Steampunk Musha Revisited


Steampunk Musha is an alternate setting for Iron Gauntlets by Precis Intermedia Gaming (formerly Politically Incorrect Games) and uses the Impresa Express gaming system. Steampunk Musha combines asian-flavored fantasy with Victorian technology in a setting where the old and new ways are clashing, where generations are fighting for their beliefs and traditions, and the world of Rosuto-Shima is changing.

Ed. This article provides a counterpoint to this earlier review on Gamegrene.


Steampunk Musha was created by Rick Hershey with material written by Alana Abbott and Brett M. Bernstein. This book is very largely setting content with a handful of new and alternate rules. It should be noted that you need Iron Gauntlets(IG) to play this setting and most of the rules and game mechanics are found. I am not sure why the creators chose to do Steampunk Musha(SM) as an addition to IG instead of as a stand alone product. However, I will make note on any issues I have with the material when directly related to IG's core mechanics.

I will be reviewing each chapter in the book as follows:

1. Character Basics
2. Races
3. Magic and Religion
4. Arms and Armor
5. Rosuto-Shima (setting material)
6. Bestiary
7. The Stories (adventure ideas and a mini adventure)

I should note that there is a three page introduction that gives some history of Rosuto-Shima (the name of the island that the setting takes place), general information on the inhabitants and major conflicts, a brief introduction to the rules, and some flavor text discussing a sort of creation myth of the island. Most of this information is typical of rpg books.

Chapter 1: Character Basics

This chapter introduces lots of additions to IG for use with Steampunk Musha and creating characters. I'll go over all of them briefly and focus on the material more specific to SM.

- New Backgrounds: Backgrounds are basically character history, background, etc. They each have game mechanics associated with them that can influence character creation. SM backgrounds include countryfolk, crime lord, desertfolk, foreigner, imperialist, and shogunate. This is in addition to those provided in Iron Gauntlests.

- New Vocations: Vocations are basically classes in IG and are typical of what you might find in an oriental setting. These include; alchemist, barbarian, clockwork conductor (for driving steamwork vehicles), clockwork engineer (one who designs clockwork and steamwork machines), geisha, monk, ninja, ronin, samurai, scholar, spirit master (trained to use tenshu-mahou magic), street fighter, and yakuza.

- New Skills and Styles: Lots of new skills are provided in this section with a large portion dedicated to magic skills. However, we do see firearms, clockworking, and steamworking in this section. Styles are a best described as specific or refined skills and express detailed skills such asMotileworks (design and construction of utility vehicles such as clockwork wagons)

- Kits: Kits are basically detailed vocations and are less generic and more setting specific to Steampunk Musha. The ones presented are Kabukika (kabuki fighter), Shangti Cowboy, Mechanist, and Nikobo. I have to admit the Shangti Cowboy is my favorite, sort of an american cowboy, samurai, private detective all rolled into one . . . showing the creators really enjoy mixing genres.

Chapter 2: Character Races

Chapter two introduces the four main races found on the island of Rosuto-Shima. The most aspect of this chapter is the decision to separate native and foreign humans into different races. Although technically the same race, and presented as humans and gaijin, this decision appears to be more of a social decision of the inhabitants of Rosuto-Shima then anything reflecting game mechanics. Either way, interesting choice. The other races include the following.
- Clockwork Ronin: ancient warriors who have had there spirit bound to clunky clockwork bodies.
- Jinteki-Oni: A race of human-oni offspring dedicated to trying to be accepted for who they are, not what they are.
- Junishi-P'o: Race of small humanoids dedicated to the animals of the zodiac and thus taking on attributes of them.(12 different to choose from)
- Keshou: Cousin to the traditional goblin, stocky and gifted at clockworking.
This chapter also covers information on naming characters for each race with examples, gives an overview of each races history, and ideas on how to incorporate races found in the IG book.

Chapter 3: Magic & Religion

This section introduces two new forms of magic and talk briefly about religion. I would of liked to see more information on the actual religious beliefs of the people, as it seems to be important to the setting material. The two forms of magic are Gui-based magic and Tenshou-Mahou-based magic. Both these new magics seem very interesting and tie into the SM setting very well. . . however, I'm not a big fan of the freeform magic used in Iron Gauntlets. Perhaps it's too many years playing games with spell lists, but I like them. I would be more pleased if both IG and SM had more of a list based spell system.

Chapter 4: Arms and Armor

This chapter covers the typical weapons and armor found in asian themed settings. I would of liked to see a lot more "steampunk" type equipment and was overall let down by this chapter, with a few exceptions.
- The artwork of the weapons is very cool. The otsuchi with a budha like head, the six-shooter with the dragon handle, the leather modern inspired haidate with an asian flair. These are all real great designs and give a lot of flavor to the setting, even though it would of been nice to see even more.
- The clockwork sockets. This is one of the neatest ideas I've seen in a long time. Basically weapons and armor can be upgraded with mechanical sockets placed on them that allow bulbs to be screwed in to create magical affects. Each bulb has a different type of crafting based spell trapped in it that can be turned on and imbued into a weapon. When the bulb is empty, you replace it with another. One week your character is using a fire bulb, next week an ice bulb.

Chapter 5: Rosuto-Shima

This section covers all the details needed to play in the setting of Steampunk Musha, the island of Rosuto-Shima. The first couple pages cover a brief look at the history and how the island became what it presently is, then we get a map and some details on major wilderness areas, until finally getting to the details of the major cities and their regions. Twelve different city/regions are presented here, each with information on history, law enforcement, notable locations, plots and rumors, and then some general stats (such as population, technology levels, etc.) Each write up is unique and gives a lot of good information that invokes lots of imagery. You can also find plenty of npc's and adventure seeds.
My major complaint on this section is the lack of stats for all the npc's mentioned, it would of been nice and convenient (although creating npc's for IG is relatively painless). I would of also liked to see more maps of the cities, which beyond the world map, none are provided.

Chapter 6: Rosuto-Shima Creatures

This chapter covers typical creatures found in most oriental settings. I will mention that there is a twist on several of the creatures from their traditional counterparts. Only one "steampunk" creature is presented, a pair of clockwork children, which is a bit disappointing. Hopefully more creatures will see print in future products, but overall this is a typical collection of creatures.

Chapter 7: The Stories

Here we get even more adventure plots, which help to get a good idea of the type of game the creators see being played, and if used or not it's good to see. These are followed up by an adventure called Jisou-Seisen: The Children Crusade. This is a nice little adventure that sort of gives a walking tour of Shangti (the largest city of Rosuto-Shima) and pretty much directs the characters through the adventure. The one element to this adventure that allows for more open game play is the list of plots and rumors provided. These could easily be used to lengthen the adventure or lead into new adventures. If I had a big complaint about the adventure, it would be that it's doesn't seem to be written as a beginning adventure for new players. . . meaning that it doesn't give reason for the characters to be adventuring together, just assumes they have been.


This is a nice looking book. The cover is done by Jeremy Mohler and has three characters representing the theme of the book. The female kabuki has a bit of weird anatomy going on and it would have been great to see them walking down the street or something (to give an idea of the setting location) but for the most part it's nice. The layout is good, for the most part the interior art is good. Overall, for small press this is done well.


Most asian themed role-playing games present us with historical or semi-historical based setting. Steampunk Musha brings us a pure asian fantasy setting, where the influence is obvious, but the direction is unique and brave for this type of material. The cocktail of genres mixes smoothly and does not seem forced, both providing an interesting setting and great visual ideas of the type of world Rosut-Shima represents. For his first time creating an rpg setting, Rick Hershey does a fine job and brings an artistic sensibility to the entire book. I recommend this to anyone looking for something a bit different. I recommend this book for the setting alone, and will note that it is easy to convert to other mechanics. I hope to see further setting books for Steampunk Musha and more details for this asian-fantasy product.

Excellent article! From the discussion following my review of this product, I had some expectation of pure glowing adoration for this work. It was pleasing to find that you disliked certain aspects of each section but could maintain your obvious enjoyment of the book.

As far as statistics for NPCs, especially major ones, once an author has put those things into stone, it is only a matter of time before the PCs go gunning for them. Who among us hasn't sought the glory of fighting Tiamat or the dieties themselves in D&D games.

I look forward to more reviews and articles from you, Emily. Perhaps some critters, adventure ideas, campaign starts, or spell lists.

I'm sorry for the digression, your article is well written and a pleasure to read, but the term "Rosuto-Shima" just gutted my focus entirely.

And as far as the naming convention goes, I don't get the "Shangti" part of the cowboy hybrid. The only samurai association I can see is the sword in the artwork.

I think I'm more a fan of the setting then the system, to be honest. The system isn't bad, it's just not amazing or anything. I hope to see more setting material to be honest, and most likely will tweak what I would like it to have - but overall I'm very happy with it.
As far as Npc's. Well yeah, I want them put in stone so we can go kick butt :) That's the best part.

Thanks for the comments, I appreciate that. I will make sure to do some more articles for the site, it was a lot of fun sitting down and thinking about this stuff with the idea that others might like or dislike the material - new thing for me.

Thanks for the compliment. I'm not sure why the term "Rosuto-Shima" bothered you so much. It's the name of the island for the setting. If you elaborate a bit maybe I can answer any problems.

Shangti is a name of one of the city/regions of the island. Shangti cowboys originated there and are named after it. For the most part Shangti cowboys are like private detectives, sort of taking any job they can. The definetly have a "cowby" feel to them, but the main image of of one in the book is very much like a traditional samurai.

If you got any questions, I'll do my est to answer them. Thanks.

Again, I'm sorry to digress into a nitpick, but it feels like the creator really cheesed the naming.

"Rosuto" looks like an Anglicisation of a Japanese term borrowed from English, "Lost". "Shima" is one Japanese word (of several) for "island". So even if one were to stick with the "Lost Island" meaning, the combination is a euphonic aberration.

The mishmash could've been avoided several ways, the simplest being using a matching double-back from English like Rosuto with "Airando" for "island" (although only as a last resort -- yuck!). Another would be to take an example of a real name, like Iwo Jima ("sulfur island") for example, and fine tune the euphonics a little. A better solution would be to make something a little more exotic or original.

Now I'm guilty as the next slacker for using cheesy names in my adventures, but I haven't put them in public for sale or scrutiny. The name "Rostuto Shima" would drive me to distraction, and I'd have to blank it out and write in something else if I were to use the materials.

Also, according to Dictionary.Com (my 7 seconds of research), Shan Ti is Chinese in origin:

Shang Ti
Pronunciation [shahng tee]
the chief of the ancient Chinese gods.

So I'm guessing the rest of the samurai-ness is somewhere else.

Oh my, don't let this end the discussion here. How depressing.

So I'm sensitive about naming, no biggie. Rick Hershey is in good company. Microsoft named that PC tablet thing "Origami" even though the only Japanese part of the whole contraption was the name (Korean and Taiwanese parts assembled in China, U.S. English derivative O/S). It could still be a hit! No really!

It is just that if you're going for the ancient Chinese spin, why mix in the Japanese association? China has plenty of cool warrior types that are suitable. I loved Bulletproof Monk! Why not drop the "cowboy" label as well and go with "Shangti Marshal" and/or "Shangti Gunslinger"? No coolness points lost at all. Crouching Marshal, Hidden Gunslinger ... come on, roll with me here.

Alright, another confession. As far as music goes, I can't stand most fusion or medley arrangements. If you're going to play a song, play the song!. You know what I mean? It is close to a purist's mentality but I don't mind all fusion. It just has to make sense.

Anyway, come and tell me I'm full of beans or ignore this rant completely and remark on the article, either way is good.

Sorry to disappoint, but I've never considered "kicking gods' asses" as a plot for D&D, even in my younger days.

I did think of that briefly, though, when flipping through the old "legends and lore"(?) book, which statted the gods (for no apparent reason).

I actually meant to respond to this and then totally blanked on it.

As for the name "Rosuto Shima", I actually didn't find it a distraction at all. but each his own. I think it conveys what I assume the creators wanted it to, but I've seen a lot worse names in fantasy rpg's.

As for the Chinese and Japanese word medley. I do recall reading somewhere that Rick Hershey did this on purpose, and that there are several other names/words used from various eastern languages. Now, from my recollection, he did this because he wanted an asian setting- not a japanese derived setting, or chinese, but just an asian themed setting where he could play with elements that he liked. I assume to make it more fantasy and less historical.

I asked a couple people about the Shangti Cowboy name and if they liked it, hate to say it, but it got a thumbs up as being cool. however, these are people I know. The mass majority might not like it. I think it works fine. I do think you could substitute just about anything. I should mention, even though I don't the real reason, that maybe this was an attempt to show other influences in the setting beyond Victorian. That in fact, other foreigners have influnced the ancient setting as well. Perhaps it is a gaijin name given to them. Who knows, but it can be worked around.

Anyways, sorry for not getting back sooner. And on top having a jumbled response- I'm sleepy- but I still think it's a cool setting and you are nitpicking :)

but I still think it's a cool setting and you are nitpicking :)

*chuckle* Yes, you're right. I do like other parts of the setting and the artwork among other things as I mentioned on the other thread. No tarnish on the cool factor at all.

Thanks much for the reply. ;-D

Holy smokes .... and here I thought I was being nitpicky: