2020/04/24

OSR: Electric Industrial Bastion Revolutionland (or: Mashing Wizards Together For Fun and Profit)

The internet rumbles with portents of a combined Wizard Business setting. Jelly Muppet's considering mashing up Chris McDowall's Electric Bastionland and Luke Gearing's Swyvers with Magical Industrial Revolution. I'm considering a similar mix, but with Martin O's Wizard City Hexcrawl too. I'm in a slightly odd position where I can't run my own book straight; all my usual players were involved in testing bits. Ah well.

So let's take a second look at Electric Bastionland now that the final PDF is available. Most of the notes in this review still hold up. It's a great book. Lots of art, lots of concepts, excellent GM advice. If you're looking at a book to introduce new people to RPGs, it's certainly up there.

EDIT: as a side note, Chris has been doing livestreams (archive) and podcasts about E.B. They're fascinating from a designer's POV. More people should do them. Sausage doesn't make itself.
Alec Sorensen

The Map Might Be The Territory, Actually


Cities, like murder mysteries, are things that traditional RPGs don't handle well. There's an axis. At one end, you've got fully mapped cities where every street, shop, and NPC are named. At the other,  you've got die-drop tables and vague as-needed mapping.

Endon from MIR sits somewhere in the middle. Bastion, from Electric Bastionland is somewhere on the fuzzy side.

I'm not a fan of fully mapless cities. I prefer being able to answer questions like "What would happen if I fired a giant cannon directly east?" or "Where's the nearest spire?". Visualizing a city is important. Sightlines and landmarks and weenies. The world carries on even if nobody's looking at it. Street-by-street mapping isn't necessary, but a sense of "over there" or "the wrong side of the river" is, at least for me.

Bastion is this roiling urban psycoplasm. There are no landmarks, either physical or cultural. The local council's been replaced with a junta of mandrills in dress uniforms and nobody seems to care. Your apartment above the sweet shop was sold to a group of urban beekeepers, who apologize and hand you beekeeper suits along with the new lease paperwork.

There's logic here, but it's the logic of scriptwriting or dreams. Nothing happening is boring (or allowed to be boring) so everything is constantly happening all at once to everyone. As the book says, "Finding medical treatment is an adventure. Going shopping is an adventure. Getting the train to the library is an adventure."


Running an hour-by-hour game in Electric Bastionland, where there are zero timeskips until you sleep (and even then, you might want to eat a tin of caffeinated horseradish and keep going) seems to be how the system is designed. Discworld meets Crank. Grab a drink of water, catch a breather, restore all HP and carry on.

That sense of overwhelming activity is brilliant on its own, but it's not compatible with MIR's Innovations and Tempo tracks or sense of a world slowly tipping on its side. The world in Bastion changes too fast, and at the same time, it doesn't change at all. The Temo is "flat-out". Someone's already invented the radio, the electic tuk-tuk, and aluminum foil. Revolutions are political (and ultimately futile), not magical or industrial.

Could Endon become Bastion? Absolutely. Running a game of by-the-book MIR, then skipping forward a few decades to Bastion, would be superb. Original PCs could be legendary figures like Isambard Kingdom Brunel or Ada Lovelace.
 

You Feeling Lucky, Punk?

If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - forever.
-George Orwell
In Electric Bastionland, you're the human faces getting stamped on. Maybe not quite as grim and dark as all that, but you're clearly not in charge. You've got a failed career and enough cash to buy a sandwich. Society is arranged (badly) for someone else's' benefit. If you scrape and save, you might be able to afford a waxwork sculpture or a fancy hat collection.

In Endon, you've noticed someone is lacing up a giant boot. "Hey, that wouldn't happen to be a face-stomping boot?", you might ask, and the person lacing it up might reply "Almost certainly not." or "Some faces might get stamped on but look at this lovely leatherwork." Magical Industrial Revolution is not steampunk, or any kind of -punk. Electric Bastionland, arguably, is.
 
Alec Sorensen

Magical Industrial Revolution + Electric Bastionland

If you like MIR, what bits of E.B. are easy to nick and bolt on to the framework?The GM advice section, spark tables, and tips are universally compatible. Failed Careers require some adaptation. The system and base design is fantastic, but you'd probably want to write your own tables (or borrow some of these) for Endon. The ones in the book are perfect for a city that's already reached the apex of its weird arc.

No matter what system you're using, the simple tag concepts are great. I particularly love "Deprived: you can't regain HP until you clear this tag." Brilliant. You are Deprived if you aren't wearing fashionable clothes. You are Deprived if you can see a cat. Etc. Sublimely elegant.

To adjust costs from E.B. to MIR, divide costs in E.B. by 100 (so £100 becomes 1gp, £10 becomes 0.1gp or 1sp, etc.). This might not work perfectly but it's fairly close.

Electric Bastionland + Magical Industrial Revolution

If you like E.B, what bits of MIR are easy to nick and bolt on to the framework?

The magic weapons and items table make excellent Oddities. The magic items especially; they're directly swappable. Prosthetics too.

The basic NPC and building tables are broadly compatible, though Rumours are setting-specific. More Urchins, Thieves, and Scoundrels are always useful. The Menagerie (especially the 1d100 Skeletons) fit right into Bastion's stew.

The Paradigm is, by the standards of Electric Bastionland, rather quaint. Still, rules for building your own industry might be useful if players earn enough money to buy face-stomping boots of their own.

To adjust costs from MIR to EB, multiply costs by 100 (so 1gp becomes £100, 1sp becomes £10, etc.)
 

A Final Note on Failed Careers

Failed Careers are designed to help a player immediately embody a PC. They're superb.

There's a problem though.

-Steve Dougwailer, failed attorney-at-underlaw, starts with an electric cane (d6) and a book titled "Torts and Retorts".
-Boxton, failed sweetpincher, starts with a dagger and an obedient sugarcrab pet.
-Alice the Wombat, failed prizefighter, starts with a pair of boxing gloves and a red silk cape that turns her into cinnamon-flavoured smoke once per day.

(None of these are actual E.B. packages; I just freeformed them).

Anyway, after the first treasure hunt, Steve Dougwailer and Boxton both die. Tragic.

Alice the Wombat inherits the sugarcrab pet. The two new PCs (Scoots Morganson, failed insurance scammer and Ixilblat, failed time traveler) pick up the law book and electric cane when they join the group.

The original concepts, so clearly embodied by their oddities and items, get diluted. A few rounds of character deaths and everyone's got a mish-mash of stuff. Because character identity is so closely bound to portable items (rather than class features or mechanics) the identities get sloshed around and muddled.

This isn't an issue for one-shots or convention games, but it's a known issue for longer games. Since that's not where E.B. seems to be aimed, I'm not sure it's a major concern, but it's worth noting.

For longer games, or to get around this problem, I'd suggest giving each Failed Career a table of a Thing You Have (portable, an oddity, a weapon) and a Thing You Can Do (personal, non-transferable, minor or significant). Some Failed Careers already do this.

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