This October, Wicked North Games is releasing a steampunk-western campaign setting called Westward. It uses the Cinema6 d6-based rules system (see their very successful Kickstarter page for a quick overview of the project).
I am one of the freelance game designers they’ve asked to contribute items and vehicles to their world. One of those items is an odd little thing I call a “water leech.” I thought it would be interesting to talk about the genesis of this particular device from a world building and design perspective.
Very briefly, the water leech is a portable water extractor and purification filter for use in Westward’s harsh badlands environment– something an adventurer can carry at his belt or in a backpack, and use easily whenever needed. Simply stick the intrusor end in a handy plant or cactus (or open water if you’re lucky enough to find any), give the hand crank a whirl to actuate the internal pump, and you’re in business with drinkable water. Not much, but you can extract and purify enough to keep going every day this way. You won’t be taking baths with the water it yields, but you’ll have enough to stay hydrated and cook some food with.
Thirst in the Desert
I hadn’t planned to create something like this. Most of my design work was focused on high-end steamechs with combat applications, some unusual vehicles used in the rough country, and the ever-essential weapons systems that go with these things. But all the while I’m creating mecha and vehicles made to travel over rugged terrain, I’m thinking of the Westward setting: an echo, if you will, of the American West’s deserts and near-desert areas.
Having lived and done my own share of adventuring in exactly those regions in my own lifetime, I kept thinking, “what do people do for water?” It cannot help but be a persistent problem and concern for the inhabitants of this setting. Westward’s premise is that man came to this planet from Earth almost four centuries ago, then lost most of their technology; things inevitably devolved on this resource-poor world. However, the memory of past tech is still around, as well as some of the engineering how-to (evident in the steam-tech)–and this gave me the germ of an idea about how Westwardians might solve the water supply issue for individuals out in the Badlands.
Fine Filtration, Revisited
I once was a tech writer in the fine filtration industry (think pharmaceuticals and semiconductor process streams), and learned more than the average person probably cares to know about ultra-pure water filtration. Add to this a widget I saw once that was a portable water filter for hikers to use, and the backstory of Euphrenia Filbard, an inventor on Westward, began to take shape in my mind.
Soon the water leech was born: a device created because the need is omnipresent, and there is juuuust enough advanced science knowledge around to create it. The leech is not common or cheap, but it does exist–a factor also dictated by game balance concerns. In this case I supply an industrial/political reason why the device is scarce (Euphrenia refused to sell rights to the device to a large corporation, so they blackballed her and her creation, with lingering effects). If I made water leeches too cheap and very common, everyone would have one, and there would be far less risk from the environment when adventurers journey off the beaten path. No, the device is useful–potentially too useful–and so must be limited in availability.
So, here we have a device that can make the difference between survival and death in the desert. It is something that smart adventurers will covet, because it can boost their odds of survival in wilderness situations. We also have something that is an inventive use of existing tech, perfectly achievable with steamtech-level technology, but aided in this instance by the not-forgotten knowledge about how fine filtration and osmotic filters work.
This, as least, is how I have conceived of the draft version of this device. I can’t offer more details right now, because, well, that’s going to be in the book, and things are still a work in progress. If you’d like to read more you may need to pick up a copy of Westward when it comes out. It promises to have some delightful surprises inside, and lots of novel adventuring opportunities for fans of this genre. Haven’t played d6 games yet? This might be a good one to start with.
At the very least, now you know what cool wilderness survival widget you might want to acquire when you have a chance.