Posted on November 12, 2008 by Flames
The good folks at Precis Intermedia have kept their quality streak alive with the release of Steampunk Musha, a “Victoriental Adventures” setting for Iron Gauntlets. It’s nice to see such an excellent gaming system as IG getting plenty of love and support; despite its relatively small size, PI is providing as much and more support material for Iron Gauntlets than some companies 3-4 times its size are doing for their lines. Steampunk Musha is a good indicator of the high quality of these releases.
My review copy was a pdf, some 122 pages in length. SM (as we will periodically refer to Steampunk Musha) was created by Rick Hershey, with Brett Bernstein and Alana Abbott, and the overall design of the book is one of clarity and ease of reading.
The world of Steampunk Musha is very much one of tradition fighting to hold on in the face of progress; a Victorian theme wrapped in fantasy, but definitely a Victorian theme nonetheless. However, this is not your standard British Isles steampunk; our setting takes place in on the island of Rosuto-Shima, which has a decidedly Oriental feel to it. The island (and setting) are completely modular, and can be dropped into any Iron Gauntlets campaign because of it.
Rosuto-Shima is, as I said presented as isolated from the rest of the world, and is going through the struggles of an new industrial age (which is where our steampunk elements enter in). I was somewhat reminded of Japan and the days of the Meiji Restoration). Bernstein and Abbott work cultures derived from several oriental nations as well as Victorian England to create cultures that really do present excellent chances for conflict and struggle. Among the themes presented here is what is given up when industrialization destroys the old ways, but also the question of what is worth saving at the risk of halting progress?
SM is divided into 7 sections. The first deals with Character Basics, and provides a solid introduction to what is new for this Iron Gauntlets setting.
The second section is Character Races. I liked the fact that Humans are presented as a different race from the Gaijin, or foreigners (the folks responsible for much of the technology challenging the tradition of Rosuto-Shima. In addition to these two, there are the Clockwork Ronin, which can be imbued with the spirit of a deceased warrior; the Jinteki-Oni, a surprisingly peaceful, powerful hybrid of demon and human; the Juunishi-p’o, small, strange creatures based on the animal lords of the zodiac; and the Keshou, a former slave race that is related to goblins, though it has many dwarf-like qualities. I was surprised how much I enjoyed some of these races, which managed not to fall into the trap of most new fantasy races (you know—“lizard humanoid, bird humanoid, octopi humanoid, etc.”).
Chapter 3 deals with magic and religion, and how their perception has changed with the arrival of reliable, new technology. The schools of magic are a definite highlight, with the scholarly paths and Gui (an elemental school which incorporates the martial arts) being total coolness.
SM goes on to describe both traditional and modern, native and gaijin equipment. For me, this chapter (#4) was the highlight of the book. The steampunk items here really shine, with steamwork mounts, constructs, and weaponry present in high volumes. Gun bunnies will be happy to see their favorite type of weaponry on display here, and the magically-inclined will find enough items to keep them in the ballgame.
Chapters 5, 6, and 7 sort of work together, with a detailed history of Rosuto-Shima being followed by a fully illustrated bestiary (containing some great twists on some Japanese favorites along with a few new beasties altogether), and, of course (being a PIG product), a full chapter of plot and campaign ideas. This setting may only be 122 pages in length, but it can stand up to the big boys in terms of quality and detail with no problems.
Of course, no PI pdf would be complete without a character sheet, game reference sheet, and map. They keep this up, and I might just (gasp!) expect this behavior from all pdf publishers.
In short, Steampunk Musha is more than just a standard fantasy setting, and is definitely not your run-of-the-mill steampunk genre entry, either.
I find it interesting that Iron Gauntlets, which has an “Unorthodox” sourcebook series, has produced an unorthodox setting as well. The conflict between technology and the old ways is prevalent throughout, but steers far from becoming cliché or boringly redundant. Despite its unusual premise, the writing of this book is rock-solid, and ensures that Steampunk Musha is another feather in the hat of Precis Intermedia.
Review by Zachary Houghton