Friday, January 29, 2010

To Tripod or not to Tripod

My good buddy Eli over at I see lead people and I have been discussing the finer aspects of Victorian Science Fiction today.  Specifically we have discussed what is and what is not considered to be true Victorian Science Fiction. I am sure many of you remember the old War of the Worlds book written by H.G. Wells back in 1898 as the two part novel series The Coming of the Martians and The Earth Under the Martians. Some have called the book a variation on evolution interpretation while others consider the book sheer romantic science fiction.  The War of the Worlds has spawned a 1950s movie, a spin off television special, several made for television movies and the Hollywood Tom Cruise War of the Worlds. In either  event many agree that this book along with 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Journey to the Center of the Earth were the springboards for the Victorian Science Fiction genre and later the Steampunk movement itself.

I would go as far as to state that most of us have fond memories of Victorian Science Fiction romances whether we consciously realize the fact.  Indeed many of us probably can either remember reading the books or watching the television movies inspired by the books. The zealous Captain Nemo played by James Mason in the classic retelling of Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea certainly brings back happy visions of my childhood. The battle between man and beast plays out ever so beautifully and the contrast between evil and good take center stage in the form of the heroism displayed by Ned Land as he rescues the captain from the dreadful clutches of the giant squid. Then there is the submarine boat the Nautilus herself - a marvelous machine of wonder, power, beauty and death powered by atomic energy - a grandiose achievement of humanity.  The color and brass fittings and the pure spectral-like awe-inspiring design effortlessly slices through the water and slams into her victims. 

I fondly remember spending countless nights reading Edgar Rice Burroughs's fantastic tales set in the Pellucidar world deep in the center of the Earth and cheering the villainous evolved pterodactyl like rhamphorynchus race the Mahars as they tormented, enslaved, belittled and basically controlled their stone-age human slaves and gladiators.  Other books by Edgar Rice Burroughs bring such Victorian Science Fiction/Pulp crossovers such as Tarzan the Ape Man and Of Men and Monsters.

Most people will agree that these movies are all part of the Victorian Science Fiction genre.  Now let us discuss what miniature wargamers think of when we talk about Victorian Science Fiction.  The words Land Ironclad and Aeronef immediately spring to mind one being a creation of Wessex Games the other a short story by H.G. Wells.  I have seen a good many Victorian Science Fiction games played using British Colonials versus humble Martians and/or Colonial Powers going head to head. If you have ever watched James Cameron's Avatar or Hayao Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke then you have seen the great powers fighting against native populations. This is the age of conquest and invention covered in a thick layer of smoke.  This is the bread and butter of Victorian Science Fiction.

Now we move into a more esoteric level of gaming that is known but to only a few, Edwardian Science Fiction.  This is the realm where classics like Weird World War I and the original Land Ironclads written by H.G. Wells live.  Imagine a world ran by machines much like those from World War I but instead of using the combustion engine they still use steam.  Imagine the giant behemoths of the predreadnought age being able to go about on the land as well as on the water.  Imagine flying ships that rival even the Great White Fleet. This is not to suggest that the combustion engine was not invented - it was - but turbine-powered steam and smoke vehicles are sort of a symbol of pride for the powers and besides the combustion engine is not able to move the behemoth land machines.  This is an age of reason where people dream of steam and politicians maneuver beneath the veil.

The point I am trying to make is that while most people believe that Victorian Science Fiction gamers are interested in only playing out the fantasy elements there are many of us who enjoy the history and the majesty that comes with the beauty of steam and cogs.  Many of us -myself included- also enjoy historical war gaming and delight at the taking something like the Great War and adding alien tripods or massive land battleships from time to time. To further my point what I am suggesting is that Victorian Science Fiction can be about whatever you want it to be about as long as you remember to dream of steam.

Question:  I want to include Martians and Greys in my VSF armies and want to include the Eureka GZG Alien tripods as well as the Pegasus model's martain flying machine from the movie. Yes the one with the cool goose neck that made the zazaza boom sound with its heat ray.  Do you believe that these war machines would add to or subtract from the flavor of my Victorian Science Fiction gaming?  Keep in mind that I already have Colonial British from both the Zulu and Boer war, Boers, Zulus, German Sea Battalion, American Civil War American Revolutionaries (usable as colonists), GZG space men (also double as my Sci Fi 15mm army) and other odds and ends.  Also keep in mind I also play Victorian Science Fiction in the Wild West as well as during the American Civil War.  So I put the question to you, my fine readers, should I tripod or no?

Disclaimer:  Illustrations included in this post are the property of their owners and are being used without permission.


  1. I think it is all a matter of the way they are used. The more stremalined elements could be used as ancient technology, now lost to the more tribal Martians.

    Another options is to use your little grey men as another race all together. Perhaps they and their sleek goose-necked sauceroid warmachines hail from deep within the moon or maybe they come from Mercury or one of the outer planets?

  2. ACG, Interesting article, though this isn't my type of game. I did the Napoleonics thing, but never got into VSF gaming or steam punk. Great pictures!

  3. I'm not into gaming (though everybody else in my family is), but I'm definitely into Verne and Sci-Fi. I love the older film adaptations of Verne, particularly the Disney "Twenty-Thousand Leagues." There have been two made-for-TV versions since, and neither had the fun or acting in the Disney version, and their CGI didn't improve the special effects, they made them worse. The early French adaptation of "From the Earth to the Moon" got nearly everything wrong, but was still great fun and high camp. The 60s British version was more accurate, but got a bit off-track in the moon sequences. Love your blog, even if I'm not a gamer.

  4. Eli I agree with you in those respects. I think I will probably go for variations on ETs with my VSF stuff. As a side note, I primed up my Ironclads last night and put them on those tank treads. Next to 15mm figures they look like behemoths! They turned out really well! Now it's time to get them painted up and get some blue tack so that the tracks stay on the ironclads when they are moved (but are not permanent so I can play Ironclads as well).

    Lawhawk did you ever see that horrible film about the mutant machine squid thing 30,000 leagues under the sea?

    Andrew: Thank you for your comments. I think you might actually enjoy VSF especially the rules set I am making as it blends in traditional Napolenonics rules such as command factors and mixes in the VSF elements and science fiction quite nicely. They are still in progress but will be free when I am completed with them most likely.

  5. ArmChairGeneral

    Interesting idea. There is one thing I would like to point out about Victorian Science as you name it which would be to me the understanding physicists had during the 19th centry regarding the nature of space.

    Space was not considered empty. It is my understanding that the belief was that empty space was a like a cloth over a table which was refered to as the Aether. Atoms (they did not understand subatomic particles at that time) were thought to be as knots in the Aether. The scientists at the time had developed a whole listing of various ways to make complex knots in an attempt to understand how matter worked.

    I would suggest that for a true victorian steam punk game which involved martians and space travel that you incorporate ships that sail through the Aether and thus have the wooden hull and steamwork design. If you do this I think you could incorporate them seemlessly into the fluff of the game and if someone does not like the idea of martians then so be it those individuals could leave it out. This is of course more John Carter on Mars than War of the Worlds but you could adapt it. Tripods run on steam and the ray guns are focused light beams made with mirrors etc.

    The game sounds interesting!