Thursday, January 6, 2022

31 Days / 31 Characters - DIETRICH ARMBUSTER

Steampunk is one of those genres I don't delve into very often. Not because I don't enjoy it but like Medieval Fantasy, it rarely lands for me in a way that gives me a lasting desire to run or play it.

Often I find that Steampunk is a more interesting concept than any one example of its execution. Not so much 'more than the sum of its parts' but more its parts than the final sum. 

There are exceptions. 

Nadia - The Secret of Blue Water is a Japanese Anime TV Series and feature film that was among the first Japanese cartoons I ever saw from the acclaimed Studio GAINAX, the production group behind Neon Genesis Evangelion. The story deals with two young people, Nadia and Jean, as they team up to avoid jewel thieves who are after Nadia's blue crystal pendent. Things take an epic turn and the tale greatly expands when the youngsters are rescued by none other then Captain Nemo and learn the secret of Nadia's necklace, The Blue Water. 

It wasn't long after seeing the Secret of Blue Water film that I got to play a Japanese Tabletalk RPG clearly inspired by GAINAX movie and other Steampunk stories popular in Japan. The TRPG was called Gear Antique. I played the Orkney Islands bodyguard and personal assistant of a 13 year old German boy genius named Dietrich Armbuster.

Character: Dietrich Armbuster

AKA: The Crossbow Boy

Player: I do not recall the player's name. 

System: Gear Antique, 1st Edition - Tsukuda Hobby
Convention One-Shot: How The Battle Lost Its Weapon

Gamemaster: I don't recall the GM's name either. Gomen nasai!

Circa: 1991 or 92.

The game took place over about four hours at a small, local RPG convention in New Jersey. By small I mean as compared to modern conventions like GenCon and Origins or even Dexcon.

Origins: I remember the GM telling me that he'd spent several years stationed in Japan while in the US Armed Forces and had only been back a few months prior to running the game. In his time overseas he'd developed a love of Anime and Manga but he'd been a TRPG gamer since the late 70s.

He picked up several Japanese RPGs while over there and really wanted to introduce his friends in the US to these games when he got back. Unfortunately all they wanted to do was return to their old D&D campaign. Frustrated at first, he decided to apply to run a few games at this convention. 

Having seen The Secret of Blue Water before leaving Japan, Gear Antique was one of the games he definitely wanted to showcase.

Gear Antique Boxed Set, 1991

The contents

The PCs were pre-generated but we (the players) were able make minor adjustments and give the characters any personality that we wished. I took a big brute of a man who may have been part Faerie or Giant (it was never definitively confirmed). In my backstory I'd saved the boy inventor Dietrich Armbuster from a group of ruffians who turned out to be 'Foreign Agents' trying to kidnap the lad. 

The fellow who chose Dietrich and I instantly formed a connection and broke into in-character banter immediately; he the adventurous and determined boy on a mission and me the protective older brother/uncle type who kept him safe while struggling to understand the scientific jargon he regularly spouted. 

Backstory: Dietrich Armbuster was a brilliant inventor and had been ever since he was 5 years old. At the young age of half a decade Armbuster invented a Pneumatic Crossbow. Now at the age of 13 his weapon was a thing of terrible beauty. From its simple beginnings it was now capable of holding a multiple bolt 'clip', firing a variety of trick quarrels, and could build pressure sufficient to put down the enemy's mobile, steam-powered vehicles (Steampunk Tanks). 

An Evil Organization bent on world domination was after the weapon and hoped to capture Dietrich as well and force him to invent more wonderous weaponry. With my character's help he'd managed to escape but they weren't going to give up easily. 

After a series of adventures that took place prior to the scenario we played, Dietrich and I were now part of a group of individuals who all had a beef with the Evil Organization. Among them was a Female Teenager of British origin, her Mechanical Maid, and a dashing French Swordsman. The British young lady was the daughter of a spy and had learned many espionage skills. Our mission was to make it across Paris to the newly completed Eiffel Tower to meet with an airship at the top. The Airship Captain was a trusted contact of hers who would then get us to safety. 

Overview: Fun. Just absolute, rip-roaring, no-holds-barred fun.

The personalities, the period/genre perfect dialog, the over-the-top action, and yet simultaneously subdued 'look' of everything was just picture perfect. The GM managed to get the feel of Steampunk Anime while at the same time making it all comprehensible to the non-Otaku members of the group. 

I realize I've talked a lot about the game and not the character of Dietrich Armbuster specifically. There are is a reason for this; I thought it best to first establish the world of Gear Antique since most of my readers would be completely unfamiliar with it. Now that you've got the gist, I'll discuss Armbuster a bit more. 

In a game scenario such as this, with an unfamiliar genre, system, and setting, a true ensemble cast adventure would prove difficult. People learn and adapt to things at different speeds. With this in mind it made sense to have a 'Star Character' or at the very least one of two leads and have the scenario largely revolve around them. Dietrich was certainly that character, with the plot of trying to capture an experimental weapon and its inventor made all the more urgent and relatable when one of the PCs is said inventor and is carrying said weapon.

To his credit, the player who played Armbuster got it right off the bat and used said bat to knock it out of the park (Ooh! Look at me! I made a sportsball analogy all by myself!). Not only was he everything a young male Anime lead should be - Clever, Gung-Ho, Empathic, and Annoyingly Adorable - but he did it in such a way that it made it that much easier for everyone else to fall into their roles.

Showing off his scientific knowledge but being naive in regards to who to trust made me look all the more street smart but book dim. Being brave and concerned for her safety while implying it might be 'too dangerous' for a young lady established a relationship with the teenage female-spy-in-training that was right out of many Anime.. 

The Highlights:

It's been a while but in one instance Armbuster was hanging off the Eiffel Tower by a Grappling Line Bolt he fired to prevent himself from plummeting to his death (have I mentioned how much I love the word plummet? Not enough plummeting occurs in games these days).

The English girl chastised him for his continuously reckless behavior and the two started to bicker. Meanwhile the main villain, a man dressed in an elaborate and eccentric Napoleonic general's uniform, begins to sneakily descend on them from higher up the tower. The Englishwoman is tapped on the shoulder by her Automaton Assistant, who then slaps her lightly across the face, lifts Dietrich up by the line, places him safely on the landing, and then slaps his face. The two stare at her stunned, look at each other, and burst into laughter. 

Just then the Metal Maid is yanked off the platform by the villain and thrown to her destruction! The villain drew a pistol, the Frenchman disarmed him with his sword, and Dietrich handed my character a bolt and shouted, "Jump!"

My eyes bulged for a second and then I did. I leapt off the landing and fell like a stone. Dietrich called for the Mechanical Maid to release any pent up steam, which (with a Wind of Luck Roll) slowed her descent a bit. Then I clicked a button on the bolt and POOF! - a hybrid Parachute/Balloon burst out, enabling me to grab the Automaton and the two of us crashed to the ground below, injured but alive. SO exciting!

Game Info:

I wish! I don't have the stats or info for any of the characters from this game as it wasn't one I ran. Additionally, I was never able to get a copy of Gear Antique, though a friend of mine had a copy which enabled me to run a few short games back in the day. 

I might go into greater detail on the game and its system in the future when I return to my discussions of Japanese TRPGs. 


Armbuster comes from the term 'amburst' - an old Germanic word for a crossbow. 

My character had an Orkney accent based on having recently heard it on a British sitcom. 


We continue exploring the worlds and characters of Japanese TRPGs with EVERYN WOLFSHADOW, an Elven Forest Witch who travels with her seeing-eye Wolf. Smell you then! 

Barking Alien

1 comment:

  1. Nadia is a wonderful anime. I've been looking for a way to play something close, but haven't found a good system to go with it (Well BESM could do the trick but I'm not that fond of it).
    I guess I might try with Victoriana (minus magic, maybe)...