Flintlocks & Fireballs
“A what, now? Look, you can have a gun or a clock, or both. Why would I make one from the other?”
The current state of affairs in the south is about analogous to the western hemisphere in the late 1800s / early 1900s in real history, though firearm technology has lagged behind a little. There also exists Magitech, which can replicate pretty much anything modern or sci-fi technology can do. Magitech hasn’t been mass-produced in the same way that regular stuff has, however: you’ll never see an armada of flying magicopters or a whole platoon armed with spellguns. No, most of what has affected peoples’ lives has been regular old mundane technology.
Steam trains are a fact of life now, with the most famous being the Northern Line that crosses the Barrier Wastes to the Northern continent: perhaps undeservedly so, as these days rebel attacks have made its running unreliable. Trains have yet to break thirty miles per hour, but that still means that you can move from one city to another over the course of a day, rather than a week.
The automobile is in its infancy, but, alongside motorbikes, is rapidly being deployed for military purposes. The horse remains important elsewhere; hansom cabs are still the best way to get around a city. Travel by barge is also a big industry, and the Empire’s pursued a campaign of canal-building for moving things like lumber and ore.
Airships have been developed, but they’re emphatically not steampunk airships. They’re slower than trains or ships, full of flammable gas that makes them very vulnerable to attack, and basically their only military use is scouting. Their main civilian use is in cutting across mountains or other hostile terrain (they were instrumental in laying the Northern Line railroad, for example.)
The newest high-tech superweapon is the repeater firearm, which uses the force of firing the bullet to eject the casing and load the next. Even bolt-loaded rifles have yet to distribute themselves among the population: most civilians are only able to lay their hands on older technology, like breech-loaded muskets or flintlock pistols.
Blackpowder is expensive stuff, and so firearms have not been completely superceded by melee weapons: cavalry especially still cherish their sabers, as do skirmishing infantry. Smokeless powder is still new and experimental, so automatic weapons are likewise unique and experimental (and getting ammo for them is hard.) The howitzer and its exploding shells are the current pinnacle of military might, but are very reliant on the skill of its crew in moving and setting up: howitzers are very difficult to deploy quickly, and whenever they have previously been used offensively the gun position has been swamped by infantry before it could fire. They remain fiendishly powerful defensive weapons, however.
The time when armies wore armour as standard-issue is passing: the industrialisation of warfare means that the logistics of large numbers of troops can be managed, and the benefits of moving those groups around without them getting tired far surpasses the benefit of putting them in tiring and costly metal suits. Small individual groups, however, have no such restriction and can commonly be found suited up in anything from light leather baldricks to full-body plate.
Mechanisation hasn’t completely caught on, but big factories are definitely the order of the day. The technology for mechanisation exists, it’s just not yet become cheap enough that it’s widespread. Factory work is very harsh if you’re working on the factory floor.
It’s good for clocks, but that’s about it.
Standard of living
There is, as always, a wide scale of living conditions, from cramped tenements or tumbledown farmsteads to plush mansions. Things are getting better, however: even the working classes can have meat once a week and Sunday off. On the other hand, under the Empire they’re far from free, and the poor are ruthlessly exploited; not as ruthlessly as the Dwarves, though.