The English Civil War with Clockwork War Machines: an Introduction to Clockwork & Chivalry

The English Civil War with Clockwork War Machines: an Introduction to Clockwork & Chivalry

cc-2nd-ed-cover-smallHi Folks,

I’m Peter Cakebread. Along with my friend and co-writer, Ken Walton, I run a small company, Cakebread & Walton.

With a company name like that, it has been suggested that we could have been undertakers, or perhaps owned a quaint little coffee house, or even been nineteenth century grave robbers – “There are no Peelers out tonight, Mr Walton, so pass me the shovel, if you would be so kind.” Instead, we write tabletop RPGs (Role Playing Games), and fiction, although we are always looking to diversify, so keep the suggestions coming!

To date, our games are mostly published by Cubicle 7 (who also publish The One Ring and Doctor Who RPGs, alongside a host of other titles).

This time, I thought I’d chat about Clockwork & Chivalry, our clockpunk RPG set in an alternate Seventeenth Century.

Clockwork & Chivalry is a RPG set in the time of the English Civil War. The English Civil War was fought between the Royalists (the Cavaliers) and Parliament (the Roundheads). We haven’t veered away from most of the real history, it’s simply too interesting, but we have added a couple of rather big twists – in our setting the Royalists use magick, and the Parliamentarians have giant clockwork war machines.

But, Woah! Go back! Where did this idea come from?

renaissance-deluxeWell, Ken and I had just finished working on some fiction (a gentle Victorian pastiche), and we were considering what to write next. Ken had a few pages of fiction that he had last worked on years before. It was the seed of a cracking little story, set in the Clockwork & Chivalry world (although that “world” was pretty much at the embryonic stage at that point).

Ken had dabbled in the history of science (Dabbled? I have a degree in the History, Philosophy and Sociology of Science, I’ll have you know! — Ken), and in particular had studied the life of Sir Kenelm Digby, a fascinating seventeenth century renaissance man, and the inspiration for the hero in Ken’s fiction piece. What if, Ken asked, we wrote it as an RPG instead?

Just a few months later and with the support of Angus Abranson (who worked for Cubicle 7 at the time), the 1st edition of the game had been written (for Mongoose’s Runequest II system) and was on the shelves. Not very long after, a fully standalone 2nd edition (in all its hardback glory) was completed.

[For those who are wondering about game mechanics, the 2nd edition incorporates a D100 ruleset (the same mechanic used in RuneQuest, Warhammer FRP, BRP, etc.) which we wrote especially for the age of black powder – Renaissance RPG. Renaissance (and Renaissance Deluxe, a shinier expanded version) are specially designed and fully Open Gaming Licensed rules, adapted from Newt Newport’s excellent OpenQuest fantasy ruleset.]

Rather than go into details (there are plenty of reviews out there already), I thought I’d mention three things that I really like about the game.

  1. The setting – You get to play adventures with the English Civil War as a backdrop. Real and fictional characters mingle, so you might meet Cromwell, Ben Johnson, or Prince Rupert, as well as the enigmatic Arabella Blackwood (aka Lady Silver), the Witch Queen of Cornwall, or the Dragon of Naseby. It is a time of plague, war, famine, and ignorance; but also of innovation, the birth of modern science, and the end of feudalism. It’s the world turned upside down! It’s the world of mud, blood, swashbucklers, musketeers, witchery, ghosts and ghouls, and, of course, huge clockwork tanks!
  2. The world is morally grey. England in the real seventeenth century experienced a massive explosion of ideas. The place teemed with a multitude of factions with very different ideas about the world, religion, and governance. Brother fought brother, father fought son, women’s voices were raised, and rebellion was in the air. We’ve tried to give players the opportunity to play as a member of one of a host of factions, while at the same time making sure they have plenty of reasons to be bonded to their fellow adventurers, even if they belong to a different faction (and thus hold different opinions). We have tried to provide plenty of guidance around beliefs, professions, etc., but there are no stereotypes – no two folk need be the same, because even if they share the same faith and profession, aside from their differing personalities, it is likely they will interpret their precise positions differently. The world is full of choices, and it isn’t always clear who is friend, who is a foe, or who is just plain bonkers.
  3. There are so many stories to tell! We’ve already produced two new omnibus editions of our Kingdom & Commonwealth campaign (which includes a road-trip through the Tainted Lands, the area magickally blighted by the Battle of Naseby; an adventure set in Cornwall, battling the Witch Queen; a visit to the grim trench war being fought in the Midlands; and even a trip to the Moon using cutting edge Seventeenth Century science!). Aside from the various other published adventures, there are all sorts of other tales still to be told (such as those in the Lovecraftian Clockwork & Cthulhu, adding the Mythos into the mix).

clockwork-cthulhu-smallThere are various further supplements planned, by us and others, for Clockwork & Chivalry – including the last two episodes of the Kingdom & Commonwealth campaign and a New World supplement (as well as a host of other stuff for Renaissance – but more of that another time).

One of our influences, from our own early gaming days, has been the epic Enemy Within campaign for Warhammer FRP – we wanted something of that mixture of gritty struggle for survival, dark humour, and epic world-saving in the Kingdom & Commonwealth campaign – and the fact that numerous people have said (in an admiring sort of way), “This reminds me of The Enemy Within!” means we must have got something right!

As a further note, things have come full circle. The game, originally spawned from a few pages of fiction, has inspired me to write my first Clockwork & Chivalry novel, The Alchemist’s Revenge, a grim and darkly humorous tale of revenge and friendship. The novel will be out later this year.

And that’s it! The story of Clockwork & Chivalry (minus the tears, the thousands of cups of hot coffee, the deadline panics, occasional artistic tantrums and frequent creative hiatuses). (And cider – you forgot to mention the cider! – Ken)

Peter Cakebread is a partner of Cakebread & Walton, and has co-written over a dozen books since the company’s formation in 2010, including the award winning Airship Pirates and Clockwork & Chivalry RPGs. Peter has an MA in a subject completely irrelevant to his current occupation, which is perhaps best described as “making stuff up”.

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