Dev Notes 4 - RPG Archetypes and Combat Variety

As a follow-up to our second Dev Notes, we wanted to focus more specifically on how the Steamscapes Professions can provide a rich and varied gameplay in terms of combat roles. The archetypes we mentioned in that previous article are often useful in their descriptions of how a particular character responds to a crisis, especially combat. A Warrior in many cases is expected to go toe-to-toe with the enemy, often in melee, while a Wizard-style archetype suggests applying arcane powers from a distance. Obviously, there are variations of all these archetypes that blur the lines, but a game that fails to provide at least the option for a traditional archetype may often give the impression that it is missing something.

As we had mentioned before, this becomes more difficult in a realistic historical or even modern game, where the responses to combat tend to be more homogenous. A game in which all the characters are Greek hoplites is going to have trouble providing a broad and varied combat experience. This is why many settings allow magic and fantasy to invade their otherwise historical focus - it allows the addition of missing archetypes.

As we were developing Steamscapes, we thought carefully about how to encourage and promote archetypal characters without abandoning realism. Per our discussion in the last Dev Notes, we also wanted to provide reasonable avenues for characters who are lower class, minority, or female to be portrayed realistically but interestingly in what is still a very unequal Victorian society. And finally, we hoped to make each Profession feel unique in its approach to combat. Our successful achievement of these diverse but equally important goals has been one of our great sources of satisfaction and pride in the Steamscapes project. The six Professions introduced in this book are, we hope, simply the beginning. However, we are very happy with the variety they represent all by themselves. Here is a little taste of how each Profession thinks about combat:

The Aviator - Because bullets tend to cause airships to spring leaks, Aviators are primarily sword-wielders. In keeping with the period, the most common blade for an Aviator in North America is a cavalry saber.

The Gearsmith - The Gearsmith is our attempt at creating a "pet class." Most Gearsmiths themselves avoid combat whenever possible, sending in their automaton servants instead.

The Gunslinger - True to the name, Gunslingers are accurately described as festooned with guns. Of course, firearms are common in 1871, so professional Gunslingers take things a little farther. They prefer to use highly customized and experimental firearms rather than the more commonly available varieties.

The Saboteur - As the traditionalists of the Steamscapes world, Saboteurs fight with bladed and blunt hand weapons that require a great deal of dexterity. They also prefer to operate in a more clandestine manner, either through stealth (in the case of the women of the Plains) or social disguise (as is common among urban anti-technology agitators).

The Spark Wrangler - Electricity is largely misunderstood and almost magical to the Victorian perception, and so the Spark Wrangler is our answer to the Wizard archetype. Each one operates a device called a "spark wand" that provides ranged attacks that grow in power and variety as the Wrangler gains skills and knowledge.

The Steamhand - The heavy weapons expert of the Steamscapes world. A Steamhand is typically very strong and able to carry personal ranged weapons that are otherwise more commonly mounted on ships or pulled behind horses. When these quite literally run out of steam (as they are in fact steam-powered weapons), the Steamhand resorts to the ever-present sledgehammer.

-Fairman Rogers