I originally got the idea for a steampunk world after reading Neil Gaiman's short story, "A Study in Emerald." Being the massive nerd I am, I thought it would be awesome for my group of roleplaying buddies to romp around a 19th century fantasy setting not unlike the incredible webcomic Girl Genius, but with much, much more in the way of aliens and mutants running around. To any readers unfamiliar with the stylings of steampunk, it is essentially reimagining the Victorian/Edwardian eras of the 19th-early 20th centuries as if they had gained access to the knowledge and technologies of the future, but still only use the resources available in that timeframe, such as steam engines, or diesel machines. Consider the films Wild Wild West, or Back to the Future 3, the comic League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (the film was shit), the aforementioned Girl Genius, any books by Jules Verne, etcetera if a visual is required.
So without further ado, here is the beginning text I wrote up to introduce my friends to the world of Dark Wall:
The arrival of the Old Ones changed everything. It was their rather destructive entrance that started the whole mess of anachronisms and magic floating about with hardly a how-de-do. Mucking about with the dimensional framework that upholds the universe together tends to shake things up in a rather ugly fashion, so to speak. Nowadays its not uncommon to find horses stabled next door to the local mad genius inventor. Of course, having a decent mechanic is integral to anyone's survival in this strange hodgepodge world. The royals are certainly no help in maintaining order, governments are just as likely to be run by outlaws as proper authorities! Pardon me, this newfangled lighter is a bit tricky...~click,click~ *puff* Where was I? Ah yes, and those crazy "magicians," bah! Just talking to one is enough to send a logically-minded sort into fits! But enough of history, what I really wanted to talk about was this Calassius bloke, just hear this piece of work:
"Sometimes destiny just calls a man into the service of the greater good. No man can escape his fate. A mandate from the masses, if ignored, will become a deafening cry just before it vanishes. But when the dust of aeons clears, destiny will find him out; his protestations having served ultimately as a minute and frivolous delay, and nothing more. Better to be swept up in the surge than drowned in the undertow of that vast ocean that is time."
Restorationist malarchy, that's what it is!
~Kallen Romano, denizen of Dark Wall
The city of Dark Wall did not always bear that name. However, once the 100-story metal facade appeared out of the mists one day, it was hard to think of a better moniker. The giant cockroach-looking clerk studiously checks every page of the passport application, adjusting its tiny spectacles now and again. It seemed impossible to determine if the bug was male or female, and it seemed too forward to ask. "All seems in order," it finally clicked out. Stamping the city passport, it collects the sheaf of papers and sticks it in a mail slot behind its head. With another appendage, it slides the packet of passport documents under the window slot. "Recent regulations passed down by the royal houses require all visitors to carry their passport with them at all times. You may renew the documents at any facility bearing the mark of the House of Dross. Included in your packet today is a map of the main city and some brochures of popular locations. Enjoy your stay. NEXT!"
When space-time was ripped asunder in 1873 by the arrival of the Old Ones, reality in some places did a back flip and screamed bloody murder. Not only did many new and strange beings suddenly flood the streets of once familiar cities, pools of magical energy warped the world into something unrecognizable. With the surge in magic came a stronger ability to use it, at least in certain individuals. Some bloodlines even noticed a knack for a certain type of magic. Also, a great deal of once-secretive magical beings decided the need to hide from the Age of Enlightenment was now unnecessary. The Old Ones took over many of the major powers, declaring themselves the true Royals of those lands, and basically usurped the governments. Although if officials proved useful, they were not always offed in a publicly bloody fashion. One of the biggest changes was the creation of city-states. Especially in Europe and the Americas, some of the larger cities opted to become their own entities in order to maintain some illusion of independence. Therefore there are such areas as the United Emirates of Southern California, the empire of New York City, Northern Madrid, and the duchy of Paris. Other cities were altered by the space-time rip. For example, the Vatican is now a floating island that wanders about the Mediterranean. Leaps in technology and medicine were one benefit of the return of the Old Ones, steam power being the preferred method of invention. While there are flying contraptions and horseless carriages, the machines are not yet manufactured for public use, and remain an expensive hobby for the rich with ennui. Outlaws tend to rule the vast empty spaces of the world, including the American Midwest, a significant chunk of Russia, Mongolia, and China, the Australian Outback, most of Africa, and some portions of Brazil. Crime Syndicates can be found throughout most of the industrialized parts of the world, and are just as likely to carry literal boomsticks as firearms. There are a number of political factions of various opinion on whether it was a good thing the Old Ones arrived. One of the most prominently known secretive groups is the Restorationists, who believe that by killing off the Royals, they will eventually take a hint and return to their old dimension. While it seems they will unlikely succeed, not even the Old Ones can completely eradicate them. Expect the usual apocalyptic crazies as well as opium addicts staggering around from time to time. Feel free to worship any deity from fantasy, from real-world mythology, or your character may also be a firm believer in the Age of Reason. Running around screaming like a maniac is also acceptable. Here is a nice example of a typical city. Merely add whatever cultural icons would be present in that country.