Weekly Design Blog #18: What’s In a Name, or a Tagline, or a Description

Hello All,

Sadly, one of the early Weekly Design Blogs we’ve all “lost” was a discussion of the concepts behind the name “Steampunk Musha” – but in brief summation…

Steampunk is not only a subgenre of science fiction/science fantasy, but specifically associated with “cyberpunk” that offers a vastly different approach to the sci-fi fictions of some authors that painted “a brighter tomorrow,” instead focusing on gritty to even the hardboiled noir worlds of detectives where everyone’s at best an anti-hero, or at worst barely human.

Steam” then is a reference to the past instead of the future of “cyber” or “cybernetics,” as we dial back to an era or a time frame like the 1880’s and 1890’s at the end of Victorian England, or the American Western. Often in the form of “alternate history” where the computer revolution occurred 100 years early with Charles Babbage’s analytical engine, and feature pseudo-scientific versions of steampowered vehicles, air-ships, and all sorts of other things, “steampunk” for many has become purely an ascetics, which was something I said I was trying to not do. I didn’t want to just add a few  random gears to piece of clothing or unnecessary goggles and call it “steampunk.”

The second half the term is as vital as the first, because being a “punk” implies being in opposition to the norm, and the setting of Steampunk Musha is all about overturning traditional values, or rather, it’s a setting in which traditional values and more “modern” ones are coming into conflict. In real-world analogies, the “punk” could be that women are seeking equality to the patriarchic status quo, or that “lower class” people think they too can rule a city. These are just simple examples but we’re trying to “bake into” the setting some of this by introducing that concept of philosophies.

And then finally we get to the Musha, which is short for musha shugyoo, the warrior’s quest or pilgrimage, and similar to the Western concept of the knight errant from feudal Europe. Musha, itself, just means “warrior” in the most basic sense, but adding the second part, it helps to imply that the setting is one in which a traditional idea of a “warrior in training” will be trying to find a new way forward in a world undergoing an Industrial Revolution of its own, so you’ll have metal-men automatons able to wield katana, and monks of ancient traditions grappling with if its right or wrong to consider the use of firearms in their warrior’s training, while others might have adopted clockwork cybernetics to power their ancient martial arts. All this and so much more.

So that’s “review” but just trying to get to this space…

Rewriting Ad Copy

While many of you following this project since the Kickstarter have already “bought in” to the world and setting of Steampunk Musha, we’re still always needing to  prepare for a day when this will be marketed outward again.

One of the hardest things to write well is that tiny bit of “ad copy” or “back cover text” that often accompanies product descriptions on sales sites, or would be what you pick up and read when you come across the book in a store. In a few hundred words, you need to “sell” the entire setting, and so you’re often forced to try to use “loaded” words that instantly convey and invoke thoughts and reactions. The thing is, you need to be careful, because what words might evoke vivid and happy images to you might remind another of centuries of racism, sexism, or oppression.

J Gray and I had already “tackled” this a bit in working on the new Shadows over Vathak Player’s Guide, where we were tasked with reworking the bhriota people of the setting. Lets just say that in their original design, they were nearly unplayable and “cannibalistic savages” was used far too often to describe them. We feel we were able to stay true to the setting and the concepts we needed to play with, but we made the race significantly more playable, and hopefully even allowed for a kind of narrative not always dealt with in fantasy settings.

So, when we came to look at Steampunk Musha and its original subtitles and taglines, we quickly realized we both wanted to rework them…

Steampunk Musha: Victoriental Adventures

Steampunk Musha is a Victoriental feudal land, torn between honoring the old traditions and embracing new technologies.

Both “VictorianOriental” being simply portmanteaued into one phrase inherently has issues, not least of which is they refer to the real-world, and rely much too strongly on various understandings of the word. Victorian refers to the vast reign of Queen Victoria in England, which starts in 1837 and lasts till 1901, a span of 64 years. This span of time relates to the Second Industrial Revolution in the West, which the phrase Victorian America being something that “makes sense” despite the fact that they’re separated by an ocean. So, trying to say the setting is “Victorian” should imply its Western to even English/American, and could be a vast range of time decades long – but as much the term “Victorian” is thought of as reference to fashion, literature, or morality – so does that mean SpM is about top hats, characters from a Dicken’s novel, or overt Christian values? I want to say, decidedly not.

And the problematic of Orient start with just simply what it refers to – it implies “East” as in East of Europe, and would cover everything from the Middle East and North Africa all the way over the vast continent of Asia to India, China, Siberia, Japan, etc. Then there is added problems, especially racial and cultural superiority and hegemony, when you look at terms like “Orientalism.” And while Steampunk Musha is trying to ground itself a bit in traditions and mythology taken from “Far East” cultures and countries like China, Japan, and Korea, we also are trying very hard to NOT be just making some parody of those cultures or appropriating (more than the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game already does) touchstones of these cultures to “Asian-up” our setting.

So, this is all a fairly long discussion to get to introduce our “Steampunk Musha Taglines and Ad Copy version 2.0” (though really it’s more like v.4.5 or so as we’ve tried to revise it a number of times). Here is our most recent take on it all.

Steampunk Musha

Where Industrialization and Tradition Collide in an Asian-Inspired Fantasy Setting

Steampunk Musha is a setting in conflict with itself, seeking balance. Ancient traditions developed in natural isolation from other cultures are put at odds with an industrial revolution imported by outsiders from beyond the sea. A war-torn land enjoys a cold-war’s peace as the rulers of a dozen city-states vie to reform a once golden empire to their liking; some choosing tradition and magic, while others choose science and technology, and others still stranger things. New lines are being drawn as the uneasy peace is tested time and again as even the individual becomes caught in the confluence of a land in revolution.

Let us know what you think?

Lucus Palosaari, Editor & Project Manager at Fat Goblin Games (Like us on Facebook!)

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