RPG Resource: Click here for home page
Main Menu
 What's New
 Genre Resources
 Master System List
 Complete Product List
 Shared Campaigns
 Community Content
 General Resources
 Game Companies
 Board & other games
 Copyright Statement


Dungeons & Dragons: Steamworks


Intended as a guide for introducing technology to a fantasy setting, this book sets out to explore aspects of how ideas spawned by contemporary technology can be implemented in a consistent way to a fantasy world without distorting its alternate reality too much! The Introduction explains that every society has 'technology' - whether it's a abacus or a computer - but that in fantasy you are not limited to mediaeval levels of technology if you don't want to be. Technology is merely the application of natural laws to create an effect, and needs no magic to operate. However, to fit in with accepted game mechanics, a technological device can be regarded in the same way as a magical item - it will need power (measured in 'charges') to work while using it will require a deliberate act on the part of its operator. And - to make the book 'technology friendly' - as well as a conventional PDF there's also a fully-hyperlinked version in HTML (web code) which runs in your browser.

Chapter 1: Technological Classes looks at two types of character who make use of technological ideas - the Tehcnologist and the Inventor. The Technologist is the in-game version of an engineer - building, testing, studying the theory as well as the practise of technology. He fills his days with learning and equiry as well as hands-on in the workshop. A Technologist is limited to the number and complexity of devices he can use at any one time in a similar manner to the restriction of a wizard's use of spells by number and level - and even has to have his notebooks handy when preparing or repairing his devices! The Inventor, on the other hand, is a curious tinkerer usually without benefit of formal training. Also using devices, he can also build a 'contraption' which develops over time as his knowledge increases, and which - like a familiar - also gives him additional abilities and advantages.

Next, Chapter 2 looks at Skills and Feats. Technologists and Inventors make use of the same skills as everybody else, although they have new uses for many, especially the Concentration skill. A new Repair skill allows both hasty (jury-rig) and proper mending of broken devices, while Techcraft is the equivalent of Spellcraft giving understanding of what you encounter and Use Tech Device replaces Use Magic Device for those wishing to operate these infernal machines! These skills are followed by a fine array of technology-related Feats to choose from including general, construction, metadevice and metatechnology feats. Metadevice feats are used to alter the device's operating parameters, while metatechnology ones affect things like size and ease of use of a device.

Chapter 3: Technology explores the rules governing devices, looking at their construction, charging, readying, use and repair. Nothing happens in a hurry! Next comes the different types, which are armament, chemical, energy and mechanical. There are various sub-categories of armament ranging from protective devices to grenades; while chemical ones are classified by the state of matter: solid, liquid or gas. Oddly, liquids and gases are stated to only affect living creatures - what happens if you pour a corrosive liquid onto metal, or create a cloud of flammable gas, one wonders?

This is followed by Chapter 4: Devices, which presents the actual devices in a set of 'device lists' which function in a manner akin to spell lists. All manner of devices are listed, from the useful to the bizarre... including a dark brown liquid chemical device which is a stimulant and makes you slightly jumpy! Oddy, this is called 'coffee' - I could have sworn I had some this morning. Flashpowder is rather fun: it makes its target sneeze violently, and then uses the force generated by the sneeze to power its secondary effect, a blindling flash right under the target's nose!

Just in case you thought all this was designed to replace magic in your fantasy world (although I suppose it could be used that way), Chapter 5: Spells and Powers looks at arcane and divine spells and psionic powers which interact in some way with technology. Useful if you intend technology and magic to exist side by side - for example, Druids can now 'turn' a construct in the same way as a cleric turns undead. Indeed, most of the spells are used to neutralise or damage technological devices or repair (heal) the damage they do.

Chapter 6: Characters is a collection of five prestige classes which Technologists and Inventors might aspire to. They also make good NPCs in a world where this kind of technology works. The classes are the Automatist (who makes automatons), the Engineer (who sees technology as both an art and a science, and seeks to expand his knowledge), the Technician (who has an altogether more practical approach, but never stops tinkering with things), the Technomage (who loves magic and technology equally and tries to combine the two), and the Wraith. This last is fascinated by cloaking (hiding) technology and studies it obsessively... and I expect they are hard to find unless they want to meet you! There's also the purely NPC class of Tinker.

Next comes Chapter 7: Integration, which is aimed mainly at the DM and gives ideas on how to integrate technology into your existing fantasy setting or to build one from scratch in which magic and technology both work. To create a convincing alternate reality, you are going to need to consider not only what technology to have but how it arose and has developed up until the 'present day' in which your game is set. One classic approach is to have the present day technology as a pale remnant of that devised by an ancient and long-gone culture far more advanced than the people of today. This approach calls for yet another class, the Archaeologist, to research what went before. Another idea is to see technological development as either a gradual or a sudden process (and so you might want the Researcher prestige class to push it along a bit...).

Probably even more than magic use, technology will vary between different cultures and races in a fantasy world so you will have to decide how people in various communities use and react to it. The level of technology also must be set, and this can limit not only what the technology does but to what extent ordinary people have access to it or even are aware that it exists. The interactions between technology and magic also have to be considered, and it is worth splitting out arcane and divine magic here. Religious institutions in your world might view technology as heretical or as a blessing from the gods, or even as a way to put those upstart arcanists in their place by finding ways to duplicate what they do. Likewise practitioners of arcane magic may be fascinated or repelled by technological advances. It might even play a part in social upheaval, if the ruling class clings to magic (or of course technology) forbidding it to their underlings, who develop the other method of gaining power and advantage as a response.

Chapter 8: Technological Items deals with the sort of gear - technological and otherwise - that a Technologist or Inventor character carries and possesses. It also looks at those devices that anyone can use, although they might require activation by a techonologically-skilled individual, and certainly will need one such to recharge them once they are expended... no 'pop in a fresh battery' here! Puzzle-loving characters can find cube, pyramid and sphere mechanical puzzles - and cruel DMs who still have them might dig out an old Rubic's Cube when these items crop up in play.

Finally, Chapter 9: Monsters is a collection of automatons, constructs and swarms which can be made. Some are 'cognizant' or capable of independent thought (and so become subject to mind-affecting effects). There's plenty on how to design and customise these creations.

Indeed, there's a lot about the how-to within the ruleset to do whatever you want with technology. It is a well-balanced collection of rules to empower you to make technology work within the alternate reality that is your game setting, combined with considered ideas on how it will fit in there. This is a book to read carefully and think about before adding technology to your game, but once you have decided that you want it, you are provided with just about everything you need to both choose what goes in and then make it work during gameplay. It's good to see both well-constructed rules AND a thought-provoking discussion of how to use them in the same book.

Return to Steamworks page.

Reviewed: 20 April 2008