Review: Cakebread & Walton – Clockwork & Chivalry


Product Name: Clockwork & Chivalry
Publisher: Cakebread & Walton
Author: Ken Walton, Peter Cakebread
System: RuneQuest II
Setting: Clockwork & Chivalry
Theme: Alternate History
Type: Core Rulebook
Link: http://www.clockworkandchivalry.co.uk/

Clockwork & Chivalry is a unique setting for RuneQuest II set in 17th century England around the period of the English Civil War. The historical aspects of the setting itself is something I have not seen before, but take this significant period of history and add in aspects of 17th century-style magic and science-fiction. Alchemy is the prevalent magic within the setting and is a great representation of how I would perceive true 17th century magic. Clockwork technology is the form of science-fiction presented for the 17th century and is quite fitting to the level of ability and technology engineers had during that period of time.

Considering the numerous amounts of typical or similar fantasy and science-fiction settings already published, this is a nice change of pace with an endless amount of possible role-playing and interesting combat. To keep with the ideals of the 17th century, Clockwork & Chivalry introduces new mechanics for political and religious disputes that fit in with the “look” and feel for what life would be like during the 1600’s.

The core rulebook is an astonishing 192 pages long with all the information players and GMs need (except for the core rules of RuneQuest II) to become a part of the setting and how Alchemy and Clockwork enhance the already known 17th century. While the setting is not conducive to a hack-and-slash type of campaign, there are plenty of hooks for remarkable battles or struggle between two hard-nosed individuals. Add to this the ability to “show the world” your beliefs and viewpoints and you end up with a well-rounded setting that is filled with potential.

INTRODUCTION

Being that Clockwork & Chivalry is a world setting for RuneQuest II, the content can stay clear of just presenting the rules and concentrate on bringing the setting to life. The Introduction is done in a narrative style telling the story of a turning-point battle during the civil war. The two sides battling for control of England are the Royalists, and their supporters, and the Parliamentarians, and their supporters.

The Royalist groups and those that support the Royalist beliefs are fighting for the King and his ability to continue rule over the land. The Parliamentarian groups and those that support the Parliamentary beliefs are fighting for a new kind of government where the people have a say, such is the ideals of a Republic society.

The Introduction opens up with a brief overview of the setting and how it fits with RuneQuest II. Once you make it get past the opening details, the narrative battle begins. I found myself instantly hanging on every word unknown of what to expect next. The story is that of an epic battle on the grounds of Naseby between the Royalist and Parliamentarian groups. As the Royalists are charging into the enemy line, they are quickly greeted by machinery they cannot overcome. Thus is the Clockwork technology brought to battle by the Parliamentarians. But as the battle appears to be turning tide and the King is captured, the battleground becomes a zone of elemental powers being unleashed from the Royalist front. Such is the Alchemy magic found within the ranks of the Royalists.

The battle continues back and forth until both sides are mostly spent and munitions have run out. The outcome is a stalemate, but the King has been captured and soon beheaded. This is where the world of Clockwork & Chivalry begins, after this epic battle and after the King has been dethroned.

CHARACTERS

Character creation in Clockwork & Chivalry works a little different than with many other popular systems. Instead of creating the character and using their selected attributes to determine their path going forward, a characters past determines who they are, what they’re beliefs are, and what they’re like, but it less limiting on how they venture down the “path of life”. Most system use a characters history as plot hooks or seeds for parts of a campaign, but the past of a Clockwork & Chivalry character is much more important as it’s used to define the character itself.

The standard character creation mechanics from RuneQuest II for Characteristics, Attributes, and Common Skills still apply, so I won’t go into these. Once these items have been determined, it’s time to move onto creating your characters past, referred to as Previous Experience, starting with Social Class.

Before I get into the summary of Social Class, I’m going to start by saying that I do not like the layout of these sections concerning Character Creation. This chapter could benefit from defined sections and a different presentation of these sections. The first section is Social Class, which would be easier to identify as the first section by either using a much different font/size as a section header or by starting the section on a different page. To continue with this, each social class is described in narrative form and then the associated stats, bonuses, and/or penalties are listed in table form later on in the section. This could be better presented by giving each social class its’ own 1 or 2-page spread (depending on the amount of description) containing description, all stats and skills, any flavor text, maybe an illustration, and all other information pertaining to that particular social class. This current format is easy enough to read, but for quick and easy reference, I would recommend the previously mentioned changes.

The social classes are what you would typically expect to find within any 17th century setting. The list of possibilities are Peasant, Townsman, Middle Class, Gentry, and Nobility. I find this list to be ample and gives enough options for possible role-playing during any campaign or adventure. The classes are well described and the associated skills and stats play well with what the class is trying to portray. I prefer the narrative approach utilized throughout the section which gives the players and GMs a better understanding of who that character is rather than simply knowing how they look.

The next section for Character Creation is determining a characters Profession, or how they made their living up to this point.  This concept is quite opposite of many published systems where you choose a profession and that’s what your character is becoming.  I like how this method of background creation continues to enhance the look and feel of the character by establishing who they are, and not what they are going to be.  Again, concerning the layout only, this section could benefit from a better definition of a section header along with a 1 or 2-page spread for each profession.  One other thing that is very intrusive is that the Social Class table is in the middle of the opening paragraphs to this section.  The section is still easy to read and follows suit with the previous methods of presenting the content.

To improve upon the content in the Social Class section, Professions include flavor text, longer descriptions, more illustrations, and ideas on how to use the different professions.  I find the continued use of narrative descriptions to make the content easier to read, understand, and use.  The illustrations found throughout are simple but effective and give a good resemblance of how your characters would appear within the 17th century.

The list of possible professions is quite vast but still leaves room for some great source material to be published in the future.  The current list of professions ranges significantly from the selfish Agitator, to the ever-important Craftsman, or the technological Mechanical Preacher.  For a core rulebook, you are given a large number of possible professions as opposed to forcing players to stick with a standard handful that “pretty much” fit in with any adventure.  This current list numbers an astounding 32 professions to use, all with a pre-requisite matching the previously stated social classes.

Fleshing out the rest of your character continues with the Factions section in the following chapter along with all the standard mechanics for Skill Points, Community, Allies/Contacts/Enemies/Rivals, Background Events, and Connections found in the RuneQuest II core rulebook.  Equipment is discussed in the Miscellanea chapter of the book.

FACTIONS

Religious and Political beliefs have been a source of contention throughout all of history, and a major contributing factor to the English Civil War.  Clockwork & Chivalry represents this by introducing a mechanic called Righteousness.  Righteousness is a measure of how strongly a character values the beliefs of their associated faction.  The faction a character belongs to plays the largest part in determining their political and religious beliefs along with how they view society and the Civil War. This mechanic brings about a very dynamic form of role-playing as it has more than one implementation. It’s used as a skill to further a faction’s cause, a test of will against rival factions, plot hooks to give a portion of the story different direction, and a way to determine how allies and rivalries are formed. Righteousness truly brings out the realistic factor of playing in a historical setting, even an alternate one.

Factions are a big part of what makes Clockwork & Chivalry unique and vibrant. Like the Character Creation section, the Factions section is afflicted with the same layout technique that could benefit from section headers and page spreads for each one. However, once again, it is still easy to ready and filled with narrative descriptions, bullet-point brief descriptions, flavor text, and even adds sample NPCs.

Factions range somewhat in what their beliefs center around and why they exhibit those beliefs. They can be religious, political, society-driven, dealing with nature, or completely self-centered. The core rulebook presents players and GMs with a wide array of possible factions to choose from depending on how you want to flavor your characters. However, throughout the game, a characters faction can change, become increasingly fanatic, or decrease in support. This element keeps the game interesting in that a characters faction forms their beliefs, but does not limit them in the direction they may take from campaign start to campaign finale. I like the flexibility this offers but I also like how it influences game play. Many systems have religion and politics, but they are such a minor part of the game that they often do not come into play. Within Clockwork & Chivalry, they are a major part of how different scenes can play out.

The list of factions varies quite drastically from your typical 17th century Catholic, to the equal-rights for all Levellers, and the crime organization Gangs. There is even a faction for those who wish to create their own beliefs whether they center around religion, politics, family, or community. Each faction is further fleshed out with a listing of allies and enemies and the current number of factions numbers an amazing 17 giving everyone plenty of options.

MISCELLANEA

The Miscellanea chapter of the book contains information on skills, illness, equipment, and creatures for pertinent to the setting.  Each of these are well detailed and play an important part into the mechanics of the game.

The Skills section starts out with an explanation of how current RuneQuest II skills are slightly modified to accommodate this setting. This list is quite short keeping players and GMs from having to re-learn the core rules of the game system. The new skills introduced are also few in number but are necessary for the customization of the unique setting. When creating settings for game systems, I find it much easier to stick as close to the core rules as possible and only changing it when the setting demands it.

Illness and Disease is a crucial section for GMs to understand (and players to know how to avoid). Within the midst of the 17th century, medicine could not cure many of the common ailments and thus illness ran rampant and caused many deaths to occur. To keep up with the common factors of the setting, Clockwork & Chivalry introduces a number of illnesses and diseases that can wreak havoc upon any town or player character. Each of these are well detailed in terms of game mechanics and add yet another level of depth to the setting and game-play.

The Equipment section is quite standard and contains a number of weapons one would expect to be found within this setting. Along with the equipment is the need for proper currency. This is well detailed and even cross-references the currency listing within the RuneQuest II core rulebook and the currency used within Clockwork & Chivalry.

This chapter is rounded off with a, quite large, listing of creatures. There are a few from the standard RuneQuest II core rulebook, but most fantastic creatures are not found in the setting. To augment this short list, there is a significant amount of creatures that can be found within the setting. As is expected, each one is properly described and contains all pertinent stats. There are a few fantastic creatures thrown in, but most can be found in real-life. I wish there were more illustrations, but that doesn’t necessarily detract from the quality of the information being provided.

ALCHEMY

Clockwork & Chivalry define Alchemy as magic sourcing from the four elements: earth, fire, air, and water. This magic does not simply occur but must be created using the proper elements and any other ingredients necessary. The magic is then either imbued into a Philosophers Stone, Philosophers Stone powder, familiar, or contained in a potion. An Alchemist must gather and prepare the correct ingredients and produce the magical medium of the appropriate size to cast the spells so desired. Thus, the magic is born.

Alchemy is an elemental-type magic used throughout the Clockwork & Chivalry setting. It is based around the basic principal that the elements of the Earth are inherently powerful when combined in certain ways with specific ingredients. The approach is slightly different than RuneQuest II Elemental Magic but utilizes the same basic principals. These differences are noted and explained.

The Alchemy chapter begins with a narrative display of alchemy and then follows-up with a narrative explanation of its’ roots. The stories paint a great picture of how the “magic” was born and how it is properly harnessed. Continuing through the chapter finds explanations of how to store the alchemy powers and what those powers are. As this type of “magic” is elemental, a specific element is tied to each spell and thus requires the proper skill to learn and cast. The list of possible spells is not very long, but then alchemy powers are not as simple to “create” as learning new spells can be in a Fantasy setting.

Before an Alchemist can cast a spell, they must first create the source of power they will tap into to cast the particular spell. Each spell carries a certain magnitude which determines the minimum magic points the source must contain. The first, and what sounds to be the most common, source of power is the Philosophers Stone which must be created within a controlled area (some type of laboratory) by combining the proper ingredients. The result is a source of magic that can be easily carried around and contains a certain number of magic points (depending on the creation process) which are tapped to cast spells. These spells range from the typical arcane style spells the summoning of elemental creatures. There are extended mechanics surrounding elemental creatures which are properly detailed and easy to understand, and I found them to be quite interesting.

Magic points can also be found in the form of a potion which can be drank, thrown, rubbed on, or poured. The creation process is similar to the Philosophers Stone, but has obviously different applications. Another option is to imbue a spell into a familiar that can be controlled and sent to release its magic upon whoever you deem necessary. The last method of storing magic points is to create a Philosophers Stone and then grind it into a powder. This provides for different methods of carrying and application.

Alchemy is a great addition to the 17th century bringing another level of depth to the setting and game-play. While not as powerful as its’ Fantasy roots, alchemy brings more life into the game and adds a plethora of potential to combat and role-play.

CLOCKWORK

Clockwork is the technology of the age, a sort of sci-fi for the 17th century. It is design in the way a clock is design with gears abound moving the internal mechanisms whether they are meant for war or tools of the trade. The technology requires specific engineering including designs, funding, and construction. It should be noted that the cost of these clockwork machines can get extremely high the more complex and capable they become. There are options within the mechanics to find funding outside of the characters own means furthering the idea that the technology is meant for great things to somehow improve life, war, or whatever.

The Clockwork chapter follows suit with the other sections in beginning with a narrative of the clockwork technology and its’ beginnings. The difference here is that the narrative is longer and adds a perspective from a Mechanical Preacher and an apprentice. This narrative method gives multiple views of how the technology works and should be approached in both game-play and storyline. This new technology theory is unique in many ways and creates an interesting blend of fantasy and sci-fi into a historical background.

There are multiple methods of creating a clockwork device, and these different methods are described and detailed on how a player character can go about with their machine. These methods include ground-up design, reverse engineering, and building an existing design. These different levels of creation allow the player to be as creative as they like or as standard as they like. The ability to create your own machine using this technology is a very interactive style of play. The player must first outline what the creation is, its inherent complexity, cost, and its’ capabilities. They must then move on to drawing it out for the GM to see and if approved, they then proceed with funding and can set about creating the machine. There are options for assistance and the proper tools are always required.

Each machine created, in the just mentioned fashion or any other way, carries with it a specific set of stats and characteristics unique to the technology. This includes size, speed, hit points, armor, run time, and more. The only stipulation is that each machine created needs to be powered. A clockwork device is powered the same way pocket watches and clocks were during this period of time, by winding. Winding means that a clockwork device is limited in its lasting power as it can only perform its’ functions before the winding has run out (defined as run time). While these machines may be powerful or extremely helpful in their own ways, the limitation prevents players from going overboard on the in-game effect of their creations.

As with alchemy, proper tools and resources are required. But unlike alchemy, clockwork devices can be rewound and used over and over again. Yes they may be expensive, but you may only need to create a couple machines. Another drawback, and positive aspect, is that the machine is just that, a machine. It can be damaged, but it can also be repaired. If it’s damaged at a crucial point in a combat, it may be rendered as useless for the remainder of that combat even though it can possibly be repaired later. This makes the technology risky, but possibly rewarding. Imagine taking out an entire regime with out clockwork war machine.

The chapter finishes up with a large number of possible creations ranging from a small, hand-held device, to the large Leviathans used in the battle at Naseby. Regardless of what players decide to create, its bound to be exciting to be the engineer who created a devastating new machine.

BACKGROUND

The Background chapter is the biggest surprise to me. Many core products, whether they are rulebooks or world/campaign setting books, have their own setting that is a major part of the system. These settings are often overviewed and explained but lack an incredible amount of detail on the history and the big names to remember. This information is often found in a follow-on sourcebook. Ken Walton and Peter Cakebread decided otherwise.

With a backdrop of an actual historical event, Cakebread & Walton could have left it to the players and the GM to research this period of time creating their own setting details and gathering enough information to understand how the world is changing and reacting. But when a reader comes upon the Background chapter, they find a wealth of historic information regarding the events leading up to the English Civil War and then throw in some aspects of Alchemy and Clockwork. Within this chapter lies illustrations of important people, notes on major events, details on how people of the time view the world, and a better understanding of the five elements (the fifth being Aether which hasn’t fully come into the setting, yet).

Continuing on with the descriptions of history, this chapter details England during this period including how society operated. This includes an explanation of the effects of your social class, views on crime and punishment, fashion, the economy, education, and more.

Following with the society details, Clockwork & Chivalry gets into the major regions of England in respect to this setting. Each region is well-detailed and contain an explanation on their views of the current conflict. There is even a good looking map showing the different regions of England and who they are currently siding with (the Royalists or the Parliamentarians).

All of this source material and it’s contained in the core setting book without having to purchase further supplements. However, there is still a wealth of knowledge and material that can be provided giving plenty of room for further expansion.

AN ELEMENTARY MISTAKE

An Elementary Mistake is a short, introductory-level adventure for any type of adventuring party. I don’t want to spoil the adventure so I will avoid explaining any details. The first thing I noted is how this introductory adventure contains ideas and plot hooks for any type of adventuring party. The mechanics for background and factions can make for a very interesting, or possibly complicated, grouping of individuals that have come together to form this adventuring party. The adventure takes this into consideration and offers plot hooks and reasons why this party may have come to this place at this time.

Where the adventure truly stands out is the format in which it was written. There are many points within the storyline where the PCs will come across certain NPCs or side characters. Instead of simply stating who this person is and adding an Appendix at the end of the adventure containing these characters, they are all placed within the adventure text exactly where they first come into the story. This makes reading and referencing the adventure much quicker and easier and prevents the need to flip back-and-forth from the storyline to an Appendix. To add further value, there is a printable map with 1″ grid for running the first portion of the adventure, and pre-written tables for tracking combat.

I read through this adventure and really like how it was written. It ends with a great amount of possible plot hooks and is meant to blend directly into the follow-on adventure module The Alchemist’s Wife.

APPENDIX

The book ends with an appendix area containing a very usable Index, extremely valuable as the Table of Contents is very sparse, the Clockwork & Chivalry character sheet, and a quick look at The Alchemist’s Wife.

OVERALL

Overall I find the unique setting to be the biggest selling point of Clockwork & Chivalry. It strays away from the commonly found Fantasy and Sci-Fi settings enveloping players and GMs into a rich setting filled with potential and known historical plot points. The layout is a bit clunky in the Character and Factions chapters, but the rest of the book handles the layout quite well. I would love to see section headers added to make quick reference easier and a better way of identifying the main mechanics of the setting. Regardless of the layout snafu, I truly found myself immersed in the setting and all of the narrative descriptions. This method of presenting the setting created a vivid picture within my mind showing the characters and their actions as they transpired.

RATINGS

Publication Quality: 6 out of 10
Due to the layout of the Character and Factions chapters, I have to give it a low rating. I found myself going back-and-forth often between pages trying to connect all the content together. I also did not like how I often found tables and flavor text intrusive upon the text as they were placed in the middle of paragraphs or even sentences. The good news is these are easily fixable items should a revised edition ever come. The illustrations found throughout are plentiful and offer a good visual appeal to the storyline, setting, and applicable plot points. I often prefer color illustrations, but given the period of time, black-and-white and gray-scale are much more fitting.

Mechanics: 9 out of 10
I love the mechanics for Alchemy and Clockwork but what really sets this apart from other settings is Righteousness and Factions. These mechanics offer a huge potential for role-play and create a massive amount of plot-points that can be used throughout any campaign. Factions and Righteousness are the perfect way of developing a system that centers around events that took place in the 17th century. It takes the vital beliefs of the people of that age and brings it to your tabletop.

Desire to Play: 9 out of 10
If you’re looking for a break from the norm, Clockwork & Chivalry is that opportunity. To keep from the possible boredom of a historical setting, elements of Fantasy and Sci-Fi are put into place giving players and GMs alike more options than they may have originally imagined. The setting is conducive to great role-play and colorful combat. However, if all you want is hack-and-slash, then this is not the setting for you.

Overall: 8 out of 10
Cakebread & Walton have brought to life an historical event and turned it into something fantastic. By providing a wealth of character creation options, the replayability is immense without the need to purchase subsequent material. I only hope that your PCs can all get along.

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