Automatons are many things to many people. To scholars and technicians, they are the ultimate fusion of magic and technology. To industry, they are an invaluable tool. To military commanders, they are the backbone of any campaign. To soldiers facing them in battle, they are terrors, sowing death and destruction.
An Automaton, in its most basic form, is any machine with a mind of its own. Machines that cannot think for themselves are referred to as “dumb machines” by technicians. Most commonly, Automatons are massive — averaging two to three stories in height — and roughly humanoid, though other designs exist.
Each is equipped with a spherical lattice of silver studded with pure quartz crystals. This focuses subtle magical patterns into a simulacrum of the human mind, giving Automatons a simple intelligence. Technicians control them through linked quartz talismans. The artificial minds allow Automatons to function with only minimal direction, meaning a single technician can effectively command several machines at once.
Automatons are powered by the ambient magical energy that blankets the world. The constant drawing of power leaves them unnaturally cold to the touch.
Automatons are occasionally used for heavy labor in mining and other industries, but their original and primary use is in warfare, and everything about them reflects their brutal purpose. The chief philosophies that went into their creation were “might makes right” and “function over form.” Automatons are blocky, awkward, ugly, and completely lacking in any grace or beauty. They are violence incarnate, built to crush all who stand before them and their masters.
Automatons are designed to be the ultimate engines of war. Their sheer size and brute force make them nearly unstoppable by traditional weapons, and even siege engines such as trebuchets are generally inadequate to the task of defeating Automatons, lacking the accuracy to reliably bring down moving targets. Furthermore, Automatons are almost completely covered in lead plating that rebuffs magic. The primary purpose of the plating is to prevent enemy technicians from hijacking the machines, but it is also highly effective at resisting attack spells that would otherwise tear through an Automaton’s steel body.
Their favored method of fighting is to simply crush enemy soldiers with their feet, or occasionally their fists. When facing other Automatons, they beat each other into submission with their fists or whatever weapons are at hand, such as boulders or rubble.
Automatons have only a few major weaknesses. Most notably, their awkward and inflexible bodies struggle to cope with harsh terrain such as mountains and swamps. Forests can also prove a challenge, though the Automatons can simply tear their way through the trees with enough time. Automatons also require near-constant maintenance by teams of technicians to prevent rust and other damage from the elements. Still, despite these issues, Automatons are by far the most dangerous weapons humanity has ever devised.
History has shown time and again that the only way to reliably counter Automatons is with more or better Automatons. The only major exception comes in the form of the nomads of the Northern Clans, who have successfully rebuffed assaults by Tor Automatons with clever guerrilla tactics, but the rest of the world is mystified by how they’ve accomplished this feat. All attempts to replicate their success have failed.
Automatons first appeared in the city-state of Jansia many centuries ago. The Wizard Vorren, now hailed as one of the greatest minds of human history, developed them almost single-handedly over several years of study. Seeing their potential, the rulers of Jansia quickly began mass production of Automatons, forging a mechanical army of what was, at the time, unimaginable power. They then turned this army on their neighboring city-states and began building an empire.
It’s impossible to overstate how utterly one-sided the resulting wars were. Nothing like Automatons had ever been seen before, and no one had any idea how to defeat them. Every army that defied Jansia was crushed utterly, and some cities simply surrendered without a fight rather than face the empire’s indomitable machines. Entire nations were founded by refugees fleeing the conquest, far from Jansia where the Automatons were unlikely to follow.
In just a few short years, the Jansian Empire came to span what was then the entirety of the known world, and it remained a dominant power for centuries. Only when the secret of creating Automatons leaked to its few remaining rivals did the empire finally begin to crumble.
Ever since the fateful discoveries of Wizard Vorren, Automatons have defined warfare in the world of Barria. Even in times of peace, a constant arms race exists to improve Automatons. No nation is ever fully safe unless its Automatons are up to par.
Each nation has its own special designs of Automatons. Eastenholder machines are smaller and sleaker than any others. The proud Tors build their Automatons taller and sturdier than their southern neighbors. The eclectic Karkarans forge their Automatons’ faces into bestial animal shapes and sharpen machines fingers into claws, seeking to make their machines as psychologically intimidating as possible. The Urannans, ever in pursuit of the perfect martial form, have modeled their Automatons after their famed swordsmen, creating the most humanoid Automatons the world has seen, as well as one of the few Automaton fleets to be regularly equipped with weapons beyond their feet and fists. The Pirans, last broken remnants of the Jansian people, have the least Automatons of all nations, but their machines are tall and majestic, wielding massive steel quarterstaves.
More unusual designs of Automatons exist, as well. Quadramatons are four-legged Automatons built to support siege weapons and archer platforms. The Urannans have a variant on this design in the insect-like Sextamaton.
Rumor has it that the people of Tor Som are developing a new breed of Automaton that is far more deadly than any before it, but given the state of relative peace the world has been in for the last several years, this seems to be nothing but pointless fear-mongering.