Our game picked up last night with our heroes in Philadelphia. It was, at the time, one of the most important naval bases in America. It was also one of the hottest cities for the T-Men’s fight against bootlegging. It’s also the home of one of the character’s family.
For the last few sessions, we’ve focused on not just the characters’ attempts to put together a new expedition to return to the Hollow Earth and rescue their companions, but on family and loyalty. Doing this allows the players and their characters to connect to the game world in a way that simply being a wandering adventurer does not. Having a past, and having that past come back to slap you in the face is pretty common for most folks, and in a game setting it is a well of adventure — or at least dramatic — possibilities.
For our characters this has manifested in several ways:
Gus Hassenfeldt is increasingly isolated from his traveling companion, Dr. Gould, over the evils (perceived or real, at this point) in Germany. They haven’t been to the Reich, yet, so all their encounters have been with over-zealous German agents of the Thule Society. The creation of the Gestapo (and for our game, an earlier creation of the Ahnenerbe) and their fixation on Gould as the key to finding clues to support their volkisch ideology just feeds Gould’s distrust of the Nazis, while Gus — honest fellow that he is — wants to believe that it’s all some misunderstanding…that his countrymen can’t be spiraling into a sea of hate and violence.
David Gould has had direct dealings with his family in Spain. We got to call-back some of his history in the shape of his former lover, whose family chased Gould out of Spain a decade ago. She is now a powerful mature woman, not the idealistic girl she once was, and is now firmly in the Nationalist camp…just in case the Spanish Civil War comes into play. Gould’s family are PRR, Republicans, and his youngest brother flirts with the PSOE (socialists) but not seriously. His visit to that brother involved him trying to explain the Atlantean blood and the existence of the Hollow Earth, but his brother blew it off as an elaborate joke. Later, when Gould discovered the GPU’s “Special Department” of psychics was looking at his family, if they can’t get to him, and wrote to warn them of the dangers.
This led to a letter this session from the middle brother, a wealthy banker in Barcelona, who took his warning as evidence that his dishonored and possibly mad brother was causing problems for the family again, and warned him to not contact them again. His younger brother also seems to be blasé about the dangers the communist represent. They are well-off and not in Russia…what are the communists going to do, really?
John Hunter, or Giovanni Cacciatore as his Italian friends and family know him, has a reunion with his family to find out his father is a union president on the docks in South Philly (and tied tightly to crime there.) His eldest brother is in jail for bootlegging, his sisters married to an Italian restauranteur and an Irish Democrat poll boss in Fishtown. The family is keeping their heads down and out of the fight between the two contenders to replace “Sicilian Sal” as the Philly crime boss after the old man decamped for retirement in Florida. He also met up with a few of his friends from his time in “the Paperboys” — an Italian youth gang he ran in before the Great War.
After all this character building, they traveled to New York city with Admiral Byrd to meet a technical advisor to the Terra Arcanum, who had been studying their ray guns brought back from Atlantis. This turns out to be none other than Nikola Tesla, who has figured out how the crystal power sources work, related the Atlantean weapons to his own “electroforce” ray gun idea, and has come up with some theories on what exactly the Inner World is.
Tesla hypothesizes that the Earth is not hollow, but that some kind of “bubble” or pocket world has been superimposed inside the Earth — anchored there by our gravitational and electromagnetic field, perhaps even sustained by the same. The periodic appearances of islands, and other “openings” is this bubble bobbling around inside the Earth. He also had reverse engineered the heat rays, and after a few days, follows them down to their next destination — Lakehurst, New Jersey — there to create his own “cyclotronic electroforce” cannon for their ship.
At Lakehurst, they get a crash course in their expedition’s vessel, the decommissioned USS Los Angeles, sister to Graf Zeppelin. ZR-3, as she is also known, is berthed in the massive airship hanger with the damaged Akron, which is undergoing repairs after her close call off he coast. (In real life, the ZR-4 was destroyed in this accident.) Akron‘s XO and old airship hand, LCDR Herbert Wiley, is given command of the “LA” and is making ready for their trip to the pole.
Finally, they take the four day trip to the pole, stopping off the coast of Greenland to refuel off of a naval tanker that has an airship mast. On arrival at the pole, nearly blinded by the never-setting sun on the ice, they see a strange lensing effect and the Inner World! They also see the LZ-128 — the airship Zeppelin supposedly never built! — and a company of Nazi troops preparing to enter the effect. How did they get here first? How did they open the path to the Inner World (or did they…? Did they just wait for Gould to show up?)
LZ-128 or Deutschland and the troops forge into the polar opening even as they spot another airship approaching, the SSSR-V6. The Soviets have arrived, as well. After convincing Byrd to override Wiley’s safety concerns, Los Angeles pursues Deutschland into the effect, only to have the ship buffeted, spun, bent, and fall through the lensing effect to an uncertain fate..!
This campaign has been an exercise in ignoring my desire to present a more historical game. i trained as a historian in this era of European and American history, and I naturally want to show off the knowledge. At every turn, however, the push to ignore the realism and go for broke on the pulp flavor has worked. I like airships and nothing quite pushed the tropes of the pulp ’30s like these huge, graceful machines — so not only did I keep Akron alive for later, I introduced Hindenburg‘s never-built sister as a surprise opponent for the much smaller Lo Angeles. Hell, the LA is armed with a friggin’ ray gun while trying to travel to the Hollow Earth where the characters ran into flying saucers, merpeople and hawkpeople, and dinosaurs…nothing is offside anymore.
It also provides a strong bit of evidence that if you are going to run a pulp game, throw the history out when it gets in the way; keep it when it either helps with verisimilitude (like the descriptions i gave of the harshness of airship life) or gives you a strong adventure hook (the Spanish Civil War, maybe…)