One of the many purposes of the October Country setting is to give me a world where I can put all the genres and stories I want to experiment with in one place. It’s really a microcosm (or perhaps it’s a macrocosm) of my interests on display for all to see. When the setting is complete, the players and referees will find a wide variety of people, places, and things to power their adventures—many of which are very far removed from traditional fantasy.
As much as I pretend to be aloof from it, I am susceptible to popular culture and the current climate of entertainment. That includes advertizing, movies, and other popular trends. Lately, I’ve been seeing a hell of a lot of commercials for the movie Real Steel, a film where Wolverine builds a boxing robot and uses it to bond with his son. And while I’m not a big fan of machine-on-machine violence, the idea of gladiatorial matches between constructed warriors does tickle my fancy a bit. So I decided to add it to the October Country. I already had a region where it would be a natural fit, so why not? Even better, this made me to think about how I’d implement it in the campaign. That led to the creation of a mini-game that I’m currently working on. If I’m lucky, I might test the basic rules after my weekly game session on Sunday. But, without further ado, here’s a brief guide to ‘Naut Fights in the October Country.
High in the northern mountains, where stands of firs and lightning-struck pines grow thick on the granite peaks, is the legendary domain of the Lightning Lords. Secretive sorcerers of technology, the Lightning Lords tap the elemental forces of nature to birth miraculous constructions and machines rarely seen outside of their savagely beautiful country.
This devotion to their science comes at a cost: very few have the luxury of stepping away from their laboratories to attend to mundane matters. This lack of attention extends from simple matters such as hygiene to more complex concerns like the security of their borders. But, as men of science, the Lightning Lords long ago created a means to deal with certain pressing matters by means of mechanical proxies. No greater example of this exists that the famous ‘Naut Fights of the Lightning Lands.
Whenever two or more of the Lords come into conflict, be it over borders, resources, or the shared network of wires that channels lighting down from the heavens and throughout the nation, disputes are settled not on the battlefield, but in the arena. Each Lord activates one of his stable of Juggernauts (commonly called simply ‘Nauts) and the combatants battle it out in a formal duels attended by the Lords’ servants and seneschals. The Lord whose champion wins the bout has his way in the matter under dispute and the disagreement is put to rest. It is extremely rare for the losing party or parties to dispute this—partly because of tradition, but mostly because they lack the time to submit a formal protest to the informal council that arbitrates the myriad baronies that comprise the Lightning Lands.
These duels are seldom to destruction—the cost to build and maintain a stable of ‘Nauts is high and the strange susceptibility to deterioration that technology in the October Lands already deals with is enough to convince a losing ‘Naut’s master to throw in the towel. The battered ‘Nauts are pulled from the arena to be repaired by the Lightning Lords’ crews of Gearheads, those uncanny argents of the Clockwork Man who keep technology functioning beyond the Pale.
A ‘Naut is a wonder to behold. Standing near 10’ tall, these machines are typically humanoid in appearance and operate on steam, phlogiston, zeusiam, or clockwork engines. Two or more weapons are affixed to each ‘Naut, and close combat is preferred over ranged armaments. Each champion is armored, but the level of protection varies from model to model. Some Lords prefer Hulk Class bruisers or Behemoth bashers, while others prefer Springheel skirmishers or Dancer Class athletes. No matter what style meet in combat, one never forgets their first ‘Naut Fight.
What makes these battles so memorable is the skill of the combatants. ‘Nauts do not fight like constructed warriors, animated by gears and fire, but like living fighters that think, strategize, and react much faster and more skillful than a machine ever could. The secret to this is that each ‘Naut is operated by a literal “ghost in the machine.” When crafted, the spirit of a dead creature is attuned to a ‘Naut, allowing the soul of that individual to possess the machine and operate it as if it were its own living body. The ghostly fighters serve their masters for a variety of reasons and are usually well-treated by their individual Lords. Some ghosts have served their Lord’s family line for centuries, becoming legends in their own right and feared by all challengers when met in the arena.
When visiting the Lightning Lands, be it to hire the services of a Gearhead or to book passage on one of the realm’s electrical barges or dirigibles, be sure to attended a ‘Naut Fight. Exhibition matches are commonly held for bragging rights and entertainment, and it is rare for a week to pass without at least one bout occurring in a barony.