Americana (DnD Campaign Setting)/Technology
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Americana is on the verge of a revolution. Though the Twenty Years' War threw a wrench into it, the great industrial nations have been riding an upward trend of technology since the end of the Great War. Now, magic and science are standing together on the edge of a great evolution in everything, from the way goods are made to the way war is waged.
(The technology level can be placed, with some standout exceptions like the Zeppelin, at roughly the early-to-mid 19th century.)
The sword's day as king is nearly ended--new technology, such as rifling of guns and the percussion-cap mechanism, has made the firearm more accurate and more reliable in all weather. As a result, all that prevents the final death of the battlefield of blades is the difficulty of making firearms en masse--and that may soon come to change.
Coal is king in Americana. It powers the short-range trains that connect the guts of the nations, turns the sidewheels and propellers of the steamships and paddlewheelers that haul goods along the oceans and rivers, and fires the DC generators that bring light to the biggest cities. It also turns motors in the sky as well as on the ground or water- with no rail or road lines to cross the mountains that bracket the continent, fleets of enormous zeppelins and airships float over the peaks and across the plains, carrying the cargoes too valuable to risk being lost to bandits and Natives. Not a day passes without some enterprising land pirate watching an airship float silently overhead and dreaming of a way to assail the behemoths, and though none have succeeded in their crazy plans yet, someone surely will if they keep at it.
Anyone who wants to have the might of science and magic working in tandem soundly proven, in recent years, needs only to go to a vastly broad space west of Chicago, which has been stripped down to the bare rock and leveled almost impossibly flat. If they arrive at the right time, they can stand on the edge of that pit and look down at their proof--or, perhaps, look up.
Details and Data
The Poletiazhelyi Airship--commonly referred to as the zeppelin after the prototype--is a lighter-than-air craft, if that can be believed, which is built by the Chicago-based Poletiazhelyi Airship Company. It consists of a metal frame wrapped in an outer-coating of canvas and containing a number of separated cells filled with augusten, the superlight gas discovered by von Zeppelin. The number is usually fourteen, but can range anywhere from ten to thirty-two. The separated cells are a safety mechanism to help prevent crashes--a puncture in one or several does not necessarily mean a quickly impending crash, as it would if there was only one gas cell. The engines, crew compartment, and cargo compartment are all combined into a metal pod, which is attached to the bottom of the zeppelin's frame. Some newer zeppelins have some crew and cargo space inside the envelope, to increase loading capacity--this is also true of the two passenger zeppelins currently flying.
Though Poletiazhelyi's original zeppelin was kept aloft by nothing but its augusten gas and powered by only one engine, scientists from across the continent have contributed into making great leaps in the design in only six years since it was first revealed--though the same basic principles still apply, the present-day zeppelin is a patchwork of magic as well as technology. Most zeppelins are now much bigger than the original and are powered by anywhere from two to five engines driving as many propellers, which means, though they burn more coal, they move much faster and can carry much more. And to make sure that nothing goes wrong--or that nothing terrible happens if something does--the current zeppelin fleet has been reinforced with a variety of magical spells, two of which are widely known: Protection from Projectiles, to help keep anyone from bringing the big ships down, and Feather Fall, in case any of them do go down.
Of course, all of this is not cheap. The original August von Zeppelin was hardly a bargain itself--Poletiazhelyi only got the materials he needed thanks to his credentials and fractional down payments of all the money he had ever saved up, banking everything on the Queen and the City being interested in what he had to offer (for the record, he is now the fourth-richest man in Chicago). But with the added engines, crew, and the massive magical spells, zeppelins are, for the moment, completely out of the price range of everyone except for Nation-States and a very few companies--even if one had the money to purchase a zeppelin, the coal costs alone make it prohibitive to use for most circumstances. The current fleet, not counting the prototype, numbers thirty-seven; Chicago owns twelve of these, New York and Detroit six, Los Angeles and Atlanta three, Las Vegas two, and Dallas one. One of the remainder belongs to the Poletiazhelyi Airship Company, and is used to train new crews; the other three are owned by the continent's largest corporations.
Augusten, the gas essential to zeppelin operation, is currently held under monopoly by the Poletiazhelyi Airship Company. They own the land where the original vent was located, and spent considerable sums of money purchasing the sites of two subsequent discoveries--one on the Cordillera Plain near Seattle, the other in the hills of northwest Atlanta.
Weapons and Armor
Firearms and Paraphernalia
The firearm predates history, having been used in varying forms of sophistication throughout the Great War. The most prevalent form of the firearm today is the muzzle-loading flintlock musket, a metal tube on a wooden crossbow-style stock in which is placed powder, wadding, and shot. It uses a flint-and-steel mounted on a hammer mechanism to ignite powder in a pan on the gun, thereby igniting the main powder charge in the barrel and sending an iron bullet from the mouth of the gun at incredible speeds. Apart from the mechanism itself, the flintlock is a fairly simple weapon, if slow to load and unreliable in bad weather. Nevertheless, it is an effective weapon when grouped en masse, and is quickly forcing older hand weapons out of existence, especially since the development of the ring bayonet towards the end of the first century. Its main weaknesses are the extreme reload time, which makes it less viable if not paired with hundreds of other muskets to fire in volley, and the exposure of the pan, which is touchy about igniting in damp weather and produces an easily visible plume of smoke when fired.
The cannon is effectively a musket on a larger scale--a large metal barrel on wooden mountings and wheels, often designed to be pulled by a horse or team of horses, which uses more primitive fuses to fire an equivalently sized metal ball at colossal speeds. It is the ultimate siege weapon, capable of dismantling most any structure apace, and of late has shown effective application on the battlefield as well in smaller, more portable forms. Cannons require a multiple-man team to put out shots at any rate higher than one every fifteen minutes, with the largest guns needing huge firing crews. Apart from a few corporations, which mount cannon on their zeppelins to deter ambitious bandits, nobody outside of a nation-state has or has any need for a cannon, and few will have the required support structure anyway.
Flintlock pistols also exist, the pistol being of similar design to the musket but smaller, and based on the hand crossbow. These weapons feature much shorter barrels which allow them to be fired with only one hand, but equivalently shorter range. The reload time is no less long, either--many pistoleers, as they are known, carry a preponderance of weapons and simply draw new ones in a fight, choosing to reload later. The pistol is under particular fire from the upper-crust of society, as it has become a favorite of duelists in some circles and thus threatens the supremacy of the rapier, and is seen as less honorable or distinguished as a result--not to mention much more deadly.
The ring bayonet is a recent invention from the geniuses at Detroit, and saw widespread distribution in the latter half of the Twenty Years' War. The bayonet is a simple concept--a blade or spike which attaches to the end of a musket, thus turning the five-foot weapon into a short polearm. Original "plug" bayonets socketed into the business end of the musket, thereby making it a one-or-the-other decision; the new ring bayonet is mounted on a ring which fits a socket at the end of the barrel, thus allowing an underslung blade without stopping the musket from firing, and allowing troop formations to switch from ranged to melee infantry simply by a change in grip. Ring bayonets have proliferated to most every nation that fields mass troops, but are rarely seen outside the military and will be viewed with some curiosity or suspicion in non-national hands.
All firearms use black powder as a propellant. Black powder, or gunpowder, or firepowder or any number of other names, is a dark, gritty chemical powder created from a mixture of three simple chemicals: sulfur, charcoal, and saltpeter--better known to magicians as the active ingredient in the classic spell ingredient bat guano. Black powder simply burns quickly if left in the open, but when compressed and contained, burns so fast that it can be considered to explode. Supplies of black powder are vital to any nation fielding a modern army, and all have their own ways and means of supplying themselves; as such, within the boundaries of the nation-states, powder is never in short supply (if somewhat expensive). Black powder becomes useless if damp, hence the axiom "keep your powder dry" for being ready for anything.
Bullets are, logically, vital to any firearm that wants to shoot something. While a firearm can theoretically shoot anything small enough to fit in the barrel, iron balls custom-sized to fit the barrel will fire the farthest while causing the most damage. These are quite heavy when you have more than a few, and have little application apart from guns unless you're also skilled with a sling. Cannonballs are effectively bullets writ large, and have even less application outside their intended use. A variety of varied shots exist, too many to list here.
The paper cartridge is a specialized solution to the slowness of musketry; a shell of paper containing bullet, wad, and powder all prepackaged, eliminating the need for a powderhorn and cutting ramming time down dramatically. The main inhibition to these cartridges are twofold; they are fragile, being made of paper, and as such not always suited to the battlefield, and they are complex and expensive to make. As such, distribution is small.
The various nation-states and other people and forces who rely on the firearm are well aware of the shortcomings of the flintlock, and have been fiddling with alternate firing mechanisms since the real dawn of massed musket combat in the Twenty Years' War. So far nothing has panned out, but some of the most ingenious people in the world are putting their minds to this problem. It's likely that something will soon, and if it does, it could well spell the doom of the melee weapon for good--something many would embrace and equally many would shun.
Some Promising Examples
Rifling is a concept being developed in Los Angeles by a promising young inventor named Jose Martinez. While playing gridiron with his children in the park one day, he observed offhand how much more accurate a gridball is when thrown with a spiral. This sparked something in his mind, and given that he was a weaponsmith at the Grand Compton Armory in his day job, he quickly set about work on an ambitious project--finding a way to make bullets spin when fired, which he theorizes would make them much more accurate.
Martinez has been undertaking this work in absolute secrecy--he works for the Grand Compton Armory, he's of no illusions as to how dangerous this invention could be, and how many people would either want it for themselves or want him dead if they knew about it. So far he hasn't taken it to his bosses--the process he's developing, while effective, is quite time-consuming to produce. He's not sure if that's a good or a bad thing.
The percussion cap is a design currently being tested in Chicago. Foul weather during the Battle of Joliet crippled Chicago's mass muskets and left them vulnerable to Dallas' more well-trained infantry, and while Joliet didn't exclusively lose them the war it certainly didn't help. Chicago has been very interested in developing weatherproof firearms as a result, and a man named Johann Maynard has developed something he calls the "needle gun". A paper cartridge contains a specially designed bullet with an explosive primer at its base. When the trigger is pulled, a needle attached to the hammer--hence the name--pierces the paper cartridge and strikes the primer, igniting the powder and firing the gun. All the ignition is contained inside the barrel, making for an extremely reliable firing system.
The main inhibition to mass production of the needle gun is the complexity and delicacy of the paper cartridge involved, but if anyone has the means to produce something complex easily, it's probably Chicago. Maynard, compared to Martinez, is extremely excited for the possibility--if the needle gun pans out he's almost certainly due a knighthood and it will likely mean his beloved Chicago becomes truly ascendant in the world stage.
The revolver is Detroit's answer to their perpetual war with New York. With a much smaller population, Detroit relies on their technology edge. Every musket has to be good as five or six New Yorki muskets--and two ingenious House Oldsmobile inventors, observing a mass production mechanism one day, had the idea to do just that. The revolver replaces the usual firearm's firing chamber with a metal cylinder containing five or six firing chambers, which can be rotated by hand into position and allow for extremely rapid firing compared to a normal musket or pistol. This design has two problems; even with cartridges, which it has to use, reloading takes enormous amounts of time. Additionally, the design DOES have an unfortunate tendency for all six cylinders to fire at once at times, which is obviously dangerous and has crippled several test shooters.
Josephsteen and Stanislev have been working on this design for the past year, and House Oldsmobile is extremely excited about the possibilities; this could be enough to bring them up to a seat on the Council, especially with the recent hardships of House Chrysler. As such, the revolver is one of the most closely guarded secrets in Detroit today. Most of the other Houses are aware that Oldsmobile is sitting on a powderkeg, and are trying ferociously to figure out what they've got.
Certain other technologies are being experimented with, particularly the concept of breech-loading firearms: loading the gun via the base of the barrel rather than the mouth, thus cutting down on reloading time. However, a method of doing so that doesn't involve magic reinforcement preventing the gun from blowing up has yet to be perfected, and no promising examples have yet been developed. Other technologies are being envisioned--the concepts of magazines, repeating rifles, and metal cartridges--but none of these is beyond the brains of their inventors yet. It is well that they are not--if any of these made their way to the real world, the age of the sword would not just be dead, but buried deep.
Electricity, as a concept, has been known of since well before the Great War--it is one of the core magical concepts alongside fire, ice, and acid, and the principle of magnetism has powered compasses for untold years. However, the process of bottling that particular genie has been a long and torturous one, largely pioneered in parallel on opposing ends of the continent in Seattle and Detroit towards the middle of the century.
Seattle's perpetual rain brought with it considerable accompanying lightning, which attracted the attention of a mage named Ulrich Cooke. Applying his magical knowledge of the use of lightning in battle, and how electrical attacks tended to attract towards swords or spears, he attached a metal rod to a kite string and sent it aloft from the Sky Needle while holding the other end--something he himself admitted later he went into with little or no planning. The proceeding three lightning strikes knocked him off his feet and very nearly killed him, but after getting some help and some more equipment, the second attempt was able to divert the charge down a metal wire into a metal coil contained under an alchemical bell. This produced the first known battery charge, and proceeding sophistication of the design allowed Seattle reliable, effortless lightning--lightning rods atop various buildings redirect charges to a massive battery housed near the base of the Sky Needle, which then redirects power along insulated wires to similar coils on poles along the roads, which glowed when powered.
In Detroit around the same time, an arcanomachinist named Edwin Williams suffered an interesting accident--Williams was a fan of magnets as connective devices, and when a lightning-powered golem underwent a massive electrical meltdown half a block away, the resultant wave set everyone's hair on end and dropped all of Williams' magnet-secured shelves off the walls. However, the mess sparked a brainwave for Williams--the connection between electricity and magnets had been largely theoretical to that point, and the incident cemented the aspect in his mind. He bought the remains of the golem and cannibalized its mechanisms, developing a machine which floated a magnet in a copper coil. When he connected the coil to the golem's head and spun the magnet rapidly, the eyes lit up. Williams coined the concept "direct current", and quickly began developing larger versions of his "generator", which quickly attracted a slew of followers.
The community of science brought Cooke and Williams together, and the two quickly began operating in parallel, something that was hindered by their separation. This would be solved not by either of them but by a member of their circle, Samuel Marconi, who would invent the Marconi Wire and change the world. Today, both Cooke and Williams continue to work on the theory despite their advanced ages, but the baton has been passed to a younger generation--particularly Williams' young, fiery rival, Nicholas Newcomben, who is on the verge of something new and astonishing.
The Marconi Wire
Towards the end of the Age of Chaos, a New Yorki electrician and inventor by the name of Samuel Marconi found himself frustrated by the difficulty he was having communicating with his colleagues in Detroit. Messenger birds were slow and untrustworthy, magical communication was ungodly expensive, and ground-sent mail was not only slow but liable to be made unusable during one of the frequent diplomatic spats that the two nations were prone to.
Marconi had been experimenting with electricity for a considerable length of time now, and in his frustration began dreaming of using electricity to send messages between the nations. That dream stuck with him, and slowly over the next two years blossomed into a reality as he and several colleagues developed a system to send electric pulses of measured and varying length along a wire that could be translated into Common Tongue.
This system was first displayed to the world by Marconi in 75 A.G.. Dubbed the Marconi Wire, it allowed for near-instantaneous communication along a wire between two locations- as Marconi demonstrated by sending a message from New York while his assistant spoke in front of a crowd of Detroi machinists and investors intrigued by the design. The historic first message: "I bring you news of a New Age."
Suitably impressed, the Detroi funded a project to spread the new technology across the entire continent, and by the end of the Age of Chaos the Marconi Wire ran to every major city in every nation. The technology allowed for much smoother communication between nations, allowing diplomacy and large-scale trade to become feasible for the first time in history.
The Marconi Wire runs between every country, and a sending/receiving station can be found in essentially every town's post office. The Wire is operated by a private international trust- the Wire Corporation- which sees to maintaining and operating the service. Sending a "marconi" costs 5sp for every 50 words.
The Wire is a favored son of modern society, but occasionally comes under fire. The Twenty Years' War saw miles and miles of Wire demolished to hinder communications of various parties, particularly within Chicago's borders, and much of this is still being restored today. Additionally, bandits of all stripes are fond of attacking remote Wire relaying stations, often for the payrolls in their safes but occasionally to break down communication in an area to make fighting them more difficult. The Wire is thus one of the prime employers of adventurers, either to guard its repair parties or to investigate breaks in the system.