Friday, July 2, 2010

Weird Weapons, Weird War

The object of war is not to die for your country but to make the other bastard die for his."

- Gen. George S. Patton
When the crazy-quilt patchwork of nations that was Ealderde erupted in the Great War, a number of new technologies were brought to bear. Thaumaturgical and alchemical weapons and "weaponizable" advances were among these, and were utilized on a scale never seen before--with long-lasting, and terrible consequences.

First among these was the use of alchemical weapons, particularly gas. The forces of Neustria were the first to utilize them with fragmentation shells filled with stinking cloud potions. The Staarkish army soon escalated to lethal chemicals. Their "Magic Corps Men" cast cloudkill which, as a heavier than air gas, was ideal for filling enemy trenches. Since mages are a quirky lot, generally ill-suited to military discipline, their numbers in the Staarkish forces were small, and it proved expedient to replace them with thaumaturgic shells which could be fired from artillery at a greater distance.  The gas could also be pumped out of tubes, if the wind directions were right. Soon these methods were adopted by all the larger nations.

Other, more exotic chemicals were tried. Acid fog was released from sprayers to discourage attackers or soften defenders. Yellow musk, the pollen of the eponymous creeper, cultivated in secure greenhouses, was used to entrance enemies and make them easy targets. Amorphing solutions delivered via artillery shells sowed terror by making flesh malleable, dissolving limbs or even melting soldier's together. The only limits were the imaginations (and funding) of the alchemists and thaumaturgic engineers.

Magical weapons of mass destruction were also employed, and could be delivered to distant targets through the use of artillery and airships. Thaumaturgical explosives and blights laid waste to cities and farmlands. Rays of searing light, or jets of intense cold fired from zeppelins cut swaths of destruction across enemy trenches. Implosive weapons literally collapsed fortifications--or hapless troops--in on themselves.

Then there were the weapons calculated to cause as much terror as direct damage. Teleportation beams were turned upon population centers. Fear rays lead to mass panic. The battlefield fallen were briefly animated to turn on their grieving comrades. This is to say nothing of the even more exotic reality-warping weapons which, though rare, were powerful enough to disrupt the elemental fields to this day.

Another technological change in the Great War was touted as potentially rendering the human soldier obselete. Constructs and automata have been used before, but never in such a scale. "Land ironclads" or "landships"--now colloquially called "tanks"--were an innovation by the army of Grand Ludd on thaumaturgical techniques used to make anthropomorphic golems. Some tanks required human operators, but others were automonous to a degree, like the golems. This proved to be another one of the mistakes of war, as man-hunting kill-machines still roam the blasted former battlefields and depopulated wastes of Ealderde.

Man-shaped golems were still used--largely for their flexibility and, in some cases, greater psychological effect on the enemy--but these were produced with greater mechanical skill, giving them a wider variety of uses. Once again terror was a prime goal, as squads of murderous constructs with the appearance of children's toys were sent into unsuspecting villages in the dead of night. 

It's the hope of many that the most lasting innovation of the conflict will be that man has finally had enough of war. Certainly, the devastation wrought in Ealderde, and the refugees that still pour into the New World to escape the post-war horror, ought to be powerful reinforcers for such a lesson. Still, as the cynics among us would point out, no one has ever lost money betting on the short-memory or long-term foolishness of mankind.


Daddy Grognard said...

Superb stuff. It's as if HG Wells and Lovecraft had got together to rescript WW1

Unknown said...

I'm curious... were any New World forces involved in the Great War? Or is it through refugees and news stories (and perhaps smuggled/autonomous weapon systems) that the people of the City are exposed to the horrors of that conflict?

John Matthew Stater said...

Really good stuff. I would definitely enjoy playing in this setting.

Chris said...

Some tanks required human operators, but others were automonous to a degree, like the golems. This proved to be another one of the mistakes of war, as man-hunting kill-machines still roam the blasted former battlefields and depopulated wastes of Ealderde.

Yes, as you say, a terrible... mistake.

Swarms of tireless automatons squishing Johnny Foreigner into nourishing fertiliser on his home turf was never, ever the intent of the Ludds.

Trey said...

@DG - Thanks! That was pretty much the fuison I was shooting for.

@Risus - There wasn't an equivalent of the American Expeditionary Force or anything, but there were a number of young volunteers, Jim Nightshade in the Magic Men post would be an example.

@Matt - Thanks! I hope to put all together one day so maybe you'll get your chance.

@Chris - Of course, not. Wouldn't be sporting. Of course the savage hordes of Staark hardly play fair either...

Anonymous said...

Yet ANOTHER great post from your setting.

Sometimes these remind me of some of those weird movies that you see on TCM in the small hours.

But with better special effects.

Tom Fitzgerald said...

Excellent as per usual. I always thought that magic-users had the potential of being co-opted as artillery by an organised military-industrial complex. Kudos on using Otto Dix for your illustration. There are lots more images from that series that would make superb imagination fodder. Other excellent artists from the New Subjectivity/Expressionism era are Kathe Kollwitz, Oskar Kokoschka and particarly George Grosz's War Cripples paintings with horrible prostheses.

WWI-era combat suits low-level D&D very nicely, what with its terrible brutality and apparent meaninglessness.

Trey said...

@Vaults - Thanks! Ah yes, TCM Underground--where you might catch Robot vs. Aztec Mummy one night and Kitten With A Whip the next week. I think there's more than a little influence of weird movies permeating my brain.

@Tom - Thanks. I think the tension (at least for me) with MU's in more industrial/advanced settings is just how much magic is to be co-opted. Of course, even at a standard D&D level of technology omnipresent, very effective magic, should have transformed society more than you generally see, so their's always going to be a bit of suspension of disbelief, I suppose.

I came upon Dix's work accidentally, but was impressed by his WWI images. Thanks for the other recommendations!

Yeah, WWI is always good for "the grimness of war"--and its long enough ago now that its removed from modern context really, except that the men who fought it seem more "everyman" than your Arthurian knight or Conan, or whatever. Which as you point out maps nicely to the grubbier, less heroic low-level D&D character.