STEAM AND STEEL QUARTERLY
Private investigators contracted by H.M. Bradshaw Home Robotics Corp. made a stunning discovery this past week in San Francisco, uncovering an illegal automaton fighting ring operating near that city’s historic wharf. The investigators declined an interview with this wire, but San Francisco police confirmed details of the automata deathmatch operation and its ultimate demise.
Illegally modified automata bearing weapons of varied and frightful description were pitted in battles to the death for the benefit of spectators. Adding to the indolent affront to the standards of British law and good taste, the spectators engaged in gambling at these affairs and imbibed refreshments containing unlicensed liquor.
H.M. Bradshaw Home Robotics Corp., a local automata retailer and repair shop, assigned the private detectives to discover the fate of a shoplifted manservant model BHR-M700 automaton. What happened between that time and the dramatic raid that ended in multiple arrests this past Sunday is shrouded in mystery. Regardless, let us be thankful that this controversial and indecent practice has been quashed in America’s City by the Bay.
–C. Crenley reporting
SHORT ADVENTURE SCENARIO for 2-5 Player Characters
Recommended advancement: 0 to 15
The Player Characters begin this adventure by answering an advertisement published by H.M. Bradshaw Home Robotics Corp. in San Francisco. Entering the production facility, they are greeted by an android secretary at the front desk. "Welcome to H.M. Bradshaw Home Robotics Corporation, do you have an appointment?" it inquires, a thin trail of steam rising from the boiler on its back.
After introducing themselves, the android guides the Player Characters across the factory floor and up to the office of Harvey Milton Bradshaw Jr., current CEO of H.M. Bradshaw Home Robotics Corp. and son of its founder. He is a solidly built man with pale skin, graying temples, and a bushy black mustache. He speaks quickly and with a characteristic, aimless bluster.
"So you're the private dicks? I don't care if you're licensed, but I do care about results. One of my automatons has been stolen, and it represents a significant investment. I have no idea if the thief was aware, but the unit stolen was a showroom model and my district sales manager used its clockwork mind to store inventory and finance data. If my competitors got their hands on that data, it would be a damned catastrophe!"
"As I see it, it can be tracked in one of three ways. One: you could ask around the black market and see if anyone is buying automata, and move up the chain from there until you find my unit. Two: you could head to the location of the break in and see if you can track it from there. And three: maybe you know something that I don't, it's why I'm paying you!"
After fully discussing the matter, the Player Characters set out to recover the unit.
Here, the Narrator will have to adapt to the Player Character's choices as they move through San Francisco. Regardless of which path the Player Characters choose to take, give the Player Characters at least encounter in which combat breaks out unexpectedly, one in which there is no combat and guile is required, and one that could go either way. For instance:
Moving through the black market, the Player Characters must press informants for information while defending themselves from thugs. First, they meet with a willing informant whose information they receive from Mr. Bradshaw. Following the informant's lead, they fall into an ambush. Five thugs wielding lead pipes emerge from the shadows and attempt to incapacitate the Player Characters in order to rob and kidnap them.
Returning to the informant to confront him for the apparent double-cross, they find that he used them to strike a blow against an underworld rival. If they deal with him shrewdly, he reveals the location of the ring. If they attempt to force the information out of him, he does the same but only after defending himself with a pistol and two guard dogs.
This general pattern can be modified easily to fit the Player Characters' particular skills and abilities. For instance, if the party has no investigators or smooth talkers but does have a spiritualist, the first tip could be to follow a man with an enchanted pocket watch, an ambush could take place while tailing him, and upon catching up he can be persuaded or forced into revealing the location.
AT THE FIGHTING RING
The automaton fighting ring is housed in an otherwise-abandoned warehouse near the San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf. If the Narrator chooses to use real maps, the warehouse could have the address 7 North Point Street. This address is not an illegal automaton fighting ring in the real world, obviously, but use of existing maps of the modern world is a convenient way to generate a game map with minimal alteration.
Upon arriving outside of the warehouse, two guards pretending to be loitering street toughs produce knives and attempt to raise an alarm. If either guard manages to open the door and shout inside, most of the gamblers escape justice. If they are incapacitated before this action can be undertaken, the warehouse is locked up tight.
At this point, a police officer happens by and witnesses the fight. Regardless of the Player Characters' response to the police officer's questions, she manages to radio in sufficient information that the police will arrive in force shortly. However, to collect in full on their contract, the Player Characters must recover the stolen manservant, or at least its clockwork mind, before this can happen.
Inside, an employee of the gambling operation spots the Player Characters immediately. It is his job to take tickets for the event, greet guests, and encourage guests to drink and place bets. Security is not his concern. He can be persuaded if approached with deception or bribery, but if he feels threatened or knows that the cops are approaching he will run down the hallway behind him and into the open warehouse floor where the automaton fighting arena is located.
If either the guards managed to shout inside or the ticket taker is tipped off, the end of the hallway is barred by an illegally modified guardian manservant. If they are not tipped off, it instead begins the encounter near the ring in the center of the room.
The main room is filled with a festive crowd. A ring like that used in a boxing prize fight stands in the center. In it, two badly damaged automata are in the final round of a battle.
A pile of damaged automata sits near the side of the ring. The Player Characters can see Bradshaw's manservant on top of the heap, its clockwork mind exposed by a rent inflicted by a chainsaw.
BATTLE THE GUARDIAN
The guardian has stats as detailed in its entry in technological marvels. It has weapons welded to two of its arms: a claymore and a chainsaw.
The automaton encounter can be solved in several ways. It can be attacked until destroyed, but it is a stalwart opponent. It is slower than a human, so it can be distracted or outrun with relative ease. The mind that controls it is an electrical computer. It is susceptible to electrical shock and poorly constructed. Any engineer can discover a mechanical fault and exploit it with tools by studying it and then bringing tools to bear. The roll to study it uses intellect or perception and is taken at difficulty -3. The roll to disable it with tools uses motor skills and is also taken at difficulty -3.
Having dispatched, disabled, or avoided the guardian and recovered the clockwork mind, the Player Characters can return to Bradshaw in total victory, receiving £ 1000 each for their trouble.
If the Player Characters bust the ring but fail to recover the clockwork mind from Bradshaw's manservant, they receive only £ 150 each to stay silent.
A steam engineering trade wire reports on the bust the following day, but does not know about the Player Characters removing evidence at Bradshaw's behest. With his trade secrets safe, Bradshaw quietly circulates the Player Characters' information to other parties with similarly sensitive predicaments.