Saturday 21 March 2020

Engines of Heaven

The island itself is a steep blade of stone jutting from the ocean, jagged cliffs down either side of a sharp crest. The island’s flanks are covered in gorse and heather, storm-lashed and exposed.
At the summit, a huge machine. Multiple intersecting rings and disks, some fifty feet across or more, built from brass and lead. Like a humongous astrolabe or gyroscope. All mounted on a central axle that impales the stone beneath. In the centre of the mass, a metal brazier, with traces of ashes within it. At the base of the central axle, the interface; a row of seven four-foot levers, each with three positions (low, medium and high).

Operating The Engine
The engine controls the base values of reality - the moral and metaphysical equivalents of the fundamental physical constants - in the local area (IE, in the entire Islands At The Edge Of The World. Each such value is controlled by one of the levers. From left to right, the levers are:
ò Permittivity of Free Will
ò Human Potential
ò Intensity of Suffering
ò Capacity for Growth
ò Speed of Life
ò Depravity of Original Sin
ò Degree of Animism
To make the engine work, a fire must be lit in the brazier. To achieve this, somebody needs to climb up and fill the brazier with fuel - peat, coal or wood all work fine. When the fire is lit, the wheels and rings begin to turn around and within one another, rotating at varying rates and angles.
Needless to say, being caught among the rings as they start turning is not a particularly good situation to be in. 3d6 damage is dealt each round to anybody being ground between the rotating parts of the engine. To avoid this, once the brazier is filled with fuel, it is wisest to climb back down and light it from a distance, perhaps by shooting a flaming arrow.
Once the engine is working, pulling a lever to a new setting causes the machine to alter its motion, which in turn results in an alteration to the base values of reality. The disks and wheels flip into new angles relative to one another, and continue their rotation. The alteration to reality is reflected by an alteration to certain basic game mechanics. These continue once the fire has burned out (and the engine powered down) and affect the game for as long as the party remains in the Islands At The End Of The World.
If the engine can somehow be removed from the island, and transported back to the mortal world, it can be set up elsewhere, and has the exact same effects on its surroundings; a single engine covers an area roughly the size of a moderate mortal nation, such as France or Poland.

Permittivity Of Free Will
This value decides how much control mortals have over their lives, and how much is pre-ordained by predictable brain chemistry, societal influence, and the forces of destiny. It begins at Medium.
If changed to Low, humans become far less independent. They tend towards obedience and conformity, and follow the pre-determined paths fate has laid out for them.. Mind-affecting magic is more effective; it’s duration is doubled and no saves are allowed.
If changed to High, humans become almost impossible to control, wilful and independent. Fate becomes easily discarded, and prophecies easily subverted. Furthermore, mind-affecting magic always allows a save to resist it, and its duration is halved, with an absolute a maximum of one year.

Human Potential
Human potential measures the degree to which mortals are capable of achieving greatness. Which setting it begins in varies by campaign, but in most OSR systems probably begins at ‘Low’.
Human Potential alters how character stats are generated. When it is altered, new PCs roll their stats using the new method, and existing PCs get the option to re-roll their stats exactly once per setting (IE only getting a single new stat array per setting).
At Low Human Potential, humans are basically bland, and exceptional individuals are rare, much like in the real world. At character gen, all attributes are generated on 3d6.
At Medium Human Potential, humans have a capacity for heroic greatness, comparable to a prelapsarian time of legend. Roll all stats on 4d6, and take the best 3.
At High Human Potential, humans are frequently exceptional and widely varied. Roll all stats on 3d20, taking the best single result.

Intensity of Suffering
This value determines how serious pain and injury are, and generally how unpleasant life is. Altering it alters the ‘tone’ of your narration; at ‘low’ gloss over mundane unpleasantness. At ‘medium’, proceed as normal, and at ‘high’ go full grimdark.
Furthermore, the lethality of injury varies depending on Intensity of Suffering. Halve all damage taken by everybody (PCs, NPCs and monsters alike) at ‘Low’, and double it at High.

Capacity For Growth
This value regulates how quickly mortals learn and experience character development. It begins at Medium. At low, human nature is basically set in stone, and people rarely change. XP gained is halved, and the player may choose to flat reject any mechanic or effect that would alter their PC’s mindset, goals or inner nature.
At High, humans learn rapidly and their natures change easily in response to events. All XP gained is doubled. PCs will find that the motivations, loyalties, goals etc of those they deal with regularly will frequently alter in unpredictable ways.

Speed of Life
This value sets the expected length and speed of a human lifespan; adjusting it likewise adjusts the lifespans of other species proportionally. At its default setting (Medium) a normal human lifespan is about seventy years.
At ‘high’, humans live fast and burn out young. A human reaches maturity at around seven, and old age in only twenty years. They must eat, sleep etc four times a day, and likewise natural healing happens four times as often; at dawn, midday, dusk, and midnight.
Conversely, at ‘low’, humans age slowly, potentially reaching three hundred years old or more. They must eat only once every four days, and sleep one day in every four. Healing is likewise slowed; they only naturally heal when they sleep, every fourth day.

Depravity of Original Sin
This value determines the initial, inherent moral standing of mortals. Where it is set will depend on the tone of your campaign. At High, humans are fundamentally wicked, and redemption is hard to achieve. At Medium, humans are neither born wicked nor innocent, but rather accrue virtue and vice over the course of their life as a result of their actions. At Low, humans are born innocent, hard to corrupt, and forgiveness is easily gained.
Unlike other settings, this one has no mechanical effects, but will instead alter the tone and feel of the game and may have serious moral implications.

Degree of Animism
This value sets the limits for what entities are capable of human-like thought, and as such for being held morally culpable for their actions. By default, it is set to Low, and only people can be sentient and capable of sin.
At Medium, animals think like people, can talk, and can be held morally culpable.
At High, even important inanimate objects have awareness and are capable of sin; their capacity to act might be limited, however.


  1. Absolutely wicked. Gotta find a place for this island in my campaign(s).

    1. It's only 'absolutely wicked' if you set the wickedness to 'high'.

  2. Quite interesting! I wonder if this would combo well with your 'into the utter west' idea?