Setpiece Battles #4: The Clock Tower

Not too many games actually have a fight scene set in something like a clocktower, but there are very few places I can think of that will actually fill this location’s signature brand of dynamism.  Ideal for Steampunk settings, a fight inside a giant clock fills the area with moving parts, crushing gears, swinging pendelums, multiple heights and the occasionally deafening blast of massive bells.

The Clock Tower presents an interesting challenge in the sense that none of the combatants can be sure of their footing, or their positioning.  While potentially less lethal than the Volcano in the sense that there’s no steam and poison gasses to worry about, the fact that the characters will be most likely fighting on top of a rotating gear or disc as other moving parts turn and grind around them can lead to disorientation.


  • Engineering – Oddly enough, characters with a good handle on how these thing work could figure out the safest path around the many hazards of the clock tower.  It also comes in handy when trying to rescue a friend whose clothes just got caught up in one of the gears… knowing how to disable parts of the clock tower to save someone’s life.
  • Athletics – Like in all combat athletics plays another great role here as avoiding heavy swinging pendulums and diving between gears comes into play.
  • Stealth – Given the cramped conditions of the Clock Tower, stealth is a hit or miss thing.  It might be possible to lay an ambush, or it might also be that the environment forces you to keep chancing your hiding place as a once “safe” spot spins into the path of a pendulum.


The first and foremost complication in a Clock Tower, aside from the moving terrain is the fact that it’s a rather cramped environment.  The lack of space limits the usefulness of polearms and other large weapons, and may also limit the utility of firearms.

Moving parts such as giant gears and swinging pendelums are essentially traps just waiting to be used.  For less bloodthirsty players, getting an opponent’s clothing to be stuck against a gear is enought to disable him… though most others will probably prefer to crush their opponents between the gears in a messy death.

The nature of all these moving hazards only plays up the usefulness of movement abilities, whether it’s 4e’s push/pull/slide mechanics, or any other system’s methods of controlling the battlefield.

For a sudden change of pace, consider being able to burst through the clock face from the inside, leaving the combatants dangling by the clock’s arms by an ill-considered bull rush by the opponent.  Fighting while struggling to keep your balance and grip as to not to fall to your doom is a powerful combat motivation as any.

Another unforseen complication is the possibility of it actually striking an hour, and the massive bells ringing while the combatants are inside.  Such an event can come as a nasty surprise to the unaware, and may leave some or all the combatant stunned as they try to recover from the stunning effects of a sonic assault of that magnitude.  A persistent deafening effect would be interesting as well just to complicate things as characters can no longer exchange information via conversation in combat relying on responding instead on what’s happening in their line of sight.


While certainly a great place for a Steampunk game to have it’s epic last battle against the cunning master criminal, there’s certainly enough space for this setpiece to take place in a fantasy setting (in a clockwork automaton), and also a space opera (a strange alien timepiece that functions on using arcs of electricity and floating crystals on strange slowly oscillating platforms)

4 thoughts on “Setpiece Battles #4: The Clock Tower

  1. In the Call of Cthulhu campaign “Horror on the Orient Express” there is a excellent set piece battle in a clock tower in Vienna. It really captures the terror of a dark room with large bits of machinery moving around. Especially when the mechanism goes haywire.

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