Created By: Xolroc on August 27, 2012 Last Edited By: Xolroc on August 29, 2012

Medieval Machinery

Buttons, switches, and even proximity sensors in a medieval setting.

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Trope
You've seen them and not given them a second thought, they're so ubiquitous. But think: Buttons and pressure plates, commonly used for traps or alarms in medieval settings, don't do much of anything without electricity. If you mechanically connected them to what they're supposed to operate, you'd either have to press them in several feet or push with the force of a truck! And don't even get me started on fires that start or spikes that come out of the ground when you get near them.

Sometimes there are even doors that slide up into the ceiling at the press of a button, and slide back down when it's pressed again. True, a mechanism to do that is possible. But it'd likely be larger than the building it's used in!

Admittedly, counterweights would work for the levers and buttons at least, but they'd be difficult to maintain, to say the least. And certainly not work after centuries or millenia of abandonment.

Plus, occasionally a switch somehow manages to mechanically transmit a force across half a continent! There are so many failure points in a system that long it'd probably break before they were done building it, and that's not an exaggeration.
Community Feedback Replies: 11
  • August 27, 2012
    CobraPrime
  • August 27, 2012
    Lumpenprole
    ^not quite; Schizo Tech is about anomalous mixtures of advanced and primitive technology. This would be more about primitive technology that somehow functions at a much more sophisticated level than it should.

    • The fantasy parody Ella Enchanted features, among other things, a waterwheel-driven wooden escalator.
  • August 27, 2012
    SharleeD
    The description is misleading. It's entirely possible to craft an electricity-free pressure plate or button that requires only gentle contact to activate a much larger machine; you simply have to incorporate counterweights or other means of magnifying the trigger's slight motion.
  • August 27, 2012
    Xolroc
    Good point, but it's still ridiculously hard to maintain and has far too many failure points to work reliably. I'll edit the description accordingly.
  • August 28, 2012
    Arivne
    "certainly not work after centuries or millenia of abandonment": If they can still work, it's Ragnarok Proofing.

    A couple of examples. You know, just to make things interesting.

    Film
    • Indiana Jones
      • Raiders Of The Lost Ark, during Indy's exploration of the temple at the beginning.
        • The trap with pressure plates in the floor triggering darts firing from the walls.
        • The trap under the gold statue. When the weight on the plate changed, it triggered the giant rolling stone ball.
      • Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade. Although it isn't made clear exactly how it was activated, the first trap Indiana had to pass (with the spinning saw blades) had to be triggered by something.

    Tabletop RPG
    • Dungeons And Dragons adventures often had dungeons and buildings with mechanical (not magical) traps activated by pressure plates, trip wires and so on.
  • August 28, 2012
    Xolroc
    Excellent! This is pretty ubiquitous in fantasy video games, so I'm not sure whether to list them as examples.
  • August 28, 2012
    captainpat
    I think this is covered by Bamboo Technology.
  • August 28, 2012
    Xolroc
    That's pretty close, close enough to make this possibly an invalid trope. But more precisely what I'd meant was along the lines of doing what would have to be computer-operated and use electric machinery, in a purely mechanical way. Plus Bamboo Technology makes me think of swiss family robinson rather than this sort of thing.
  • August 29, 2012
    Arivne
    The "beam of sunlight" trap is indeed Bamboo Technology (and is already on that page) so I have deleted it.
  • August 29, 2012
    Lumpenprole
    ^^would non-electrical Steam Punk count, or would it have to be Clock Punk at most?
  • August 29, 2012
    Xolroc
    Seeing as this is focused toward mechanical systems, I think steampunk would not count, due to being pneumatic. Clockpunk would, though.
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