Lair of The Tark

No one could recall when exactly the massive pendulum that governed the world stopped moving.  For when that dark moment came where order was shattered and the great time keeper stopped; time itself was lost.


Before time was lost, no being on this world had names, merely functions and part numbers to remain organized.  One clockwork machine would simply know what part and what number it was and would fulfill its directions according to its function.  Now, the great clock that had dispensed these directions was silent.  And these beings, only half aware that they were alive, with the capability but not the will to make decisions, had to decide for themselves.
Thus, something like time had passed, and slowly but surely those among the clockwork people began to grow the desire to change the world.  At first they merely tried to return things back to their normal function.  But, as their will grew so did their desire for power. There is no word for the function of a tyrant in the machine language of these beings.  But from an outside perspective these beings are much worse.


Yet, change is coming like the slow grinding of gears in a rusty mechanism.  More of the cogs are awakening to the will they’ve always had.  Soon a great conflict will erupt all across the landscape and the fate of the clockwork realm will hang in the balance.


A World of Rust, a Land of clockwork.


Clockwork dystopia is a realm of brass and iron that constantly turns and moves to produce new machines, and break down old ones to perform the functions that allows the world to continue on.  The Great Clock dictated then when, where and how’s of all the functions that required performing.  


Then the clock stopped.  The giant mechanisms ceased and with it all motion.  It wasn’t until some indeterminate time that a small handful of beings realized that the clock was never going to start back up again and did something no other being in their world had ever done; come to a decision.  They called themselves cogs.
The world needed to survive, and the cogs decided that only those who were capable of directing the others into action could do what was needed.  It worked; at least for a time.  With that first faithful decision and that first awareness came the first desires.  It started off merely to function and thrive.  Then it became a desire to improve.  Then finally, subtly, it became a desire to rule.


Individualism became seen as a disease.  Independent thought a deviancy in function.  Those who ruled claimed that they suffered from a terrible malfunction intentionally so that the world may continue to exist. This was merely a shallow lie to ensure no other cog would ever have the will to usurp them. Those who showed signs of thought and decision were mercilessly disassembled.  What’s worse is they turned their growing paranoia toward their brethren, claiming them malfunctioned and deviant.  The result is oppression and war that destroys nearly everything it touches.


Meanwhile in the deepest parts of the world where the self aware hold no sway there are mechanical beings who have lost their original function, or have lost the other parts and functions that allowed them to act in harmony with the world around them.  Now they wind on, creating, destroying, or immeasurable rate and the only ones capable of fixing the problem seem more inclined to destroy one another than save their world.


What is a cog?


 A cog is simply any being capable of independent thought and function that is capable of moving separately from the world itself.  They are all creatures of metal and brass powered by clockwork engines that they wind themselves or with the help of others.  They can come in any shape and size but typically take the form that best suits their function.  Some roll on wheels, some on legs like a spider, while still others have forms of locomotion more akin to birds or helicopters.  All can see and communicate with their fellow cogs though typically this is just to relay instructions; it’s only recently that this has been used to convey emotion.
Cogs are for the most part calm, emotionless, and do little more than do their job, get repairs when needed, and complete their tasks to the best of their capabilities.  The trouble happens when one comes to a decision independent of its instructions.  It could be something as simple as taking the initiative on a task that needs to be done, or it could just be prioritizing their lists of tasks based on their sudden idea on what’s best.  Those cogs who come to these decisions and realize it is also stricken with their first emotion; terror.  Life in the functioning areas is strictly monitored and those who show even an inkling of free will are brutally hunted down by specially made hunter cogs and destroyed to be made into new cogs.  Often times the cog will attempt to hide it and try their best to forget their horrible terrifying epiphany.  Sometimes they will attempt to escape the functioning city and try their chances in the still wild lands outside their home.  Few willingly submit themselves to destruction; preferring it over the terrifying abyss of freedom.  Sometimes, a group of cogs become free all at once, and driven by some never before felt instinct, cling together for mutual companionship and survival.


Players take on the role of free cogs.  They can attempt to take over a still area and form their own community, try to take over their own home, or attempt to carry on with their function even as the nagging decisions and thoughts creep to the center of their minds and make themselves known.


Cities: Brilliant and Fragile as Glass


Before the Great Clock stopped, there was no concept such as cities.  Those cog that food themselves free only tried to make things function in their own local area.  However without the insurmountable knowledge that went into the Great Clocks workings they can only expand this functioning only so far.  When free will was first discovered they worked together to extend their reach farther in an attempt to reach the entire world.  However, as their paranoia grew, they consolidated their private knowledge to build vast fortresses and war with one another.


A typical cog city is massive and built like a fortress.  Automatic sentries and defenses surround the city as endless armies of the tyrants peers attempt to tear it down and disassemble its inhabitants at the command of their leader.


Within these cities is a miniature clockwork realm that might look something like how the whole world looked before the great clock stopped.  Gleaming with oil, massive gears turning to power machines that do everything from producing lubricant to assembling new cogs, these cities are a sharp contrast to the grey and rusting stillness outside.  Yet, there is an undercurrent of unease and fear in everything.  Sentries guard every walk way and entrance in the city in search of free will to stamp out.  Machines that formerly had benign tasks have now been re purposed to the goal of producing war machines to fill their mad tyrant’s desires for conquest and power.  In the center of these gleaming metropolises is almost always a gleaming tower of metal, the throne and home of the tyrant who rules with a calculating and merciless fist.


The Rusted Wilderness


Beyond the walls of the city a free cog can truly be free.  Free to do what they wish, free to rule, and free to be destroyed in the most painful and terrible ways imaginable.  The rusted wilderness is a dusty and still realm where cogs have long since stopped moving and the great gears that powered their world have rusted together and forever motionless.  It is a dusty and dangerous place, for not every where is as still as it seems.  Sometimes a self sufficient cog still dwells in the stillness, continuing on with the tasks they had before the great clock went still.  Without the necessary repairs and maintenance required to keep them working many have gone mad, destroying or creating way beyond their specified parameters.  Some have even developed a form of free will that is more akin to a compulsive madness that forces them to fulfill their function however they can.  For example those cogs whose function it was to assemble something might develop a compulsion that makes them go out and disassemble other cogs in order to assemble the things they were previously designed to do.  The most dangerous of these cogs are the ones designed to seek out deviant systems and destroy them utterly.  These cogs unerringly find free willed cogs deviant.
Another hazard is groups of free willed cogs who have managed to escape their home cities and form communities in the stillness.  Fearing for their lives and terrified of outsiders they will often attack groups of escapees for resources or simply to prevent them from returning to their home cities and sharing the knowledge of their existence with their masters.
The last hazard is also the most dangerous; madness.  Perhaps it’s the loneliness, the stillness, or a symptom of the malfunction that gives them free will.  But being too long in the rusted wilderness has a corrosive affect on a cogs newly freed mind.  Many are driven mad and live as gibbering hermits in dark places.  Some of these helpful advisors to the player’s characters.  Others can be implacable and unpredictable adversaries.


Puppets and Masters


Cobalt:  In an earlier age, cobalt was a small and simple cog that worked feverishly to clean out the coal dust that powered his current cities myriad machines.  When he first became aware of himself it was long after the fires of those furnaces had long gone out.  His epiphany was to get more fuel for the furnaces so that he could complete his function.  That single thought caused a cascade of desires to improve his function and better improve the city around him.  He worked with other of his kind toward this goal.  It was fear and desire that inevitably drove him to disassemble his fellow free-wills and absorb their parts into his being.  He discovered that this increased his own calculating and decision making power by tenfold.  Ever since he has been driven by a cannibalistic hunger to subsume other free wills into his form to increase his mighty intelligence and personality.  The once small clockwork drone is now a massive amalgam of numerous cogs.  Vast and intelligent but horrifying to look at cobalt speaks with many voices and moves on a number of misshapen legs.  Like its entire kin it is a terrible tyrant.  However it demands that free wills discovered in its city are brought before it to be consumed.


Enforcer Ten: Enforcer Ten is the most brilliant military mind to have ever been built.  Unfortunately, it has yet to put that mind to use.  Enforcer Ten is a rare free will born from the simple and durable military cogs built by the tyrants to fight in their endless wars against one another.  It has the thankless job of calculating odds of victory, enacting appropriate strategies and minimizing risk of defeat.  Lately though it has begun to become creative in its function.  Cunning strategies, bold maneuvers, spontaneity, and bravery are things alien to the military strategy of this clock work world.  It knows that sooner or later its masters will attempt to have him destroyed.  For now though it has an entire army at its beck and call.  
The only thing preventing it from doing anything is that it’s not quite sure what it will do with its newfound power.  What is certain is that whatever it plans to do Enforcer Ten will be like a whirlwind of change.


Free: It gave itself a name and then left its city before being destroyed by his cities enforcers.  Now it wanders the wilderness in search of an answer that it seems no one has yet to ask; how does one fix the great clock?  The implications of this question are terrifying and yet Free feels that this is what must be done.  Naturally, every tyrant who has heard of his purpose has started fighting to destroy him immediately.  Despite being a simple lever pulling he is clever and has eluded the massive armies of the tyrants.  Some have even whispered that he will succeed and the great rusted machine of the world will turn again.  Some say that he is being guided by the clock, that some ticking function still moves within the massive machine and it is telling it what to do.  There may be some truth to this, as Free seems to move about the world as if locked in a happy dream.


Throw me Downs


Not every tyrant sees mindless execution as a means of disposing of the self aware.  One tyrant known simply as the Cooperative has begun a massive recruitment drive offering a paradise in a new world created by working together.  The truth is that the Cooperative plans on sending any new recruit right into suicide missions against his enemies, conveniently eliminating potential rivals while weakening its enemies.


In the still wilderness a behemoth rumbles in the distance.  It is a malfunctioning cog that has spent its time since the great clock stopped making itself larger and stronger by consuming all the raw material around it and adding to its own form.  Without the functions that told it when to stop it has continued since and now threatens a number of cities.


In a fit of madness a tyrant has begun to purge hundreds of thousands of cogs from the characters home city.  In time the characters themselves will become the target of these purges.


Playing in Clockwork Dystopia
Clockwork Dystopia is a setting that makes players and characters question the definitions of concepts we take for granted such as freedom and self awareness.  The world is a terrible and lonely place where the only allies the players can trust are each other.  One might be led to believe that this means the players are weak fighters.  The truth is their ability to be creative and have free choice makes them very good at defending themselves, to the point where the typical over the top action madness of WuShu can be expected.


*Special thanks to Indra for providing RPG.net with a good series of articles and thanks for letting me flex my creative muscles under his banner.