E.S. Wynn is an editor and the author of over seventy books in print.
Looking for the perfect idea to thread into your campaign world or to kickstart your next game or RPG match? Well, look no farther. Even if your game isn't Steampunk, Victorian, or Edwardian in slant, you might find cool ideas here you can adapt for a different kind of adventure (horror, cyberpunk, etc).
1. Evil Ingenuity
A dastardly villain has cooked up something new and dangerous using his astounding genius, the latest in envelope-pushing clockwork bits, and of course, steam technology. What it is, from your typical house-sized clockwork deathspider or steam-powered juggernaut of a war walker to something even more fantastic and terrifying, like a clockwork Death Star orbiting Earth and holding the whole world hostage, is of course up to the DM or Referee. Creativity is encouraged. This dread device might even be some kind of automated food-growing factory or stock-market predicting analog calculator that could spell a whole other kind of trouble for a completely different group of people. But regardless of what the machine is, this dastardly villain has some group of people close to the characters that he's threatening to blow up/ruin, etc. and the characters have been asked to intervene, to stop this evil villain at all costs. This is a great way for them to earn respect from a key group of people and also pick up a powerful, campaign-spanning nemesis in a sort of "if it wasn't for those pesky kids!" or "I'll get you next time, Gadget!" kind of way.
2. The Tortured Genius
The characters meet or are introduced to a brilliant inventor the likes of which they've never seen before. He's a small man, very quiet and very secretive, but he needs help. With every flash of brilliance he receives, each new idea or improvement upon existing inventions that crosses his mind, he is visited by frightening and demonic horrors- and he has the gashes to prove it! Are these terrors real, or are the wounds self-inflicted? ...or is it something much more ominous?
3. Left in the Breeze
A moderately famous inventor has an idea for a world-changing device (a tower that transmits signals across continents, a machine that generates free, wireless energy or a perpetual motion machine, etc.) and a well-known big business mogul has agreed to finance the machine- until he realizes just how much money he's bound to lose on it when it replaces his other "investments". Now he's pulled all funding, used his influence in the richest circles to blackball the inventor, and even gone so far as to secretly hire thugs to smash up what has already been built. (This can be played from either side- the inventor can come to the characters for help, or they can be the "hired thugs.") Either way, this seed could "grow" into something really fun.
4. The Crossing
The characters have to cross from one nation or state to another to get where they're going, and going around "the long way" isn't an option. Unfortunately the nation they're about to cross into is at war with the nation they're in, and it's a bitter feud. The characters will have to be careful not to get sucked into the fighting or labeled as a sympathizer for either side (People wonder: "Why would you want to go over there, Hmmm?") and crossing will be just as difficult- the borders are closed and guarded, with battles and raids going on all the time, even at night.
5. Into the Fire
A luxury liner airship has gone missing in the uncharted territories, and one of the passengers is the daughter of a local nobleman. The characters are offered some generous sum of money to go and retrieve her. The only problem-- The daughter has already been found, by a hostile tribe of warrior nomads!
6. Down, Down
A mining company has set up a series of shafts at the edge of the uncharted territories hoping to dig out as much gold, silver and arcane technology as they can. But when miners start going missing, they contact the characters and offer to pay them to track down and eliminate whatever it is that's down there. What lurks in the depths of that dark mine? That's up to the DM. (Ideas: disturbed undead from ancient grave site, fallout vault with survivors trying to protect themselves, some new subterranean lifeform or parasitic fungus, portal to hell, etc.)
7. Heart of Darkness
A team of explorers have set up an outpost deep in the uncharted territories and have secured a site in the name of the queen (or king, or kaiser, etc.) It's a long trip by steamboat, but when the settlement stops communicating with the crown, the characters are sent in to investigate. What they find is totally up to the DM. (Ideas: Foreman/chief has gone insane and slaughtered his own men, locals have killed off everyone, everyone is mysteriously gone, or a malevolent spirit has devoured or chased away everyone, etc.)
8. The Item
A local collector has his eyes on some holy relic that a rancher in the uncharted territories refuses to give up (Ideas: ancient scroll, item of great power and/or mystique, a tablet, a map, holy relic, etc.) and he wants the characters to go and find a way to "convince" the rancher to give it up... or "liberate" it altogether.
9. Gone With the Wind
A fiery young woman with a moving picture recorder machine wants to make a documentary about nomadic tribesmen in the uncharted territories, and she needs a party of strong lads (or ladies) willing to protect her and carry her equipment. She's very driven, and quite willing to sacrifice anyone (but not necessarily her equipment) to get the perfect shot-- which could be a real problem, because the nomads she's most interested in are cannibals and head-hunters...
10. Just Ordinary Folk, Sir
A scientist (or military officer) has just invented a powerful new device/weapon and he/they need to move it right away. Doing so by ordinary means is too risky-- they have to sneak it from point A to point B. This is where the characters come in-- the plan is, if they dress like merchants and the item is kept hidden in a wagon, they can get it to where it's going without the unwanted attention or risk of being set upon by a powerful rival. Whether they actually do or not is up to the DM. Makes a lot of great opportunities to scare your players.
11. Last Flight
The characters are offered an easy job guarding a dignitary aboard an airship, but when they set sail, it turns out the dignitary is none other than the supremely evil, mustachioed arch rival/nemesis of the party come to seize his revenge, and when he splits, they're left alone on the airship. The catch? The controls have been smashed to bits, and the airship is headed further and further out to sea. Add dynamite and or other "oh crap" devices to spice things up a little.