a two-fisted archaeologist or an intrepid reporter, always looking for something (thieves).
The Wanderer: an explorer, an airship pilot, a flying boat captain, just wants to go somewhere (err...).
I don’t see why intending to earn a bit of money is “dishonourable”. You clearly have a skill that adds quality to other people’s lives, so own it and be proud of it. You never asked to be born into a Western Capitalist society, so don’t feel guilty that you have extra little ways to make your life in it that much better. I’d be proud if I could do this stuff.

1. My telling off moment - stop saying that your games are a cash-in! It makes the people who might buy it feel like idiots that are being fleeced. Its like going to a restaurant and the chef coming out to tell you that the ingredients are all dirt cheap but you're paying Michelin star prices for them, fools.

2. What is steampunk? Does it stretch beyond Victoriana? A lot of the recent D&D stuff has been revolving around core themes, like exploration. What are the core themes of Steampunk? Knowing these would create a good reference point for you, should you hit the Wall.

3. I like the idea of the half classes. Its cute and feels nice and flexible. Martin offers up some simplicity but this is the sort of wrinkle that I like.

4. Skills sounds spot on, especially in the 'OSR' application of skills. Don't define the skills that a half-class has, just let the player say 'Because I am an inventor, I want to ...' and then go with it. If they say something that is outside their scope, you could either say 'No' or apply a penalty

5. The Resource die sort of has to be the Invention die, right? Call it the Steampunk Dice. You create something steampunky and everytime you use it, it degrades.

If you get the chance, look up Widget Ridge on Kickstarter. Its a steampunk card game but the core involves cobbling together items in three parts. Its an interesting way to construct artefacts. Could be good for some random table action
#THESTEAMHACK (8): my thoughts on the game are changing. IF I go with yesterday's suggestion of simpler character classes - with Scientist/Technician being equivalent to TBH Conjurer (MU), what's the equivalent of the Priest(Cleric)?

I think The Shaman. Now, people that want to go the Victoriana, western world route can have them as Christian missionaries but I'd see them as coming from any advanced civilisation across a Steampunk world - as could any character class. I'm leaning towards a less western-based more egalitarian/international game.

So with Scientist and Shaman both in play does the scientist have Conjurer spells as devices and the Shaman have Priest spells as faith based abilities? Why shouldn't a scientist invent a healing device? The emergent game seems to have a faith vs science possibity.

Assuming advanced civilisations can emerge on any continent, possibly the least contentious/tokenist example if can give is a civilisation from Antarctica would have a religion based on Water/Ice spirits and a parallel technology based upon energy released through heat exchange.

Something is beginning to gell in my mind - but is it still steampunk?
#THESTEAMHACK (9): so I've started typing the core book up using a TBH template*. And I've discovered it doesn't "feel" very Steampunk. I think this is because SP is all about the fluff not the crunch. With TBH and TSH (Super) people already have a clear idea about the world you're playing in. I may have to produce some fluff to go with the core book.

* including the original two-column layout. Interestingly when I wrote The Super Hack I found out that this produced a booklet which was too small to print on Lulu and - hence - sell through Amazon. So I had to switch to a full page layout - like The Cthulhu Hack - just to pad out the page count.