Gaming Steampunk TTRPG

Dev diary – backlog

As previously mentioned, I am close to finishing my ‘starter set’ version of The Aether Throne, my steampunk ttrpg system and setting.

Now, I’m considering the ‘backlog items’ – the rules, sections and other material I want to produce for the full game, which is going to take a lot longer to put together, but which I’m actually pretty darn-tootin’ excited about.

In some sense of order, these are:

Character creation
I’ve got a first draft of this done, but some of the changes I’ve made as a result of writing and testing the starter set material will mean this needs a significant rewrite.

This will be one of the biggest sections, as I want to have at least ten professions in the game, each with unique abilities and level progression trees. I also want to illustrate an adventurer belonging to each profession too.

This section I see as one that I’ll chip away at: weapons, armour, gear, gadgets, mystical items from the Aether Court … I can see myself writing a few of these in batches, then moving on to writing something else.

Tactical combat rules
The combat rules in the starter set are understandably basic, so I want to flesh these out to provide adventurers with more actions they can take in combat, and solidify some of the mechanics around the use of playing cards in combat. I have to be in the right frame of mind for this one, but I have a good idea of where I want it to go.

Like equipment, this is one I might do in phases. Talents will be profession-agnostic bonuses that adventurers can ‘buy’ at certain levels. Some of them will need playtested for balance too.

Aether invocations
Another one to dip into, I think. This will be the game’s grimoire, the spells that adventurers can learn and invoke if they have the appropriate skills, Aether Court patrons and resources to be able to use. Obviously, these will need playtested as well.

Similar to the aether invocations, but the weird science aspect of the game, focusing on powerful and possibly unstable gadgets, inventions and experimental weaponry.

Foes / bestiary
The game will have a mixture of human and monstrous opponents for the adventurers to face. Like some of the other sections, this is one I will add to as and when I feel the urge.

Chase rules
I developed my own chase rules when writing The Pharaoh’s Sacrifice, so I will likely reuse and adapt those. As the game will have a pulp tone, I definitely want chases to feature.

The Airship
This is the ‘base building’ part of the game. Adventurers will have their own airship, and be able to modify, upgrade and adapt it as they grow in experience. This is influenced by the likes of Starfinder and Vaesen, and will include specific facilities (like medical bays and aether chambers), as well as NPC crew-members and improved weaponry and the like.

Aerial combat
Airships naturally lead to the need for aerial combat rules, so these will be getting included at some point too. I like the Starfinder concept of crew-based actions during starship combat, so will be incorporating something similar, but simpler (and faster to run…)

Solo and GM-less modes
I love the likes of Ironsworn and Starforged and want The Aether Throne to be able to support solo and collaborative / GM-less play.
If I was running a Kickstarter, this would be a stretch goal, but I definitely want to include it, and plan to explore random tables, procedurally-generated environments, and the use of interactive fiction to deliver ‘Fighting Fantasy’-style solo scenarios.
I’ll also include AI/automata style rules for opponents here, inspired by similar concepts from boardgames like Descent and Imperial Assault.

The Aether Court
Part of the setting, this will involve the development of four factions and twelve NPCs, inspired by the likes of D&D’s Feywild and The Sandman’s Endless. I’ll be dipping into world mythology, folklore and my own imagination for this one and I’ve already had some ideas.

The world
This will likely be a chunky section, and will include details of the main locations, factions and organisations of my alt-Victorian setting.
London, the Empire, the Republic and the Free States will all get attention, as will The Ministry, The Coteries and some of the other movers and shakers of the world.
I have a feeling that when I truly dive into this section of the game, I may never come out again.

I want to include a mini-campaign (3 scenarios or so) for group play, as well as a few interactive fiction solo scenarios, so the plotting and design of those will be required. I’ll probably have one solely for playtesting, and the rest of them will likely come when the majority of the rest of the backlog items are complete (or at least well underway).

Not much left to do then…

As mentioned, this isn’t going to be something that’s done and dusted in a month or two. It may well take me the whole of 2023.

But if I keep the level of passion I’ve currently got for it, that won’t be a problem at all. In fact, it could make 2023 one of my most creatively fulfilling years ever.

And I’m more than up for that.

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