Review: Cakebread & Walton – Airship Pirates

Airship Pirates
Airship Pirates is a complete steampunk role-playing game (powered by the Heresy Engine) written by Peter Cakebread and Ken Walton and published by Cakebread & Walton.
By Aaron T. Huss

Airship Pirates is a steampunk role-playing game, with elements of post-apocalyptic and time travel, based on the songs of the steampunk band Abney Park and the world created by their lead “Captain” Robert Brown. It tells the story of a past that became altered creating an alternate future compared to the path of our own. It is placed within a desolate version of Earth where many people have set to the skies for a new life.

The title of the game tells much of the story behind the game’s concept with steampunk designed, Victorian-influenced airships operated by pirates. What you don’t realize until opening the pages and reading the content, is that the game us much more than Victorian-inspired steampunk airships traveling the skies, operated by those involved in piratical dealings. There are opportunities for a wealth of campaign styles including the post-apocalyptic and time travel themes. But you won’t fully grasp why this is possible until you read the book and how the future has come to become filled with airship pirates. The world of Airship Pirates is so unique that you can’t help but be drawn into its possibilities.


Rules and System contains all the information players need to create their characters. This section is broken into six chapters: character creation, skills, combat, dramatic system, airships/vehicles/beasts, and equipment. It should be noted that although Airship Pirates uses the Heresy Engine found in Victoriana, all system mechanics are found within this book that additional books are not necessary.

Character creation gives a good introduction of what the different cultures, races, and archetypes are for creating your character. This also introduces the attributes used for creating characters. While the game is called Airship Pirates, the characters do not typically start as pirates and have a life of their own similar to many others around them. From here, the players get to decide what motivates them to become pirates.

Following character creation are the base mechanics for Airship Pirates including skills, combat, complications, damage, drinking (hey, they’re pirates!), Fate points, and what type of gaming experiences can be had. Everything is defined, detailed, and described as necessary making the system very understandable. This is my first experience with the Heresy Engine and I quickly picked up how it works. It’s a very straight-forward, easy-to-learn system.

Capping this section off are the mechanics for airships, vehicles, beasts (for riding), weapons, armor, and the various equipment to outfit your airships and vehicles. This is a very important section to read, I recommend twice, as you learn about how the airships interact with each other and how the characters interact with the airships. Weapons, armor, and equipment are simple, although you’ll be pleasantly surprised at all the cool gadgets available for your airships, but to make the setting more dynamic, you need more than the basic tools of combat. This is where the mechanics for chasing, fleeing, boarding, and ship-to-ship combat come in to play. These are the thematic aspects of the setting, and how cool would it be! Just picture your character swinging across from your airship to a grappled airship on a rope, thousands of feet above the ground. Don’t lose your grip!


Encyclopaedia contains the background information concerning the entire Airship Pirates setting. This is broken into three chapters: history, geography, and cultures. Here you get all the details and descriptions surrounding how the timeline became what it is, the events that led up to the “apocalypse”, who now resides within earth, and why everyone is “designed” the way they are. All cultures are spoken of building upon any background the characters may have acquired through character creation. I will not spoil this section as it makes for excellent reading and is a great storyline.


The Game Master section contains additional information for the GM including tips, tactics, bestiary, and a fully fleshed out, beginning adventure. This also contains the behind-the-scenes mechanics for time travel and covers what the players may try to do should they travel back in time. As I said before, you can play multiple campaigns and never have the same experience. It should be noted that the bestiary is a creature listing and doesn’t contain any human adversaries. This was a bit of a let-down as I don’t see many encounters with many of the creatures if your adventures are primarily spent in the skies. However, if you read the background in the Encyclopaedia, you’ll understand why these land creatures are necessary.

I won’t get into the details of the adventure other than to say it’s a great way to kick-off a pirate’s career!


Airship Pirates is not a beginners role-playing game. It is a highly themed setting and system designed for those looking for a completely new and unique experience. The setting is tied directly to the aforementioned Abney Park and the design is one that really draws you in once you start reading. The setting is so rich in possibilities that you could play in numerous campaigns and never have the same experience twice. Adventures may be straight-forward, but the over-arching storyline is truly in the hands of the players with a small amount of modularity that allows them to alter the “look and feel” of the setting as they please. It’s not just a game world, it is a full immersion into a setting that will keep you guessing at every turn.


Publication Quality: 10 out of 10
Airship Pirates is beautifully formatted and well-laid out. Knowing the product history of Cakebread & Walton, they continue to improve and grow as indy publishers with a new book that will not let you down. In addition, there are some wonderful illustrations and maps along with pre-generated characters, character sheet, and all the quick tools you need to get your game going.

Mechanics: 9 out of 10
Airship Pirates is powered by the Heresy Engine found in Victoriana and Dark Harvest by Cubicle 7 Entertainment. It is a dice-pool system using lots of d6’s to determine your success or failure. That said, the already designed Victorian themes in the system are put to good use within Airship Pirates. In addition, there are some fantastic mechanics for airship chases and fleeing, boarding actions, and ship-to-ship combat. Everything about the mechanics support every theme, especially the airship theme, found within this core rulebook.

The only thing I found a little daunting is the number of skills that are too similar. I’m all for a complete listing of skills, but I also think they should be significantly different from one another to warrant the need for another skill. Some of them can be argued as too similar or completely dissimilar, which can only add to the “skill bloating” (as I have referred to it as before). It should be noted that this is a very minor finding of the mechanics and should not dissuade anyone’s decision for how satisfying game-play can be. Character and airship creation, role-playing and combat, and all other mechanics easily overshadow this argument.

Desire to Play: 9 out of 10
Airship Pirates is desirable for game-play not just because of its steampunk design but mostly because of its unique setting and possibilities. It’s not pure steampunk filled with steam-powered constructs, railroad scenes, and the weirdest of steam-powered gun designs. It is a retro-inspired Victorian world (think Neovictorian) with steam-powered airships and various technologies. But at the same time, there are clockwork devices, modern devices from a pre-apocalyptic time, and the ability to go back in time and possibly get your hands on other, older technology. At its heart, it is the setting design and all its peculiarities along with the airship-designed mechanics that make it so interesting. Anyone can sail a ship and uncover buried treasure, but it’s a rare occasion that you can take that ship into the sky, chase down another airship, participate in airship-to-airship combat, and then board your quarry in a role-playing game.

Overall: 9 out of 10
Airship Pirates is an excellent setting and role-playing game, especially for those looking for something completely different. One thing I like most about Cakebread & Walton products is how they are new and unique, bringing you completely new experiences compared to what you’ve come accustomed to. If you’re looking for pure steampunk, you will have to be open to an outside-of-the-box design that takes the genre in a new direction. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

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