ATWC is a fantasy role-playing game about adventurers struggling to free a city from tyranny and corruption. It’s about other things too – there’s a whole world out there, containing everything from underwater cities of green glass to killer robots built by insane toad-men – but the core idea is right there in the title. There’s a great city. This city has fallen into wickedness. It’s up to you to set the people free.
In terms of its thematic underpinnings, ATWC is a game of romantic clockpunk fantasy with a setting inspired by early modern central Asia.
Romantic, insofar as this is fundamentally a game about love and hope and courage and our capacity to triumph over corruption. The
As written, this is not a cynical game; but it is a game which is enormously sceptical of the redemptive power of violence. (That's why I'm running it with OSR D&D, which ensures that violence is usually a terrible idea!) The evil of the Wicked City cannot simply be stabbed until it falls over and dies; defeating it will require the ability to connect with and unite a whole variety of people and communities, all of them more-or-less damaged and mistrustful, and this in turn will ultimately be possible only through an effort of empathy. (There may also be quite a lot of stabbing along the way, though.) If you think all that sounds like feelgood hippie bullshit, then please feel free to run it as a grimy horrorshow in which evil always triumphs, or as a straightforward tale of national salvation through heroic bloodshed; but the assumption, throughout, has been that this is really a game about love.
Clockpunk, in that it features a world full of fantastical clockwork devices: enormous clockwork war machines, brass men whose clockwork brains allow them to think as clearly as any human, giant bronze heads housing ancient clockwork supercomputers, sky pirates who swoop down on their foes upon clanking clockwork limbs, and so on. It’s kinda like steampunk without the steam, and the aesthetic is more ‘Leonardo’s workshop circa 1500’ than ‘Brunel’s dockyards circa 1850’. If you want to remove it you can probably replace all the fancy clockwork with generic fantasy magic – so the brass men become intelligent golems, and so on – but personally I think it’s kinda neat.
Fantasy, because for all it’s quirkiness, ATWC still takes place in a world which features arcane magic and ancient fallen empires and thirty-two different intelligent species (so far) and swashbuckling adventurers swinging around on ropes and hitting people with swords. The assumed model of play is still ‘four to six oddball misfits and their assorted hangers-on team up to go on an adventure’. There are fantastical landscapes inhabited by fantastical creatures guarding fantastical treasures. If you want to use this stuff to run a traditional fantasy adventure game, you absolutely can.
Early modern, because even if you leave all the impossible clockwork technology out of the equation, the default tech level of ATWC is rather higher than that of the average pseudo-medieval fantasy setting. This is a world with printing presses, black powder weaponry, airships, and laudanum, where people carry muskets rather than longbows when they set off for a hunting expedition in the woods. If you hate that, then you can probably ignore it: just replace all the guns with crossbows, describe books as handmade rather than printed, and so on. Most fantasy settings are so aggressively anachronistic that none of it matters very much, anyway.
Central Asian, because insofar as the places and cultures described in ATWC have real-world analogues, they mostly come from places east of
So. That's the concept. Rules and whatnot to come...