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Tabletop Game / Broken Gears

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Green-glowing trains speed past on cold-iron rails. Steam-powered zeppelins drift by on passenger routes. Steam carriages follow pockmarked roads among verdant fields. Lines of semaphore towers march across the country. Most of the old cities are shattered ruins, where nothing will go, or else bare earth salted to ensure that nothing can grow. Anything that uses electricity is dangerous and forbidden. Mass-production, complicated modern technology, computers, nuclear weapons, heavier-than-air flying machines - it's all dangerous, it’s all forbidden. If you build it, it becomes intelligent. And then it tries to kill you.
This happened, in 1944. The Allies made a devil's pact to speed victory. Once that war was over, another began: The War of Broken Gears. It killed half of all humanity, ruined most of the world's cities, and turned even the weather hostile. But we won. Humanity broke the advanced machines. Britain, China and a few other nations endured the apocalypse, while others rebuilt from the rubble.
The year is now 2052.
Welcome to the world of Broken Gears.
Back cover of the Broken Gears manual
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Broken Gears is an "animistic steampunk" Table Top Game created by the Cambridge University Role-playing Society (CURS) that takes place in an Alternate Universe where technology works thanks to being possessed by spirits called "chaids". In spite of this great change, history was pretty much like ours until January 1944, when Colossus, the first programmable computer, was switched on: its chaid gained sentience and offered the Allied leaders a series of technological improvements that allowed World War II to end in January 1945, but then attempted to start a Technocratic revolution that led to World War III with the aid of many who thought like Colossus. In the end, Humanity won at great cost... and then all electrical devices (and even lightning) started to act in a malicious fashion against humans. This led to a blowback against advanced technology and a return to almost Victorian-style technology, and the loss of a good part of the advances made in the last century, such as mass-production.

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A century after the end of the War of Broken Gears, the British Empire has become the most powerful nation in the world, pretty much controlling Europe, much of Africa and parts of Asia, entangled in a Space Cold War against the United Socialist Republic of Asia (an union of Communist China and the Soviet Union controlled by the former) that has threatened several times to turn hot. British society resembles the one in the Victorian Age, the army is formed by 1 million professionals and militias funded by the rich, military zeppelins dot the skies, there's an always watchful eye ready to destroy any Forbidden Technology they can find.

The players can be many things, from British secret agents to independence fighters to normal people that accidentally get involved in a plot by Technocratic agents, which gives the game many possibilities to work (and play) with, in the steampunk Britain of Broken Gears.

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If you are interested, it can be downloaded for free here.

Broken Gears has examples of:

  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Colossus, who started the War of Broken Gears and now maliciously controls thunderstorms and any device that runs on electricity.
  • Alternate History: history changes when Roger Bacon manages to bind the first chaid to a sphere that spins when it is heated. However, this doesn't change much until the 20th Century.
  • Awesome Aussie: when the Australians learn in 2021 that the British Empire was behind the entire mess that took place after the New Democrats' victory in 1972, they revolt and manage to gain their independence (particularly thanks to a freak storm that scattered the Royal Navy taskforce sent to put the rebellion down), leading the British to give up and consider them "an independently functioning arm of the British Empire". Now, the Australian Defence Force works as mercenaries, and are considered some of the most dangerous troops in the world.
  • Badass Bookworm: meteorologists carry out their tasks with grounded chainmail suits, since they are always under the threat of being hit by lightning. Players can also be this.
  • Bolt of Divine Retribution: not exactly divine (since they are controlled by Colossus), but these begin to happen shortly after the War of Broken Gears ends. Winston Churchill was the first person to die in such a way, and umbrellas must have lightning rods built in.
  • Les Collaborateurs: the Technocratic Revolution.
  • Cool Airship: the Elizabeth-class Flying Fortresses, capable of devastating entire cities.
  • Cool Ship: Battleships remain the queens of the sea, because, since heavier-than-air aircraft is Forbidden Technology, aircraft carriers were put to the side.
  • Cool Train: Battle trains, which can traverse entire continents without being molested. However, they are somewhat Awesome, but Impractical, since they require special quad tracks to move around, and are still liable to be derailed by determined people.
  • Dirty Communists: the United Socialist Republic of Asia, a vast communist regime that encompasses Russia and China, controlled by the latter.
  • Expanded States of America: in 1952, Canada (save for Quebec, which chose to become an independent nation) voted en masse to join the United States, and in 1964 ten of Mexico's most northerly states did the same.
  • Gaslamp Fantasy
  • Heroic Sacrifice: many were had during the War of Broken Gears, most famously the Second Battle of Britain and the air raid against Bletchley Park, headquarters of the Technocratic Revolution.
  • I Love Nuclear Power: most military technology runs on uranium.
  • In Spite of a Nail: even though all complex devices must be carefully made and measured for chaids to be properly tied to them, history does not change drastically until 1944.
  • Lost Technology: anything that runs on electricity has become Forbidden, because it is liable to be controlled by Colossus. Mass-production, computers, heavier-than-air aircraft...
  • Magitek: all technology in this setting, as they must be created with rituals for the chaids to become attached to them. For example, handguns are powered with salamanders and must be oiled every day.
  • Monumental Damage: a massive storm causes great damage to Buckingham Palace.
  • New York City: devastated by the United States during the War of Broken Gears, since it had become a Technocratic stronghold.
  • Older Than They Think: In-Universe, while Bacon is credited with being the inventor of chaomancy, there were several medieval philosophers that had already laid down the basic principles of chaomancy.
  • Our Demons Are Different: the chaids that power technology. Some of them are known as Salamanders (capable only of simple tasks), Simbian (monkey-like intelligence, quick and dexterous), Gremlin (greedy single-minded legalistic bureaucrat) and Devil (the most forbidden of technology: Colossus was one of them).
  • Rebellious Rebel: Werner Heisenberg (see Spanner in the Works).
  • Ritual Magic: chaomancy at its core. When a device is leashed, certain steps must be carried out so that the device works properly. The most simple devices can just require the engraving of runes and a small ceremony, while most complex devices require consulting almanacs to ensure all runes are engraved at the right point.
  • Space Cold War: there is one between the British Empire and the USRA.
  • Spanner in the Works: Werner Heisenberg felt alienated from the Technocratic movement because of his German nationality, so he blew the whistle on it and forced Colossus to start the war too early, which might have been the difference between victory and defeat.
  • Tank Goodness: the USRA's Iron Tiger Land Fortress. Forty yards long, twenty yards high, 3-inch thick armour, uranium powered, it can crush anything on its path, its turret can hurl half-ton shells at a mile, and it carries enough anti-armour and small guns to lay waste to any army. And, if it is surrounded, it can vent incredibly hot radioactive steam to cover itself.
  • Umbrellas Are Lightning Rods: Hostile Weather is the norm in this RPG universe, and lightning frequently hitting umbrellas is heavily implied by the fact that, by law, umbrellas are required to have lightning rods built into them!
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: what Colossus claimed to be. Supposedly, under its thumb, Earth would have become a technocratic utopia.
  • Whatevermancy: Chaomancy, the art of harnessing chaids for their use in technology.
  • World War III: the War of Broken Gears, started barely a month after World War II ended.
  • Zeppelins from Another World: their existence is justified, since most heavier-than-air aircraft have become Forbidden Technology.
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