Monday, January 30, 2012

Dwarven Tanks

I'm not sure if I've mentioned this in the past, but I'm a huge fan of oldschool Final Fantasy games. Any numbered games X or prior are great, but IV, VI, VII, and VIII are my favorites by far. Amusingly, I've never really had a taste for western RPGs of the video game variety, such as the Elder Scrolls series, or Mass Effect games. They much more closely emulate my one true love--tabletop games--but I think there's a sort of "uncanny valley" effect for me. I like linear games, and I like games with true tactical infinity, but games which emulate tactical infinity without actually giving me infinite options can just be frustrating.

I think it was on my second or third play-through of Final Fantasy IV when I had this idea. There's a point, about halfway through the game, after you steal the airship from the evil city-state of Baron. The heroes must fly into a giant crater which connects the surface world to the vast underground realm of the dwarves. Almost immediately you find yourself in the middle of a pitched battle between the Baronian airship navy, and the land-based dwarven tanks.

The tanks make a few more appearances throughout the game, and the idea intrigued me. I am apparently not alone in this, because both the Warcraft and Warhammer franchises employ dwarves with tanks. Perhaps it's because the race themselves--short, squat, and unimaginably tough--fundamentally resemble tanks. Whatever the reason, I decided that dwarven tanks would make a great addition to my D&D games. However, I'm not a huge fan of including technology in fantasy games. It can be a fun twist for a setting, but as a general rule I like the most advanced technology in my games to be a crossbow. So the challenge was to create a dwarven tank which didn't rely on technology, but also did not rely on an excessive use of magic, since dwarves would probably find distasteful. This is what I came up with. Lali-ho!

The Dwarven Tank

The main body of the dwarven tank resembles a boxy steel shell, longer than it is wide. Along the bottom edge of the shell are small steel sheets, attached to the shell by hinges. When the metal sheets are raised, one can see that there are four large iron wheels supporting the shell, and that it otherwise has no bottom to it. On top of the shell, in the center of its surface area, is a large flat disc, and from that disc protrudes a long cylindrical barrel, 7ft long. On both ends of the long shell are small protrusions, the purpose of which is not readily apparent.

As large as the dwarven tank may seem from the outside, within things are positively cramped. Each tank employs crew of 11 of the strongest dwarves available. Six dwarves serve as "movers," two dwarves serve as backup movers, one dwarf serves as spotter, one as driver, and one as hammermaster. Since the tank has no bottom, all eleven dwarves must walk in unison with the tank's movements, which is surprisingly difficult for a large number of dwarves to do within such a cramped space.

The six movers are divided three to each side, where they take hold of sturdy bars mounted into the inner-walls of the steel shell. Their task is simple: push in unison, either forward or backward, according to the instructions of the driver. The six movers are rotated in shifts with the two backup movers, to ensure that no dwarf ever spends too long at the strenuous task of moving the behemoth dwarven tank.

The two protrusions at either end of the tank are periscopes, which are used by the spotter to give instructions both to the driver, and to the hammermaster. The tank completely lacks windows , or openings of any sort save the flaps at the bottom of the tank, so without the spotter and his periscopes, the dwarven tank crew would be blind. The driver stands at one end of the tank, where a number of controls are mounted. A wheel for steering, various pulleys to raise the metal flaps to help the tank move over obstacles.

The hammermaster mans the gun, or the "Shock-Put" as the dwarves call it. He uses a pair of heavy cranks to adjust the vertical angle from 0 to 80 degrees, and the horizontal angle up to 180 degrees. These cranks are adjusted according to instructions from the spotter. Once the gun is aimed correctly, the two movers currently off-duty take one of the "shock rocks" from the large bin on the opposite end of the tank from the driver. The shock rock is then loaded into the bottom of the shock put, which is then sealed.

The seal of the shock-put holds the shock rock in place while the hammermaster prepares his swing. When the crew is ready to fire, the hammermaster takes up a large two-handed warhammer, and strikes the the bottom of the shock-put, where a piston is mounted. The piston has a special permanent explosive rune enchanted on the inside, which strikes the shock-rock with all the force the hammermaster can transfer into it. The resulting explosion, which varies in strength based on the force with which piston is struck, sends the shock-rock careening out of the shock put at fantastic speeds, often flying as far as five or seven hundred feet when struck by a skilled hammermaster.

Most dwarven tank groups also carry a small supply of explosive shock rocks, which are themselves covered in explosive runes. These projectiles cause significantly more damage, but are difficult to create, and thus not used as frequently.

It is said that once, long ago, a great dwarven king built a mithril tank which, due to its relatively light frame, could move twice as fast as most dwarven tanks. However, due to the rarity of mithril, this tale is often dismissed as a fabrication.


  1. Final Fantasy IV, VI, and VII have been some of the biggest influences on my gaming. Final Fantasy I was the first video game I finished.

    I've also had a soft spot for the idea of prestige classes ever since I saw Cecil go from a dark knight to a paladin (the Shining Force series is another early favorite of mine, and it also had promotion mechanics). I have never really seen this done justice in an actual table top game, despite the profusion of prestige classes, paragon paths, and the like in many RPGs now.

    I like your non-magical take on the tanks. Maybe, if you want to give the dwarves a more sinister aspect, you could have them use goblin slaves.

  2. That should have read: "non-technological take on the tanks."

    1. Cecil's class change was an inspiring moment for me as well. Perhaps some replacement for prestige classes based on that model could be something I work on in the future!

  3. I really feel like the hammermeister should be operating a giant hammer on a torsion arm.

    1. That...that would probably be much more efficient.

      I'm officially going to explain that one with "dwarven pride."


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