Due to a fortnight’s absence, I needed to be rid of a character for what was supposed to be a week. Ordinarily, i just have people roll for the missing character and I run them as an NPC for the time the player is away, but for some reason I (foolishly) decided to just have him chucked from the scene by a bad guy with the intention of getting everyone straight back together after the fight.

It didn’t work that way. The other players assumed he was dead and wound up traveling off to Ultima Thule, where they met the new big bad, escaped, and were hiding on the private island paradise of their Vril pilot Shria, who they now know to be the youngest daughter of Emperor Mot, the ruler of Atlantis (and absolutely not the Max von Sydow Ming…no matter how much he looks and acts like him. Really.)

So come this week’s play, I have to either 1) give the player a new character until we can get back to him at some point…, or 2) find a way to get him to the island, 400 miles away. One thing is moving in favor of option 2 — this is a pulp game. Deus ex machina and outrageous coincidence are part and parcel of the genre.

So after establishing that the characters are taking a risk in staying on the island for a few days to rest, heal up, fix their aircraft, and plan their next move, we moved the scene to three days previously, and the Sanctuary, the cargo cultist home in the hulk of the SS Grand Pacific, missing since 1893, and the fight scene between them and the pirates who would later take the Sanctuary.

Gus Hassenfeldt is in the process of reloading his scattergun when Tongo, the gigantic henchman of the pirate king, Captain Trihn, throws him over the side of the ship. Gus doesn’t go quite as far over as they originally thought, crashing through the scaffolding and half-assed housing that buttresses the old ship. He passes out, only to be revived by a young woman as cannon shots tear through the place. Before he can escape, the ‘building”, module, whatever he’s in suddenly heals over and topples into the waves and rocks below! He is stuck with the young girl in a heap of wreckage, and he manages to free her, only to be trapped under water…drowning…

…then an alien face, beautiful and terrible at the same time comes out of the dark waters, and breaths life-giving into his mouth. He loses consciousness at some point, while experiencing the pressures of deeper water, strange music in his ears…then wakes in a dark cave that is lit by bioluminescent critters, with food and water waiting, and a strange figure in the darkness guarding him. After a while, he is visited by a group of creatures — merfolk! nereids! led by a crowned, powerful merman who identifies himself as Triton. He was rescued from Sanctuary because he was recognized. One of the mermaids emembered him as one of the people whose escape from the pirate haven at San Antonio allowed her to escape captivity of Captain Trihn, Triton’s daughter, Osha.

Triton’s people have been pursuing Trihn and his people since they were expelled from San Antonio, and that wretched place destroyed by the Vril (their companions Amon and Shria.) They cannot attack the Sanctuary effectively, but there are some of their kind that can — “walkers”, he calls them — but it will take time. Gus immediately leaps on the idea of trying to forge a coalition of people to put an end to the scourge of piracy, and address the issue of the Vril and the emperor there. He finds out that the merfolk can communicate over vast distances, and that they have heard there are a group of fugitives from Atlantis on an island a “few beats of the world” from here.

Gus manages with some judicious style point usage, to get the mermen provisionally on board an alliance, then Osha and one of her friends agree to take him to his friends on Avanda. He spends the next two or three “beats of the world” — the merfolk can sense the spin of the place and are one of the few creatures that can accurately tell the passage of time — on a kit-bashed catamaran, alternately under sail or drawn by the mermaids, to his destination. During the short voyage, he is entranced by their strange, alien singing, and by the time he arrives at Avanda, he and Osha are an item. After a reunion on the black volcanic sands of Avanda, and a “what the hell happened to you?” dinner, the group is interrupted by the arrival of an imperial sky fleet, led by the large war saucer Durga. 

The group scrambles to their new flying saucer, Agni, and their flying wing, and take to the skies under a fusillade of heat rays, and lead the bad guys on a fast nap-of-earth chase over the jungles and volcanic mountain of the island. They manage to evade capture and wind up hiding the saucer under the waves offshore of the island. After waiting some “turns of the glass”, they race away to find their friends in the flying wing, then travel to where the merfolk are based.

Floating on the surface of the ocean, they negotiate with Triton and his people, and plan a stealthy incursion into Sanctuary to remove Trihn and (hopefully) take the place back. With a few of the “walkers” — merfolk with legs (think Abe Sapien from Hellboy) — one of which is Triton’s son, Glaucus, they slip ashore and enter the hulk through a hole in the hull that leads through the old coal bunkers into the engine room.

In the dark of the old ship, the small group makes their way up toward the pirates and their confrontation with the pirate king, Trihn…

By pulling the last minute deus ex machina of having Gus rescued by the merfolk, it allowed me to introduce one of the beastmen of the Hollow Earth, and pick up one of the threads I’d dangled earlier but went nowhere. If also allowed them to finally forge some friendships, and let me address one of their recurring villains, the “chua te”, Captain Trihn. It also gives them the possibility of finally having some kind of base of operations that is near a possible entrance/exit to the Hollow Earth, the “Hole in the Ocean”; some kind of whirlpool that seems to be created by whatever keeps the Aerie of the hawkmen in the the sky.

The characters have already set on the idea of capturing the Sanctuary, then forging an alliance between themselves and the hawkmen (giving me another thread that has been dangling), and from there, looking to start opposing the emperor.

It’s Flash Gordon meets the Hollow Earth, but with mythological trappings. We’ve mentioned “sky riders”, pterosaur-riding Vril that are outcasts from Atlantis; there’s the barbarians and Amazons of Hyperborea, and the strange asura or demons of Asura ke Shahar — the city that the odious Ivora the Magnificent once ruled and wished to return to.

With these last two sessions, the campaign suddenly has an overarching goal and storyline, mostly thanks to the actions of the players, which will help direct how they explore the game world.