The World Machine

From: Nick Brooke (
Date: Fri 23 Jan 1998 - 12:42:24 EET

Owen Jones writes:

> I can't imagine the world machine as mechanical. =

Hmm. Even if it isn't, I'm sure a dwarf can (and does) perceive it to
be mechanical. (I won't say "imagine", as it sounds odd in a dwarfish

> Certainly the dwarves have the highest level of technology in
> Glorantha... But more than this would make them too potent.

As they aren't "too potent", they probably have the amount we see,
plus a few "specials" hidden away for rainy days (like the trolls'
Black Eater, the elves' Unborn Army of the Reforestation, etc. etc.).
WB&RM's Cannon Cult and Alchemical Transmogrifier are the two most
obvious examples of such: there's bound to be others under Mount
Nida, for starters.

But dwarfs don't usually share their technology with others, and
don't seem to "progress" as a human civilisation might: they've
used Black Powder since Godtime, but their hand-crafted muskets
haven't measurably improved since Time began. While dwarfs are,
indeed, tinkerers and inventors of the first order, they also have
a traditionalist streak which probably prevents them from making
significant technological progress *as a race* -- individuals may
manage this ("Heresy!" "Apostasy!" "Malfunction!"), but anything
"new" that was invented by the Dwarf of Dragon Pass will, ipso
facto, not percolate back into mainstream dwarfish society.

So, give one-off technological advances to dwarf NPCs, or have it
found in ancient ruins, or possessed by marginal dwarf societies,
but *don't* advance mainstream Mostali technology beyond what we
know them to be capable of -- from "Elder Races", "Dragon Pass",
etc. They aren't "centuries ahead" of humans and still moving
forwards -- they've always had the level of technology they do
today, aren't getting any further, and don't see why they should.

> Dwarves produce nilmergs and jolanti, but the process is sorcerous
> rather than technological.

True. But they'd see it as alchemical, rather than "magical": mix
the ingredients thus and so in the proper receptacle, and bingo!
A duplicatable, mechanical process, not requiring any "otherworldly"
mumbo-jumbo (like incantations, evocations, etc.). Now, whether a
Tin Dwarf going about his everyday labours would look like some
weirdly-garbed High Priest or sorcerous Adept referring to ancient
scriptures (written instruction manuals) and muttering prayers or
spells beneath his beard to an outsider is hardly a concern of the
dwarfs, is it?

> What do the dwarves see as wrong with the world machine, and what
> exactly are they doing to fix it?

Things Went Wrong. In other mythologies, this is the Lesser Darkness,
Greater Darkness, Storm Age, Ice Age, Invasion of Chaos, etc. To the
dwarfs, it's all mechanical failure. Aggravated, of course, by such
unwelcome intrusions as the cancerous principle of "growth" (think of
a machine overgrown with moss, lichen, etc.), the destructive antics
of trolls eating vital components, and the unruly, unregulated force
of zillions of humans surging around it powering various components
at random, not remotely in accordance with the Grand Design.

The elements are unbalanced and mixed up in all the wrong proportions
(like: there's water on top of the earth in some places), the Sky Dome
is off its axis, the land masses aren't a big cube any more, and it's
generally all shot to hell in a handbasket. Luckily, the dwarfs have
infinite patience, phenomenal precision, and plenty of time on their

> I just can't imagine what dwarves could possibly be doing that might
> remedy these situations.

Fortunate, really. The dwarfs are constantly at work ("worshipping",
we humans might say), deep in the earth and stone beneath our feet.
Unseen by outsiders, they diligently work to reconstruct the World
Machine, greasing its sprockets and testing its gears. The mundane
manifestations of their ceaseless toil -- earthquakes, hurricanes,
natural disasters, celestial phenomena, and the like -- are all
misinterpreted by foolish surface-dwellers, who think they see in
them the hand of the gods. "Mostal is Dead" -- the World Machine is
broken -- but through their incessant labours, the Mostali know that
gear by gear, crankshaft by crankshaft, they are perfecting their
repairs: best for us all if they should never succeed!

IMO, the "successes" of the dwarf Repair Project have been incremental,
visible over the Ages. Thus, they doubtless claim the Sunstop, as well
as the rise of the Red Moon, the sinking of various continents, etc. as
being stages towards the eventual completion of their Master Plan. That
doesn't mean that any Gloranthan RQ game has to include extravagant
displays of overtly-successful dwarfish "repair-work" -- the dwarfs
know that they alone perceive the workings of the World Machine, and
other races will never correctly understand that famine, flood and
fire are regulated by gauges, valves and dials deep beneath, in its
innermost workings, manned by untiring Diamondwarfs and Elder Mostali.

In a sense, the World Machine is the "otherworld" of the dwarfs. Just
as primitive shamans perceive the Spirit World as a place of ferocious,
predatory spirit-entities, ranged by spirit-hunters like themselves;
just as "Platonic" sorcerers perceive the World of Ideal Forms as the
locus of truths and perfections unattainable in their mundane reality;
just as priests perceive the God Plane homes of their deities as more
perfect versions of their own most sacred places; so the dwarfs see
through the deceptions of mundanity, and witness the clockwork, steam-
driven, perpetual motion of the World Machine in all its glory. There
isn't [there needn't be] a genuine, physical "World Machine" somewhere
"down there", if only you dig far enough -- sufficient that the dwarfs
*know* it exists, *know* they are working on it, *know* that, in time,
their labours will be complete and the mechanical problems of the past
swept away: a triumph of engineering, and a tribute to the indomitable
spirit of the Mostali!



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