DnD is traditionally played with a high fantasy setting – that the genre for Faerun and the Forgotten Realms. Other subsettings that have been published may add in some flavor (like Horror in Ravenloft, or Grecian Mythology in Theros).
While it doesn’t strictly include other genres (other publications have been made for those, like Shadowrun for urban fantasy, and Starcraft for science fiction), plenty of players use their own creativity to make custom worlds, and all the content required for them. Of course, I always encourage tabletop gamers to check out alternative games and systems for different settings. But if you’re comfortable with DnD, it can be fun to stick with it.
One of my favorites for this is the genre of Steampunk.
If you’d like a few ideas about how to get started making your own Steampunk-Fantasy setting, here’s a few ideas to get started:
What is Steampunk?
Steampunk is an alternative-history genre inspired by Victorian science fiction and pulp novels. Thoroughbred steampunk generally features a Victorian setting, with advanced technology that is powered by steam and clockwork, Victorian social classes and standards, and pulp-adventure stories about discovery and invention. It also sometimes includes fairies, time travel, and occultism, which featured in Victorian literature and culture.
Where Can I Start Converting DnD Content for Steampunk?
Of course, a DnD world isn’t going to take place in the Victorian era. It’s not magical enough! Luckily, steampunk expands to include most ‘advanced-but-antiquated’ technology.
Clockwork and steam are what you need for a steampunk style setting. Class tensions, polite society, and strange worlds are a big plus, too. And all of these can be found within content already available for DnD. Put on some steampunk-style music, brew yourself some tea, and get started!
Steampunk Inspirations in the Forgotten Realms
Eberron is considered to be the most mechanically inclined world within Dungeons and Dragons’ lore. You can use a lot of its mechanics more magical machinery, societal ranking of automatons, and other small worldbuilding details. Of course, it isn’t strictly steampunk, but the use of magic in place of ‘aether’ (the most common magical equivalent in steampunk settings) makes transposition fairly easy.
Mechanus is a plane of existence within the Forgotten Realms, acting as a plane embodying Lawful-Neutral power. It’s highly mechanical, made of turning gears and whistling steam, and carries a lot of the look of steampunk places. It’s the home of several gods, who exist among several pantheons, so placing your campaign here is a quick and easy way to put some clockwork-flavor into DnD’s fantasy setting.
If you want something a little more grounded than an alternate plane, the little island of Lantan is a great place to start. This small island is marked by it’s advanced technology, easy access to smokepowder (aka gunpowder), and worship of the deity Grond, who we’ll talk about later. It encourages an adventure filled with the technology and invention you’d need for a steampunk campaign.
Steampunk Characters and NPCs
Characters and NPCs are a strong way to flavor your campaign with steampunk style.
Keep in mind the tropes that I mentioned earlier – invention, exploration, time travel, social strata. All influence the types of characters that you’re likely to find in a steampunk campaign.
As for classes, Artificers, Rogues, and Rangers all make excellent archetypes for steampunk adventurers. They easily fill the roles necessary for exploration and invention. And, if you’re willing to get a little complicated and creative with your magic, Wizards and Sorcerers can be used to enact time travel through the use of magic. Warlock, Barbarians, and Druids are a little bit harder to incorporate, since Victorian stories don’t lean into the natural world so much. But that isn’t to say that it can’t be done!
For races, Gnomes and Warforged are ideal. Gnomes are natural tinkerers, and Warforged are something of another name for automatons. Giff, too, already fall into a naturally Victorian appearance and culture. Other races can be used as well, although their connection to the steam and invention might have to come from original backstory instead of inherent racial connection.
If you’re focusing on backstory and origins to make your characters steampunk, liberal use of the Noble, Hermit, or Archeologist backgrounds will come in handy. These are staples of steampunk classics.
While not strictly necessary for a steampunk setting, deities are essential to most Dungeons and Dragons campaigns. Here are a few gods with domains and worshippers that fit right into a steampunk campaign:Gond, The Gearsmith (god of smiths, crafting, and inventors)
Dugmarin Brightmantle, The Wandering Tinker (dwarven god of discovery and invention)
Waukeen, Lady of Trade (goddess of merchants, guides, and smugglers)
You can adapt almost any monster for use in a steampunk campaign. But here are a few options that we feel already embody the style and presence you’d expect in a steam-filled city. You could almost see these appearing in a traditional steampunk novel!
Media Inspirations for a Steampunk Campaign
If you need a little extra inspiration for your steampunk campaign, these books, movies, and tv shows are a great place to turn to for inspiration:
- Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Novels
- Sherlock Hound
- Treasure Planet
- Castle in the Sky
- Clockwork Fairy Tales
Have you ever run a steampunk Dungeons and Dragons campaign? How did it go? What did you include? We'd love to hear about it in the comments below!