Since I’m supposed to be doing more creative work, now, I thought that I should show people stuff that I’m scribbling down from time to time. This may be part of a larger piece at some point. Hopefully it will be.
And the stuff about the steam-powered machine gun? Completely true. Mythbusters even says that the original would have kind of worked.
Winans Technologies is a medium-sized aviation electronics company located in Columbia, Maryland. It enjoys a cozy relationship with the Department of Defense that stretches all the way back to the Spanish-American War, when Winans Manufacturing gained several key contracts for railroad development in the Philippines. The company transitioned to airplane parts in the 1930s, and electronics in the 1950s: today it provides the American defense and intelligence communities with limited runs of dedicated, and mildly classified, equipment. It has the best kind of reputation in the spy community… it has more or less no reputation at all.
Which is odd, because in the 19th Century (and the real world) Baltimore engineer Ross Winans and his family produced some interesting entries in the field of Mad Science, including both a steam-powered machine gun (intercepted in 1861 by Union forces before it could be sent to the Confederates), and ship designs that would later inspire the Nautilus. And that is just in recorded history. In Secret History, pretty much anything is possible, if not exactly public.
In a straight Conspiracy game, Winans Technologies can easily be a weak brick in the Illuminati pyramid. It was, after all, founded by a family who were Confederate sympathizers in the American Civil War and who did extensive infrastructure work for Czarist Russia. Even in real life, that latter implies a certain relationship with the Okhrana. It would be entertaining for a group of PCs to decide that Winans is secretly a front for a conspiracy dedicated to having the South Rise Again, only to discover that it’s actually a front for a conspiracy dedicated to bringing the Little Father back to Holy Mother Russia. Especially when the PCs realize how complicated that makes things.
Moving along, a proto-steampunk connection works fine in a Conspiracy Weird role-playing campaign; Winans Technologies can be one of the companies that provide the Shadow Government with some of its more baroque toys (or your players’ toys, if they’re part of the Shadow Government). Know why there are no jetpacks? Because that tech is proprietary, not to mention running on coal. Same situation for submarines, although the mundane state of the art caught up with Winans’ Cigar-Submersibles decades ago.
In Conspiracy Horror or Conspiracy Supernatural games, GMs will probably lose the jetpacks – but they can still keep the century-old relationship between Winans Technologies and the federal government, and add cultlike behavior to taste. Generally speaking, the easiest way to make a technological device horrific is to change its power source to something nasty; if Winans’ revolutionary new stealth technology requires a few dead vagrants per unit to activate, well, that’s a reason for a sufficiently evil Shadow Government to keep things quiet.