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Steam City Saga

Steam City Saga is making an encore appearance at GenCon this year. If you're on this page, you're probably looking for the GenCon schedule, so follow the link to the right or scroll down to the bottom.

Our first ever saga, Steam City Saga debuted in 2009 by Arnold Cassell and Paul Hubbird at ConCarolinasDragon*Con, and RoundCon. It has an encore this year at GenCon 2011, run by Paul with hopeful special appearance by Arnold.

About the Saga

New to saga gaming? We were, too, when we thought this crazy thing up in late 2008. We wanted to see if we could get more mileage out of convention games at the same time we did something together. The result is what follows. We've been able to refine it in our repeated attempts and we've learned more over the years we've done other sagas. Steam City is probably our best recipe for success.

As always with sagas, each game is playable separate from the rest – you won't miss anything for only playing Misspent Youth, for example, and you'll still leave your mark on the city. If you do choose to play in multiple sessions, your reward is more of the story. You'll see how your actions make a real difference in the setting and the sequence of events. It's worth bellying up.

Soldiers of the Steam City Underground

Runnin' gin and keeping the Associates in line is a full time job, but as mafia Soldiers, you do what you're told. You can still vividly remember your initiation into the family business, but fresh as you are, the Capo is ready to trust you with an important assignment.

A made man in the organization is temporarily geographically inconvenienced, and circumstances require his immediate relocation to a more suitable establishment. Get the job done. Just be sure to leave few witnesses, and cover all tracks leading back to the Boss. And remember to keep an eye out for the Steamcops, capiche?
Dogs in the Vineyard starts us strong out of the gate. Retasked for mafiosos and their codes of loyalty, we have a few low-ranked soldati given the simple task of springing a made man from the clink. Dogs in the Vineyard is a favorite game of mine for the hard choices it puts to players and the way it forces them to answer with consequences. Sound like the mob? It also posits that big problems can start small enough as to go unnoticed, which is exactly what Steam City Saga is about.

Bonus Session

If there's demand, I'll run a short game of Ingenuous Thursday night in the JW Marriot, Room 205, starting around 11:15. Think of it as chapter 1.5 – an intermezzo. I'll keep the scenario details a surprise, but it'll continue the extralegal flavor of the previous chapter. The first five players to show [an interest] get seats; any others are welcome to watch.

Forces Beyond Nature

Somehow it all went wrong. A marvelous locomotive carrying passengers and precious cargo, half-derailed in a rainstorm and damaged past the point of repair, is hurtling towards Steam City at impossible speeds with no conceivable way to stop. Of the genius Sparks aboard, most are injured and the rest are separated from their contraptions, powerless to halt the train's racing engine. Can the remaining passengers keep their wits long enough to survive the perils ahead, discover the cause of the accident, and ultimately guide their vessel safely home?
Geiger Counter takes us outside the city. A runaway Toccata train has barely survived an assault, and those who've managed to stay alive aren't out of the woods yet. When I first ran this session, I had no idea this simple survival horror game would handle the scenario and the theme so handily. It's got tension to spare. Will the PCs survive? No promises!

I Guess That Push Has Come To This So I Guess This Must Be Shove

The clocks keep chiming: thirteen, thirteen. The Leader, never thick with revolutionary concepts like "freedom" and "pluralism," has stopped the passage of civil time in response to the Unrest of Steam City. Catastrophe lurks just past our lawn, we're told. Sticking to our system, that of least resistance, leads to Unity, we're told. Most of all, what they're doing is all For Our Own Good.

We're told. But we know the truth.

The truth that a lawn is a collective of individual blades. That the path of least resistance is what makes the river crooked. That Our Own Good is something only
we can do.

It's time for us to do the telling. Fight the power.
The neighboring Malapropria is (over)reacting poorly to Steam City's troubles. What better game to run in an oppressive state than Misspent Youth? What Geiger Counter has in tension, Misspent Youth has in ire. Ten minutes in, everyone at the table will be pissed about who's calling the shots and willing to risk it all to make it a better place for themselves and their friends. They'll throw their bodies against the gears and see who does the grinding. Apologies to Ani Difranco.

No More Steamcops

It all came down suddenly, too suddenly. Politics, industry, life always whizzes by so quickly in Steam City, like the cogs of the machines it's built on. The pressure is always in check and there are plenty of engineers to oversee the gauges.

But then this. In just a day, maybe two, a whole lot of evidence surfaced. Fierce arguments behind closed doors, accusations of betrayal, rallying cries for justice and restitution – retribution. It stinks of history repeating itself, and you're right in the thick of it.

Now the city is in chaos, panicked people spilling into the streets from every borough as agents provocateur incite riots in waves. Overwhelmed, the last few Steamcops finally have a chance to track down the mastermind behind the madness. Will they succeed before the city they love is leveled before their eyes?
Ingenuous takes us back to the heart of Steam City. The previous sessions have implied (or foretold) the disarray; now it's front and center. The first game of the saga that's steampunk by default – Arnold and I designed it for Steam City, in fact, or vice versa –  Ingenuous is high-energy and high-stakes. When the players start to dig through the rubble, Ingenuous ensures that the trail they pick up is worth following.

This session serves as a climactic halfway marker. It's at this point some of the loose ends of the saga start getting picked up and tied off, while others are tied to new threads that'll carry the players to the end.

Little Gears

The child-engineers of the Undercity agree that the Overcity must be falling apart, what with all the broken pipes, ruptured valves and, worst of all, the coal lines exploding at random. Any Undercity kid can tell you the stories – the warnings – that if you don't clean your face before you sleep, especially around your eyes, they will take you. If you're lucky, you'll come back in a day or two, walking like a zombie and seeing the Undercity through new, coal-blackened eyes, and you won't remember anything you once were. If you're unlucky, well... that's a story best left untold.
Little Fears takes us below the veneer of brass and smoke to the Undercity. We wanted to focus on the destruction and panic that common people must be feeling as sparks and villains battle it out. These children, orphaned by the destruction or the system itself, have their own legends, and crawling through Steam City's broken underbelly will put their fears and hopes in their throats. It's only that hope that will carry them through to this ordeal, and Little Fears will give them only enough hope to believe in. I love this game. If children can handle these very adult challenges – which is how they always felt – how much hope is left for the people of Steam City?

Of note is the fact that, in the past, this was a two-table session. Arnold ran one group of kids through the Undercity while I ran a different group, with each table affecting the other in real time. It was a pretty fun twist! Should enough players show up to the table (and I manage to twist Arnold's arm), we'll do it the same way this year.

GenCon attendees: If you want to play this session but it's sold out, show up with a pair of generic tickets and I'll fit you in if I'm able. This is true of every saga chapter, but the two-table setup makes it particularly easy for this one.

A River of Steam

A call for help from Steam City, the mammoth village built of spinning gears and oil-caked bolts in which wonders are born. An unnatural miasma of pain and terror has spilled from its walls into the Unending River, and the screams of rioting citizens and shrieking metal cannot be ignored. Once again, Balance must be restored.

With body and spirit aligned, perhaps your purity will be enough. Perhaps the cost will be bearable. Perhaps this will be unlike any trial you've faced before.

Assume your stance, meter your breathing. It's time.
Unending River seems out of place, so we put it outside the city. Relief workers and refugees have left Malapropria in order to help Steam City pick up the pieces, and these sages travel alongside those good people. Unending River is all about finding (or striking) a balance between what people want and what their world can bear. Ultimately, balance is what Steam City needs, but this wagon train of earnest Samaritans has issues of its own. It's a reminder: even as huge and daunting as the last chapter revealed Steam City's wounds to be, they started among people, small and personal, and that's where they're healed.


Someone is profiting from all of this disorder. Someone new is gathering resources, guarding them carefully, biding their time. In the aftermath of the biggest disaster in living memory, a new danger is the last thing anyone wants to see grow.

Long ago, the maddest men of science made revolutionary changes overnight, too fast for anyone to adapt, too fast for anyone to see where they were going. That's why things work like they do now, and why they ended up this way. Even brave souls such as those couldn't fix this whole bulky system by themselves.

But the Sparks of today have powers of their own. Maybe they can make a change, a difference. Maybe they can make something new of this vast mountain of brass and rivets. It's time to get to the bottom of this, and fast, before it's too late.
We close our story with Ingenuous, a retrospective on all that's come before. Questions posed in previous sessions are answered, plot threads come to a close, and the players have the chance to make a measurable, permanent difference in the city. What will you decide it should be?

GenCon Schedule

If you're already logged into the GenCon event registration site, each Game ID Number link should taken you straight to the relevant session.
Time Slot Game ID Number Session Title System Location
8/4/2011 – 7:00 PM RPG1120829 Soldiers of the Steam City Underground Dogs in the Vineyard JW Marriott Room 205 – Table 2
8/5/2011 – 10:00 AM RPG1120830 Forces Beyond Nature Geiger Counter JW Marriott Room 205 – Table 1 
8/5/2011 – 2:00 PM RPG1120831 I Guess That Push Has Come To This
So I Guess This Must Be Shove
Misspent Youth JW Marriott Room 205 – Table 2
8/5/2011 – 7:00 PM RPG1120832 No More Steamcops Ingenuous JW Marriott Room 205 – Table 2
8/6/2011 – 2:00 PM
Little Gears Little Fears JW Marriott Room 205 – Table 3
8/6/2011 – 7:00 PM RPG1120834 A River of Steam Unending River JW Marriott Room 205 – Table 1
8/7/2011 – 11:00 AM RPG1120835 Sparkitects Ingenuous JW Marriott Room 205 – Table 4 
If a session you want to play is sold out, you can show up to the table with a couple of generic tickets in case someone doesn't show or a space opens up.