The Machine is on the very bottom level of the asylum. It’s a thirty-foot sphere of iron and bronze, resting on claw-like legs and having scores of pipes and cables feeding into the top.
Pistons protrude from the upper hemisphere, working in and out; there’s a huge, rhythmic booming sound as if of a giant pump at work. There’s an equator of transparent material across the middle, where strange, shifting lights continually gleam through. On the top center there’s a metal apparatus holding a huge crystal so that it’s pointed down into the sphere.
Some of the cables cluster together at a control podium on the catwalk above. The podium has levers and valves. The pipes and the rest of the cables run up to the second-level balcony.
The balcony is lined with rows metal coffins, each with pipes protruding from the bottom. Nothing is visible through the portholes on the coffins except a luminous green mist.
What it does
When patients have been made mad enough by the doctors’ experiments, they are led here and placed into one of the coffins. The unholy science of the machine then siphons their madness in the physical form of an oily green gas. This is no treatment; rather, patients who are fed into the machine have usually been made into powerhouses of insanity – the machine harvests the supply that’s being continually produced by their broken minds. Shudder Island does not exist to treat patients, but to farm them.
The machine pumps gasseous madness into canisters for shipping. Madness is a magical ingredient necessary for the warping of an ordered reality, and also a power-source for reality-defying “mad science” devices.
Proximity and Contact
Proximity to the machine causes mild symptoms of madness. This can either be because of fumes constantly escaping from the pipe seals, or because the operation of the machine produces a vibration of madness in its immediate area. (This is a good way for your players to get a clue as to what the machine does, or at least what the gas does)
Direct contact can cause permanent insanity – in addition to the more conventional dangers of the moving pistons and the high energies flowing through the cables and crystal apparatus. (this has good applications for hilariously pushing an enemy off the catwalk and onto the top of the machine during a fight, or threatening to push someone up against it as an interrogation technique)
The Control Podium
The levers and valves are too complex to understand without a good Mechanic roll, and attempting to shut the machine down is just as likely to overload it – this is mad science, after all, and the technology is hardly perfected.
Pipes and gas
The pipes can be easily punctured with a tool like a pickaxe. Or in the event of an earthquake/demolition/other disaster, seals may crack and jets of gas escape. The island gets its name because of frequent earthquakes, so technicians are equipped with gas masks.
The gas is heavier than air, so in the event of a rupture the room will fill from the bottom up.
Breathing the gas makes you insane. You can show this effect by having it hit a disposable NPC before it reaches the party. Find a good balance between how long the gas takes to do its work and how quickly it moves; depending on your group, fast-moving insta-mad gas may either be frustrating or thrilling.
These are the poor souls from whom no more madness could be farmed. However, so far from being cured, these patients are simply empty; they were made mad, then the madness was drained from them, and in the process, the machine has hollowed out their very souls.
They work on the machine like zombies, unthinkingly responding to the orders of the technicians or the signal to change shifts. They will not react to the PCs but only to the technicians’ command words. (This can make for a spooky encounter if the PCs find the laborers’ barracks before they find the machine room itself.)