Friday, 20 November 2015

War Mounts of the Plains of Rust

So, in my last post, I described the Plains of Rust: an area of the steppe which was once a battleground between ancient armies of clockwork automata, and which is now roamed by nomad clans who ride around on cobbled-together bits of ancient war machines. Now, on the face of it, riding on a semi-functional clockwork soldier seems a big step down from riding a horse: the horse is faster, the clockwork robot either needs to be wound up (which takes ages) or powered by shoulder-mounted windmills (which are unreliable and inefficient) or coal (which is much harder to find than fodder), the horse doesn't require specialised tools and training to keep it running from day to day, and so on. Probably, in the beginning, the Rust Clans used their makeshift clockwork mounts only for the purposes of war and display, and employed horses for their daily travels and tasks. But the great advantage of such machines is their durability: as long as they are properly maintained and repaired they can potentially run forever, and with so many ancient battlefields to scavenge from, the Rust Clans have no shortage of spare parts. With each generation, each individual Rust Clan added a few more machines to their collection; and, over the centuries, they have come to have so many of them that almost everyone can ride from place to place on their creaking, clanking shoulders, or inside the hollowed-out cavities of their chests. Now, having sunk so much work into repairing and restoring them, they are reluctant to abandon them except in times of great difficulty; and, being able shrug off entire volleys of arrows or musket-fire, they do have certain advantages when employed in war.

(They still use horses for all the day-to-day stuff which robots would be wildly impractical for, though.)

I miss City of Heroes.

A Rust Clan on the move, or riding into battle, is a bizarre sight. Any piece of clockwork machinery that can move is likely to be pressed into service, no matter what it was originally meant for; indeed, the Rust Clans pride themselves on their ingenuity in such matters. Here, then, are a few possible war mounts of the Plains of Rust:

1: A huge pair of clockwork legs, 5' high, which must originally have belonged to some fallen clockwork giant. Their rider straps a light wooden seat to their metal hips and rides them back and forth across the plains, controlling them with a simple pair of levers. When both levers are jammed forwards, the legs charge as fast as they can, which if they've been fully wound can be very fast indeed; they are thus favoured by Rust Clan lancers, who use them to hurtle into battle with their enemies.

2: The arms and torsos of three man-sized clockwork soldiers, all welded together at the waist, and walking beetle-fashion on their six clockwork arms (now re-purposed as legs). Their rider sits on top, in a lightweight wooden seat lashed to a metal turntable; by yanking the control lever, she may cause her mount to start walking in any direction she chooses, swivelling her seat to match. They are used by Rust Clan archers and gunmen, who use them as mobile firing platforms.

3: An armless clockwork giant, almost 12' tall. The complicated clockwork machinery which once allowed it to operate independently has been scooped out of its chest cavity; now a Rust Clansman rides inside its body, controlling the pace and direction of its march with levers, while two or three more balance on its shoulders, scanning the horizon. As they have no way to manually control the movements of its arms, these have been sawn off and discarded to reduce its weight.

4: A headless clockwork beast, 8' long, walking on all fours. A wide platform has been lashed to its back, on which up to eight people can ride, cooking or sewing or sleeping as the clockwork monster tirelessly plods along. In times of war, wooden screens are erected around the edge of the platform, and the metal beast is used as a makeshift tank.

5: A huge pair of tank-treads supporting a bulky metal torso, nearly round and almost 6' across. It must once have been a formidable war machine, but now the top half of it is missing and the bottom half has been mostly hollowed out. Four people ride inside, poking the barrels of their muskets over the metal rim of their 'mount'.

6: A rare prize: an intact clockwork soldier, 7' tall and almost fully functional! It is ridden by some brave and high-status warrior of the clan, who sits balanced on its shoulders, with his legs around its neck; in battle, while the clockwork soldier lays about itself with its metal limbs, he will swing down from his perch to strike at the heads of his enemies. The soldier walks with a bit of a limp, which just adds to the challenge of staying balanced for its rider...

Aside from number 6, all are Complexity 1 to operate and maintain, and complexity 2 to repair; they can thus be maintained indefinitely by any Rust Clansman of ordinary ability. When not in military use, all of these will also have bales of baggage strapped to every available surface, and will be festooned with small windmills, their sails spinning in the near-ceaseless wind of the steppe; this use of wind power to wind their springs helps to reduce the amount of wood, coal, or charcoal required to keep them in operation.

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