In the not-too-distant future one of my Monday night group is going to be running some of Peter Cakebread and Ken Walton’s Clockwork & Chivalry, so I thought I would check it out. The conceit is that it’s set during an alternate version of the English Civil Wars of the 1600s (exactly how many Civil Wars were fought in that period is apparently a non-trivial question). The twist is that Parliament, supported as it is by the craftsmen and merchants of the middle classes, can bring a range of amazing clockwork devices to bear on the battlefield; meanwhile, the Royalist forces bolster their chances by turning to alchemy, and whilst most of those persecuted for witchcraft in this age are innocents, there are a few genuine Satanists with true magical power lurking in the shadows.
The default starting point for the game is the aftermath of the Battle of Naseby, which deviates from the result in our world due to it being the first fight where the various clockwork and alchemical contrivances were used on the battlefield. In this version, King Charles was captured and quickly executed by Oliver Cromwell, who has declared himself Lord Protector; however, the Royalist forces under Prince Rupert of the Rhine still control significant sections of the country (King Charles II is too young to lead the war at the moment, so he is staying in Paris with his mum). An uneasy break in the fighting has occurred as both sides come to terms with the twin shocks of the apocalyptic battle of Naseby and the sudden regicide following it – but surely that cannot last.
Originally published as a supplement for the second Mongoose edition of Runequest, this second edition of the game was released as a result of Mongoose losing the Runequest trademark and shifting to its own Legend system (basically a reprint of their second Runequest version with the trademarks filed off).
Rather than be dependent on Mongoose’s ongoing goodwill and the unpredictable licence situation – remember, the second version of Mongoose Runequest didn’t have a SRD, unlike the first one – Cakebread & Walton have decided to cook up their own BRP variant to allow them to sell this edition of Clockwork & Chivalry as a standalone product. Their Renaissance system is based off the current edition of Openquest, which is itself a simplified and rationalised take on the Mongoose Runequest SRD; they’ve also followed the example of Openquest by making the Renaissance system open and making an SRD available for it.
The main tweaks made to Renaissance are intended to optimise the system for use with settings whose technology levels are broadly analagous to the age of black powder firearms – so in practice from the late 1400s to the Victorian period. This goes further than simply tweaking the equipment list – social class is a crucial component of character generation, and providing magic systems suitable to the then-current beliefs about magic and alchemy is also important. But what really stands out for me is how the game puts religious and political factionalism at the front and centre.
The Civil War saw a dizzying variety of nonconformist religious groups and violently fanatical political outfits coming out of the woodwork, and the line between religion and politics was thoroughly blurred at that. Clockwork & Chivalry offers a rundown of a wide range of such groups (mostly real, a few fictional to spice things up), and encourages PCs to be a member of at least one. (For the more selfish a “Self-Interest” faction of various different flavours is available.)
Characters also have a score, tracked during the game, measuring how fanatical they are about the cause espoused by the faction(s) they belong to. Higher scores mean that you are more highly valued within the faction, are more inspired by its ideals, and find it easier to sway other people to your way of thinking, but at the cost of finding it increasingly difficult to get on well with members of factions with differing ideologies. Lower scores make it easier for you to get on with people with differing opinions, but also means that you don’t have the kudos of more ideologically sound sorts and aren’t necessarily a very convincing ambassador for your faction.
This is a good example of the sort of neat touch that Cakebread & Walton add to the rules in order to encourage setting-appropriate behaviour. Another nice touch is the way that everyone who learns witchcraft has the Evil Eye and can sometimes accidentally cast it on others when they lose their temper or are otherwise under emotional duress; it’s a small thing which nonetheless is a useful reminder that the power of witchcraft is a gift from the Devil and ultimately is controlled only by Him, and simply by possessing such knowledge and power can make you a danger to yourself and others. Between this and an interesting gazeteer of the British Isles during the era (not forgetting to take into account the very different perspective on the wars enjoyed by the Scottish – remember, the Act of Union hadn’t come about yet so Scotland had its own Parliament and its own priorities at the time), the core rulebook has certainly got me excited for the game to come and I’m looking forward to start after the next Ars Magica slot.