Follow TV Tropes


Phlebotinum-Induced Steampunk

Go To
To understand Kaladesh, one must first understand how aether and invention flow together through the great Aether Cycle.

Steampunk is cool, of course, but when you're creating your own setting you might feel that steam power alone isn't enough to justify such advanced technology. After all, the historical Industrial Revolution failed to produce airship armadas, Humongous Mecha, or legions of steam-powered war robots.

You could just give it a Hand Wave and say it runs on the Rule of Cool, or you could apply some phlebotinum to it. Whether it's an Alternate Universe of our Earth or a Constructed World the alternatives are plentiful, from rare minerals and other substances to something a bit more magical (in which case Gaslight Fantasy and/or Dungeon Punk possibly overlap to some degree). Either way, Single Phlebotinum Limit is likely to apply.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • In Levius, the discovery of Agartha Water, which burns with much higher pressure than regular water when boiled and has a steam that can be controlled by the human mind to a certain extent, is the reason why steam-powered Artificial Limbs have reached such an apogee.
  • Princess Principal takes place in an alternate 19th-century Europe where Albion discovered cavorite, an anti-gravity mineral. It fueled a technological revolution in Albion that allowed the nation to build high-technology airships and become a world superpower. Albion itself looks very steampunk, with all the trappings of Victorian London.

    Fan Works 
  • Red Alert 3: Paradox: The Order of the Talon's steam-powered tech is capable of going toe-to-toe with the Weird Science of the Allies and the Mecha of Japan and coming out on top thanks to the impossibly tough "Talon Steel". With Talon Steel, the Order's steam boilers can be at incredibly high heat and pressure without issue, and the same resilience allow Talon Steel clockwork to be wound to ridiculous levels of Tension. It also doesn't hurt that using it for armor makes their units stupidly tough.
  • Undocumented Features: The "Aegis Florea" stories based on Sakura Wars justify the steampunk by moving the setting to a Japanese-settled colony with virtually no resources except coal, iron, and water; the colonists decided to revisit old technology rather than depend on imports, eventually reaching a technology level similar to the source material.

    Film — Animated 
  • The Steamballs of Steamboy. Not only are three of them able to keep a giant castle floating in the air and provide almost unlimited quantities of steam at high pressure, they remain at room temperature the entire time. This has something to do with a mineral dissolved in the water they're filled with. That's all they say about the matter.
  • In War of the Worlds: Goliath, we have a steampunk futuristic past from reverse-engineered Martian war machines, including kilometer-and-a-half long zeppelins, Humongous Mecha, and Energy Weapons.

  • Airborn makes use of hydrium, a fictional gas that’s as light as hydrogen… with none of the… explosive risks. The setting uses it to justify airships being the primary form of long-distance travel, instead of airplanes.
  • 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: The Nautilus is powered by electricity, then a new and exotic power source. Unfortunately, Verne overestimated what electric power was actually capable of, so the Nautilus as described in the book wouldn't function. Presumably, this is why it runs on nuclear power in the Disney version, since at the time the movie was made, nuclear power was the cool new power source.
  • Anti-Ice by Stephen Baxter is set in a steampunk 19th century based on the discovery of a form of antimatter that can be stored and transported relatively safely.
  • Dinotopia features steampunk dinosaur mechs and trilobite-shaped (functionally) spinners in the prequel First Flight and second book The World Beneath, powered by sunstones, stolen by the mythological equivalent of Prometheus.
  • Geist Series: The Industrial Revolution seems to have arrived early in Geist and was accelerated by the discovery of azoth, the mineral residue of the Symphonia Mundi.
  • Hermeticon by Vadim Panov is a steampunk Space Opera in which all steam-powered engines are based on an alchemical reaction between mysterious Philosopher's Crystals and Royal Vinegar (an extremely powerful acid mixture). Internal combustion engines similar to real ones also exist but cannot (yet) surpass the wonderful alchemy-based technology. Moreover, there is astrelium, a strange and rare metal that allows zeppels to travel between planets. The source and principles behind the Philosopher's Crystals and astrelium are only known to alchemists from planet Hermeticon.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Blades in the Dark (strongly inspired by the Dishonored series), the industrial revolution was kicked off by the discovery that the blood of the demonic leviathans roaming the Void Sea can be used to produce electric power. By the time the game takes place, its setting is roughly in the Victorian age, with most technology powered by electricity extracted from leviathan blood (although some older tech also uses steam power).
  • In Deadlands, the steampunk mechanisms are fueled by a miracle fuel, ghost rock, which is a supernatural mineral made by the Big Bads from damned souls.
  • Downplayed example: a Pyramid magazine article for GURPS Steampunk proposes that GMs who worry about this stuff might like to introduce liquefied coal, as a reasonably plausible efficiency-booster that the real-world Age of Steam never used. For GMs who aren't worried by realism, the Steam-Tech book has exotic "rays" and etheric technology.
  • Ironclaw: The Jadeclaw 1st edition adventure module "Loot the Burning House" featured a province of Zhongguo rediscovering steam power and examples of ancient steam engines powered by alchemically treated metal octagons instead of wood or coal.
  • In Magic: The Gathering, the plane of Kaladesh focuses on an industrial revolution caused by the harvesting of aether (essentially the essence of the cosmos itself, made workable thanks to the multiverse-shaking event known as the Mending). Word of God states that it is the franchise's take on the steampunk genre, with rogue inventors, government oppression, and airships, albeit eschewing the traditional Victorian setting, clunkiness, and grime for a Fantasy Counterpart Culture of India, technology that prides form as much as it does function, and a distinct touch of Solar Punk (thanks to aether being a zero-emission, ethically harvestable energy source).

    Video Games 
  • Another Sight almost has this. The phlebotinum is there, and there's certainly a lot of steampunk, but the people who use and study the Node are extremely worried that mishandling it could have dire circumstances; even Nikola Tesla is wary of using it for anything more than powering his machines (although he is studying it to make more sense of it). One ending has this trope played completely straight after Thomas Edison gets his hands on the Node; we see a quick glimpse of a city of skyscrapers with massive gears and smokestacks.
  • The Civilization V expansion Gods & Kings included the Empires of the Smoky Skies scenario, a steampunk campaign that featured new types of resources to create its fantastical technology, such as aetherium and luboric.
  • Dishonored takes place in a Constructed World, but it still has an equivalent to Victorian Britain and an industrial revolution to go along with it, in this case, one fueled by the oil of supernaturally attuned whales that exist simultaneously in the mortal world and in the Void. The end result is a setting much like the darker versions of traditional steampunk, flavored with Gaslight Fantasy.
  • Ironcast is set in an alternate Victorian Britain anno 1886, where the harvesting of the mineral voltite (actually a sentient alien lifeform) has led to the development of airships, powerful energy weapons, and the eponymous Ironcasts, as well as a devastating war with France.
  • Steambirds: The main premise is that fusion power was discovered in the 19th century, so while the planes run on steam, they don't need coal to function.
  • The New British Empire in Sunless Skies has successfully colonized space using Victoria-era technology enhanced with Hours and the Correspondence.
  • The world of The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky has rapidly advanced from early modern to steampunk-ish levels of technology in the span of roughly 50 years thanks to the invention of orbments, machines that extract "orbal energy" from crystalline circuits made out of naturally-occurring minerals. Note that while the Sky trilogy generally sticks fairly close to Steampunk and Clock Punk, with a few exceptions here and there, later entries in the wider Trails Series take things much farther, into Diesel Punk and straight-up modern territory.