Friday 10 July 2015

Clockwork Marvels 1: The basics

As I've mentioned, ATWC is a clockpunk setting. What this means, crucially, is that while there's a lot of amazing technology around, the setting as a whole is not industrial: every piece of clockwork machinery has to be crafted by hand, by  a skilled clockworker who really knows what they're doing. There are no factories, no assembly lines, no standardised parts, no mass-production: just a thousand skillfull hands tinkering away in a thousand little workshops, producing one-off mechanical marvels to astonish and delight the world.

I've already mentioned the technology rules for ATWC in an earlier post. As I've hopefully made clear, clockwork technology requires a lot of maintenance, and that maintenance work needs to be carried out by someone with the necessary technical knowledge to perform basic repairs without breaking everything. The amount of clockwork technology which is going to be viable in any given community is thus defined by the technological skills of the local population: anything which can't be maintained and repaired by the locals is going to break, probably sooner rather than later.

The highest tech rating to be found amongst the inhabitants of any given settlement can be determined as follows:

  • Villages: 1d3-1 (average 1).
  • Small Towns: 1d3 (average 2)
  • Large Towns / Market Towns: 1d3+1 (average 3)
  • Small Cities: 1d4+1 (average 3.5)
  • Airship Docks and Steam Knight Encampments: 1d3+2 (average 4)
  • Large Cities: 1d6+1 (average 4.5)
  • Universities: 1d3+3 (average 5)
  • Brass Man Caravan: 1d4+3 (average 5.5)
  • Workshop-Mosque of the Cogwheel Sage: 2d4+1 (average 6)
  • Steel Aspirant Foundry-Temple: 2d4+2 (average 7)
  • The Wicked City: 10, but you really don't want to meet the woman who has it. 
Anything which can be maintained by someone with a tech rating of 1, and repaired by someone with a tech rating of 2, will thus be pretty common technology; the sort of thing that might turn up even in small villages, even if it has to be brought into town for repairs once in a while. Anything which requires tech 3 to repair will usually only be found in or near larger settlements, while a device whose repairs require tech 4 or higher will be found only in large cities. Tech 5 or higher is serious technology, the kind of thing that you might need to take to the Brass Men to sort out for you. The only places where you can reliably find people with greater technical knowledge than that is amongst the Steel Aspirants (who are all crazy) or in the heart of the Wicked City.

Power Sources: The Autowinder. Clockwork technology runs, ultimately, on strain energy. Something winds a mechanism, which stores strain energy in the device's main spring; this spring, in turn, powers the device. In reality, this meant that all clockwork devices either had to be water-powered or cranked by hand. However, given that I want ATWC to feature things like giant clockwork robots (which would, realistically, require a whole army of people just to crank them up every morning), I've introduced a bit of anachronistic technology: the autowinder. This is basically a crude steam engine attached to a simple winding mechanism: you bolt the autowinder onto your clockwork device, fill its reservoir with water, throw some wood or coal into its furnace, and pull a lever, and it winds your device up for you. This still takes ages, makes a loud whistling noise, and has the added disadvantage of both the device and the autowinder needing time to cool down afterwards; but it does mean that PCs can just leave their assorted clockwork tech on autowind overnight while they sleep rather than having to spend six hours a day winding everything back up again. Plus it means that those giant clockwork robots can power themselves by eating heaps of coal, which is surely the rightful way of things.

Hang on. If they have steam-powered autowinders, why don't they just cut out the middle man and run their machines on steam power instead of clockwork to begin with?

In-character explanation: because their steam engines are super-primitive and totally suck. Autowinders are basically throw-away tech that have to be constantly repaired and replaced. You wouldn't want a steam engine powering your robot: it would only explode at an inconvenient time.

Out-of-character explanation: Clockpunk, damnit! Not steampunk! Clockpunk!

Lists and lists of clockwork gear to follow in the next few posts!

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