Gary Gygax said:If magic is unrestrained in the campaign, D&D quickly degenerates into a weird wizard show where players get bored quickly, or the referee is forced to change the game into a new framework which will accommodate what he has created by way of player-characters.
Most D&D settings, OSR and otherwise, are pretty conservative in wanting to maintain a stagnated level of pseudo-medieval technology. Innovations, magical and otherwise, have various handwavium explanations for why they fail to impact society especially in regards to economy and standards of living. Barring higher-fantasy examples such as Netheril’s floating cities or dragon-sorcerers turning Athas into a desert. While said societies inevitably fell into ruin, there aren’t many campaign settings with focus on their grandness before their downfall.
Magical Industrial Revolution was written to turn this trope on its head, positing the city-based setting of Endon where magical inventions are rapidly transforming society in ways both positive and negative. It is a pre-apocalyptic setting: magic is not inherently destructive, but bereft of societal and ethical considerations it runs a very real risk of causing disaster and/or being turned into yet another tool of oppression for the powerful. But in the meantime, Endon is meant to be an up and coming magical superpower inserted into the GM’s preferred setting, drawing people from all over the world hoping to take advantage of its many boons. 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.
Magical Industrial Revolution has a Victorian aesthetic, although the author Skerples mentions that it can still fit in typical Ye Olde Medieval Fantasy. He points out that real-world technological industrialization wasn’t spread out evenly even in the 19th Century, and many realms remained rural even when they gained access to machinery. Furthermore, Endon is also meant to serve as an example of one of those Golden Age civilizations of magic whose legacy seems to dot many campaign worlds as ruins brimming with treasure. Once the city and its surrounding network falls, the spells and magic items once taken for granted are now rare and precious things.
Endon is thus representative of a transition period from Renaissance feudalism to modern industrialism, although said author does is also insistent that the book is not meant to be a political allegory beyond how “even good intentions and idealism can wreak dreadful havoc.” I disagree with this premise in that the political subtexts of changing Victorian society still seep through, but I’ll go into more detail on this in later chapters.
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. Furthermore, scholars have a theory that spells are living beings not unlike souls. Spellcasters “learn” magic by allowing said spells to attach to their own soul in a symbiotic relationship. Spells gain sustenance by being cast and bound into objects, and the energy they require for sustenance comes from the sun which is why most spell slots and spell effects recharge on a daily basis. This is also why magical items of a permanent or multi-charge nature take more resources to build, for they require more “spell food” to keep the spells within them alive.
Secondly, there are brief alterations to gold and XP gain. The standard OSR means of accumulation exist, but PCs can gain XP for ‘story-based awards’ such as inventing something new, getting appointed to public office, averting some magical disaster, and other means of making a mark upon society. 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.
Thirdly, a set of new rules for campaign progression are given. There are 8 major Innovations occurring in Endon that can transform society in a big way, each with 6 Stages. The final Stage causes an apocalyptic event that irreversibly changes Endon (and possibly the world) for the worse. The GM can use as many or as few Innovations as they desire, but generally speaking barring actions from the PCs every Season/year/game session* a 1d6 for each Innovation is rolled. If it is equal to or greater than the current Stage, it advances to the next Stage. Furthermore, there’s also a Tempo score ranging from 1 to 3, which represents how the city itself changes both magically, technologically, and socially as a result. The score starts out at 1 and goes to 2 once all Innovations reach Stage 3, and goes to 3 when they’re all Stage 4 or above. A lot of locations and events give a list of how things change via Tempo, and for campaigns taking place in or with frequent trips to Endon it helps convey a gradual sense of change. Basically higher Tempos cause magical services and items to become cheaper, but at an increase of strange supernatural phenomena, arcane pollution, and radical social changes resulting from the freeing up of human manual labor and an extremely high output of once-rarer resources.
*depending on ideal campaign flow.
Endon is more or less an independent city-state, and its inhabitants are called Endoners. Humans are the dominant population at all levels of society, although the fantasy races exist in small pockets throughout. While there are foreigners from all over the world, Endoners have a bit of an elitist streak and tend to downplay the accomplishments of other civilizations by making favorable comparisons to their own. The provided history of the city is minimalist: it was originally a military camp that grew into a settlement of its own and soon a large city over the course of a thousand years. But ten years ago two major events happened: first, a foreign wizard made great innovations in magical theory which he collected into the Principia Arcana. Said work posited a grand unified theory of magic, linking otherwise disparate traditions and spells together as well as putting forth the theory of spells being living creatures that feed off of energy from the sun. Secondly, a wizard used a pair of minor spells to create a self-carding, self-spinning loom which brought him great wealth in the textile industry. These two wizards marked the beginning of a progression of events that inspired the Magical Industrial Revolution.
Important Locations covers 25 major landmarks and buildings in Endon along with a full-page map and cross-referencing of appropriate page numbers for related material (tables for opera plays, politicians, etc). They are simple three-sentence descriptions (one sentence for each Tempo) and an accompanying NPC who can provide goods and services to the party. There’s quite a bit of good material, and the brevity manages to adequately convey the atmosphere of the place and social change. For example, at Tempo 2 the Parliament building erects a giant enchanted clock tower that can broadcast emergency messages. The River Burl becomes increasingly hazardous and filthy as the campaign progresses: at Tempo 2 street urchins sifting through sewage take to wearing stilts to avoid mutations and disease which some of them catch anyway, while at Tempo 3 packs of dangerous eels prowl the waters to feed off of magical residue.
Weather in Endon conforms closely to real-world London, being a temperate-to-cold climate and very foggy. A d12 table is rolled at a time convenient for the GM to mark the day’s weather; at Tempo 1 a 1d6 is rolled, while Tempo 2 and 3 are d10 and d12. The first 6 results are rather mundane, although 7 to 10 causes more erratic changes such as dense haze and a “stinkwave” of chemical smells from rivers and factories. The 12th result is a Nightmare Fog, a dangerous result of the build-up of thousands of spells being cast in a day over long periods of time, giving rise to dangerous tentacular multi-colored smoke. Said fog deals 1d4 damage per round to those within it, but can be kept at bay with heat sources and wind. The first time it strikes the city it will kill hundreds of people and go down as a national tragedy, but later on the city will adapt to future Nightmare Fogs by enacting safety measures of varying effectiveness.
And it would not be a proper OSR sourcebook without new tables! Among our results we have d100 Buildings in Endon, with the latter 50 separated into smaller d10 tables representative of a neighborhood’s social class; d100 Random Encounters with similar d20 tables separated by social class and subject matter ranging from street-sellers to angry mobs to run-away carts and arcane experiments. There’s also less eventful sightings such as a passing hot air balloon in the sky or a news reporter conducting street interviews. Furthermore there’s also Rambles, a jumbled condensed collection of half-sentences for the GM to randomly throw in to scenes representing the constant presence of people in a big city.
Our chapter ends with an in-character advertisement from one of Endon’s newspapers. Boff! Magazine is a political satire pamphlet whose jokes are a continued presence in this book:
From the theoretical to the practical, all sorts of new spells, gadgets, and species are being created in Endon. However, only a few people have both the connections, skills, and capital to ensure that their research changes society on a truly grand scale. These 8 Innovations are the primary movers of Endon’s Tempo, and each of their initial 5 Stages provide new goods and services in line with their industry (and cheaper prices for existing goods and services). Stage 6 represents Terminal Events that cause things to come crashing down in a catastrophic way, and there are suggestions provided for how PCs can Avert the Apocalypse. Half of the Innovations come with an NPC Innovator (or pair of Innovators) who are the primary inventors, while the other half represent a common phenomenon or service that cannot be claimed by one owner but is instead a group of competing industries or an eventual monopoly of the service. The Innovators are not high-level archmages, and are 2-3 Hit Die characters with middling combat capabilities save for perhaps their own unique spell/item that can give them an edge.
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. While I’m not some laissez-faire capitalist, later chapters will reveal that Endon’s legal system is a joke and that government regulation is unlikely to work given the mixture of incompetence and corruption in the halls of power.
Miles’ Moving Miracles: George Miles wants to improve upon the rare, expensive, and just not all that safe array of aerial magical transport; it’s far too easy to fall off a broomstick or carpet. Starting out with floating rods that can move via a small jolt of magic, Miles improves upon this with proper vehicle frames such as coaches that can hop long distances and flying carriages powered by successive castings of levitation and mundane propulsion. The military takes interest in this and funds his company for aerial warfare, and eventually George decides to devote all of his efforts in building a machine to fly to the moon. Said pseudo-rocket looks like a giant iron tree made up of millions of Movable Rods. It will inevitably explode and shower Endon in molten iron once it takes off, or destroy the ozone layer and expose the world to unfiltered sunlight, or push the entire city into the sea by falling over.
*In the book there’s no apostrophe, but this appears to be the grammatically correct choice.
Room to Live: The use of extradimensional spaces usually produces small rooms capable of holding no more than a few people at once and are typically used by adventuring types. But what if their use is devoted to the expansion of living space and large-scale storage? The creation of a Portable Room catches on among the rich and famous, with an interior that can last for 10 years. Over time entire industries migrate indoors, shipping companies can transport huge loads efficiently, and the creation of extradimensional reservoirs combat flooding. Endon can afford more living space, but the lack of proper air circulation in said spaces causes low-income housing to be sweaty, smoke-filled spaces and proper counting of population is next to impossible save via the counting of chimneys. The Terminal Events represent the rending of space-time as rooms collapse in on each other, unexpectedly shrink or expand, and portals no longer reliably leading to their intended locations. Buildings and their entire inhabitants seemingly vanish, causing many to turn to cannibalism as they’re trapped in a maze of interdimensional spaces.
A World Without Roads: Teleportation spells are both high-level and tend to only transport a relatively small amount of mass. True “teleportals” that are permanent and can be used without an archmage are a highly-desirable good. The creation of the True Teleport spell begins with Earnest Perring building a pair of teleportation circles in two neighborhoods, and soon a self-regulatory business known as the Circle League is established by taking over smaller teleportation-related businesses in the industry. The League uses its resources to establish more complicated circles to work over longer distances while making said circles from cheaper spell components. Endon opens up a circle with another major city in the campaign setting, although this boon to trade and transport comes at a cost as extradimensional creatures from “Elsewhere” pop up with frightening frequency to attack people, and the Circle League resorts to threats and violence to cover up such incidents. The Terminal Event comes as Elsewhere Rifts pop up around the circles, consuming the surrounding landscape and letting otherworldly horrors invade the Material Plane.
True Polymorph: While the power to shapechange has many boons, the major industries of Endon find success in the alteration of animal test experiments. Menageries of “unnatural creatures” spring up as tourist attractions and pets for the rich, polymorphed meat means that the poor no longer have to be vegetarian as said meat becomes even cheaper than fruits and vegetables due to the abundance of transformable rats and pigeons. Meanwhile, businesses delve into the potential of polymorphing creatures into the forms of long-extinct and totally fictitious creatures. The Terminal Events include a range of maladies: polymorphed meat giving eaters magical cancer, while polymorphed creatures based off of dinosaurs and the nightmarish dreams of transmuters break out of captivity and lay waste to the city.
A Peaceful City: The use of divination magic to prevent crime and apprehend lawbreakers catches on after a serial killer is apprehended due to the use of a scrying spell. Household industries pop up of detective-diviners offering to locate lost people and objects while law enforcement makes use of it for obvious reasons. The use of scrying spells for sexual voyeurism creates public outcry to take it out of the private sector in favor of “responsible use.” Scrying is restricted to police use, and Endon’s crime rate drops, but law enforcement becomes increasingly authoritarian and uses divination to gather blackmail material in order to cement their power. The Terminal Event occurs as Endon stops culturally evolving and innovating as hordes of people move out, the remaining people become half-starved, magically enchanted thralls whose minds are shaped into “proper moral behavior” under the new police state.
Conjured Workforce: A small-time illusionist by the name of Neil Bligh creates an invisible workforce of “illusionary servants” to perform tricks for the public. He then realizes he can offer said servants for rent. Neil starts to make alterations on his spell for wider arrays of tasks, and other businesses follow in his wake. Entire industries fire their own laborers in favor of said magical servants, and being a wage labor economy with no social safety net this causes mass poverty and unemployment. Those whose jobs do not depend on physical exertion are safe, but they are 20% of the population. Political radicalism and angry mobs turn Endon into a more violent place. Bligh creates a new “Intelligent Servant” that seems self-aware, and other spells become harder to cast in Endon. Eventually a legion of said intelligent servants, feeding off of the ambient magical energy, turn Endon into a giant magic drain and take over the city, enslaving spellcasters to “feed” them magic and driving out or killing off everyone else.
Coal & Iron: The rediscovery of geomancy via research allows a Thaumaturgic Mining Guild to gain government backing to part the earth and gain access to new sources of ever-deeper mineral veins. Iron and coal become ever more common to the point that roads and skyscrapers made of iron are omnipresent, while steam engines and railways are a common means of private and mass transit. A huge military-reinforced wall is eventually built around Endon. The Terminal Event is that after widespread damage to the earth a group of earth elementals or some other subterranean monster awakens from digging too deep and lays waste to the city. Or maybe instead a group of rust monster eggs hatch, with all the food they could ever want and soon breed out of control, burying the city in piles of rusty flakes.
The Power of Creation: Anna Hartwell and her business partner John Huffman use logic gates to program clay golems with simple instructions. They then create Personal Calculating Golems which can perform mathematical functions and become a mainstay for financial institutions and scientific bodies. Illusion spells are used to make golems that are primitive computers, and despite becoming the richest business in Endon the two inventors are unsatisfied. They begin work on an Omni-Spell, a theoretical programmable spell of unlimited creation and transformation. The Terminal Event comes when a golem-computer device installed with this spell is told to create ten copies of itself at a public demonstration. The copies then make more copies, which then create even more copies, rapidly sucking up spell energy and creating a magical dirty bomb in the process that destroys Endon. Alternatively they could give it the command “Live” and thus create a selfish god-like being. Or the spell conjures 100 million gold coins and crashes the economy.
Thoughts So Far: The initial set-up of a high-magic Victorian metropolis is a rather peculiar setting for the OSR. I do like how Magical Industrial Revolution posits a world where Vancian casting logically applied can result in some rapid social change, and manages to answer why much of the world can still be “recognizably medieval” while also not necessarily leading to an age of prosperity.
The use of Innovations and Tempos to reflect a changing setting is also a cool one, and I do like how they’re not solely background elements. Each of the innovations comes with new and advanced equipment and services that PCs can make use of. I do feel that some of the Terminal Events feel a bit slap-dash or out of nowhere. The gradual increase of weird phenomena for Room to Live and World Without Roads give the PCs good precursors of wrongness, but the exploding rocket-rod of Miles’ Moving Miracles comes out of nowhere. There’s also the fact that Endon is inevitably doomed unless the PCs can avert all 8 catastrophes. It is meant to be a pre-apocalyptic setting, but this inevitable fatalism may make the players’ efforts feel wasted depending on the gaming group.
Join us next time as we cover the next few chapters covering Services, Social Classes, and Seasons of Endon!