OSR: Response to some Scurrilous Invective concerning Magical Industrial Revolution

I'm very sorry, but the title of this post is pure clickbait.

Ray C / Libertad did a very thorough and flattering "Lets Read" style review of Magical Industrial Revolution, summarizing each chapter and making notes. It's an extremely useful look at the text for two reasons: it summarizes the book in a convenient yet detailed form, and it provides line-by-line first impressions.

I aim for accessible design. If a reader gets an impression on a first readthrough, I'd like that impression to be both accurate and useful. If all the cool stuff requires hours of reading and cross-referencing, nobody will ever find it, let alone use it at the table. First impressions are crucial.

The review was posted to a variety of forums:
Giant in the Playground
Minmax Forum
The Gaming Den - NSFW
Something Awful - NSFW

(What "W" stands for is up to you, but those boards definitely are Not Safe For it. Especially the SA thread; MIR was being reviewed alongside another book of very dubious taste.)

I've decided to combine all my responses into one post. Nothing in the review or the comments required a response (in the sense of being misleading or wrong), but I thought I could use it as an excuse to discuss some behind-the-scenes information on MIR.

Main Review Comments

It is built for that pseudo-B/X ruleset that predominates the OSR, although it has some mentions here and there of more modern iterations of D&D. A lot of its charts and tables are more or less system-neutral, which helps in this regard.
Bits of MIR were tested with B/X, AD&D, OSE (I think), D&D 5th Edition, the GLOG, Fate Core, and I think someone ran an informal MIR-adjacent Fiasco game. People who were familiar with / wrote other systems also read it and offered feedback. When I aim to make a system-neutral book, I really try to ensure nothing in the book requires unstated assumptions.
But in spite of the toolbox nature, MIR does come with some pseudo-setting preconditions. One, Endon’s magic is mostly arcane in nature; most inhabitants are secular and the gods if they exist seem to have a hands-off approach towards the city’s events.

Making Endon mostly secular was a choice I made fairly early on. I wanted GMs to feel comfortable dropping Endon into an existing setting. Adding a new god or pantheon made that difficult. It also adds information the GM has to memorize that might not have any immediate in-game utility. I think the finest bits of design in MIR's are the bits the book doesn't include. 

The implications of a divine apocalypse, as punishment for Endon's sins, was something I wanted to avoid. The apocalypses listed in the book are self-inflicted, not delivered from on high. There's no outside agency, just people wreaking awful havoc with the best intentions.

Additionally, gold piece values correspond on a 1-1 basis of what 1 British Pound was worth in 1800. Which according to the Bank of England is equivalent to 844 pounds in 2019 via adjusting for inflation, or $1,100 US Dollars in modern times. The book claims that it’s $100 USD modern, but my much larger findings are based on Bank of England website and MorningStar Investment. The latter I found via Googling “British Pound to US Dollars” and using the calculator provided. But at the end of the day I’m not an economist so I may be off in some regard and just using the more immediate results. For gaming groups using AD&D or 5th Edition rulesets, they’re advised to increase gold piece prices tenfold.
Historical currency conversion is a minefield. If you use a standard calculator, yes, 1gbp in 1800 will come out closer to $1,000 modern USD. But if you calibrate on purchasing power and intuitive pricing, it's closer to $100. E.g. an income of £500 a year was pretty dire for a family in a Jane Austen novel. $500,000 doesn't feel too dire; $50,000 easily could be. 

I calibrated values in MIR using historical price lists, advertisements, reports, etc. London Labour and the London Poor and The Rise and Fall of a Regency Dandy were two very useful sources for wages and prices at the top and bottom of the social scale.

I'm not an expert on why currency conversion calculators always seem to go awry, but it seems to have to do with the price of land, factoring in the relative standard of living, and the rising world population. For D&D purposes, find out actual prices in the era of interest and calibrate around them.

Weather in Endon conforms closely to real-world London, being a temperate-to-cold climate and very foggy.
I feel compelled to point out that London fogs have stopped occurring, at least in way you're probably imagining them. They were an anthropogenic phenomenon. Also, if anything, I made the weather in Endon less deadly than historical fogs. Magic can't compete with sulphuric acid.

Each Innovation’s means of Averting differ, but tend to have a few similarities: PCs can turn public opinion on to the dangers of it, they could sabotage the industry or turn the public on to an alternative service or resource, and/or predicting the upcoming dangers and devising safeguards to prevent them. Not all of the solutions are Luddite in getting rid of said industry, although a few suggest that legislating and taxing the market as an end in and of itself to make said industry grow less.
It's important to remember that the GM has access to the suggested solutions in the Averting the Apocalypse section, but the players don't. They inevitably come up with new ones, based on personal preferences, available information, or moments of true inspiration.
I do feel that some of the Terminal Events feel a bit slap-dash or out of nowhere.

I wanted to strike a balance between predictable catastrophes and sudden and unexpected disasters. I didn't want to make them completely obvious. In tests, the players were occasionally blindsided by a danger they hadn't anticipated, but that usually lead to superb schemes and excellent play. A GM can foreshadow them as much or as little as they'd like (or invent new apocalypses).

Endon’s criminal justice system is not concerned with determining whether or not someone’s guilty, but to show the power of the State to the public in the belief this will enforce good behavior. Trials rarely last longer than a day, and typically are never held unless the prosecution is 100% certain they can score a conviction.
This is, amazingly, historically accurate. Our modern conception of criminal justice is extremely modern.
Our chapter ends with some sample poetic songs of Endon, and another clipping from Boff Magazine:
I am sad the songs only earned a brief mention. I really like the songs! Writing a children's song was fun; put a lot of "a"s in a song and it automatically sounds like it should be chanted by enthusiastic but tone-deaf children.
My chief concern is that the relative cheapness of spells and items as the Tempo increases may make spellcasting PCs and those with charged magical items even more powerful.
It is definitely a concern, but in tests, problems scaled with availability of tools. By Tempo 3, some solutions the players came up with involved bulk orders of magic items, emergency loans, or other convoluted schemes. In short, you can't magic yourself out of a problem that you magicked yourself into.
Prices for magical prosthetics can be anywhere from 30 to 250 gold and stay the same regardless of Tempo.
This was forced by layout, not game design. I couldn't figure out a way to a terrible sprawl of numbers if prosthetic prices increased with Tempo. Since they are situational and relatively cheap (compared to industrial equipment), I decided it wasn't critical.
Those who cook and eat said eels reduce all damage of a magical origin by 1 point for 1 hour.

If I had a nickle for every time farming Thaumovoric Eels has come up in playtests, I'd have ten cents, which isn't much, but it's weird that it happened twice.

Pamphlets: These are not part of the book itself, but separate 1-2 page PDFs that come with the eBook purchase of MIR. As I do not own the physical copy I don’t know if they’re physical handouts or just bonus pages.
They were originally printed and shipped with the Kickstarter, then sold afterwards. I decided not to print them during the second print run; it seemed like necessary risk and effort considering the times we live in. They're fairly easy to print at home. One group printed them on fancy paper, dabbed them in artificial smoke flavouring and tea, and used them as centerpiece props.

Selected Replies and Comments

Whizbang Dustyboots
I'm not crazy about "multiply all prices by 100" in lieu of "reduce the amount of treasure you give out," but it seems to be popular with designers.
In a gold for XP systems, I've found it's easier to adjust the currency than to adjust XP curves. It helps with compatibility.

I found just with experimenting, that one phenomenon would increase at a constant rate while the other 7 stalled. Just a quirk of the math. 
But when a party averts a crisis, how does the party prevent it's reoccurrence?
Testing various systems for advancing Innovations took a fair bit of time. I wanted to create a method that didn't lead to all Innovations advancing at the same rate, while still ensuring that they advanced at all. The method had to be simple and quick to use. I did some back-of-the-napkin math to make sure the final method worked, then, out of an abundance of paranoia, rolled around 200 tests (8 innovations, until at least 4 of them had reached stage 6), the tabulated the results.

The probability of a "runaway" Innovation (i.e. one that advances every season while the others advance more slowly) is reasonably high, but the probability of multiple runaways is low. This is intentional. By the time the PCs have dealt with their first apocalyptic crisis, they'll be in a much better position to deal with any subsequent disasters. With 8 Innovations (starting at Stage 1), it takes around 6 Seasons for any one of the eight to reach Stage 6, but subsequent Innovations will start to reach Stage 6 soon after. Anyway, it's a fairly neat bit of design, and I'm proud of how well it works.

Preventing the recurrence of an apocalypse will depend on the apocalypse and the methods used to prevent it. I don't think any specific advice in the book would help. Apocalyptic events can be prevented forever, delayed, transformed, or swept under the rug

That was one of the things I didn't actually like as much, the tendency for solutions to the apocalyptic effects of these magical inventions to involve society giving up their use altogether, as opposed to decades of wrangling over restrictions on them. I mean, we've known about the greenhouse effect for how long IRL, and even Dune's Butlerian Jihad presumably took a good long while to do away with all AI and lesser automation. The rapid doing away with a whole new industry worked well enough in Pratchett's Soul Music, but that's about the only example I can think of off hand which made a lot of narrative sense to me.

Yeah, it seems a shame that none of them have like, a "fix" condition where, say, implementing a social safety net and regulations make the invisible servants net positive and create a magical space communism society. Or where you can help the Moon Rocket succeed and maybe become the first astronaut wizards on the moon. For the extradimensional space and transport ones, it feels implied that the main reason they fail is cost-cutting and over-use, not the basic concept, and that if Endon wasn't terminally poisoned by capitalist thought, then it could have improved everyone's lives.

Also maybe if the golems had some proper crash/exception handling and Laws of Golemancy at a core level...
Again, the suggested preventative measures are suggestions aimed at the GM; sort of last-ditch "if the PCs are stuck and ask for help" measures. In tests, the PCs tended towards integration and alteration instead of abolition, but with variations based on the state of the state of the setting and the tools available. The variation was so wide I didn't think any specific advice would help. "If the PCs have invented antimagic eel oil and a thermo-dispersion gun, and have access to an airship, then they can..."

Oddly enough, none of the test groups managed any great degree of societal reform. It didn't seem to interest them. I'm not sure if it was the players, the general tendency of RPGs to bring out the innerer schweinehund, or deliberate irony.
Since when the hell is a season five months?
Not a season, The Season.
I am very glad this came up as it is very relevant to my interests. I had been scribbling some notes for the setting I'm working on and I very much want to make an industrial revolution kind of era. The fact that this resource covers it and seems to read as very cynical about the social system that develops during this kind of period has me eager to read more into it. Are there any similar books/settings that are similar to this but for a different system? Are there any similar books/settings that are similar to this but for a different system?
The closest in tone are probably GURPS Goblins or The Kerberos Club (both cited in Inspiration Media, pg. 148.)
Extracting sunbeams from cucumbers is a reference to Gulliver's Travels, of course.

Gatto Grigio
This is a pretty great reference to turn-of-the-century French filmmaker Georges Méliès

There are a lot of references packed into MIR. Some of them are, I'll freely admit, only for me, or are so obscure I've forgotten the original intent.
Which brings us to the issue where you can't really have the Victorian Age without imperialism, but that's a separate argument. With the exception of Conjured Servants which could either be a commentary of racism or just be very racist accidentally.
Nothing in Magical Industrial Revolution is accidental, even the typos. If Conjured Servants were intended as a commentary on anything, it's on how it's often very profitable to classify people as not-people. For some tangentially related notes, see this post.
I think the key to remember is that you as the GM do not have to use the catastrophes unless they're fun. OSR is a bit bad about that and it seeps through a little.

A magical moon rocket made by strapping hundreds of broomsticks together is fun. The PCs having to avert disaster by stopping it falling over is fun. The GM making it fall over to destroy the city should not be a given, unless destroying the city would be fun.
If you're buying and using a book called "Magical Industrial Revolution: A Pre-Apocalyptic Setting Guide", I think it's safe to assume you think averting magical apocalypses (or not) can be fun. Otherwise, you want a different book.
Considering the capitalist hellscape thematics of the setting, I would absolutely expect bought magic items/spells without flaws to come at a premium and actually buying the cheap, mass-produced stuff to risk turning your hands into weasels every time.

I did consider it, but I couldn't find a way to make that fun, interesting, and gameable. Adding drawbacks to everything lead to weird combinations of unintuitive effects and an endless buy-test-reroll-buy cycle where PCs tried to get usable items. I decided to make all items weird but reliable instead.

On the other hand (hah!), hands turning into weasels is probably better than some of the Magical Diseases.

Final Notes

It was fascinating to see what items, spells, or concepts a reader picked out for special consideration. Stuff I'd assumed would blend into the background was selected as emblematic; stuff I'd assumed would stand out was glossed over. All very useful information, and presented in a very professional way. Even if you've read the book, the review is still useful.

Magical Industrial Revolution is available on DriveThruRPG, and in print (in the US/NA region) via Indie Press Revolution and (in the UK/EU) via Soul Muppet.

If you'd prefer a video review from a biased soruce, IPR recently uploaded a short commentary. Other reviews are available in the Megapost.


  1. Honestly just seeing this review reminded me to crack open my copy of MIR and give it another read through. One of the top 5 RPG books I've bought.

  2. "A Spectre (7+3 HD) Is Haunting Endon."