Am I crazy? (I think so) I'm under the impression it is possible to reduce crew needed to operate a mech (or weapon) using steam powers.
I know it would work for a weapon given an animator, targeter, and discriminator. But could you add an automator (for reloading) to a steam cannon to reduce the required crew by 1? I'm pretty sure the answer is no, but gotta ask.
How about a clockwork puppet with an animator, discriminator and voice command? Could that replace a crew member?
Hypothetically, yes. You can manage all sorts of tricks with clever use of steampowers. The clockwork puppets would be *really* good if they were about Medium-sized and the party managed to score their clockwork puppets being awakened (I just know you're waiting for the 'however' here)
That'll be really expensive in steampowers, and you'll need someone to put in the maintenance time on them. Two coglayers, with proper application of their steampowers, may be able to do the work of four people, or, as DM, you could cut the party a break and just say they've got really well-designed mechs. For example, I've thought about a gravity-feed reloader for a steam cannon. You fire it, a new ball falls into place, and you're good to go on the next round, and they may just have to remember to get new cannon balls every few battles.
It might help if you shared what the party's setup will be in this game. Are they all on one big mech? Do they each have individual mechs? If so, are these mechs one-man mechs or do are they big enough to need crew?
As it stands, I can see a couple of different ways that might work well, but they depend on the situation.