My son is heavily into steam punk. I like it, but I don’t know that I see it as all that different from other fantasy or sci-fi, and I generally like it all. But it occurs to me that different steam punk producers (writers, artists, programmers, etc.) see it differently. (Hang with me! I’m getting there!)
In the modern age - when we think of a “machine” or convenience, we generally expect a black box that takes something in and puts something we want out. But this is where some of the steam punk guys are getting things wrong. For example - If a steam punk inventor were building a pancake flipping machine, would he build a contraption where the pancakes went in on a conveyer belt, cooked one side, flipped inside the machine, cooked the other side, and the delivered the pancake onto your plate? That’s the kind of thing we would want today - black box. Add a bunch of gears and whistles, and it’s steam punk. I think steam punk and fantasy have their mind set on human or animal power. I think a steam punk inventor or fantasy enchanter would instead build a robot or a golem that would be taught to flip pancakes - at least a robotic arm that would wield a spatula.
Why does it matter? Well, if you’re trying to apply magic to technological issues/solutions, I think you need to put yourself in this mindset. Yes, in Fletnern, the dwarves have perfected a perpetual motion machine (enchantment) and they cast this spell on gears which then become engines. But everybody else, if trying to make a magical engine would craft a golem with huge strength and no ability to fatigue and then have that golem turn a huge crank. Or a golem ox that they could yoke to something and have it work. The ogres craft zombies and use them for nearly everything: porters, workers, guards (well, meat shields), etc. But on zombies, it’s a little easier because you’re forced to think of them in humanoid form.
It is more efficient to build the black box - fewer things to break and fewer parts have access to the outside world. But that’s how these guys would think. I personally believe that the change in thinking probably comes with the weaving machines, the ones that used punched cards. The idea that one machine could do multiple things depending on which punched card was inserted - that’s a pretty important change. Assuming your tech level is prior to 1800, no problems, go with the “man” power, not black box.
This might not feel like a major change, but the implications are pretty huge. Less likely to see “bombs” or tanks, and more likely to see automated ballistae and “knightly” golems. Honestly, it takes a little more thought, because we are all children of the tech age, but both the feel and the “coolness” of your game is vastly improved.