Space 1889 is a Steampunk Tabletop Roleplaying Game by Frank Chadwick, and published first in 1988 by Game Designers Workshop, then by Heliograph Inc.It is set in an Alternate Universe Victorian era where the scientific theories of the day are true; a luminiferous aether fills the depths of space, which is what people use to travel from world to world in Cool Airships. Indeed, the game describes itself as Victorian era science fiction. As the game is set in an alternate-Victorian era, all the great powers have colonies on the other planets.It had at least two Tabletop Game semi-spinoff/semi-expansions; Sky Galleons of Mars, which provided detailed rules for ship-to-ship combat, and the Soldier's Companion, which provided rules for playing a miniatures wargame.There was also a 1989 Computer RPG, Mars 1889, which is mostly forgotten today. Savage Worlds reedition is upcoming!
This game provides examples of:
All Planets Are Earth-Like: Mercury, Venus and Mars can all support Human life quite easily, although only Mars has any sort of civilization on it- Mercury has only very basic life, such as trilobites, Venus has Sentient Lizardmen, although they are only at the Stone Age level. Mars has an ancient Civilization based around their canals, although they have lost the technology necessary to build new canals or even to maintain their cities. The Moon can also support life, although there is no atmosphere on the surface- it only exists nearer to the Moon's core.
Amazon Brigade: Soldier's Companion mentions Company A of the 62nd St. John's Fusiliers of New Brunswick, Canada stationed in Syrtis Major, better known as the Amazonians, is all female except for the commanding captain. Averted in that it is not an elite unit. Soldier's Companion claims this unit existed historically. It is also mentioned in Transactions of Royal Martian Geographical Society part 1.
Apocalypse Cult: Not typical version at least. Cult of the Worm seeks to bring about the destruction of the world, but not by summoning or waking some great god of destruction. They revere the "Old Ones" but these are not some tremendously powerful and destructive deities.
Applied Phlebotinum: Largely absent, except for Edison's Etheric Propeller, whose workings are not disclosed and Martian Liftwood, a Martian Tree whose specially treated wood can be used to make flying ships. Rest assured, all the Earthly Powers with influence on Mars are desperate to control more of this material which can create air born Dreadnoughts.
Cool Airship: Mars and Earth now have flying ships based on liftwood. Venus has Zeppelins because liftwood deteriorates very quickly on Venus. In real history the first Zeppelin was built in 1900.
Cure Your Gays: Attempted. In Canal Priests of Mars the John Douglas 9th Marquess of Queensbury is bringing his effeminite son Alfred to Mars to get him out of Oscar Wilde's influence and to 'toughen' him. Historically he would in 1895 trick Oscar Wilde into sueing him -which ended up sending Oscar Wilde to prison. Historically Alfred didn't meet Oscar Wilde until 1891 and Canal Priests of Mars is persumably set in 1889 so this is slightly ahistorical.
Did We Just Have Tea with Cthulhu?: In Canal Priests of Mars the player characters get to have a conversation with an absolutely ancient, virtually immortal, being who is also the leader and founder of the horrifying Cult of the Worm.
Easy Evangelism: averted. European attempts to spread Christianity on Mars go very poorly, worse than anywhere on Earth. This is not limited to religion, though. All other European ideas leave canal martians unimpressed. This extends to technology, human military technology is pretty much the only human thing the Canal Martians want. Humans are certainly unimpressed by the current canal Martians, but these generally do not try to spread their beliefs to humans -except their belief that humans should go home and that is not working.
Excessive Steam Syndrome: Justified where ships use solar boilers to power their "aether propellers" between planets. The boilers, which consist of a large parabolic mirror and a boiler on a turntable vent their safety valves directly into the engine room on a space ship, in order to preserve as much water as possible from being lost.
Fantastic Racism: Given that this is the late 19th century there is no shortage of perfectly regular human-on-human racism -though this is not emphasized in the adventures. There is not Canal Martian on Canal Martian racism because they have had easy long distance travel and even a global society for millenia so geographical features have disappeared; so no races and no such racism (Canal Martians do not necessarily get along, but that is not because of race or racism). Humans and Canal Martians generally do not get along. Humans generally think that Canal Martians have a dignified look and gait, but they are small-minded, staid, conservative, overly traditional, wrong-headed, organized in opressive, parochial, despotic and corrupt societies, devoted to absurd and morbid religions and incapable of progress or self-improvement. The book hints that humans also think that behaviour at many canal martian courts are "scandalous" but does not elaborate. Given that late 19th century human society is prone to thinking in terms of races, these differences are often considered racial rather than cultural (ignoring the fact that Canal Martians obviously were very different and quite prosperous and much more advanced than the humans millenia ago). Canal martians think the "red men" (caucasians look red to martian eyes) are small-eyed, undignified, disrespectful, short-sighted, terribly wasteful, pushy intruders who really should go home to their own planet. It does happen that martian cities explode in xenophobic, boxer-rebellion-like riots. Hill Martians have a more relaxed attitude and see humans pretty much like everything else in their world; another resource to be used or an enemy to be fought as the case might be. Humans tend to see Hill Martians as savages, noble or not. Canal Martians just look down on Hill Martians as primitives. Everybody else thinks, correctly, that High Martians are violent, hateful, nasty, brutish, barbarous, feral, primitive and filthy.
First Contact: In Space 1889 first known contact happened in the 19th century. In some adventures, there are hints that Earth might have been visited before. There are also a few adventures where the player characters get to experience first contact with a new race or isolated civilization.
Forgotten Trope: The Edisonade. There are inventors like that in the adventures and in the backstory, including the real Edison. There are rules for making inventions so the players can have such a character too.
Giant Flyer: Quite a few on Mars. They have biological mechanisms that create "lift" the same way liftwood does so they can get much bigger than terran flyers. Skrill can actually carry a rider.
Global Currency: Mostly averted. The British pound is the unit used in the books and often accepted on Mars (particularly in gold form), but each nation still has its own currency. Unlike modern times, many countries have gold standard in 1889 making exchange rates very stable.
Gold Digger: A minor female character in Canal Priests of Mars turns out to be a particularly unsympathetic example of golddigger.
Hand Wave: A few times. For instance, in the game Mars has a surface gravity is just a little bit lower than Earths. In reality it is less than half of Earth’s surface gravity. In the core book it is mentioned that Mars’ gravity is significantly higher than scientists had expected and that they have no real explanation for this.
Historical-Domain Character: Less often than you would expect. Female American journalist Nellie Bly appears in one adventure. Quite a few first class passengers on the Ether Flyer in the adventure Canal Priests of Mars are also historical. The British officers mentioned in Soldier's Companion are historical.
Kaiser Reich: often the antagonist -which is surprising given that Britain was more hostile to France and Russia in 1889 and there is nothing in the alternate history that would make them particularly more hostile.
Lost Technology: The Martians were once a highly advanced Space-faring civilization, but have heavily declined over the millennia, until they reached the state that we find them now- a decadent Renaissance level world. Mars is a vast desert, and life only exists around the canals that the Martians built hundreds of thousands of years ago. The pump stations and power stations which enable their culture to exist were built for extreme long-use, but the more complex systems have failed, and some canals have disappeared as the water which filled them dried up. Martian cities are enormous and filled with gigantic skyscrapers, but the smaller populations who now inhabit them only live on the first few floors in the towers closest to the canals- the cities are too big and too tall to transverse by foot, but there are rumours of unexplored rooms with ancient Martian devices....
Machine Worship: A toned-down version. Martians do not exactly worship the remaining still working devices of their great ancestors. However the reverance for these things, particularly the great canal system that is essential to pretty much all live on Mars, sometimes take a clearly religion dimension. Canal Keepers of Garyaan would be the most obvious example -a religious order charged with maintaining the canal system. Played perfectly straight with the Science Priests of "The Shining Flow" (electricity) in the adventure "River of Life" in "Tales from the Ether".
Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness: Relatively hard, perhaps 3.5. Two great exceptions to known laws of physics; liftwood and ether. Technologies built on these are explained in some detail and apart from these two exceptions, generally workable and within range of technology anno 1889. There are sometimes miracular devices appearing in some adventures, and typically destroyed by the end of the adventure. Some adventures are diffenerent though. Tree of Souls in Challenge 46 has a dead person rising and creating zombies with incantations with no scientific explanation at all.
New Technology Is Evil: Occasionally played straight where a mad scientist, obsessed with his latest, powerful invention, is the antagonist. Usually averted or downright inverted though. Player characters can invent new and useful things and or simply buy off-the-shelf cutting edge late Victorian technology and employ it against more primitive enemies. Antagonists are often primitives and reactionaries hostile to science and technology.
No Biochemical Barriers: Played fairly straight humans can breathe the air of Mars and Venus and eat the food. Humans just find typical Martian food way too spicy for their taste. Nothing seems to indicate that of crossbreeding between humans and aliens are possible though.
Noble Savage: Mostly played straight with the nomadic Hill Martians. The feral, barbaric High Martians, however are clearly an inversion.
No Woman's Land: Victorian Britain treats respectable women with heavy-handed patronisation and women they choose not to respect horribly. Historical Victorians took Defiled Forever and Fate Worse than Death quite literally and expected respectable women to defend their chastity to death if necessary. The books state this, but the misogyni is de-emphasized in the stories and mentiones several women who managed to break out of their gender role and still be considered respectable -suggesting the female characters could be like those; a version of the Spirited Young Lady trope, perhaps.
Of Corsets Sexy: Given that it is the late 19th century, all women are expected to wear this and the figures of the women in the illustrations seem to strongly support this (look at waist of the woman on the cover in the illustration above for instance). You do not see an actual corset of course. That is underwear.
Politically Correct History: Mostly averted. The books describe the time period quite correctly and certainly do not deny that the Victorians looked down on uneducated workers, people of other cultures and races and treated respectable women like second class citizens in need of guidance and protection and women they choose not to respect downright terribly. (There are, for instance, maximum social status rules for certain types of people, such as black Americans.) These aspects of Victorian society are downplayed in the adventures though and in illustrations aristocrats, workers and women seem to be in the same adventuring party, even if the men often seem to make an effort to put the women out of harm's way. The books give some historical examples of female adventurers in the era and imply that players wanting to play female characters could play such a rare person, a version of Spirited Young Lady. All or almost all illustrations seem to imply that the player characters are white humans though.
Queen Vicky: British are expected to toast to the "dear Queen" and use "for Queen and country" as a slogan -it is unlikely that they will meet her in person unless they perform som truly great deed and are awarded with some of the major orders of merit or the like. In one adventure in Transactions of the Royal Martian Geographical Society the PCs do get to meet her in person though not in her own body at first..
Power Crystal: A relatively scientific and mundane version. A glowcrystal from Mercury can work as a powerful rechargeable battery (not magic battery, perfectly regular battery giving away electrical DC current, just much better than late 19th century batteries and you charge it by sunlight rather than electricity). In Puzzle of the Shard in Challenge 42 there is a more powerful version that can store and release sunlight in powerful and dangerous quantities.
Religionof Evil: Cult of the Worm from the core books and Cult of Phobos from Transactions of the Royal Martian Geographical Society 3.
Ragnarok-Proofing: When the Ancient Martians built the Canal system and the Cities it supported, they already knew their world was declining. Hence, the cities were designing to be rather self-sustaining- Martian sewage is converted by bacteria deep under the city into gas which produce gas for lighting and heating, the buildings were made to be incredibly sturdy and the Canals themselves leak-by design- into the surrounding countryside, which creates a water table to support agriculture all along the canals. Some of the pumping stations have failed, although the stations have been built to many different designs, so although some complex systems are irreparable, other, very hardy and simple pumps look like they will continue to work for the foreseeable future. In any case, Mars is very short on raw materials- there is little metal or fuel on Mars, except for renewable resources like trees and the only arable land exists in bands around the canals which vary in width from 10 to 50 miles. Mars has stagnated, and seems unable to pick itself back up.
Rubber-Forehead Aliens: The Hill and Canal Martians are taller and thinner than humans, have very different, movable ears and bigger eyes, the entire head is slightly differently shaped and usually longer than a human face. The gait is also different. Apart from that they are quite human-like. As is sometimes the case with Rubber-Forehead Aliens, there are some hints of the existence of a common ancestor in some of the adventures. In some illustrations, such as the ones in Steppelords of Mars, they are quite close to humans to the point were the women might qualify as Green-Skinned Space Babe.
Science Marches On: an odd version. Frank Chadwick explains flying ships and space travel by making the 19th century ether theory correct in the world of Space 1889. Also, Mars is fairly close to what some, certainly not all, 19th century scientists actually thought. There are no signs of other erroneous scientific theories of the late 19th century, such as élan vitale (life force) or recapitulation theory.
Shown Their Work: Mostly averted. Frank Chadwick is obviously knowledgeable about late Victorian age but is a little bit too professional to feel the need to flaunt it. He sticks to talking about such things that are relevant or at least can serve as inspiration for role-playing in the Victorian age. Also he is not fussy about the exact chronology of late 19th century; steam turbines for ships is mentioned (didn't exist in 1889), Marquess of Queensbury tries to keep his son away from Oscar Wilde (they didn't meet until 1891), Zeppelins fly over Venus (first Zeppelin was in 1900), carbide lamps to be worn on hats and helmets are on the equipement list (wasn't invented until 1892). It's a game about alternate history after all. In Soldier's Companion he gets a lot more exact and accurate, claiming that all units raised on Earth and all biographies of British commanders are historically accurate as far as he has been able to ascertain -with the obvious exception that they historically never left earth.
Single-Biome Planet: A toned-down version. Mars is clearly dominated by deserts but still has poles and irrigated farmland, half-irrigated steppe and even a big swamp where canals broke down. Venus is clearly dominated by jungle and swamp
Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: The characters are clearly expected to be fairly idealistic. Many antagonists are also idealistic in the form of religious fanaticism, patriotism or misguided scientific interest. On a related issue Victorians were typically very opimistic and believed in Progress, having seen quite a bit of it in their own lifetime. To Marsians, however, it is glaringly obvious that their world is in decline -the latest most offensive sign of this being the short-sighted, destroying-the-environment-and-consuming-resources-like-there-is-no-tomorrow, breeding-like-the-wermin-they-are, Red Men coming and trying to boss the martians around and take over their scarce resources.
Spartan Way: Taken to Eleven by the Skrill Riders. Their training kills 60% of their male population. Understandably, they are not monogamous.
Spirited Young Lady: the women in the illustrations depicting the PCs seem to be of this type, dressed in a compromise between practical and ladylike, typically with some type of handgun and in a dangerous and dramatic situation where they have presumably willing put themselves.
Steampunk one of the oldest examples of steampunk, from roughly about the time the term was invented, but before it was spread. That is, unless you are one of those who think that the suffix "-punk" requires the protagonists and the story to be disillusioned and somewhat anti-establishment -like the real punk culture or like the vast majority of the cyberpunk stories. Space 1889 will not fit such a definition. The adventures to Space 1889 generally expect the heroes to stand up for queen and country and for Victorian values against agents from foreign countries, native rebellions, mad scientists, mad cultists and Fenian or Anarchist terrorists.
Toplessness from the Back: There is an illustration like that from Beastmen of Mars showing male and female player characters stripped to the waist to be sacrificed -they survive.
Victorian Britain: PCs are generally assumed to be British or at least willing to serve British interests.
Who Wants to Live Forever?: There is a fairly clever version which is a plot point in Beastmen of Mars. A precursor society discovered a medical treatment that gave them something very close to complete immortality. As long as they are in a place that can sustain life they live, regenerating any injuries and suspended animation when the necessities for life is abscent and regeneration from suspended animation to regular form as soon as the necessities for life is present again. Only complete destruction of the body can kill them irrevocably. Paradoxically this made them terrified of and obsessed with death. A mortal fears sickness, an immortal fears the enthropy death of the universe. They also lacked memories to handle vast amount of time. Paradoxically immortality drew them to suicide by completely destroying their bodies. The only being capable of psychologically handling immortality is one person who is whimsy and forgetful to the point of being hopelessly insane.