Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Friday, 4 April 2014

Cogs in the Sky

As delightful a little game as Cogs, Cakes & Swordsticks: Cracking Adventures in the Empire of Steam is, one of the issues with it is that it is a little too polite, lacking shall we say, any sense of menace, of threat, and of perfidy. Pleasingly, such concerns with this roleplaying game of Steampunk pulp are addressed in Atlantis City in the Clouds: A Supplement for Cogs, Cakes, & Swordsticks. Published by Modiphius Entertainment, it details a complete setting—one mentioned in the core rules, an adventure involving a threat to this setting, and supporting materials.

Her Majesty’s Flying Steam City Atlantis is the wonder of the age. Designed by the combined talents of Isambard Kingdom Brunel and George Stephenson and completed by Brunel’s son, Henri Marc, as the late Prince Albert’s last wish, it floats in mid-Atlantic, chained to the artificial island of Monturiol. This second jewel in Her Majesty’s Empire—as opposed to the Jewel in her Crown that is the Indian subcontinent—has become a noted tourist destination, a port of call for transatlantic dirigible flights, and of course, a target for England’s enemies, as well as the Balloon City Sky Pirates!

A slim volume—much like its core rules, Atlantis City in the Clouds is divided into just two chapters, plus a pair of appendices. The first chapter details Atlantis itself, the second presents a full adventure, whilst the first appendix, ‘Dramatis Personae’, provides a full set of pre-generated adventurers that can be used as player characters or NPCs and the second, ‘New Attributes’, lists and explains all of the Cogs, Cakes, and Swordsticks attributes that appear with the NPCs in Atlantis City in the Clouds.

Her Majesty’s Flying Steam City Atlantis consists of an upper and a lower ring. The latter is home to the six Directional Steam Assemblages, the mighty, ever thrusting engines that keep the city, itself known as ‘The Cog’, aloft. Each is fed a steady supply of coal—dug from the mines that run from underneath sea surrounding Monturiol below—around the clock. Their engineers and stokers work shifts, the stokers receiving one shift off a week to spend at their leisure on Monturiol, officially the only place where they can purchase alcohol. Monturiol primarily consists of the mine, surface docks, and an army and navy base.

In comparison to the shadowed enshrouded works below, the upper ring has all the conveniences and attractions of a genteel small town—hotels and boarding houses, covered markets, shops and arcades, police boxes (sadly green and octagonal rather than square and blue), parks and teahouses, and even a museum, though that is housed in the Pinnacle, the residence of Atlantis’ governor. Overall, it has the feel of a small English seaside town, perhaps Bournemouth or Scarborough, though only if either such towns could be reached by dirigible and had their own diplomatic attaches posted there by Canada, France, Prussia, and the USA. Accompanying the descriptions of the various locations and establishments are numerous NPCs, from businessmen and proprietors to pirates and members of the military via workers, diplomats, and engineers.

The adventure, titled ‘Adventure in the Clouds’ is a three act affair which begins with the adventurers receiving tickets to travel to Her Majesty’s Flying Steam City Atlantis as tourists. There is plenty of time for the adventurers to interact with their fellow travellers before they arrive and even explore Atlantis a little. Yet when a murder victim dies with the name of a player character on his lips, their trip takes a dark turn. Was this a simple case of robbery gone wrong or a murder with a deeper motive. Uncovering both the motive and the culprit reveals dark plans are afoot…

Atlantis City in the Clouds is neatly presented with an array of illustrations done in a slightly cartoonish style. It even comes with an index, a surprising inclusion for a book of its length. As much as the book’s description will suggest adventure ideas to the GM, what the book lacks is more story hooks. The five included under the heading, ‘Not What It Seems’, do feel underwritten, though this is the supplement’s only real weakness. In keeping with the Steampunk genre, the setting of Atlantis City in the Sky is a slightly more of a cosmopolitan, politically correct place, such that positions of power and influence are not wholly dominated by Caucasian men.

Atlantis City in the Clouds provides Cogs, Cakes, & Swordsticks with much needed support. The book as a whole is a quick, but quite detailed read. Hopefully Modiphius Entertainment will follow this up with further supplements as there must be numerous places to visit in the world of Cogs, Cakes, & Swordsticks and take tea. In meantime, Atlantis City in the Clouds: A Supplement for Cogs, Cakes, & Swordsticks brings peril and perfidy to Cogs, Cakes, & Swordsticks, perfect for an assignation’s game over tea.