How to Role-Play RPG Skills

Posted by admin on August 18th, 2014 filed in Games, Science Fiction
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The key to completing your quest is to walk forward in a straight line for fifty hours, stopping along the way to look at, kill, and/or have meaningful conversations with various pretty things.” — (From http://project-apollo.net/text/rpg.html)

The Mad Adventurers’ Skill monkey is a pretty good podcast about RPG skills and how to roleplay them. You don’t just want to say “I jumped”, you want this jump to be epic and elegant!

Although the podcast is about an RPG that uses custom dice instead of d6/d20 etc, you can use these role playing tips for other RPGs too. You just have to know how to translate the Star Wars dice pool vocabulary:

  • When he says you roll Success, it means you passed the skill check and performed the action adequately. Similarly, to role a Failure means you did not perform the intended action, but you didn’t die, either.
  • When he says you rolled Triumph, think of rolling a natural 20. You exceeded expectations, make progress more quickly, maybe even assist a team mate. Similarly, rolling Despair is equivalent to rolling a 1. You botched the action, hurt yourself, and slowed down your team mates.
  • Star Wars also has additional die roll outcomes called Threat and Advantage that d20-based games don’t represent like that. You role-play these outcomes as minor environmental advantages or disadvantages for the team.

The fun part of the game mechanics in the Star Wars RPG is that these six outcomes are not mutually exclusive, they don’t simply cancel each other out!

Your performance in itself can be successful, or even triumphant, while at the same time exposing you to an unexpected threat as a side-effect. Similarly, you might fail the action, or even despair, but at the same time, you at least have triggered an advantageous side-effect for your team.

The rolls just point in the abstract direction you’re going, and it’s the players’ and GM’s task to spell out what that (triumph/despair, success/failure, etc) actually means. The podcast gives you tons of examples, check it out. (I like that the speaker is well prepared and has a perfect non-annoying podcast voice. But could you just turn down the loud background Muzak plz.) :(


Best Vacuum Tube Evarr!

Posted by admin on August 10th, 2014 filed in Hacks, Steampunk
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Back at the Kolbenova fleamarket, I got another steampunkish looking thing. I first thought it was a relay, but on second look, it’s not even vaguely similar.

6X6C 6h6s vacuum tube

I consulted a former classmate and electronics expert, who told me it’s a “tube”. Well yeah, I can see that, but what is it? Then I realized that he meant a vacuum tube… Duh! I didn’t know they could look like that.

After closer inspection, the tube has a tiny yellow sticker saying “л” and it’s labeled “6X6C”. Though the X looks like two mirrored C’s glued together. A quick web search informs me that it’s a Soviet 6Х6С vacuum tube. I learn that the label actually reads “6h6s”: The “Х” is an Cyrillic “h”, which identifies this as a dual signal diode. And the “С” is a Cyrillic “s”, which stands for “glass larger than 22.5mm diameter” (indeed, it’s 35mm). The “L” (л) sticker should have been a dead giveaway that the other letters are Cyrillic, too! The first “6” simply means 6 Volts. (Read more about Russian tube designations here.)

This type of duodiode has 8 pins on the bottom, but one seemed to be missing. The depicted base schematic tells me to start counting pins clockwise at the index notch. Now I see that pin 6 is not in use, it’s missing on purpose.

My electronics expert suggested I should identify the filament, because that’s the part that glows, if it still works. Page 3 of this vacuum tube table shows me that for this type, pin 2 and 7 are labeled “f” — filament? Since I didn’t have a voltmeter to meassure the resistance between pin 7 and 2, we decided it would be a good idea to… just put some current onto these two pins and get over with it. :-D

The spec says 6 Volts. Where do I get 6 Volts on a Sunday afternoon? … *looking around* … Hmm… My Bluetooth keyboard and mouse contain two Mignon/AA batteries each… 1.2V * 4 = 4.8V… Dang, not enough. Bah, trying it anyway!

OK. I have 4 loose batteries which need to be in series. Nothing a bit of sticky tape couldn’t fix. Next, wire: Luckily, any good Steampunk always has bits of brass and copper wire lying around. :-) Here’s the full setup. (Also note the stylish Portal-themed insulation!)
6X6C 6h6s vacuum tube glowing
Et voila, it glows:
6X6C 6h6s vacuum tube glowing small
Well, at least for a few seconds. :-)


I Have No Idea What I’m Doing

Posted by admin on August 3rd, 2014 filed in Hacks, Steampunk
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Since the one crafts shop I visited also sold leather belts and wristbands, I started contemplating Steampunk bracelets.

A clockwork bracelet is a good way to use up small, flat, non-fragile gears and pieces, that don’t fit on, say, a necklace, because they face the wrong way and only have one attachment point. I attached the small pieces to the belt holes by threading a nylon string through their central holes, and I used various tiny pearl-colored glass beads as anchors. This is what my first attempt at a steampunk bracelet looks like:

steampunk-bracelet

I had a second idea, a wristwatch-like bracelet that should either be a sundial or a compass. The catch with compasses is that most of them are 4-6cm in diameter — I find that too unwieldy for my wrist. Also, a Steampunk compass needs to look antique, but most compasses are made of plastic, or have very modern faces. I was looking for an affordable, timeless (optimally antique), tiny (optimally 3cm diameter), non-plastic (optimally brass) compass. Well, good luck finding that… :-(

When I had just given up, I found this keychain compass in a small store, literally 500m from my door:
silva-keychain-compass

Jackpot! At first glance, the plastic body and rubber shell makes it completely unfit for Steampunk. But the rubber is really just a cover, and it was easy to plop the compass out. The compass itself is of the simplest kind: A plain plastic disk, transparent, filled with a liquid, and unlabled. “Neutral” enough, I think.

I simply drew a picture of an old-fashioned compass rose, using an 8-spoked gear stamp as template, and placed it under the transparent compass body. The white foundation of the compass rose is glow-in-the-dark paint, by the way. As compass mount, I used a ring-shaped hose clamp from the fleamarket. The clamp also got two drops of glow paint, for good measure. Then I tied it all together with some white leather straps.

steampunk compass wristwatch
(The photo doesn’t yet show the copperwire and small fuses that I glued on later.)

Using such a tiny compass comes at a price, though: Any piece of metal causes interference! I walked 10 metres in what I knew was a northern direction, and the compass happily pointed 1st at the fridge, 2nd at my phone, and 3rd at the hose clamp — all of which were positively not north. Oh well.

Both bracelets are very much haphazard, but they were fun to make. :-)


Bring It On, Fleamarket!

Posted by admin on August 2nd, 2014 filed in Steampunk
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A Steampunk engineer needs some tools in his or her belt. Alas most of my tools look too modern. But trust the local fleamarket to provide a nice assortment of rusty scrap metal and steampunkish bulbs.
steampunk-wrench-gauge-relais
I wonder who else buys rusty tools, and what for? Do people maybe sacrifice unwanted tools as anode in electrolysis to remove rust from more valuable other tools? A man next to me even bought a wonky hammer for 50 cents, and he didn’t look like he was making a steampunk costume. *shrug*

I was also looking for a glass tube or test tube as an ingredient for a Tesla gun. Then I saw these light bulbs and fuses… and a light bulb appeared over my head: Soon, there will be nothing for sale but energy-saving halogen lights; lightbulbs will go the way of the dodo and the phone booth… Which makes them totally retro, and therefor Steampunk… right?
Steampunk-lightbulbs-fuses-glow
One of these bulbs even has the brandname Tesla on it! :-) My Tesla-gun plan is a bit on the back-burner, though, since the next Maker Faire I want to attend requires a plane trip, and airlines don’t allow toy guns (which is a pity, but understandable).

The tube with the whitish liquid is glow-in-the-dark paint from a crafts store. Can’t have non-glowing lightbulbs in the Tesla gun, can we? :-)

Today’s last Steampunk item was not from the fleamarket, but from a stationary store: An architect’s or cartographer’s drawing compass. The plan is to display it together with a dip pen and the wrenches/spanners in my engineer’s tool belt.
Zirkel-compass
Heyyy compass, U sexay! ;-)


I Accidentally My Business Cards With Gears

Posted by admin on July 22nd, 2014 filed in Steampunk
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You know your hobby is mainstream if… Stationary shops sell ready-made scrapbooker stamps with that theme! ;-) Behold:

steampunk stampssteampunk-stamps
I never knew people were into stamps that much, quite steampunky indeed. Though some of the ones I didn’t buy made no sense what-so-ever: A watch inside a pennyfarthing bike? A clock wearing a top hat? A metronome with a swallow stuck to it?! And a camera, a suitcase, a bottle, an Eiffel tower, and an airship — all studded with non-functional gears. :-)

Don’t know yet what I will do with them. Wasn’t planning on making a scrapbook. I’ll experiment on paper (some of the paper might accidentally be… *cough*business cards*cough*), and also with textile-prove paint on cloth and leather… One of these gears even doubles as a compass rose template, I just noticed:
Steampunk-compass-rose

Hmmm… And this vest over there looks like it needs MOAR GEARS stamped onto it…! (Remind me to add pictures.)

Source:


A Small ToDo-Tracker

Posted by admin on July 20th, 2014 filed in Technical Writing
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Looking for an online ToDo tracker for a small team? Try Red Booth, it’s got good mobile app support, and is free.

I was also looking for a simple offline ToDo List tracker on Sunday, so I tried Kanboard, which has very similar features. Kanboard is free, very light-weight (2MB), platform-independent, easy to install, self-hosted, and minimalistic (as in, it has only the most essential features). Kanboard is based on the Kanban board method.

The main idea of a Kanban board is to visualize the workflow. Typically, projects are delayed or fail because you underestimate the workload, and overestimate yourself. A Kanban does not prevent delays or project failures. However, a Kanban enables you to detect impending “doom” as early as possible. As soon as you see that you cannot complete a job in time, you can react and adjust your plans.

To get a quick picture, see how Henrik Kniberg explains Kanban in a smart little cartoon.

Kanboard Features

Your Kanboard can accommodate several users and track several projects. You split your work into projects, tasks, and subtasks.

  • Each project has custom categories and custom status columns. Projects contain tasks.
  • Each task is in one category, and has a description and a status. It has a due date and duration, one owner and one color, attachments and comments. Tasks contain subtasks.
  • A subtask is one line of text. Its status can be Todo, In Progress, or Done.

That’s it! No frills.

Kanboard Installation

Kanboard requires a PHP-enabled web server, such as Apache. You need to install this server and know how to manage its web root on your system. Depending on your experience level, this is the only complicated step.

  1. Activate the web server and PHP support on your localhost. (For example Apache on MacOS)
  2. Download the zip file from http://kanboard.net/
  3. Expand the zip file, and move the resulting “kanboard” directory into your web root directory.
  4. Make the “kanboard/data/” directory writeable for your web user (there is probably a more secure way to do this, but the following works):
    cd kanboard/ 
    chmod a+w data/

Setting Up Kanboard

  1. Access kanboard in your browser under “http://localhost/~username/kanboard/”. (The actual URL depends on what your localhost Apache URL, your username, and kanboard directory name is).
  2. Log on to kanboard with the admin/admin default account.
  3. Change the admin password.
  4. Create a user account for yourself (and possibly others).

Creating Projects

A good project is something concrete that has clear criteria. For example, “Install shelves in garage” or “Grow vegetables” are better project ideas than the very generic “Household” or “Gardening”.

  1. Access your Kanboard and log on as admin.
  2. Click Projects, click New Project, and provide a project name.
  3. Click Edit Board in the project list if you want to define custom status columns. Otherwise, keep the default status columns: Backlog, Ready, In Progress, Done.
  4. Create custom categories for your project.
  5. Back on the Admin’s Projects page, specify “Automatic Actions”!
    Kanboard offers simple but useful if-then event handling for each project. For example, “if ‘task creation’ in ‘backlog’, then ‘assign task to person who did the action'”.

Tip: Think of categories and colors as mutually exclusive subdomains of one project: Each task can be in one category only, and be tagged with one (of 7) colors only. Categories allow you track several simultaneous hobbies in one project, so you can compare the time you will spend on all of them. If you engage in two hobbies but track them in separate projects, you defeat the tool’s purpose of visualizing your overall workload (and you’ll accidentally allocate yourself 200%)!

I haven’t decided yet what I want to use the colors for – most likely priority/urgency levels. If you track teamwork, you can also assign a color to each team member via Automatic Actions.

Adding Tasks

If you kept the defaults, your project has four status columns for tasks:

  • Backlog: Your queue of open incoming todo items. They are possibly unassigned or non-urgent, are missing done-criteria or subtasks, or have no due-date yet. This column is typically very long.
  • Ready: Todo items that you intend to work on in the current time frame. They are important or urgent (due-date), and you have defined done-criteria and subtasks for them.
  • In Progress: When you start working on a task, move it here.
  • Done: When you’re done, move the task here. The project is done when all its tasks are done.

Break down the project into tasks and subtasks. Define each task with the thought that a task has a “result that you could show to someone”. Analyzing the problem, completing prerequisites such as readying parts and ingredients, designing a draft/boilerplate/pattern/stencil, or testing whether the “result” truly works, are just as valid tasks as the steps of the actual execution. Each step of the task is a subtasks that you describe in one line.

  1. Access Kanboard and log on as user.
  2. Open a project. Click the Plus button for the Backlog to add a task.
  3. Name the task. Under Description, describe the goal (what problem you are trying to solve), the stakeholders (who benefits, who is impacted), the method (how you want to solve it), prerequisites, and done-criteria (how you know that the task is complete).
  4. (Optional) Set a category and pick a color for each task.
  5. (Optional) Open each task, and add subtasks (one line of text each).
  6. (Optional) Add additional materials as attachments: Diagrams, drawings, recipes, videos, Excel tables, instructables, or related links.
  7. Drag and drop the task higher or lower in the backlog to express its priority.

Kanboard Workflow

While you plan and work, you switch subtask states from “todo” to “in progress” to “done”. When all subtasks are done, the task is done. You can update a task’s status quickly by dragging and dropping the task into the next column.

In Kanban, you do not only get tasks “Done”. You also regularly pull tasks from the “Backlog” and get them “Ready”. Similarly, you sometimes have to limit yourself, and admit that you have to return tasks to the “Backlog” (optimally, you don’t pull them in the first place).

  • If the “Ready” column is empty, define the missing properties of a high-priority “Backlog” item, and pull it into “Ready”.
  • If the “In Progress” column is empty, pull a high-priority item from “Ready”, and start working.
  • If the “In Progress” column is full*, you are slowing yourself down by multi-tasking too much. Time to re-focus! Limit yourself by returning low-priority tasks to “Ready”.
  • If the “Ready” column is full*, you have overtasked yourself for this time period. Limit yourself by returning low-priority tasks to the “Backlog”.

* What’s the definition of a full column? Officially, the limit is two items per person. For tracking my own relatively simply-structured solo hobby, I decided full means “the column no longer fits on the screen without scrolling”, which is 5 items. This includes “In progress” items waiting for paint or glue to dry.

You could also use Kanboard to track projects with a cyclical workflow, this means all “Done” items get pulled back into the “Backlog”. This type of project would never be fully “Done”, you would merely use the Kanboard to track the status of a recurring workflow.


Start a Web Server on Your Mac

Posted by admin on July 19th, 2014 filed in Mac
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Sometimes you want to preview some web content locally on your Mac. Maybe you want to browse a backup of your home page or blog, or you want to run a local web application.

In previous versions of MacOS, you simply activated Personal Web Sharing in the control panel, and you could access the content of “Users/yourname/Sites” in the browser. This option is gone in the current MacOS. The web server however is still installed. You just need to know how to switch it on. :-)

  1. Open the Terminal.app and enter
    whoami

    Remember the response, this is your name that you need to replace in the path and the URLs below!

  2. Start the web server by entering the following command (it will ask for the admin password):
    sudo apachectl start
  3. Open the Finder and copy your web content to “/Users/name/Sites/”. It’s okay to create subfolders under “Sites”.
  4. Open your web browser (by default, Safari) and browse to your local web URL (note the tilde):
    http://localhost/~name/

    You should see an index page or folder listing.

  5. To access a file such as “/Users/name/Sites/page.html”, or a directory such as “/Users/name/Sites/subfolder/”, the URLs look as follows:
    http://localhost/~name/page.html
    http://localhost/~name/subfolder/

If the webpage in question contains PHP files, they may show up as PHP code in the web browser instead of being executed. In this case, you need to activate PHP, too.

  1. Open the Terminal and edit the following configuration file.
    sudo nano /etc/apache2/httpd.conf
  2. Search for lines that contain the word “PHP”. By default, they are commented out by a “#” character.
    #LoadModule php5_module libexec/apache2/libphp5.so
  3. Remove the “#” character and save the file.
  4. Restart the web server.
    sudo apachectl restart
  5. Reload the PHP page on your localhost in the web browser.

PHP is activated until you comment the line out again.


Some Nice Engrish I Found in the Deutsches Museum Shop in München

Posted by admin on June 29th, 2014 filed in Linguistics
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SPACE RAIL is a suit-toy which could be assembled freedom with the base, SHAFT and RAIL… the STEEL-BALL could run on the two RAILs sometimes snail and sometimes scour, it is for adult playing indoor, you could assemble protean RAIL with your imagination, the main part of SPACE RAIL is four loops (STEEL-BALL run through the four loops one by one then enter into lift stage) also, it included some cliff-hanging part such as “big revolving part” and ‘stunt parts” etc, these special parts will catch the high-level player interest.

… What? :D

The box contained a customizable rollercoaster for marbles, made in China. Aha!

The “sometimes snail, sometimes scour” line has got a certain “cliff-hanging” je-ne-sais-quoi. It’s cool that “it is for adult playing”, if you know what I mean. … … Actually… I don’t know myself what I mean. How would that even work?? ;-)


Cleaning Clockwork

Posted by admin on June 21st, 2014 filed in Steampunk
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Real clockwork gears look nicer in steampunk costumes – but they are harder to work with. Many gears have long prongs or sharp spikes that limit how close to your body you want to wear them ;) Others are solid metal and there is no obvious way to attach them. I started out by sorting my gear collection into roughly four categories:

  • Large flat wheels with gaps (necklace);
  • Tiny fragile wheels (need a foundation, not too exposed, maybe on hat or bracelet?);
  • Tall funky wheels (stylish hat decorations?)
  • Wind-up keys (pendants);

This photo is a partial closeup of the broken clockwork straight off the fleamarket. A lot of rust and patina, but nice unique shapes and materials that you don’t get when you buy “100 Assorted Wholesale Steampunk Gears”. Mental note: Must repress the urge to wash metal with water… =-)
steampunk_gears_fleamarket

I found a nice kutilství (crafts and DYI) shop and asked for an anti-corosive agent. They recommended a cheap locally-made cleanser called Silichrom. You put a layer of this paste on the metal object, wait a bit until it dries, and then remove the paste. I used an old toothbrush (and wooden toothpicks) since most gears had odd shapes and I could not easily wipe off the surface. Silichrom removed most of the rust and patina, although I sometimes had to apply it twice for full effect.

steampunk_polishing_gears

The important step is to polish the metal with a soft cloth right after the application. I used a simple viscose cloth and some q-tips (and rubber gloves). Don’t use your favorite dish cloth (nor you favorite rubber gloves), because rust leaves drastic stains. :p The gears look nice and shiny now! Only close up you see some scratches.
steampunk_gears_polished

I already started working on a necklace, a kind of Charivari-style clockwork collar with keys as pendants. :-) The central gear looks super awesome, and I even got it unstuck, which means I can rotate the inner wheel in one direction, and the ratchet clicks into place.
steampunk_gears_jewelry
You see that this is where I used all the flat large gears. I had to cut off two prongs of the central gear with a hacksaw though. Next I need to cut and attach the chain, and decide what kind of fastener I want, but decisions about the collar’s chain depend on how it fits to the costume’s bodice.

Update:

First attempt – we’re getting there!
Steampunk-clockwork-charivari


Cool Steampunk Accessories from the Fleamarket

Posted by admin on May 10th, 2014 filed in Steampunk
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In order of coolness, here’s some stuff I bought at fleamarkets that make good accessories for a steampunk airship engineer costume.

Waterlevel, Wasserwaage, Heinrich LANZ AG This was sold as a “100-years-old” water level (Wasserwaage) at a fleamarket in Berlin. The text was not readable before I cleaned the area around the air bubble’s vial.

The writing says “LANZ Separatoren mit Neusilbereinsatz sind die vollkommensten”, i.e. “LANZ separators with nickel silver inset are the most perfect”. It’s an advertisement for the (no longer existent) German company “Heinrich Lanz AG Mannheim”. This company produced steamengine vehicles and airships in the decades around the year 1900!! Their coolest vehicle was the “Lokomobile”, a steam tractor used by farmers. Wow, this small antique is better than I had expected. Nothing is more Steampunk than (an advertisement for…) Lanz. :)

weird orb steampunk pocket watch I don’t know where these “orb” pocket watches are coming from all of a sudden? Probably a modern company mass-produces them, knowing that dumb Steampunks like me will buy them, although it says Quartz… (Admittedly, the first Quartz clocks were invented in 1930 — but they surely did not look like that.)

This particular piece of junk from the Berlin fleamarket displays Central European Gravitational Time. What is gravitational time, you ask? When you pick the watch up, both hands point to the closest source of gravity…! :-(

The watch contains clockwork and a battery, but it’s so cheaply made that the two hands are too weak to move independently, much less “uphill”. Oh well. It looks steampunkish enough for now, until I find something better.

steampunk lapel pin and badge This pin and badge are the best pin and badge ever! <3 One Euro per piece from the Prague Kolbenova fleamarket.

The lapel pin spells out "FS", which stands for "fakulta strojní" (engineering department). The F is a calliper and the S is two cogwheels! Very engineer-like. And the button badge is a super cool Jules Verne-style spaceship! Whee!

letov pin

The third pin is a little airplane / sword labeled Letov. Letov is short for “letadlo” + “tovarna”, meaning airplane factory. The Czechoslovak plane company Letov existed in the 1920s, so the pin fits the 1900s/Steampunk theme well.

I have no idea what these pins were produced for, but the fleamarket sure has lots of them. Is it an “congrats, employee of the month” kind of thing? In any case, if you look hard and dig through a box, you find some that work as improvised imperial aetherforce badges on your steampunk jacket. :-)

Steampunk pins: technometra, laborator, elektrokov, 2x tesla The next five are the best of the rest of the handfull of pins I got. They say, from left to right, top to bottom: “Technometra Benešov”, “Elektrokov Trutnov”, “Tesla Strašnice Závod Votice”, “100 let laboratoří VTŽ VŘSR”, and “Tesla Karlín”.

You can tell that I simply picked pins with words that sounded appropriate for an engineer. Four of the pins are from factories in the Czech Republic, followed by the name of a city or department. The same Tesla logo also features prominently on a stained glass window in Prague’s Svetozor passage. :-) The larger pin is for the 100-years anniversary of “laboratories”, but the seller could not tell me what “VTŽ” or “VŘSR” means. I found hints that VTŽ stands for ironworkers (“válcovny trub a železáren”), and VŘSR might be the abbreviation for the October revolution. *shrug*

I purposefully avoided pins that looked political, but abbreviations can get me. You gotta watch what you buy, they do sell pins at Kolbenova that would be “frowned upon in Germany”, if you know what I mean. Oh, and I got another one (not depicted) that turned out to say something about an insurance company. Not Steampunky enough. ;-)

cogwheels (clockwork) - Zahnräder (Uhrwerk) Hah! I just had to buy this! An old box with a smashed clockwork for ~2 Euros. Or several smashed clockworks? There are 4 hands in total.

The box contained two dozen cogwheels of different types, four wind-up keys, a few springs and pullsprings, and some tiny screws. (And some small broken things that surely had their purpose in a watch, but were not salvageable.)

The large item in the top right still has a pull spring and a tiny lever that gets pulled back. *presses lever!* :-) *lever pulls back* … *nothing more happens* :-(

Mysterious clockwork parts Are clockworks propelled by tiny horned dragons? :-o What are these things? They were also part of the clockwork.

Hmm… Maybe the moose antlers hold on to that one barbed wheel? …

What ever they are, I will find some good Steampunky use for them. :-)