What is Steampunk...

Hi Everyone :)

I am thinking... (and that is only thinking at this stage), of doing a kind of Steampunk City, or a set of symbols that can be added to existing city styles to make it look and feel steampunk.

So the question really is - what makes a city map a steampunk city map?



  • Gears, clockworks, steam replacing oil driven technology, and punks dresses as human steam engines with clocks :D

  • Favourite items are dirigibles, lots of gears, pistons and clockwork mechanisms, steam cars. A true hybrid of steam and clockwork gears replacing all the other types of technology, and punk like gear to wear.

    Google has lots of images, but most are of fashions (for people to dress up in for steampunk-themed festivals).

  • LoopysueLoopysue ProFantasy 🖼️ 39 images Cartographer

    Thanks, Quenten :)

    I had thought about pipes all over the place as well. Is that something normally associated with Steampunk?

    I'm thinking more of City scale, so the people aren't quite as important as the buildings and structures, since they would be dots at that scale.

  • Pipes, pistons, gears. trains, steam cars, steam trams, therefore stations, boilers, diving chambers, dirigible hangars and 'airports'etc. And the punk bits are in the ornamental bits - especially gears, clockwork, arcane symbols, goggles. Google Steam punk images should help.

    I will try to get more examples and pics of buildings and structures that I can.

    The theme is also Victorian, so houses etc would be of the Victorian era, especially terrace houses etc. It is possible that your country might have a few examples of Victorian architecture. Australia has a lot, mainly in the State of Victoria - funny that.

    And the whole genre is overblown fantastical.

  • Steampunk uses late 19th to early 20th century clothing and architecture as a base for most designs -- "Victorian" covers a larger time period. From there the style is modified with this time period's retro-futuristic components, like complex clockwork and steam-powered machinery. From this point things get really open-ended and fantastical. The setting can be an industrial British city to the American "Wild-West." Futuristic aspects can get as complex as massive airships, or stay relatively small and simple. Hell if you want to you can throw in magic like I did. Why not? Who says I can't?

    The biggest obstacle I see you facing, Sue, is trying to satisfy as many possibilities as you can.

    Oh, and don't go too strong with the brass. Happens way too much.

  • JimPJimP 🖼️ 261 images Cartographer
    edited November 2021

    I was told it is simply anything that doesn't use electricity. Clockwork and steam. Some things are run by springs, but those wouldn't need to be drawn, just a container with a gear and axel on it.

    Basically, electricity didn't work out for some reason. Substitute steam and gears.

    Ideas can likely be found in 1880s to early1900s ships and planes. Some of the earliest aircraft were steam powered, not internal combustion engines.

    The anime movie Howl's Moving Castle might give you some ideas as well.

    Edit. Fixed some typos.

  • ArestrisArestris Newcomer
    edited November 2021

    Steam Punk, is, as some already said, mostly Victorian age style, mixed with visible "technology / industrial" design. Visible gears, steam engines, open metal beams, old style factory with chimneys, visible flames and / or smoke, visible polished brass or copper parts, displays that look like made from old tube tvs, computer like machines with keyboards that look a bit like old type writers from their style and many things a bit ornated with polished brass parts, leather and so on.

    But it's not limited to steam engines, often it's fantasy / SciFi tech, important is here imho the look, it always looks a bit, as it could be made in the early 19th century, design wise. Also part of the world are often things like airships (sometime even things, that would obviously not fly with real world technics / physics), also fashion used in those works, also use a style, based on Victorian times. Also typical are the use of other "old" looking tools, brassen spyglasses, old paper maps, levers instead of buttons, and so on.

    Good examples are probably found in:

    • The golden compass
    • Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne (the Nautilus itself)
    • Mortal engines (there was a movie not so long ago)
    • Anime: Howls moving castle from Studio Ghibli (the castle itself as also planes / airship and other machines you see there)
    • Anime: Steamboy
    • Anime: Laputa (Castle in the Sky; from Studio Ghibli)
    • Anime: Last Exile
  • LoopysueLoopysue ProFantasy 🖼️ 39 images Cartographer

    @Rowan Hockema Thanks, that helps a lot. No brass? Oh, now I'm all disappointed! I remember going to see various steam powered museums with my father when I was a child, and they were always full of brass bits and bobs. But never mind. Even if I like the pipe idea it would only be a part of the set anyway.

    @JimP Thank you :) That's very strange, you know, since one of the reasons they used to have Showman traction engines at fairs in this country was to generate the electricity needed to power the fair organs and rides (as well as to tow them from site to site). But maybe that was a later benefit of steam power? Or maybe electricity was just too boring from the point of view of whoever created this idea? Would there be oil lamps instead of light bulbs, then? And if there were... then maybe that is why a lot of artists add lots of brass. It's nice and shiny and can be used to reflect light around the scene from a relatively dim oil lamp?

    @Arestris I've watched the first three of those films. I think I might have incorporated that kind of scenery into my own more general concept of fantasy, rather than steampunk. Maybe that is why I am finding it so difficult to distill the concept from everything else? I like Ghibli films, but I can't seem to get hold of them on YouTube. And not being a fan of paying excessive amounts of money to watch hours of adverts I don't have a TV or Sky ;) But I purchased Mortal Engines just recently, and saw the other two on TV back in the days before I gave up on it as a humungous time and money drain.


    More general note here: This isn't going to happen overnight, if it does. If I do a Steampunk city style at some point it will be several months away and well into next year. I thought I should say that now, rather than later.

  • Probably oil lamps would still be in use. In the 1950s, my grandmother would always get the kerosene lamps out when it clouded up.

    You can find excerpts of Howl's Moving Castle on YouTube. One I saw recently showed various conveyances, along with ships of various types for ocean and air.

  • Oh, no, I meant just don't make everything brass. I often feel it's overused.

  • LoopysueLoopysue ProFantasy 🖼️ 39 images Cartographer
    edited November 2021

    I always make as much as I can to fit the collective opinion on what it should be. I never manage to make all of it, but if it is decided that I do a steampunk city, there will be pipes. Some will be brass, some steel, and I think some glass ones would be pretty cool.

  • jslaytonjslayton Moderator, ProFantasy Mapmaker

    Too many brass tubes connecting the brass cog monocle to the brass cog belt buckle that feeds into the glass corset stay bubble tubes? Sorry, that image is still burned into my brain.

    [Deleted User]Loopysue
  • Loopsue since this is about mapping, you are in luck because you do not have to define steampunk. All you need to do is look at the aesthetics. That is a lot easier than trying to define steampunk. The three most common attributes are gears, goggles, and airships. The most common materials used in steampunk are are brass, copper, wood, and leather. But, how do you turn that into maps? For me, that is the problem with just looking at steampunk images. I have even searched for steampunk maps and haven't found anything useful.

    What I think will need to be done is somehow mix contemporary steampunk aspects into period appropriate mapping. With that said, I think what will need to be focused on to turn into map into a 'steampunk' map is less the map contents/style and more the additional things added to the map. For example, take a look at this map of New Orleans from 1880. It is very similar in style to the Annual 1 19th Century map as well as the 1930's style. But, what is mainly different is the elaborate border.

    This 1890 New Orleans map is just B&W, but has building images around the side. Also notice the types of fonts used: https://i.ebayimg.com/images/i/370819204225-0-1/s-l1000.jpg

    Now, here is a map of New York City. Notice it is similar tot he New Orleans map style first listed. But notice the decoration on the right for the Map.

    You can also see decorative embellishments on this map:

    If you look at London maps, you will see that the annual 1 works great for reproducing things about these style maps without any changes:


    I would design two style maps. The first is the city. I would take annual 1 19th century map as the base. Add in sheet effects to give depth to the square buildings. (Notice that some styles are flat, some go up, and some look indented.) I would add in color overlays. I would then design a couple of different borders. However, in stead of doing with the Victorian floral patterns, I would go with gears, pipes, or something that is industrial. I would also go with some stock art images of steamships and airships.

    In terms of buildings, I would go with the Cthulhu City approach of just a few important buildings that you can see the front of instead of just the stops of roofs as is typical of city maps. You will need some coal fired factories, warehouses, churches, graveyards, parks, ports, railroad stations, railroad stops, trolley lines, trolley stations, subway tubes, aerodromes, and maybe a tall building/tower for docking airships as well. You will need a few tall buildings ranging in size from 3 to 10 stories. I think it is here that you can maybe tweak the Victorian style to be more steampunk.

    You will want the distance to be an industrial look along with the compass. It will be things like that which would take the map from just a Victorian map to a Steampunk map.

    I would also add in a distrissed parchment along with the normal parchment background.

    I would also like to see a region map. I would probably use the Mercator style but change the outside to be more steampunk, e.g. gears instead of circles. Have it show train lines as well as airships paths. I would think it would be something that might be used by people in airships.

  • Haha it sounds like you have a particular imagine in your mind, but you've still captured my point well. I've never really understood the focus on brass, especially since steel would have been popular for the time period.

  • LoopysueLoopysue ProFantasy 🖼️ 39 images Cartographer

    @JulianDracos That's interesting. I think there are a couple of annuals that already fit the bill in that case, like Cthulu City, for instance


    In which case it might seem to be a waste of time making another one.

    But I think there are two separate things all tangled up right here. There's that view of steampunk maps, and there's this view of them


  • @Loopysue When it comes to steampunk maps, I think what is missing are some assets that would just make it easier for people. I have used the Cthulhu City. But other things requires outside sources to make the maps look more steampunk. Here is how I see it. To me, Cthulhu City added very little to the 1930's style. So, couldn't you just take the 19th Century map from Annual 1 and make a few tweaks? At least from a marketing point of view, being able to say steampunk would help.

    When I looked at the steampunk map link you provided, I saw almost nothing that was a steampunk map. A lot ofbuilding images. Many of the steampunk maps are things that do not say steampunk to me, can be done with current map styles, or replicate 19th century style maps. For example:


    But, how about an Isometric map? That could provide something different from current offerings. It also permits things to look much more steampunk because it is not meant to be a top down map. What gave me the idea was this map:


  • Vehicles like steam railway engines and rolling stock might be useful additions, traction engines, other larger steam powered vehicles. Airships. Steam ships (surface and undersea). Ether flyers (= spacecraft). Factory chimneys and other factory roof structures (larger glass panels, for instance), glass-roofed railway station platform buildings, railway drawing tools. Many of these would be valuable for 19th-century settings beyond putative "Steampunk" settings, of course.

    Electricity isn't necessarily out of the question in all Steampunk settings, for engines and lighting, for example. Gas lamps will often feature as well, on buildings and as street lamps.

  • If you decide that you can see individual buildings in your selected scale of map then all you need are additional addons to the buildings. More smoke stacks, chimneys, trolley tracks, trolleys, more smoke, wind mill parts, rooftop air ports, exposed structural members, ect.

    Also look at the Wuppertal Schwebebahn - Wikipedia

    It is my opinion that Steam Punk happened. In the late 1800s all sorts of strange things were built. The above transit line and the real planning for more all over Europe. The Great Eastern, compare it to other ships built at the time. There is a rail line built on a floating road bed made of inflated pig skins in wood cribbing with the normal gravel over the top. The Firth of the Forth bridge, look at when it was built and how it is put together. The White Pass and Yukon railroad, an amazing construction feat. People went out and built the most amazing things because they thought of them.

  • LoopysueLoopysue ProFantasy 🖼️ 39 images Cartographer

    Thank you all very much! :)

    @JulianDracos I think the distinction between Steampunk and not Steampunk at the world and regional scale is probably not so great and more to do with concept and description than actual style. I wouldn't have known those regional maps were Steampunk if you hadn't told me, or I hadn't read the text. Which means it would be a more definite thing to work on a Profantasy city scale style, where the individual buildings can be seen. I've tried isometric styles before with Isometric City, which I think was limited by the number of angles you could have buildings at before it became too confusing to use as a style. So I would probably stick to city scale and top view if I went ahead and did this.

    @Wyvern I think you are right about the railway stuff. I will have to consider that carefully, since a locomotive is a pretty difficult thing to draw, even without any fanciful design alterations. I could take the Showman traction engines I saw as a child at the Great Dorset Steamfair as a starting point, but without the canopies.


    I might have to go with electricity for some of the lighting if I do this style, or the maps will be too dark to print.

    @pvernon I think city scale is a good starting point, and you are right - it looks like the basics are already there in most city styles. I might think about doing an adaptation of Darklands City as a Steampunk City.

  • I think this is probably my lack of imagination, but my thoughts are can the tops of buildings convey steampunk? Or really much in the way of style. That is why I like the Cthulhu City because it at least has some three dimensional buildings you can see.

    I am not sure what electricity has to do with making the map dark. Maybe that was a joke. In any case, there were plenty of gas powered street lights at the time. Although if you are looking at effects, coal smoke to dim everything along with sewage effects for the water.

    While this seems focused on the city level, there seems room for some other maps if someone wants to do some more maps:

    1. Update of the 1800's floor plans to contain steampunk items in the house
    2. Updated Moody Mansions for steampunk items
    3. Floor plans for an airship
    4. Floor plans for a steamship
    5. Floor plans for a train
    6. A sewer/dungeon pack
  • I like the idea of a steampunked darklands city - or a darklandish Steampunk city.

    Need railroads, dirigibles and their landing fields, trains, train stations, victorian type mansions, townhalls, theatres, police stations and lockups and courthouses. Bridges spanning rivers, chasms, shopping centres. Arcadian follies (as temples - need steampunked versions of other cultural temples, like mosques, pagodas, casinos; gas lamps, gas balloons, gas bags. Really be gas, man! British eccentricity at it craziest.

    All dolled up with a bit of steampunk madness - pipes, balloons, gears, Illuminati symbology, and a few Golden Dawn stuff.

  • MonsenMonsen Administrator 🖼️ 46 images Cartographer
    edited November 2021

    I think it is important to realize Steampunk is fantasy though. And with that I mean, they do fantastic things with the steam that isn't possible at all under real world physics. In many cases, you see them approaching semi-modern concepts (while still being in the Victorian age) but using steam instead of electricity and more practical fuels. So when drawing steampunk, it isn't "will this be possible using steam", but more "does this seem cool and somewhat plausible if we ignore actual physics?" all the way to "this doesn't seem plausible at all, but it is damn cool".

    Many steampunk settings uses things like automatons, which are large steam-powered robots, both "human-like" and "this-is-a-big-machine" like. Sometimes intelligent, self-operating, in other settings controlled by an operator.

    I like the city-building computer game Frostpunk for it's visuals. It' is basically Steampunk in the cold (concept art) (automatons)

    Another interesting omputer game that takes the concept pretty far and some more, is Sunless Skies. Here you pilot a flying locomotive through the void between the remains of a broken world floating as islands in the void. Even the sun itself is an artificial steam-powered contraption.

    For overland maps, I think the difference lies much in the symbology used. Steampunk likes to say, "Hey, here I am!". A typical steampunk map would be something in between a modern map and a fantasy map, and would use symbols and map decorations with a steampunk flair. Symbols would look more like the fantasy symbols, i.e. drawn from an isometric view, not the minimalist top-down symbols on modern maps. Instead of a caravan representing a trade route, you would see a train symbol, you may have dirigibles instead of ships, the city symbols would probably have some smoke stacks and visible pipework in the artwork, and so on.

  • LoopysueLoopysue ProFantasy 🖼️ 39 images Cartographer

    @JulianDracos No, it's not a lack of imagination. I am having just as much trouble as you are! LOL! Having thought about it a while since you wrote that, I am coming around to the idea that the style of a city map is all about the textures, tools, what you can draw with it, and yes - the rooftops, which in a Steampunk city sound and look like they are anything but regular. These would have to be carefully crafted to look right from above with our standard roof shading. Where the textures are concerned - I have several different kinds of grass, mud and field fills in Darklands City part 2 that I'm working on right now, but if I were making a Steampunk city I have a feeling that those things wouldn't matter quite so much, or that they would be twice as dark, very depressingly grey and black, and there would be a sheet given over entirely to various rather huge and only slightly visible smoke symbols. It's more about the mood of the style I think, though having the pipes, cogs and contraptions showing through all that murk is a clear requirement. Since we already have overland styles created by other artists that could be modified to include the steampunk element I think I will turn my attention to the city style idea, which hasn't been done yet for CC3.

    @Quenten That idea was to cut down on the sheer amount of work a decent sized steampunk city would require - the buildings being quite a lot more elaborate than usual, it would have been nice to start with all the textures ready done, but I think they are probably a little too clean and 'proper' for a Steampunk style. Even so, I could darken them and use the Darklands buildings as the rural bits of a Steampunk style - stick some pipes and glass and brass observatories and such like on variations of the tiled buildings maybe. Have a dirigible port and add more as necessary to provide a basic framework for other more complicated and obviously steampunk symbols. I assume that even in a steampunk world there are bits that are relatively 'normal'. There would have to be for it to seem realistic. After all - we don't have skyscrapers in our villages. Well, we don't yet, anyway.

    @Monsen I think I like contraptions to be plausible, which is a definite drawback in this case. That's down to the way I was raised, and the rather ridgid ideas of what art was about back in my art college days. I used to fill my sketchbooks with dragons, for instance, and was told off for drawing unreal stuff! LOL! So just recently when I tried to draw a dragon again after 40 years of refraining from doing so, I turned out to be really rubbish at it. However, it started coming back to me in the end. I'm hoping the same thing will apply with Steampunk - that after all these decades of feeling like I wasn't allowed to draw such 'silly' things I might be ok at it once I banish all those disapproving demons set on me by less imaginative folk when I was younger.

    Thank you for those links. I remember you mentioning that world before at some point. Interesting that Lego actually got involved. It's the last company I would associate with Steampunk. Well, if they can do it, so can I.

    Combining what you say about overland maps with what Julian said before that, maybe some of the original artists can be persuaded to add the necessary bits and bobs to their overland styles?

  • MonsenMonsen Administrator 🖼️ 46 images Cartographer

    I think I like contraptions to be plausible, which is a definite drawback in this case.

    That's a drawback whenever you deal with fantasy. In classic fantasy, one has to suspend disbelief a bit in the face of magic, which can do stuff not normally possible. In steampunk, one kind of have to accept the same of their steam technology. It's basically their "magic". I guess it is quite similar as to how utterly unbelievable our modern world would be to a renaissance person (It's just that our version turned out to be possible under the laws of physics)

    Interesting that Lego actually got involved.

    It's not that lego got involved (AFAIK), it's just peoples tendency to build everything out of lego. Lego is a great outlet for creativity, you don't need the lego company to make a set for you to be able to make nice things. These days, you can even build lego online on their website, making designs without owning a single brick.

  • LoopysueLoopysue ProFantasy 🖼️ 39 images Cartographer

    Thanks Remy :)

    Going back to what I said earlier about basing something on Darklands, here are two shots illustrating the situation as I see it, which may or may not be right. The first is a shot 'as it is' from the Darklands City part 2 I'm currently working on. The second is a shot with a filter I've placed over the whole map to give it the sort of dour and desparate feeling that lies in the background of most of the large scale Steampunk maps I've seen so far.

    Imagine the second image with additional steampunk buildings and contraptions.

    Have I got the right idea, or is it something more like this with added pipes and cogs and strange inexplicable contraptions?

  • @Loopysue I think I solved the roof tile problem - just make the tile shapes interlocking gears! All you really need to do is slap some gears on something to call it steampunk anyway.

    Besides that, you will need a Victorian house shape along with tenements and brownstone/row house buildings. Those will be square/rectangle blocks for the most part. Your darklands style may already have this, but you will need some tent symbols for the poor tent cities that sprung up in parks.

    You will need a wide road that has trolley tracks in the center. I think that is key for making the styles useful. I would go with a small road that has one track and larger roads with two tracks.

    You should be able to draw a top down of an airship and it still look like an airship. That can help with making it steampunk.

    If you are needing things to look at you have:

    Wild Wild West

    The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne

    Shadow and Bone

    Carnival Row

    Mortal Engines - look at the cities/houses they have: http://anygoodfilms.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/mortal-engines.jpg

    There is also Republic City from Legend of Korra. This is dieselpunk not steampunk, but it is often listed as steampunk. Anyway, if you can make the buildings look more East Asian from the top, you could spin things to be multicultural - https://i.pinimg.com/originals/ef/fc/1d/effc1d056214eba57acae272c9676916.png

  • LoopysueLoopysue ProFantasy 🖼️ 39 images Cartographer

    Thanks Julian, that's really helpful :)

    I think making the tiles cog-shaped might be a bit too far. I was thinking more of pipes...

  • jslaytonjslayton Moderator, ProFantasy Mapmaker

    Varicolor pipes so you can do brass or iron?

    [Deleted User]CalibreLoopysue
  • Anything that could be found on a floor/deck plan or battle map of a boiler/engine room in a steampunk setting would be helpful. This would include how the power generated by an engine would be transmitted to where it will be used. And don't forget the automatons! (You can't have dastardly villains without sinister minions.)
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