Steampunk Gear


Rabbit-headed cuckoo clocks were all the rage!

Rabbit-headed cuckoo clocks were all the rage!

Yesterday was another Gothic Lolita-styled live event by the crew at A la Mode, the 42nd event of this venerable institution. This night had the same excellent value-for-money line up of 6 or so bands interspersed by DJs, for just 3000 yen, but this time there were less of the pretty little 5 minute floor shows, and instead there was an excellent steampunk fashion show, and a very weird 30 minute theatrical performance (pictured above).

This time gas-mask free...

This time gas-mask free…

The fashion show appears to have been organized by one of the two members of the band Strange Artifact, who I refer to as Miss Artifact (pictured above, singing). I failed to get any functional pictures of the fashion show, but it was excellent – mostly women in voluminous 19th-century-styled dresses, wound about with belts festooned with mysterious gear, all intricately worked with geometric designs and brasswork. One girl was wearing a leather shoulder-guard that held glowing potions in test tubes, like an elegant and feminine version of the Witcher; two carried briefcases studded with brass designs; another carried a tiny pistol and what looked like a glowing, arcane power tube on her back. There was also a man in velvet pants and fine waistcoat, festooned with accessories and carrying an elaborate clockwork-styled gun, a feather jauntily perched in his top hat. Overall, it was an excellent showcase of craftwork and over-the-top steampunk sense, relatively free of gothic influences and heavily influenced by cowboys-and-indians railroad America, and industrial-revolution England.

Death and the Angel...

Death and the Angel…

The show wasn’t lacking in gothic influences, though. The two bands that followed Strange Artifact, himemanik and Remnant, had a healthy dose of gothic style: himemanik with a nice electronic pulse, and (as can be seen from the photo above), Remnant with a large dose of over-the-top old school coffin-guitared goodness. I really liked himemanik, actually, but I failed to get any pictures of them. I also failed to get pictures of Elupia, who I have reviewed before. Elupia are working on a new album, and were really in fine form at this gig, playing with a lot of energy and strength. They really epitomize the level of technical quality that even minor Japanese bands achieve, and are a good advertisement for the Japanese live scene – which in my experience is worth spending money on even if you don’t know the bands, because they are usually at a very high standard.

At this event, I had noticed a couple of women who had turned up wearing zombie nurse outfits, and who spent the afternoon drinking and checking their make-up (and sleeping). One of them was wearing a badge that said “Satan,” also incidentally one of the band names, so I was thinking we might be granted an audience with a zombie nurse rock band. However, as time passed my friend pointed out that the hall was becoming something of a “midgetorama” (his words) as it filled up with really, really short girls, some obviously very young (this was somehow an all-ages gig). These women seemed to have no fashion sense or style in common, but we soon discovered that they all shared a deep, powerful obssession with the headline act of the evening, Satan. For when Satan began playing, they all charged forward, unveiling Satan-themed sweat towels or t-shirts, and lined up at the front of the stage.

You spin me right round baby, right round!

You spin me right round baby, right round!

What followed was a revelation. Satan (pictured above) are a standard thrash/punk band with nothing special to recommend them – good, savage, loud and raw, but so are all of their kind – except the slavish devotion and energy of their fans. They proved this early on by producing a troll doll and spinning it around before the audience. This was the trigger for all of their fans to form up in serried conga-line ranks and do a complete circuit of the dance floor, charging around in one revolution and returning to their places to resume head-banging crazily to the thrash. Satan invoked this ritual regularly through their songs, somehow managing to hold out an arm or do a spinning sign with one hand and get all their fans to charge around the room. The rest of us had to step back in stunned incomprehension to allow this horde of tiny 16 year olds to take the floor.

It was then that Satan produced his pogo stick. At the sight of this wicked device of ancient power, his fans formed into three neat ranks, all facing in the direction he pointed, and began pretending to be pogo-ing, moving slowly up and down as the guitarist drew out a deep, ferocious roar. Then, of course, off they charged. Their dark lord could reproduce this pogo action just by crouching down on stage.

Other things that Satan got his little girls to do included worshipping the guitarist – whenever a solo was played, the girls all fell to their knees and genuflected – and a kind of mini bus-stop dance, in which the entire crowd went through the same series of arm-crossing and uncrossing, head banging motions.

He also produced a rubber hammer with which he whacked girls at the front of the stage, got them to slap his arse, spat water on them, and whipped them with his dreadlocks. Thus does Satan rule supreme over the gathered hordes of Tokyo’s schoolgirls …

Unfortunately I couldn’t get a picture of all this because, even though Satan is just some second-rate Tokyo thrash/punk band with about 30 devoted followers, he fancies himself special, and has a staff member who came over to tell me further pictures were banned. Further proof, if proof were needed, that intellectual property law is the work of Satan.

At this point as well my phone batteries died (all these photos were taken on my phone), and I failed to get any photos of the last band, Velvet Eden. No loss, since they were completely boring aside from the fact that their singer was cross-dressing, and stopped halfway through the performance to tell us that the band had been running for 10 years and this meant he had also been wearing a “T-back” (g-string) for 10 years. It was, he told us, 10 years since he became TBO – T-back Ore (g-string me!). Just as well he had the gimmick, since the band was ordinary.

So, another a la mode gothic lolita night passed in style and (mostly) musical excellence. This one was quite different to the last, and it’s clear that they put a lot of effort into each night they run, with very different performances and themes for each one. The next will be in early March, and if you are in Tokyo then and have a chance I strongly recommend it …

Everyone loves to suck the mango seed...

Everyone loves to suck the mango seed…

Mangoes are a fruit from heaven, much loved by all residents of the Steamlands, but the environment is inimical to their growth. Aside from the lush jungle of the far south, the climate of the Steamlands is harsh: cold, snowy winters and harsh, dry late summer and autumn make it difficult for a fruit as fragrant and delicate as the mango to survive. Mangoes in the Steamlands thus only survive around hot springs, where they are protected from the chill of winter and safe from the harshest excesses of summer. But because all hot springs retain a certain magical property of earth magic, mangoes have developed a kind of affinity for magic, and if the seed of a rotten mango is appropriately treated in a hot spring, it can become a cheap and durable vessel for simple magic. In particular, mango seeds that have been boiled in a hot spring can be enchanted with base magics and a trigger word, such that when thrown and activated they cast a low-grade spell in a small area.

To be enchanted, a rotten  mango must be reduced to just its seed through treatment in a hot spring. Hot spring owners don’t allow rotten fruit in their hot springs, so usually this treatment needs to be done in a wild hot spring or at a friendly location. Unfortunately, wild springs have become increasingly rare as hot spring farming has become more common, and although a few exist around Separation City they are near the graveyards, and rumoured to be haunted. This means that preparation of mango seeds can be dangerous and time consuming. However, once prepared, they can be enchanted.

Preparation is not simple, however, and requires someone with knowledge of plants and hot springs. Typically the task can be completed by a wood elf, farmer, NPC specialist, or way watcher. Preparation takes about an hour, and requires a 2D nature lore check. Failure renders the seeds unusable, but success can affect the enchantment process, as described below.

  • 1 success: the seeds can be enchanted
  • 3 successes: +1 expertise die on the enchantment check
  • 2 boons: reduce enchantment cost by 10 sps per seed
  • 2 banes: +1 misfortune die on the enchantment check
  • Chaos star: one seed is cursed so that it only produces bane and chaos effects

The enchantment process itself costs 30 sps per seed. To enchant the seeds, the wizard gathers the ingredients and conducts a ritual that lasts one night. Mango seeds only hold magic from rank 1 spells, and no more than than three mango seeds can be enchanted at any one time. Only spells that produce a lingering effect can be cast on the seeds, and if the enchantment is successful these seeds will become a kind of grenade that, when thrown, afflicts a small number of enemies in an engagement with the lingering effect. Only magic (not blessings) can be used on the mango seeds, and positive enchantments can also be cast (affecting allies rather than enemies). The enchantment check is a 3D spellcraft check, with effects described below.

  • 1 success: 1 seed enchanted
  • 3 success: 3 seeds enchanted
  • 2 boons: seeds gain the two boons effect
  • 2 banes: seeds gain the chaos star effect
  • Sigma: seeds gain the sigmar +1 wound effect

Throwing the seeds is easy: they simply need to land in an engagement, so the task is a 1D ballistic skill check with no effect of enemy defense. Once the seed lands in the engagement, the targeted enemy or enemies need to resist the effects of the spell embedded in the mango. Because the mango seed requires activation with a special word (chosen by the enchanter) only those who know the command word may use them, and there is a risk of failure due to a poorly timed command word (hence the skill check to deliver the seed). Effects of seeds do not stack, so only one seed can be used in an engagement at any one time. This is reflected on the action card through the recharge value of the card.

An example card is shown at the top of this post. This card is assumed to have been enchanted with the Jade Order entangling spell. Other spells will produce different lingering effects. The condition invoked by the seed lasts as long as there are recharge tokens on the card.

It is rumoured that there are ways to treat mango seeds to make them reusable, but this magic is either lost or known only to the elves. It is also rumoured that the flesh of mangoes makes a useful ingredient for potions, but this may also be a secret known only to the elves…

On the eastern coast of the Steamlands is a long stretch of open coastline called the Palace Cape. Bordered on the south and west by the wilds of the Beastlands, the Palace Cape is a land of forested hills and open grassland, all sweeping down to a rugged and wild coastline famed for its beauty. The landscape is largely untouched by human settlement, but its emptiness is belied by the sense of order and regularity in the terrain. Though it appears unoccupied by humans, it is not virgin territory.

In fact, the Palace Cape is the home of a mysterious race of mechanical entities, generally referred to simply as the Machines. This race confounds efforts by its flesh-bodied neighbours to categorize it, because the Machines have a range of forms as diverse as the animal kingdom, and its members are as alien and inscrutable as the fish of the sea or the great diving lizards that bask on the rocks of its southern beaches. Though few Machines are ever seen by humans, they are reported to have been seen in forms as diverse and various as gleaming steal humanoids, fragile porcelain dolls, spider-like monstrosities, humming discs floating in the air, mysterious immobile constructions of crystal, and even a flittering cloud of mechanical insects. Some scholars dispute that the various entities of the Machine kingdom are even separate minds, claiming that they are all animated agents of a single mighty intellect referred to as the Slip Mind. Whatever the truth of it, the Machines of the Cape have little in common with the warm-blooded folk to their north and west.

Nonetheless, the Machines do maintain a society that in some ways resembles that of humans. They take shelter from the elements as do any living creatures, and it is from these majestic shelters that the land gains its name. The Machines – or perhaps some older race before them – have built mighty and fantastic towers that stand lonely and magnificent against the backdrop of the distant mountains, or emerge from the waves of the near shore like behemoths of rock and steel. The towers appear unoccupied, the land around them being untilled and devoid of farms or settlements – just a single spire of steel and glass emerging from the wilds of the surrounding land. But if an interested observer waits outside long enough, they might be lucky enough to see a procession of machine workers emerge from some secret door, marching off into the wilderness to attend to some task, or setting about pruning the trees and tending the lands immediately about the tower. Very occasionally one might see a human resident emerge, or stumble on a small hamlet whose residents have lived in the shadow of the tower for millenia. These residents will have little to tell the traveller about the Machines among whom they live, however, except that they are peaceful and trustworthy and the life is good.

Scholars from other realms have been unable to comprehend the truth of the Machines, and the Machines themselves defying all forms of investigation, the scholars of the living have been forced to come to wild and unsupported views about the provenance, views and lives of the Machines. However, some things are known fairly well, and all theories must account for the quirks of Machine life that have been observed. It is not known whether the Machines eat or sleep, but it is generally believed that they gain some form of power from the Palace Cape, for they cannot leave it. Indeed, were one to be foolish enough as to abduct a Machine and take it beyond the ill-mapped borders of its realm, it would fall quiescent and incapable of movement or thought. Some argue that the Machines’ power is a magical device buried in the centre of the Palace Cape; others, pointing to the Cape’s name, suggest that the power source lies in the Palaces themselves, and that were they to fall the Machines would be extinct. Yet others believe the land itself is the source of the Machines power. It has been noted that on the boundaries of the Palace Cape, there live a breed of feral and degenerate Machines, which the Machines themselves disown. These beast-machines prey on passing humans, or hide from them, acting for all the world like animals; but some of them have a rudimentary cunning, or form groups of bandits, who attack passing caravans. It has been noted that while the Machines of the Cape can repair themselves by some mysterious means, these beasts on the border cannot, and will usually be seen carrying damage, rust and decay that they seem unaware or uncaring of. Thus, many scholars have argued that the power source has some centre, and wanes as one moves away from the centre, leading to a decay in both physical and intellectual strength. Other, more practical minds care not about the nature of the Machine’s motile force, but note that the borders of the Palace Cape are dangerous, and those who go to trade with the Machines should go well armed. The Machines themselves show little care for these degenerate brethren, seeming to treat them as animal cousins, best avoided but to be dealt with if they cause trouble. Of course, for the Machines these brethren are no burden, since the Machine folk do not leave the Cape.

The Machines also seem to maintain a cohort of slave machines, which they control remotely through their strange magic and which behave as machines are traditionally understood to operate. Often these slaves are accompanied by a sentient Machine, which guides and manages them. This is also how the Machines fight, not engaging directly with their enemies but instead fighting through slave soldiers. Machine soldiers are rarely seen, because the Machines do not make war, but those who fight Beastmen, or who have patrolled the western reaches of the Cape, report fighting spiders of steel and glass, and floating wagons heavily armed with cannon. Sometimes individual Machines will fight alongside these beasts, seeking fame and fortune amongst their kind; but it is known that Machines can die, though they seem quite tough, and usually the Machines are happy to let their automatons wage war for them.

The Machines trade with all the kingdoms of the Steamlands and elsewhere, and welcome human guests, though sometimes in a cold and remote way that can be confused with rudeness. Some of their number seem to understand or even appreciate humans, and there are a few small human settlements in the Cape which often hold a kind of ambassadorial status. It is known that the Machines have a way to enable a select few of their number to travel outside the Cape, but they seem not to like to do this, and reserve this expediency only for the most dire of situations. They do maintain a Tower near their border with Greathalf, however, and here a few Machines and humans live alongside each other in a mixed town that is renowned for its wonders and mysteries, though dangerous to reach. Here humans can trade raw materials and art for fine steel, gems, and occasionally technological items of rare power. The Machines are strangely unable to create art, though they can appreciate it, and their fondness for certain kinds of human art leads them to trade. But in general the Machines have little need for congress with humans, and keep to themselves. This can make the leaders of other nations uncomfortable, and occasionally rumour and confusion have led these rulers to ill-fated missions against the Cape. The Machines seem not to hold grudges, though they remain an inscrutable and poorly understood people. They are yet another mystery of the Steamlands, a strange amalgam of magic and metal that remains beyond the understanding of mortals. Were a group of intrepid adventurers to uncover the secret of their origins and their power source, great wealth and power could come their way … along with great danger …

Steampunk Scorpion Girls are GO

On Sunday I went to a Gothic Lolita live rock event, run by a la mode Tokyo, a gothic lolita night club organizer (they don’t seem to have any kind of web presence that I can find, though they seem to be connected to this group and can be found on Artism). This seems to be the central group offering live and club events connected to the Gothic Lolita scene, so obviously it’s going to be an interesting excursion, as well as potentially a very pretty one.

The event was held at the Live Inn Rosa in Ikebukuro, from 4pm to 10pm on Sunday the 8th January. There were a total of about 8 bands playing, with an MC who also sings and a couple of “mini-live” performances of 10 to 20 minutes each. There was also a collection of stalls selling goth-lolita goods but they were small and inobtrusive. Some of the bands had a table selling (or giving away) products. Admission was ¥3500 with a drink (about $40 including 1 drink). This may seem like a lot but it’s worth remembering a couple of things about Japanese live performances: you usually get to see a lot of bands, and the bands are usually extremely high quality. Japanese live performers are universally very very good, and so even if you don’t like the genre you’re not going to be subjected to that classic of the Aussie pub rock genre, a band whose music you just can’t understand because they’re sloppy and out of time and drunk. I didn’t stay for the last two bands, but what follows is a brief review of those I did see. Pictures were taken on candelight setting on my crappy cheapest-in-the-shop Olympus camera, but I hope they give a sense of the scene.

Strange Artifact

Gasmasks and Lace: Indeed, a Strange Artifact

Billing themselves as a steampunk band (whatever that is), Strange Artifact were basically a bass-guitar / vocalist pair, with drums and guitar on backing tapes. Their music is close to Visual Kei in style, with a female singer and perhaps a little more electronic influence than the average Visual Kei performance. You can see a video of one of their songs from the weekend here or hear a studio song on track 9 of this compilation. The singer isn’t operatic (as you will see, this is relevant) and this performance was probably the closest to a rock/visual kei genre. It was fun and energetic and well presented, and I really enjoyed it.

Essential Steampunk Goods

I’m not sure how this band is steampunk and I should say right away that I don’t understand the lyrics of songs in Japanese, so I don’t know what they sing about. This Steampunk genre is a complete mystery to me!

Miyahi Aya

And down the rabbit hole we go ...

Miyahi Aya was a sudden change in pace. A solo singer with all her backing music on tape[1], singing a strange blend of synthpop, J-pop and cabaret-style music. You can sample some of her songs at her Myspace page, where you can also find a slightly less blurry picture of her. In between her songs she maintained a fairly entertaining patter of banter with herself and the audience, most of it quite shy and self-deprecating and a bit silly. Again, I’m not sure about the content of her songs but the atmosphere for this 30 minutes was one of light-hearted silliness in between songs presented in a demure and slightly wistful physical performance. Good if you want your J-pop blended with gothic industrial themes and a dash of synthpop, in a lacy dress.

Tamamushi Naoki

Old-fashioned elegance returns

This was possibly my favorite performance of the night simply for the way it encapsulated a spirit of gothic elegance that I think has long since drained from the scene in other parts of the world. Tamamushi Naoki is one half of the duo “Pudding a la mode,” and you can hear one of their songs on their last.fm page. I don’t remember Tamamushi sounding anything like that, though: her songs were more powerful single vocal pieces, with a more gothic-rock backing style and a more sedate and solemn pace. For the duration of her performance she also had incense and that little lantern burning, and she performed in front of the visual screen rather than on the stage, giving it a more intimate feeling. Her make up and outfit were superbly gothic in the old style, and that dress was very splendid. She danced in the classic gothic mode (waving her arms and stepping backwards and forwards – it’s about all you can do in clothes like that) and gave a very self-conscious and simple performance without any of the artifice or posing that often accompanies modern live acts. She was, however, only on for 10 minutes, and her performance was slightly distracted from by the projection screen behind her, which was playing the Tim Burton Alice in Wonderland over her face.

Kokushicho (黒死蝶)

Lesbian Metal Lolita Explosion!

Perhaps the most outright entertaining of the acts, Kokushicho (Black Death Butterflies, in English) describe themselves as a “Symphonic Gothic Unit” and, true to their name, give a fairly robust metal/goth crossover performance involving a good amount of power chords, some (dainty) headbanging, and robust vocals of the girl-metal variety. They came on stage in pirate outfits, belted out an excellent symphonic metal job, then disappeared and returned to the stage in the more classic costumes you see above. I can’t see any of their music online but their site is here. This “Unit” told us after their first song that they are lovers, and they seemed to be riffing off of this a bit in their banter with each other in between songs – presenting a kind of light comedy teasing like a couple. Like most of the other bands playing today, all of their music was on backup tape like a J-pop band, and we only saw the vocal performance, but it was an energetic and exciting performance with an entertaining metal theme.

ElupiA

Operatic Elupements

Elupia was perhaps the first of the “main” acts of the night, and also happen to be a band we have a connection to: The Delightful Miss E is friends with the keyboardist (not the one to the foreground in this picture, but the one tucked away in the furthest, darkest corner of the room). Elupia are operatic goth rock, like a Japanese Nightwish, with a little more Visual Kei influence. Apparently the singer actually has operatic training, and it certainly seemed that way during her performance. Their Myspace page includes a couple of samples and a promotional video, and I think it’s safe to say they’re a pretty impressive act. They’re all well-polished performers, and seemed very skilled and popular with the crowd. I’m not a huge fan of operatic metal (I’ve tried getting into bands like Nightwish and consistently fail) but as a live act these guys were awesome. Sadly, though, they were only on for half an hour.

Gurimo Rizumo

The Goth-loli Circus Comes to Town

Gurimo Rizumo regaled us initially with an introductory speech, very much in the manner of a woman telling a children’s story or narrating a wildlife documentary. Each of their songs is a story and comes with an initial narrative, presented in this faux-serious way. The music could probably best be described as burlesque/cabaret goth, which is also not a genre I’m particularly fascinated by (largely because of the enooooormous load of pretentious wank that associates with burlesque), but this band presented as a genuine performance, wank-free and very confidently theatrical. It’s a very interesting style, and you can see an example of it in this youtube video. The second video (about 6:23) is the song they presented first, about the murderous circus. I really like these kinds of performances, where the performers are putting in a real effort not just to sing a song but to build a whole image and performance style, even if (as in this case) the crowd is quite small and the venue very normal. Thirty or forty years ago bands like The Cure and Marillion were doing this sort of thing, with varying degrees of success, and if they hadn’t taken themselves seriously we would be a sadder world now.  And one thing I certainly like about the Japanese music scene is its seriousness. As you can see from the shot below, the setting isn’t special, but this band were really giving it their all to take us to the circus …

Goth-loli geeklove...

Overall Impressions

Corsets, feathers, lesbian pirates ...

The bands in this live event had quite a few things in common, which I guess are a property of the music attached to the gothic-lolita scene. All the singers – and in many cases, all the members – were women, and although the music ranged across a couple of genres, it had a general operatic/cabaret theme, with a strong goth/metal base. Of course, like most Japanese gothic rock it was heavily influenced by Visual Kei, but had a nice variety of the carnivalesque that suits the image this scene presents to the outside world. There was a heavy focus on performance and presentation, which is nice, and although much of the imagery in the costumes is very western the style of the performances was very Japanese. As always at a Japanese live event the performers were stylish, skilled and dedicated. They were also friendly and engaging both on and off stage.

This music scene also harks back to an era that I think has been lost in British and Australian goth: an era when the scene was focused around women and women’s voices, and privileged elegance over raunch, and creativity over aggro. Now in the goth scene we see a lot of emo and tattooed blokes thumping out whiny songs about their ex’s, and women’s clothing and presentation has been pornified in a way that I find disappointing. Sure, it’s nice that young women can come to goth clubs in essentially their underwear, but I liked all the corsetry and elaborate make-up, and the focus on beauty and elegance over tits ‘n arse. So it’s nice to see this scene in Japan preserving that old-fashioned gothic shyness and elegance, while simultaneously exploring new avenues of musical expression. It’s also nice to see cabaret/burlesque worked into a music scene without the inevitable explosion of poseurs and wankers that accompany it in the west. It’s a typical unassuming, humble approach to a music scene that really has gotten a little ahead of itself elsewhere.

In summary, even if you aren’t that into cabaret-style metal, this music scene is definitely worth exploring if you’re into goth music and in Tokyo.

fn1: Incidentally, I don’t know how to say this. It was recorded and played but do we still say “backup tape”? Is it “backup iPad” now?

fn2: Actually, to their credit, so were a couple of men

Following my thoughts on post-scarcity fantasy, I found myself reading the Chronicles of the Black Company, which presented me with a range of examples of a world where the relationship between magic and culture is not static, and magic is not treated as a technology that fell from the sky. Where a lot of fantasy worlds seem to have been designed as straight depictions of a medieval world with magic unthinkingly bolted on, Cook treats it as a living part of the world, rare but subject to innovation and capable both of causing social change and being adapted and enhanced by it’s society, as well as interacting with undone technology. We are also presented with an idea that is often ignored or under-played in classic fantasy: the importance of research, literacy and the historical record.

There are many examples of innovative use of magic in this book, mostly in the military context. The simplest example is its use in spying and finding spies. The Black Company keeps its use of wizards very secret, like Guinness and its use of statistics, and as a result its enemies never understand how the Company can know so much about them, nor how they can catch spies and scouts so well. The Company exploits this by spreading misinformation and suspicion, giving the impression that it has spies everywhere and deliberately spreading a reputation for cunning and counter-espionage. Wizards in this world are rare, and the Company ruthlessly exploits the relative advantage they give it, as well as both protecting them and keeping them secret.

The wizards also fashion minor amulets and magic items when they are really essential, and though they aren’t powerful they serve to give Company members a slight edge at certain times. Their mighty leaders, the Taken, go further than this, however, employing magic liberally in battle to destroy, mislead and hamper the enemy. Storms, powerful chemical weapons, fireballs, illusions and all manner of enchantment tricks are employed, as well as magic to rally the troops. The Taken also have flying carpets, which early on in the war they use primarily for their own personal missions. Later on, as matters get more pressing, they use them to ferry key Company members about and later still for troop transport. Finally they start building larger carpets which are designed to glide, fitted with ballistas, and used as aerial attack platforms. Eventually simple bombs are designed, and they enter a kind of aerial warfare arms race with their enemy. This is the kind of thing that I expect magic to do in the world, but very rarely see described with any sense in the genre. Cook further backs this up with occasional references to other innovations: at one point, for example, Croaker is given a painkiller derived from a rare locally-sourced herb. He immediately seeks out it’s name and suggests stockpiling it for the Company, only to discover that the Taken are considering cultivating it after the war for civilian use. This is how I expect any rational person to react to a magic or medicinal herb, but in most fantasy stories this knowledge remains strangely sequestered, and is never converted into any benefit for the wider community. In this book, the eternal bad guys think about it as soon as they see the possibilities it contains.

The most refreshing aspect of Cook’s approach to fantasy in his world is his depiction of research. Croaker,being the Annalist, is literate and aware of the importance of documents, and his Company consider documents to be more important than loot. At one point they stumble on a cache of key rebel documents in a captured camp and as soon as they learn what they’ve got they become ruthless beyond compare. They kill every rebel captive who might identify that they were there, set a trap to delay reinforcements, and flee with the documents before the soldiers have had any time for pillage. Amongst these documents they find evidence that they may be able to learn the true names and history of the Taken, and possession of these documents becomes the most important consideration of the story. At later stages of the series Croaker and some of the Taken prioritize the safety of these documents over that of their men or their treasure, and exhaust themselves researching them. Even the knowledge that they possess them is a death sentence for anyone not of the Company. I don’t think I have ever read a fantasy story where research is so explicitly worked into the narrative and so key to military success, and it’s both refreshing and enlightening. Obviously other stories – e.g. The Lord of the Rings – have the success of research as a trigger in the narrative, but this story works the ideas of research, espionage and secrecy into the fabric of the story in a much more sophisticated way.

This book’s treatment of magic as an integral and living component of the world is a good example of what I was pining for in my discussion of post-scarcity fantasy. It shows how much richer and more interesting the fantasy genre can be when people think more deeply about the role magic plays in the world than just seeing it as the domain of pre-destined teenagers and bearded old men.

The advent of Infernal materials, lighter and stronger than even the most advanced enlightenment metals, and Infernal magic capable of levitation and propulsion, opened the skies to humans for the first time. From the first experiments in balloons, to the massive and stately airships, and on to more advanced military technology, by the end of the Victorian era the peoples of Europe had developed a wide variety of airborne conveyances. This post provides examples of some of those more suited to adventurers. Most of these were developed after the period of the Compromise and Conceit campaign chronicled in this blog, being technology of the mid- to late-Victorian era.

The Cupola

One could hang a large insect from this...

The Cupola is a small and effective military observation and guard post developed and used extensively in the Crimean war. They are used heavily by the military as spying, forward-observing and aerial attack bases, and are generally designed to be invulnerable to small arms fire from below.  This flying machine is invested with powerful but simple magics inside its ponderous shell, which can carry up to 3 adult humans and a reasonable amount of equipment, both levitating and propelling them at a pace roughly equal to a horse’s canter. The cupola can operate for periods of up to 12 hours before needing to stop and rest for an equal period of time, during which it recharges. Most Cupolae also need to be returned to a major recharge point once every 360 – 720 hours, or the maximum duration of their operating periods begins to reduce considerably. Details as to how they are recharged and what their internal power source is are carefully guarded, and although most Cupolae are capable of operating even if large portions of their shell has been obliterated, they are designed to rapidly become inert and often to self-destruct if their operator is killed and they are shot down. Rumours abound that the power mechanism is somehow related to that of the Autonomous Sentinel Cannon, one of the more abhorrent developments of the modern infernal industry, so it is understandable that the secret of its power source is jealously guarded from outsiders.

Cupolae are currently only used in military and a few surveying tasks, and are always magically linked to their pilot, so that stealing them is extremely difficult. The simple magic involved in the Cupola’s flying mechanism prevents it from being scaled up, though occasionally one sees smaller, slightly faster cupolae in mountainous regions.

The Corvette

Treading only lightly on the laws of physics

The Corvette was originally designed as a small hermetically sealed flying vehicle, but has since grown into the most audacious and expensive Victorian project. The corvette is essentially a self-contained flying hull, varying in size from a 5 man reconaissance vessel to a massive troopship. The first vessels were used as transporters and heavy lifters for the initial actions in the Crimean war, and remained quite humble in design and scope. Subsequent developments in materials technology and the growing wealth of the Infernalist nations led to experimentation with the design, and by 1870 these ships had become much larger. They are powered by a combination of levitation magic, flight magic and various conjured creatures, and incorporate all of the various technologies available to the people of the time. The larger ones also incorporate a gas store for lamps, and possibly a steam engine (usually elemental-powered) to maintain atmospheric pressure or to move various objects (such as lifts) inside the ship. Almost nothing in a large Corvette is powered by anything mundane, however, and the vastly complex magic involved in their operation makes Corvettes ridiculously expensive. The English airforce possess only 3 Corvettes of appreciable size, and almost never field them in any but the most desperate situations. Most of the largest trading companies (such as the East India) possess one or two very small Corvettes, and most colonial administrations in the later Victorian era also possessed one or two light corvettes designed exclusively for the purposes of airborne terror. Although corvettes can be licensed for private use their purchase is always at the whim of the Queen, sold on only under extremely restrictive contractual obligations, and all Corvettes have built in self-destruction systems to prevent them being used by the wrong people, or investigated by their private owners.

Despite its possession of a small fleet of Corvettes of varying size, the mainstay of British Imperial power – such as it is – in the Victorian era remains the surface navy, with corvettes used primarily as support craft and advanced strike vehicles. Some scientists have claimed that a much cheaper and more effective airfleet could be built if infernal power were reserved only for propulsion, and more natural means – similar to the wings of birds – were used to obtain lift, but it is clear to all learned folk of the Victorian era that non-magical flight is purely the province of the birds, and cannot be achieved by men without magical aid.

Teleconveyancer Glyphs

One small step for man...

Probably the most expensive way to travel, Teleconveyancer Glyphs immediately transport anyone who steps on them to a distant location without crossing the intervening space. A simple magical glyph, they can be bought from the appropriate magical college at exorbitant cost. The cost of such Glyphs becomes even greater if their buyer intends for them to be reusable – in such a case they must be embedded in a specially designed plinth (usually referred to as a Ghost Step) which contains the energy for the Glyph’s repeated use. This can be a lump in the ground barely bigger than the glyph itself for a rune which teleports its target across the street, to a plinth taking up the entire floor of a church for a glyph which transports someone to Rome (such a glyph is rumoured to exist in Avignon).

Teleconveyancer glyphs are sometimes installed in the airships of the rich and famous, as single-use emergency escape devices, and are also rumoured to be used by certain spies and assassins. The infamous assassins of Araby are said to have their own, more esoteric methods of achieving the same effect, and of course it is known that some practitioners of dark arts can turn any pool of shadow into a teleconveyancer glyph of sorts. The military is rumoured to be developing a kind of rope or cord which behaves like a teleconveyancer glyph for anyone crossing it, and which throws its user a fixed distance forward in space. Some magical colleges are rumoured to be playing with movement through time as well, but such rumours are undoubtedly the mad ravings of heretics.

Nonetheless, the teleconveyancer glyph remains the ultimate escape mechanism, which every evil villain should invest in.

At the end of the campaign described here, the characters destroyed a sinister force known as The Iron House. However, a previous group (run in Australia) played in a campaign set in 1872 where they worked for an organization known as The Iron House, in the interests of the Queen. In an early session, they were dispatched to the 1872 Manchester Cornucopia of Arms and Armour, where the latest battlefield technology would be on display and one of the inventors was planning on defecting from Prussia to Great Britain. The characters’ task was to identify agents who might interfere with the defection, and if necessary kill them. This meant spending two days in the grounds of the Cornucopia posing as merchants, and so they were able to witness displays of a couple of the latest developments in infernal weaponry. Here are three examples of the kinds of things they saw.

The Steam Tank: In the age of the Essential Compromise, steam engines can be rendered very small through infernal summoning and materials, though the process is very expensive. A steam engine consists of two chambers separated by a turbine; in one chamber an imp boils water to impossibly high temperatures, which then passes through to a turbine before entering the second chamber, where it is condensed back to water and pressurized by a second imp. This imp forces it back through another turbine to the first imp. Thus a perpetual motion machine is produced based entirely on steam and the ceaseless labours of two very unhappy imps. The latest infernal materials prevent heat or cold leaking between the chambers or from the engine into its environment, so the small engine can be mounted in the middle of a small room or vehicle – though heaven help the occupants in the rare occasions that the engine bursts and the imps escape their confinement.

This engine has been put to its ultimate use in the development of the Steam Tank, a wheeled armoured vehicle crewed by two intrepid soldiers, one who directs its movement and one who fires a small cannon mounted atop the vehicle. In early models the cannon was a static mortar, and the vehicle little more than mobile artillery; but realizing the cost of the engine was such a great part of the whole, the Prussian Steamworks expanded its power and used it to drive a mobile turret, which now contains the latest in heavy infernal weaponry – an infernal cannon, or a nest of field rods of some kind. Rumour has it that a larger version is in development, that carries prisoners of war (or just prisoners) who feed an autonomous sentinel cannon from within cramped cells on one side of the vehicle, though the experimental version is said to have been simply a tumbrel dragged behind the tank itself.

This tank is being used only by the Prussian military but – perhaps as a political symbol of Prussia’s growing military might – one and one only has been sent to the Manchester Cornucopia for demonstration purposes[1]. Invulnerable to infantry weapons and too mobile for artillery, it forebodes a revolution in cavalry warfare.

The Reanimator Field Rod: The ultimate in infernal field rods, the Reanimator Field Rod carries this line of weapons to its ultimate conclusion. Usually carried into battle by a priest or wizard, the rod fires a cone-shaped blast of dimly visible grey-green light, which animates any fresh corpse in its area of effect. This corpse is then under the control of the Rod’s wielder, who must himself be attuned to the rod through a specialist ritual. The French army is said to have established a few squads of their infamous battle-priests armed exclusively with these rods, and will send them to the rear of the first wave of soldiers to enter the fray. Though these soldiers may be cut down or horribly decimated, their opponents will find themselves then facing the dread prospect of fighting again not only those they just killed, but those of their friends and allies who were also sacrificed in the melee. Every defeat of the enemy is redoubled by these priests, and every loss partially reversed. Who can doubt the terrible effect of this on the morale of those who fight, and on the judgment of those who lead[2]?

Persian Anti-personnel bombs: aka Turkish Delights, are a nasty little invention of the Ottoman Empire, which has been developing considerable skills in pacifying aggressive populations during the food riots of the past two years. These bombs are barely large enough to significantly injure an armoured man, being roughly marble sized. Presented by the handful in a special magical bag, they are completely inert in the bag, so a Turkish soldier has no risk of blowing his chest out when he dives for cover from an Anatolian death-archer. However, once out of the bag they are immediately primed, and explode after three sharp impacts, such as occur when they are thrown down steps into a basement, bounced along a corridor, or skipped across the surface of a fountain. The resulting explosion is concussive, but will easily kill or seriously injure an unarmoured rebel (or his family, if they are sheltering in the basement with him). Such devices have obvious uses in England, given the recent riots over corn laws and the other unrest being fomented by capricious foreign powers. They are also useful in ship-to-ship warfare.

fn1: During the adventure this tank was stolen by the defector’s Chinese lover, and they finished the adventure chasing it through the streets of Manchester while Prussian agents attacked them and tried to capture it and the defector it held. Much of central Manchester was laid waste in the process.

fn2: Not to mention the judgment that will be placed upon those who use such a weapon…

These being paintings of airships and early aircraft at war, particularly world war 1, which can be found here. I was stumbling about the internet this sunday evening and discovered this site via this chap, a military historian with a focus on aerial warfare. I’m one of those rubes who has no skills in historical analysis but a strong interest, so I’m easily taken in by the next history book I read, but it seems like this site has some interesting historical theorizing going on.

I was struck immediately by the romantic steampunk elements of the images on display there. They map immediately to Stephen Hunt’s books, which are set in a fantastical Britain, never named but clearly portrayed as such. There’s a definite element of romance to those giant ships of the air… and even though any image you see of war in the sky is actually horrific and coldly terrifying, somehow those early aviators manage to retain a sense of casual adventure, the essence of romantic steampunk role-playing.

Note for my English readers: I’m now using this blog for communication with my Japanese players, just as I did for my English ones, so there will be occasional Japanese posts. In some cases I will also put English with them, in some cases not. My apologies if this causes your browser to render the site very very ugly.

ノームは小さいですから、普通の武器は大きいダメージができない。自分の強ささえ攻撃すれば効かないから、ダメージを強化するために,機械的な武器をよく使っています。さらに、普通の機会工学が足りないから、ノーム工学者は、機械工学と召還術を組み合わせて、いろいろな異能武器が使える。

この「蒸気散弾銃」は、ノームローグかソーサラー向けの機械的な遠隔武器である。散弾銃のなかには、幽閉された小さいスチームメプィットがある。弾薬は壊された石である。幽閉されたメプィットはこの石をつぶる。この弾薬は、使う前に壊さないといけないか、ノーム武器屋で買える。弾薬ケースの交代は1ラウンドをかかるが、ノームローグはフリアクションで交代ができる。

この散弾銃はもう1つの使い方がある。自由に、標準アクションとして、全ての弾薬を一発で打てる。この時に、円錐形攻撃をして、円錐形の中の相手は怯えさせる。このアクションは全ての弾薬を使うから、早速新しいケースを入れないといけない。

蒸気散弾銃は少し危ない。攻撃ロールは1の場合に、散弾銃が壊れるおそれがある。壊れる事件は:

  • スチームメプィットがのがれて、使用者を攻撃する
  • 散弾銃が使用者の変に爆発して、使用者は3d4ダメージを受ける
  • 散弾銃が爆発して、使用者の周りの10フィート以内の人が皆1d4ダメージを受ける

この散弾銃を使うために、特殊武器習熟が必要である。特殊武器習熟を習うように、ノーム先生を見つけて、適当な値段を払わないといけない。

詳しくは:

  • 価格:250gp
  • ダメージ(S):1d6+1
  • クリテェカル:19-20/x3
  • 射程単位:30′
  • 重量:5ポイント
  • タイプ:殴打
  • 弾薬:20発
  • 特別な攻撃:30‘x10’円錐形、中の相手は3d4ダメージを受ける(反応セーヴで半分)、反応セーヴが足りなかったら、怯え状態になる。セーヴ難易度は使用者の攻撃ロールである。

以下は英語版である。

Because Gnomes are small, their normal weapons are unable to do significant damage. Because their own strength cannot be depended upon to achieve a good effect, they use mechanical weapons to increase the damage they do. But even normal mechanical advantage can be insufficient, so they often combine mundane engineering with conjuring to produce devices that can be used for various strange weapon effects.

This Gnome Steam Rifle is an example of a type of ranged weapon ideally suited to Gnome sorcerers and rogues. A small steam mephit is trapped inside the rifle, which uses a block of pre-fragmented stone or ceramic as its ammunition. The Steam Mephit hurls pieces of this pre-fragmented cartridge from the gun. Before using the gun, the ammunition needs to be pre-fragmented and shaped, which is easy for gnomes to do with their advanced stone-working skills; but it can also be bought from gnome weapons dealers. Reloading an ammunition case takes 1 round, but gnome rogues who use this weapon are automatically able to load the ammunition case as a free action.

The rifle also has a secondary effect. At any time, the user can choose as a standard action to fire all the remaining ammunition in a single cone-shaped burst. Everyone within the area of effect of the burst takes significant damage and is at risk of becoming shaken. This action uses all remaining ammunition.

The rifle also comes with a risk of backfiring. Anytime a 1 is rolled on an attack, one of the following may occur:

  • The Steam Mephit escapes and attacks the user
  • The gun explodes back on the user, dealing 3d4 damage (no save)
  • The gun explodes outward, causing 1d4 damage on all within 10′ of the gun

In order to use this gun, an exotic weapon proficiency is required. To learn the proficiency, one must seek out and pay an appropriate fee to a Gnome trainer.

Stats:

  • Price: 250gp
  • Damage: 1d6+1
  • Critical: 19-20/x3
  • Range: 30′
  • Encumbrance: 5 points
  • Type: Crushing
  • Ammunition: 20 shots
  • Special attack: 30’x 10′ cone. Those within the cone take 3d4 damage (reflex save for half). Those who fail a reflex save are also shaken. Save DC is determined by the user’s attack roll.

Picture: The picture is the Sonification Rifle by Vladislaus Dantes.

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