This is the first of a series of pieces for Death Comes To Wyverley, a Garth Nix / Abhorsen inspired playset for Beyond the Wall. This should be considered a fan work.
When the North Wind Blows
PDF (including tables) available here
Wyverley College lies close to the Wall at the very north of Ancelstierre. While technology (specifically early 20th century technology) exists in this country, that technology is at odds with Magic. Whenever the wind blows from the north it carries the air of magic from the other side of the Wall, and plays havoc with technology. There’s a good chance that these devices just won’t work at all.
- electric lighting and appliances
- engines of all kinds — generators, motor cars, etc.
Wyverley college and other settlements in the area are well prepared for this and make use of paraffin lamps and candles for lighting, oil and wood for heat and cooking and animals for transport. That’s not to say technology isn’t common — just people have a low expectation of it working reliably all the time. Attitudes to technology will be mixed — while the local economy will be dependent on goods transport and communications, there will be plenty of people alive who remember a time (perhaps only a couple of decades ago) when technology was not nearly as necessary.
Effect of the North Wind on Technology
Whenever a technological device is carried near the wall, first check the Wind Direction table. Randomly roll or pick the most likely direction for the season.
If a North Wind is blowing, the person trying to use the device should make a Save vs. Polymorph; on a pass the device works, otherwise it doesn’t. Roll at the point the character tries to use the device.
As well as making technology less likely to work, a north wind also has potential to make magic more potent or easier to cast. Consult the table for the effect on Cantrip difficulty, Spell potency or Ritual time to cast.
If technology is such a bother…
So technology is unreliable. Why bother with it at all?
Here are some areas where, despite its unreliability, technology still represents a significant benefit (and can affect the environment during adventures):
- Lighting. Without widespread electrical street lighting, viewing distances will be worse. If any Dead or Free Magic being manages to pass through the Wall they will tend to roam at night — and poor lighting will make surprise and ambushes more likely. When the electric lights fail, it’s time to bring out the candles and lanterns.
- Transport. While horses can be used for riding and commerce, it’s generally harder to get the resources required to the local area than with vehicles, and slower to travel. Also buses and cars may break down in the middle of nowhere.
- Communications. A failure in the telephone lines means the area may be cut off from local government further south, and even people in the vicinity. This also applies to telegrams. A postal service will still be reliable, as will physical messengers — but this will delay the communication significantly.
- Firearms. I don’t think the soldiers on the Wall really expect their firearms to work. But when they do work they’re going to be easier to use with a higher rate of fire and better portability than historical weapons.
Note that there are Charter spells that do a similar service to these technological devices, but they are generally works of powerful Charter mages — not the young students of Wyverley, who are only learning. Also magic has the inconvenience of being only available where the caster is. While magic can overcome many issues it’s just not widespread enough to address the day-to-day needs of local life.