*The World Turns.The Clockwork: Empire RPG
The Empire Falls.
The Pontus Rises.
Welcome to the Clockwork.
The Empire Falls.
The Pontus Rises.
Welcome to the Clockwork.
Clockwork: Empire is a steampunk roleplaying game set in a Victorian world of gothic horror. Players take the role of exceptional individuals within the British Empire of 1896 as it strives to maintain tradition in the face of scientific advancement, powerful mystical practices, and the threat of the Pontus – the primordial chaos which is slowly reclaiming creation. Reality itself is crumbling while debutantes vie for social currency, bureaucrats backstab one another, pirates plunder the seas and skies, and a few honorable men and women fight back against the chaos that is consuming the world.*
At Temple Con this past February, we were lucky enough to join in on a beta game of Clockwork: Empire led by one of the creators, Nathaniel Dean. We absolutely loved the game and set up another opportunity to play a couple of weeks later at TotalCon. I am excited to announce that you can now try the game out for FREE! The Quick Start Rules are available through DriveThruRPG at no cost, but you will want to pick up the Empire cards as well.
The available adventure is the first one we played and I would have to say is my favorite. The pre-made characters are interesting and quirky. I would love to play the character I had again, as I was unable to even scratch at the many hidden layers in one adventure.
In this adventure, many of the PC's are constables investigating strange occurrences. Typically the entire group arrives for the first conflict but Ben and I were able to take him out so quickly that it was under control by the time everyone arrived. No worries though! There was more adventure waiting around the corner!
I was unsure if I would enjoy diceless combat, but the card system works so well for both battle and social conflict that I am more than willing to keep my dice comfy in their bag for this game. And believe me, that is saying a lot.
What is this social conflict I mentioned? Glad you asked. Clockwork: Empire is not simply a beat up the bad guys RPG. It is a wonderfully intricate, complex storytelling RPG that is surprisingly simple to learn*. The world is rich and full and the system allows for PCs to guide the story the way they wish. Sometimes this involves serious battles. Other times this involves negotiation, seduction, or heated arguments. While the last three can be fun with the right person, it is not always what you want to see from your gaming group. The cards allow for these social conflicts to take place within the story, without turning your group itself into a bickering battleground.
When we played the second adventure, we never engaged in a single battle. Not one. The entire story was told and resolved through social conflict and we were not bored or wanting to stab someone to "get the show on the road". Again, this is saying a lot. I tend to play impulsive characters because I hate sitting around waiting for people to roll on the nature of the gazebo they've stumbled across. Because of the brilliant game system, we were able to enjoy an entire adventure with only social conflict and we loved it.
If it seems as though I am gushing about this game, it is because I am. Personally, I cannot wait until the full version is released in 2014. I want to play my Idle Hands character again and I want to run a different adventure for my group. Both roles seem exciting to me.
If you like RPGs, storytelling, or steampunk- grab this game now. It is a winner.
I just want to take a moment here to talk about the games mechanics. As Lori mentioned above, this is a "complex storytelling RPG that is surprisingly simple to learn." *Simple for the players, but there are a lot of rules that go on in the background. After playing through two scenarios I would have described it as rules-lite, but after reading the Quick Start Rules I would have to change that opinion.
The Quick Start Rules are well laid out, but can be a little confusing at first. The overall mechanic for everything from task resolution to Social conflict is pretty straight forward, add all applicable modifiers and draw a card, if you get a value of +1 or better you succeed, otherwise you fail (with some exceptions). There are varying levels of success and failure, but that's it in a nut shell. Most other elements of the game are fairly basic, each character has a class, aptitudes, skills, etc.. However there are a few parts that are fairly unique, for example reputation, affinities and dispositions, which all have mechanical effects on Social conflicts. They have also taken a far more realistic view of wounds, which, unlike some RPGs, will only heal after weeks of recovery. There are mechanics in place for how a character can continue while wounded, but with some hefty disadvantages. I could go on and basically regurgitate the whole of the Quick Start Rules, but I don't want to do that, you can just go and download them yourself at the link above. What I really want to do is talk about the two things that, mechanically, stand out to me.
First are the Empire cards. Like Lori, I was a little skeptical about playing an RPG without dice, but was quickly put at ease by the simple elegance of how the cards are used. Obviously they are used for trait tests, as I have already mentioned. But they are also used for determining the Initiative Sequence, adding conditions to characters during conflict, and can be used in place of percentile dice, as each card has a unique number from 1-100. All the cards have a numerical value ranging from 5 to -5 and include the dreaded DOOM and the desired FATE cards, one each. Because there is only one of each of those cards, the deck is reshuffled at the end of each Initiative Sequence, for both physical and social conflict, and when either the FATE or DOOM card is drawn during non-conflict scenes. This ensures that everyone gets a chance to draw one of the cards.
As I mentioned, the cards are used for the Initiative Sequence, this is done by dealing each player four cards from the deck, the players each decide to keep three of them, discarding the fourth. Initiative goes from 5 down to -5, the cards you are dealt determine when you may act. Each player may take a combination of up to three actions/reactions per round. When you take an action or a reaction you flip over a card, when you are the active player you flip over the card you used to act in that initiative order, when you react you may flip over any of your cards. Once you have flipped over all three of your cards, that's it, you are all done for this round. So, if you have the three highest cards on the table you could go three times in a row, but this would eliminate any possibility to react later during you opponents turn. So use them wisely. There are other things to consider, but that's the gist of it. If you want more, go download the rules.
The other characteristic of the cards I want to mention is the conditions they each have on them. When you get a remarkable success in a conflict you inflict a condition on your target. The rules explain how many cards you draw, and from those drawn cards you, the player, get to determine which condition best describes what you were trying to do. The conditions are all applicable to both physical and social conflict, and are described briefly on the cards, and more fully in the rules.
The second thing that stands out to me mechanically is the Guard Characteristic. A characters Guard is basically their ability to ward off attacks. There are no 'hit points' in Clockwork: Empire, there is Guard and wounds. As a conflict progresses a characters Guard will go up and down depending on how things are going for them. Once a characters Guard is down they begin to take Wounds. I like the way this works over some other games. It represents a character getting tired, falling for a feint, tripping over their own feet. It doesn't hurt them, but it makes them easier to hit. So, on a successful attack you don't take damage as long as your Guard is up, but if you have been at this fight for a while, your going to start seeing the toll it takes as your Guard goes down.
That's all I'm gonna say about the rules, if you want to know more, guess what? Download the Quick Start Rules.
*From Reliquary Game Studios