I’m continuing my blog posts on Mechanicsburg, in the Girl Genius webcomic. It will probably make more sense if you start from the beginning.
A Bit More Setting
A lot of the Girl Genius setting is told by implication. 200 years ago, they had the Storm King who united Europa in peace. Then he was killed, and the Long War raged for nearly all of that time as Sparks and noble families vied for dominance, killing each other with armies and Mad Science. There were about 20 years of relative peace after the Heterodyne Boys rose to power and negotiated peace in Europa, followed by the Other’s war of destruction in which they disappeared, followed (perhaps five years later?) by the return of Baron Wulfenbach and the establishment of the Pax Transylvania under the Wulfenbach Empire.
The main story begins after around ten or fifteen years of general Wulfenbach rule. My own tabletop role-playing game story starts a bit earlier, as Wulfenbach is still becoming established and Mechanicsburg has not yet joined him, but will soon.
So what’s “told by implication?” That seems obvious enough.
Partly, a world of constant war is a world of refugees. Mechanicsburg is historically violent, awful and xenophobic. We only know a little of the Flesh Yards (Fleshyards?) and what they did, but you can bet that a constant stream of refugees to Mechanicsburg will be involved. And so a Mechanicsburg preying on refugees during the Long War is transformed to a Mechanicsburg preying on the tourist trade during peacetime.
The Circle of Blood (Mechanicsburg’s crime families) are driven underground when the Boys take power, but they’re not gone. One assumes that robbing or killing tourists and refugees is comparatively acceptable. And it’s also clear that the Boys have more limited power outside Mechanicsburg proper. You’ll find Jagers hanging around small towns in Maxim Buys a Hat, for instance, when they’re still not allowed in Mechanicsburg. It’s not just Old Man Death who isn’t surprised to see them. His daughter, his customers and the waitress all seem to think it’s perfectly reasonable for a couple of Jagers to sit and order food. This isn’t Mechanicsburg where they are forbidden, yet it’s easily close enough for them to be ready to assist Agatha. Old Man Death talks about how “young bloods from the area” used to ride with the Jagers. This is near Mechanicsburg, no question.
So it’s very likely that before most Jagers signed on with the Baron, that they were hanging around outside Mechanicsburg. Yet the Jagers are considered somewhat rehabilitated by the Boys. Which means they were forbidden from raiding other towns and countries.
Indeed it’s clear that there’s plenty of practical gray area here. The monsters and Jagers aren’t allowed in Mechanicsburg, but are fine in the basements and outlying villages. Castle Heterodyne has no trouble summoning monsters when it’s repaired, and it wouldn’t have constructed them from scratch. Carson is surprised to see Krosp yelling, likely because he’s so obviously a construct on the streets of Mechanicsburg, yet we see the horse-construct leaving the city gates and when the Fleshyards were destroyed the people of Mechanicsburg took the monsters in.
You get the impression of a Mechanicsburg with many monsters just below the visible surface, tucked away in cellars, living deniably on the edges, able to appear as normal people or animals and so on.
And so in my own campaign, that’s what we have. Monsters working in businesses if they’re out of sight. Market stalls catering to constructs if the merchandise is deniable or nominally for export. Constructs used by bandit gangs, if they’re careful to rob tourists or refugees instead of locals.
The Heterodyne Boys demanded their monsters take an oath to leave Mechanicsburg, and that oath is binding until the next Heterodyne — Agatha — takes power. Many, but not all, of the Jagers and a few other monsters (like Von Pinn) accepted positions with the Baron, but he’s not the one who made them promise to leave.
And that’s why crowd scenes when Agatha arrived had no constructs or monsters, yet crowds in the Solstice story have monsters and constructs. And you see monsters and constructs on the street in Ivo Sharktooth, if mostly Jagers. And of course the Monsters Guild story is stuffed with them. It’s set in the old Monster district, now the Hospital district, where the old Monster Guildhall used to be, but by then they have a restaurant specifically serving monsters and similar.
Let’s go back to looking at pages in order, now that we have more background.
When Zola arrives in Mechanicsburg, we get some of the clearest crowd scenes in the books. And if there are monsters or constructs there other than Krosp, they’re too subtle to pick out. No obvious monsters.
I’ll skip the various interior views of the Great Hospital since they tell us little or nothing about the town. And there are a couple of pages of talking to Carson and entering the coffee shop that are mostly noteworthy for more Mechanicsburg demographics. Herr Mitrant seems French, while Rinja is likely some kind of Scandinavian and one shop employee is black, and presumably of African descent. We see a fez, traditionally Turkish, in more than one coffee shop scene and they’re common in many Mechanicsburg scenes.
And post-coffee-shop they’re back on the streets briefly and we see the Doom Bell. But after that, it’s awhile before we see Mechanicsburg again.
After the crypt, we see Mechanicsburg’s walls and the Black Gate, marked as “trade entrance” with instructions to “invade in front” on a sign pointing right. Soon we get more group pictures with random Mechanicsburg residents, possibly its militia.
“In front” would presumably mean the main gate.
And then we skip street scenes of Mechanicsburg for some time as Agatha enters the castle.
But we’ll return there in our next installment.