[Review] Brass & Steel: A Game of Steampunk Adventure by Pamean Games

Posted: July 31, 2011 by pointyman2000 in Articles, Reviews, Roleplaying Games

Brass & Steel is a new roleplaying game from Pamean Games.  As the title implies, Brass & Steel is a steampunk rpg, one that is set in an alternate Earth where Magic exists.

The presence of Magic has made for a much more interesting take on the early 20th century.  The acceptance of magic has resulted in a strange fork of science due to incorporating magical compounds from alchemy to scientific theory, resulting in clockwork limbs and airships, elixirs that cure all ailments and bizzare weapons that would otherwise have been impossible in our reality.

The game presents an intriguing setting, one that adds the Aztec Empire as a player in the world stage, going head to head with other powers like the British, the United States, Germany, Austria and Russia.

Base Mechanic

The Base mechanic of Brass & Steel is a single d20 roll against a target number determined by adding the character’s Attribute + Skill.  As with most systems, modifiers may raise or lower this target number, making the task easier or more difficult.  This is a roll under mechanic, meaning that rolling a lower number merits a greater success, while scoring a number higher than the target means that you miss your mark by a greater degree of failure.

Character Creation

Creating a player character for Brass & Steel appears to be relatively straightforward, using a point buy system to build a character, with three possible increments to represent various power levels of play.

Being a fairly open setting, Brass & steel tends to not have specific classes, but does provide a list of various Archetypes that may help players in centering their character around a specific concept.  This comes in handy if the players are new, or are used to very specific Classes and various forms of built-in niche protection.

The Skill list for Brass & Steel consists of skill groups, as opposed to the standard skill list where each entry respresents one particular form of activity.  To provide an example, the skill “Barking Irons” is actually a skill group that represents proficiency in the use of ranged weapons that do not rely on muscle power.  The use of colorful names such as “Buy Low Sell High” or “Devious Devices” are a nice touch to lend flavor to a character at a slight cost to clarity of information.

Brass & Steam also has a considerable Advantage & Disadvantage list, a good place to start off with regards to customizing a character.  This follows the more common model of requiring character points to buy advantages, and receiving character points upon taking a disadvantage.

Up until this point, Brass & Steel has been a fairly standard sort of game, with solid mechanics and an interesting setting to back it up.  What follows next however involves the use of the Tarot Deck to modify the various tests being performed in the game.

Of course, a Tarot Card is not a strict requirement, one can do perfectly well with a deck of playing cards (and rules for the use of such are provided)

The Minor Arcana (Cups, Pentacles, Swords, Wands), , as they are referred to in the context of the rules for Brass & Steel, can bestow rerolls of varying degrees of usefulness.  These range from a single reroll with the second result taking precedence, to taking two additional rolls, and taking the best result of the three.

The Major Arcana on the other hand are true game-changers.  Aside from the benefits afforded by the minor arcana, the players may opt to use a major arcana card to steer the campaign towards a direction symbolized by the card.  This is an interesting element that could be something that just introduces a new NPC out of the blue, to one that swings the campaign to a dangerous (if interesting) new direction.  The rules for this of course, is largely left to an agreement between the GM and the Players but it is a nice touch that isn’t used a lot in other games.

Technology and Equipment

Brass & Steel doesn’t let down with regards to its equipment chapter.  The book goes on detail everything from weapons like the “Dainty Little Firearm” to Babbage Engines, the surprisingly rare Goggles (strange to think that this might be rare in a steampunk setting, but then again, these aren’t ordinary goggles either.)  People interested in vehicles will find a robust list of various steampunk vehicles as well.

Arcanism

Magic in Brass & Steel is a very intresting affair involving tapping into other dimensions to achieve various effects.  Arcanists may achieve greater effects with the use of a procedure known as innoculation, wherein they inject various alien substances into their bodies at risk to their mind and sanity.

Spellcasting is a freeform system, similar to that of All For One: Regime Diabolique, or Mage: the Awakening, where the cost of the spell is set by the factors chosen by the Arcanist for their desired effect.

These spells can be codified into Patterns, which require time and research to finally solidify.  These Patterns are similar to Mage Rotes, in the sense that they are easier to cast due to the practiced nature of the magical effect.

Dreaming

Another interesting aspect to Blood & Steel is the discussion on the realm of Dreams, and the various actions that can be taken therein.  Player characters with the appropriate skills can take advantage of access to this universal subconscious, diving into the dreaming to seek out the dreams of another, using that opportunity to influence them, or simply assail them with damage to their psyche.

The rest of the book goes on with a nice summary of various rules for combat and adventuring, which presents a good, easy to follow rules-medium approach.

Brass & Steel continues on to discuss the setting, and provide a good deal of sensible GM advice for running the game.  I was very happy to see the kind of advice found in the game mastering tips, and the designer’s notes peppered in various places in the book work well to help readers understand the whys behind certain rules calls.

Art and Layout

The cover and layout is classy, and is up there with other products with grade-A layout like L5R 4th Edition and Nobilis: A Game of Sovereign Powers.  I appreciate the use of a single-column layout for screen viewing as it certainly lets me read it without having to scroll back up for the next column.  Artwork is sparse, but it does the job.

Brass & Steel is a great book with more than its fair share of interesting ideas that make it more than just about steam and cogs.  It’s clear to see that the authors are very passionate about their work, and that translates for great reading.

The system is one of medium complexity, and one that is easy to learn and teach, and the setting is a broad one with plenty of ground to cover.  The use of an alternate history is one that I approve of, as it gives a chance to draw on real-world places and history for inspiration while having enough wiggle room for neat things to happen.

Brass & Steel might as well be the Castle Falkenstien of the new generation.  If there is one flaw in this product, it would be the lack of a character sheet.  Given the lovely logo and layout, it’s a shame that there wasn’t one in the product, something that will be hopefully addressed in an updated pdf.

Brass & Steel is available through DriveThruRPG for $9.99 or roughly Php 430.00

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Comments
  1. Loren says:

    Yep, sounds just like Castle Falkenstien, including the gimmick of using a Tarot deck (Castle Falkenstien didn’t use dice, just a deck of cards). Didn’t see anything in the review that’d make me want to run out and buy it.

    One point. I can see where the Tarot deck would be a major negative. Over here we already have certain problem with Christian ministries who link RPGs with the occult. Adding the element of using an item associated with the occult would simply given them a hammer to beat you with.

  2. Ken Vinson says:

    Thank you, Mr. Anyong, for your review. I also just wanted to say that none of the three of us was overly familiar with steampunk or Victorian gaming before deciding to write this game. When we started this project we purposely stayed away from most ‘steampunk’ sources to avoid unintentional cross-pollination. After reading your review I read the wikipedia page for Castle Falkenstein and I can agree there is some similarity. Our setting is 1905, and the world is definitely Earth, though with divergent history and arcanism(magic). Our primary initial campaign setting is in the eastern Mediterranean, centered in Constantinople, where the British have been in control since the 1840s.

    As for the tarot deck, we are attempting to infuse the game with the popular occult sensibilities of the 1890s and 1900s, when seances and tarot cards were all the rage and Freud and Jung were pioneering dream analysis. We know that tarot decks are not to everyone’s taste, which is why we included rules for using a regular deck of playing cards. When it came to deciding on a fate mechanic, tarot cards seemed the obvious choice.

    Anyway, thanks again for the review and please do not hesitate to ask questions or leave comments on our forums at:http://www.pameangames.com/phpbbforum/

    • Ken Vinson says:

      Also, we will very soon be adding an Excel character sheet with calculations as a free download from our website. We also intend to incorporate a fancier format character sheet into the rulebook in its first revision.

    • Hello Ken!

      I’d like to go out and say that my line about Castle Falkenstein isn’t meant to disparage Brass & Steel. There’s plenty of interesting and fresh ideas in B&S, and I would certainly recommend the game to anyone who is currently looking for a “modern” Steampunk RPG.

      • Ken Vinson says:

        To be clear, I didn’t take your original comment as disparaging. I am embarrassed to say that I was confusing Castle Falkenstein with Castle Wolfenstein and therefore thought it was a WWII setting computer game. I do find it interesting that even though I was gaming heavily, playing R. Talsorian’s Cyberpunk and read Gibson’s Difference engine in the early 90’s I nevertheless managed to miss the Castle Falkenstein RPG altogether. Thanks again for your kind (and speedy) review.

        • No harm done, Ken. 🙂 That said I’m looking forward to seeing future sourcebooks for Brass & Steel as I’m a big fan of Historical Fantasy games and I’d love to see what you guys have done with the rest of the world.

  3. Heineken says:

    Steampunk is Timeless.

    Not to mention that promoting this alongside the upcoming release of the last chapter of Avatar: The Last Airbender would help put steampunk back into the spotlight.

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