Airship Pirates is either a work of genius or a foolhardy and doomed endeavour. Steampunk is big, yes, but it’s still a subculture and this isn’t just a Steampunk RPG its an RPG tied to a particular Steampunk band – Abney Park. There’s a risk, then, that this game could be passed over by people who aren’t simultaneously RPG fans, Steampunk fans and Abney Park fans. That’s a bit of a tall order. That said, subcultural ties worked out great for Vampire.
Something has gone wrong with time and the world has changed, peculiarly. Down on the surface things are a bit post-apocalyptic, up in the air and in mountaintop cities things are all a bit neo-victorian and mighty airships ply the skies, well above the dangerous chrono-fused plains, wastes and jungles below where all manner of monstrous creatures from Earth’s past are wandering around. An oppressive Empire, a wild and dangerous world and airships cruising the skies. It’s a ripe world for air piracy, plunder, adventure, freedom fighting and maybe, even, making things better or worse by tinkering with time yourselves.
Airship Pirates uses the Heresy game engine, which is the same game engine used for Victoriana. While there are a few changes here and there it’s almost entirely compatible with Victoriana – which could make things quite interesting – and thus has the same little rules oddities that Victoriana has, namely the use of both negative dice (chance of reducing successes) and reduction in dice pool which, statistically, amounts to almost the same thing and seems needlessly finicky.
Where Airship Pirates advances the system is, in particular, with the design and customisation of airships which is hardly surprising, given the name of the game, but which could provide a sound basis for the design of vehicles and devices in Victoriana and anything else that comes along using the Heresy system.
I’m not that familiar with Abney Park being more of a Vernian Process man myself but the game clearly draws quite strongly on the imaginations, costuming, music and lyrics of the chaps and chapettes of Abney Park. The book is full colour, though this pretty much means ‘sepia’! The stories and quoted lyrics do paint a picture but much of the book is, thankfully, a fairly straightforward and unobfuscated world guide.
Personally I was a little disappointed it was concentrated on America, but the bally Abney Park people are filthy colonials and I suppose it gives one room to carve a little bit of the world out for oneself. Many of the ideas presented compensate for yankee parochialism, pirates and aerial cities for just two.
It’s hard to nail down exactly what to say about the art. There’s a mix of styles and competencies on display but it’s all appropriate and the eclectic mix of material fits the chronologically kerjiggered nature of the setting. I don’t know if it would necessarily work in another game or setting but it works here.
The genius of this game is that due to all the temporal flux and reality issues going on characters could be crossed over between people’s games, taken and played at – for example – convention games and then going back to their home games. I wish there was a Heresy LARP system because with the crafting/costuming talent and effort of the Steampunk community some LARP events and groups could really accomplish something special and there’s not necessarily any need for them all to jibe perfectly together.
On the plus side
- Accessible vehicle rules.
On the minus side
- Tied to a relatively obscure band mythology.
- Heresy system quirks.
- ‘Impure’ genre