So, with the explosive (literally) end of the first part of our Dungeons & Dragons game, we swung a hard turn to 1930s pulp, reviving the Hollow Earth Expedition game that has been on hiatus since January. We’ve had a two session introduction.

When last we had left, the characters of that campaign had led a rebellion against the Emperor of Atlantis that ended in the destruction of “the Great Machine” that has held the Interior World inside Earth for years — a world turned inside out in a pocket dimension. (Read the recap here…)

This “Second Earth” phased its way out of the center of the world, passing through the Pacific side of Earth. Along the way, moments where the two worlds co-existed allowed for the transfer of people, things, strange islands, animals, etc… to be passed back and forth between the two worlds. Now settled in at 26º behind Earth in the same orbit, this “Second Earth” of Atlantia, has thrown everything for a loop. Politics, economics, war plans — everything is up in the air.

We started the “Second Earth” campaign with the characters meeting up in Shanghai (partly so I could use the sourcebook we worked so hard on…) The new cast is:

  • Edmund Zelansky, Ph.D.: Once the laughing stock of the archeological and historical community, many of his “crack pot” theories turned out to be true. The world was hollow, there was an Atlantis, and other aspects of his cryptoscientific studies were confirmed. Fresh from a “scientific” expedition in the Caribbean led by science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard, Zelansky has been recruited by Admiral Richard Byrd, one of his few defenders in the past and the man who headed the American expedition to the Interior World, to run a team for the new Office of Scientific Investigations, Byrd has been tapped to run. (Code name The Huron Project.) Stuffy, pedantic, but an amazing linguist, he is sent into the Orient — the heart of the new weird — to find things and technology to aid the United States.
  • Declan O’Bannon: The son of an Irish doctor, he was born and raised in Hong Kong until his father was conscripted into the war effort. Declan did his part in the Palestine Campaign, then was involved in gun running during the Irish Rebellion. Afterwards, he joined the Sky Rats — a mercenary force of aviators — in the Adriatic, and eventually joined his squadron commander, “Captain Joe” Porter in Shanghai. He is a hard-drinking man of action.
  • Anton Vietch: A Serbian born, self-taught mechanic and engineer, Vietch was too young to join the Black Hand against the Austrians in the Great War (he also can’t hit a mountain with a gun if he were standing next to it…), but served the Serbian national cause as a mechanic. After the war, he was recruited by the Sky Rats as a mechanic. He looks 12 at thirty, but he’s a brilliant and innovative designer.
  • Marcel Cointreau: One of the most famous “song and dance” men in Shanghai cinema, he often plays the cad in romantic comedies. His side gig is more interesting — as “le renard” or “the Fox”, a second-story man of repute in the city. He is joined by his sidekick
  • Ping-Li Cheng: A streeet urchin and professional fighter, he is a stunt man for the Tianyi Studios that Cointreau works for. He has been teaching Cointreau the ins-and-outs of the criminal life, while Cointreau is opening doors for him in high society. Their antagonistic relationship belies a deep friendship.

We started with a cat burglary teaser for Cointreau and Ping-Li, climbing to the 13th floor of a high rise in the International Settlement. The French actor is stealing from a fellow performer over a personal spat, dressed in his Shadow-like thief’s costume (including his red face mask with a Chinese sigil that was mistaken for stylized whiskers — hence “the Fox.”) He is almost out of the apartment when the actress, with her Shanghai Municipal Police boyfriend arrive. Shot in the arm by the cop as he is going over the rail of the balcony, he looks to have fallen to his death, but instead was able to drop from balcony to balcony to the awning over the entrance, where h slid down onto the hood of his Delage D8 racing car, a stripped down barchetta with a supercharged motor, in matte black and no lights, that is driven by Ping-Li. They escape the International Settlement, across Avenue Foch into the French Concession, and eventually get to the shiumen house that serves as the Fox’s hideout.

Cut to: Zelansky comes to Shanghai on a DC-2 flown by O’Bannon and Vietch after his connecting ship from Yokohama suffered engine issues. The Foreign Volunteer Force, or “Sky Rats”, is an organization Byrd recommended to get him up to speed on his mission to investigate the strange and unknown that has been left behind when Atlantia was born. They are attacked by Japanese Kawasaki Ki-10 biplanes — the Sky Rats are operating as instructors to the Republic of China air force, but are also mercenaries hired by Lady Chiang to protect shipping from Japanese “smuggling interdiction.” In the process, they shoot down the planes and escape to land at Longhwa Airfield.

O’Bannon and Vietch aid Zelansky in finding others to work for him, taking him to the Pearl of the Orient nightclub, where the owner Roland “Boss Banana” Kessik promises to find him folks. During some gambling at the club, they run into Cointreau — having shed his criminal alter ego — and Ping-Li. Eventually, the group go to party the night away and somehow this becomes the hapless Zelansky’s team.

The following morning, Zelamsky finds his first mission. The Times of Shanghai is reporting the disappearance of more people to “the dragon of Shanghai” — some kind of creature terrorizing the boat cities along the Whangpoo over the past few months. Gathering the group at the Longhwa Airfield, they go in search of information. Zelansky scours the newspapers to put together a pattern of where and when the creature attacks. Cointreau and Ping-Li establish everyone has seen the creature, but everyone has different descriptions; they are simply telling then what they want to hear for cash. A “night dirt lady” — the women who clean up the cans of human waste left outside at night and sell it to the nitrate factories — saw the creature, a large lizard-like thing.

Zelansky establishes the creature is active at certain phases of the moon. It should be active now! They rent a fishing boat from a Frenchman, get a bunch of animal tranquilizer from a drug dealer friend of Cointreau’s, and they rig a net to trawl for the thing, which they are hoping to lure in and subdue with chum that is laced with the drug.

They are partially successful. Eventually, the creature bites — it attacks the boat. A car-sized amphibian with rows of teeth, this Metoposaurus nearly capsizes them once they get it in the net. In the process of landing the thing in the net they nearly sink the boat, but in the end, they are in the papers the next morning for saving Shanghai from the monster.

Zelansky gets a local to taxidermy the thing and they send it off to the field museum at his alma mater, the University of Chicago.

This adventure was a prime example of a pilot episode for priming a game. You have a couple of things to do: 1) introduce the characters, so give them something to do that is in their wheelhouse. The teaser allowed is to see Cointreau in his natural environment, the Japanese attack on the plane O’Bannon, Bietch, and Zelanshky the same. 2) Give them a simple hook, in this case the monster, to band together against. Save the big plots for another day. 3) Get to the action quick (always good for pulp stories) andstart buildin gthe world in the spacesbetween action set pieces. The essentials for a starter adventure: a good teaser to jump them into the world, a social scene, an exposition scene, and at least one good action scene.