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Author Topic: TSOY Steampunk  (Read 4368 times)
Ben Cassidy

Posts: 2

« on: July 25, 2006, 09:29:49 PM »

Hey all, this is my first post on the forum. I have read the rules to TSOY, and think they are both clever and innovative. If I can get my usual gaming group to give them a try, I'd like to give it a run. Anyway, I have been interested in doing a Victorian-era "Steampunk" game for a while, and thought it might be fun to transfer over to TSOY to see how it works. I have a copy of "OGL Steampunk," and have been using that rpg for some character ideas. I'm curious to hear what comments you all might have on what I've written so far.

First of all, I've scrapped the race and nationality concepts in favor of "careers." I know that this may smack closer to the old class system of DnD then some of you may be comfortable with, but in a world that will be (mostly) populated by humans, I find it to be a helpful distinction. I could go into long bouts of distinctions between nationalities, but honestly I think this is something best left up to the player's interpretation. That way, of course, I also avoid potentially offensive stereotpyes.

Here are the first four careers that I have designed:

Combatant (Soldier, mercenary, guard, street fighter, pugilist)


Infantry (Vigor)—This is the knowledge and training of basic infantry drill,
practice, and procedure. It also includes basic handling and care of military weapons in the character’s field of service, from an infantryman’s rifle to field artillery.

Leadership (Instinct)—This ability allows the character to command troops in a military situation. It can also be used as a general “take command” skill for use with civilians during crisis situations.

Demoliton (Reason)—The general creation, placement and use of explosive charges.


Secret of the Sharpshooter—When using ranged weapons that utilize the Aim skill, you may add +1 to the damage that you do with a successful hit.

Secret of Fast Draw—No one beats you to the draw. If using a handgun (that is conveniently holstered on your person) with the Aim skill during the first round of an opposed action, you may add one bonus die to your roll.

Secret of the Steel Heart—Any time you are called upon to take a Resist check that involves any kind of fear or panic, you may add a bonus die to your roll.


Key of Glory—You have an abiding drive to see your superiors recognize your achievements. Gain 1xp every time a superior compliments or approves your actions. Gain 2xp every time you are publicly cited in such a manner, or when you receive a minor award or medal for your achievements. Gain 5xp for a massive public ceremony in which you are honored, or for receiving a major award or medal. Buyoff: Refuse an honor, or publicly downplay a compliment or citation by a superior.

Key of Survival—You’ve gotten through countless conflicts not by playing the hero, but by focusing on surviving to live another day. Gain 1xp every time you survive a dangerous encounter. Gain 3xp every time you survive an encounter with significant risk of serious injury or death. Gain 5xp every time you survive an encounter that probably should have killed you. Buyoff: Take a deliberate and major choice in a risky encounter that places your character’s survival in jeopardy.

Inventor (mechanic, engineer, tinker, clockmaker, technician)


Repair (Reason)—The knowledge to diagnose the problem with and fix things that are broken, as well as identifying and gathering the right tools and equipment to do it.

Craft—Machine (Reason)—The construction of air, water, or land vehicles as well as automata. These devices are generally powered by steam, clockwork, or electricity.

Disable Device (Reason)—The ability to stop a mechanism’s primary function without any immediately adverse side effects to yourself. This is especially useful in the defusing of bombs, but can also be used to sabotage more complicated equipment.


Secret of Jury-Rigging—Your character has the uncanny ability to build or repair simple devices even when he doesn’t have all the available tools and/or equipment. Cost: 2 Reason.

Secret of the Gearhead—Your character gets along better with machines than people. When dealing with any sentient or partially sentient automata, you gain a bonus die to all your Instinct rolls.

Secret of the Heart of the Machine—Your character has more oil in his veins than blood. For the purposes of refreshing ability pools, your character may count machines as characters, whether they are sentient or not. In other words, spending a long night tinkering with the engine of an airship is the same for you as drinking with a buddy.


Key of the Craftsman--Building is what you love to do the most; having some concrete representation of your efforts in life is something you strive for. Gain 1 XP every time your character successfully completes a Crafting project. Gain 3 XP every time your character completes a Crafting project that is met with great appreciation from many. Buyoff: Destroy one of your creations.

Key of Perfection—You can never really seem to finish a project. It always needs just one more little touch….Gain 1xp every time you deliberately delay completing a craft or repair project by telling another character what you still have to do. Gain 2xp when the craft or repair project in question is one that is needed urgently. Gain 5xp when putting off the completion of the project puts yourself or others in severe danger. Buyoff: Finish a project with absolutely no delays that results in “sloppy” work.

Scholar (professor, tutor, alienist, researcher, dean)


Science (Reason)—This is a thorough working knowledge of the sciences, though it can also include the more esoteric realms of, say, Psionics or the Aetheric Realm. Note that this skill emphasizes theory more than practicality. A scholar has knowledge, an inventor creates. This skill can be as broad or as specific as a player desires it to be.

Teaching (Instinct)—The ability to impart information to others, as well as make to a general livelihood from such a skill.

Debate (Instinct)—This is the skill of arguing and cross-examining, as well as knowledge of formal rules for debate. The topic of debate can be anything, but usually tends to be one of high philosophical or scientific theory. Notice that this skill is different from Sway or Orate. With Debate you will rarely change your opponent over to your perspective (Sway), nor are you necessarily inspiring a large crowd of people (Orate). Instead, Debate is usually used to convince a group of people (including your opponent) that you have won the argument in question. A Sway or Orate check may be needed (with a possible bonus from your Debate check) to convince others that what you are arguing is actually correct.


Secret of the Spontaneous Fact—You have read and studied so much that you can essentially pull random bits of information out of your head, even things that your character wouldn’t (or couldn’t) otherwise have known. “I’ve never been to West Africa before, but I’m fairly certain that I remember reading a book that the native inhabitants of the Galagula River region have red tattoos on their skin as a mark of prowess in battle.” Cost: 2 Reason.

Secret of Photographic Memory—Your mind is like a camera when it comes to information. You can use this ability to instantly recall any piece of visual information (faces, books, maps, letters, pictures, etc.) that you have seen before, however briefly. Cost: 2 Reason per use.


Key of Knowledge—You are forever in pursuit of new information and knowledge, and risk all to achieve it. Gain 1xp every time you discover a minor new piece of information or trivia that is important to your character. Gain 2xp if discovering the knowledge involved some degree of risk to yourself. Gain 5xp if you risked death or severe humiliation to achieve the information. Buyoff: Deliberately pass up a chance to gain new knowledge.

Key of the Wise Guy—You are smarter than everyone else around you, and feel the need to continually show it. Gain 1xp every time you demonstrate your superior intellect. Gain 2xp if by doing so you humiliate or cut down another character, and/or risk harm to yourself in doing so. Gain 5xp if you show your superior intellect in any manner that involves severe danger or harm (physical or mental) to yourself.

Medic (Combat medic, nurse, physician, surgeon)


Diagnose (Reason)—By studying a patient’s physical symptoms, you are able to accurately tell what is ailing them, be it a broken arm or the bubonic plague.

Surgery (Reason)—This skill is used to perform minor or major surgeries on a patient that go beyond simple First Aid. If First Aid is used first on a patient suffering from physical harm, then bonus dice can be transferred over to the use of surgery.

Pharmaceuticals (Reason)—The knowledge of the creation, substance, and prescription of medicinal drugs. Note that actually making drugs may require prolonged access to a lab and equipment.


Secret of the Black Bag—You always carry a little black bag wherever you go that inevitably seems to have just what you need for any medical emergency. Whenever you make a First Aid check, you may add one bonus die to your roll.

Secret of Skepticism—You are convinced that everything has a natural, logical
explanation to it. When confronted with tests against any supernatural phenomena, add one bonus die to your Resist rolls. This includes tests against any psionic attacks or effects that allow opposed Resist rolls. Note that this secret entails that a Resist roll with this bonus must always be used against psionic or supernatural phenomena where it is allowed, even if the player wants his character to be effected. You must, in essence, overcome your own disbelief.

Key of the Hippocratic Oath—You have taken the famous physician’s oath, vowing to “first, do no harm.” Gain 1 XP for every adventure in which your character does not purposefully harm another sentient being. Gain 2 XP every time your character fulfills this even though it causes him minor harm or inconvenience. Gain 5 XP every time that doing so causes your character great harm. Buyoff: Purposefully harm another sentient creature.
Key of Rationality—You are firmly devoted to acting in a logical and coherent manner. Gain 1xp every time you act in a rational fashion, or extol the virtues of rationality to another character. Gain 2xp every time that acting logically results in some degree of danger to yourself our your companions. Gain 5xp whenever acting in a rational or logical manner means sacrificing yourself or someone close to you to severe danger or hardship. Buyoff: Act in a clearly non-rational manner, perhaps out of a strong emotion or gut instinct.

The "Key of the Craftsman" was gotten from a list of "new keys", and was not created by me. It just seemed to fit the inventor career very well. Just want to make sure there is no misunderstanding. Also, an astute reader might notice that the "Key of the Hippocratic Oath" is very similar to the "Key of the Pacifist." Again, just so there is no misunderstanding.

That's all I have so far. Any comments you guys might have, positive or negative, are welcome.

Posts: 182

My name is Jon.

« Reply #1 on: July 26, 2006, 04:32:15 AM »

Picking people's keys for them is a mistake.  Keys are what the player wants to do in the game, and you're taking away that ability for them to express themselves.  Let the players pick their own keys.

Hi, my name is Jon.

Posts: 63

« Reply #2 on: July 26, 2006, 05:50:40 AM »

I totally agree with Glendower.  The custom keys that you've created are cool.  And you could certainly recommend them to your players, but I think that its critical to TSOY to let them pick their own keys.

TSOY would work fine in a steampunk game, I think.  I found myself recently discussing how TSOY would work in practically any setting, and at any scale, with some tweaking of the skills and such.

Regarding your careers, though it changes some of the aspects of character creation, in my opinion its a fine way to get some newcomers into the game, somewhat simplifying the process for them.  I assume that you aren't planning any changes to the way they can pick up skills using advances during the game?

Good Luck!
Matthew Glover

Posts: 160

« Reply #3 on: July 26, 2006, 06:03:13 AM »

I think that if I were in your position, I'd show these careers to players as suggestions.  Like:  "These are some of the kind of things I was imagining would work well in this game.  Feel free to use these packages as written, modify them to make them more satisfactory, or to start from scratch with your own character idea."
Ben Cassidy

Posts: 2

« Reply #4 on: July 26, 2006, 08:21:23 AM »

Thanks for the comments.

I think there has been some misunderstanding with the way these careers have been created. The keys and secrets for each career are not mandatory for the player. Rather, they are optional keys and secrets that only that career can choose to take.

In other words, you can be a Medic and not choose the Key of the Hippocratic Oath, or the Secret of the Black Bag, or whatever. Those are just the specific keys and secrets that your career can take that are not available to any other. Any and every character can still choose freely from the universal list of keys and secrets, or even make up their own. Heck, you don't even have to take the abilities associated with your particular career, though in some cases it might be silly not too.

Thus, your character really is not limited to the above options. You can have a cowardly soldier, a greedy doctor, or a love-stricken scholar. It's entirely up to the player.

Hope that helps to clear things up. I apologize for the confusion. Again, any comments or criticisms you have are always welcome.

Posts: 5574

« Reply #5 on: July 27, 2006, 07:45:37 AM »

Maybe instead of careers it would be better to think in terms of social background as a replacement for the nationalities.  Then the occupations arise organically out of the skill selections and Keys.  After all one can change occupations...but one can't change ones nationality template in TSOY.


Posts: 153

« Reply #6 on: July 28, 2006, 10:55:55 AM »


While there's always the potential for taking them too far, classically steampunk is a genre fascinated with national origins, if only because the "height of empire" model it typically uses tends to have a fascination with race and class. There are ways to address these issues with sensitivity, I'd think-- and TSOY does a fairly good job of being enchanted with the exotic without resorting to grotesque stereotype, so I'd seriously recommend giving a good look at the cultures there, and considering how they could be adapted. Have you read Paul diFillipo's "Steampunk Trilogy", which is really only a single novel with three novellas within? The stories therein have a surprisingly fresh and 20th century look at some of the prejudices and conceits of the Victorian age, and might be an interesting angle for coming to the nationality issue.

Then again, maybe it's genuinely not your bag, and I'm just going on needlessly. Your ideas for additional Secrets and Keys certainly look entertaining... I'm particularly fond of the engineering ones. I have a few concerns/questions/suggestions, on the technical side of things:

Secret of the Sharpshooter-- Do you have a ranged weapont that doesn't utilize the Aim skill?

Key of Glory-- Speaking from experience and personal preference, you might want to tweak this a little. As you, in control of StoryGuide characters, would likely be causing all of those things to happen, it's a very "have things done to you for experience points" Key, as opposed to "do them yourself." If I were you, I'd rewrite a Key like this so that it provided more impetus for people to boast of their own abilities, take crazy risks, or do good/make sacrifices for their community, forcing the onus to be on the player, not you, as to when XP should get kicked out. Otherwise, you decide when there's a parade for him, so you also decide when he gets XP or doesn't.

Key of Perfection-- Totally cool. I love it, and am swiping it for my own nefarious purposes, though I might rewrite to be a 1/3 key, and combine the "2" and "5" levels, as it can be hard to make a distinction. Key of the Wise Guy might be another that I'd suggest turning to a 1/3 key, for the same reason. I know some players complain that those are the "low paying Keys," but they're actually the high-paying keys, as far as I'm concerned. Typically, 5 XP requires you to really stick your neck out with danger of having your head chopped off, so those keys pay 1 and 2 more often than not, making 3 XP pretty darn tasty. But, again, maybe that's how I see things, and not everyone else.

Spontaneous Fact and Photographic Memory are also great. I'm clearly grooving on your scholars.

I take it you're going to adapt some of the other TSOY Secrets and Keys as well for your setting, moving them to appropriate professions? Metastasis would clearly be ideal for your medics, for instance, and I'm sure there are others which would be similarly colorful.

-shadowcourt (aka josh)
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