The Hollow Earth Expedition game continued tonight with the characters, having escaped the underground lair of the “hungry ghost” Dai Pan and the arrival of Morana, the “Queen of Shambala.” She had made off with a finger from Anton Veitch, who has Atlantean blood and can activate their ancient technology. Following this the characters had used the gate in Dai Pan’s lair to pass through to the eye of Shambala, which was being unloaded from the airship Macon at nearby Moffett Air Field. The group was arrested by the shore patrol until the FBI and Dr. Lancaster of the Office of Scientific Investigations could come get them released. Veitch, missing his finger was admitted to the naval hospital. (Recap here…)

We opened the night with Zelansky and Lancaster talking about the situation. The local FBI office and SFPD were incensed over the fire in Chinatown that consumed three buildings and left dozens of Chinese gangsters (the On Yik Tong) dead. They were seen with another gang (the 17 Tigers) attacking the place and many of those gangsters are now missing. J. Edgar Hoover and RADM Byrd have cut a deal allowing the team to remain free and to cover up the incident under the guise of gang violence. The local FBI agent in charge had wanted to deport his team and hand O’Bannon over to the British. (Both the British and Irish have arrest warrants on him. He is protected in Shanghai only because the Sky Rats are agents of the Republic of China.) They are told to lie low and that evening they are put on a train to Los Angeles.

On arrive in that city, they are picked up by the OSI’s “Boston Project”, which Lancaster heads up, and given nice apartments in a new motel in Bunker Hill, the Ocean View (which it does not have…) It is the residence for the unmarried men of the project. The characters minus Wiley Post, who is not an OSI contractor and was staying with his wife (and the player was out for the evening), were taken to the Goodyear Airship Factor in Huntingdon Park. A separate building on the property, far from the airship sheds and company offices is the home of the Boston Project, and the facility they use is hidden under the grounds. After a security briefing and signing agreements to keep their mouths shut, they are finally showed the new home of the Eye of Shambala.

Lab B is where the scientists will be studying the Atlantean artifact. But next door in Lab C is where the fun stuff is — one of the Atlantean flying saucers, and the OSI reverse engineered version using “telluric countergravity” and gas-powered turbofan (jet) engines. The designer in Zebulon Edward Koenig, last seen in our other HEX campaign, a long lost associate of Nikola Tesla. He had stopped an invasion from the Hollow Earth in 1908 using Tesla’s telluric cannon, which destroyed miles of the Siberian forest, but had been sucked into the vortex created and deposited in the Hollow Earth. He had escaped with U.S.S. Los Angeles at the end of the last campaign, and now, which his daughter Erha, is working for OSI.

In addition to the saucer were a few prototypes of Erha’s “minifighter”, made by Curtiss: the XM-01 “Dogfish.” (The gearhead players really loved these things, as I thought they might…) We’re finally getting more super-science in the game: flying saucers, mini-fighters, and they think they’ve figured out how to use telluric energy (the earth’s electromagnetic field) to create antigravity, as well as a weapon (similar to the one Tesla and Koenig used to save the world in 1908.) Veitch was also interested in starting work on robots.

After their visit to the facility, the group returned to the Ocean View in time to join Post in his trip to the Burbank Airport, to see his new airplane provided by his sponsor Texaco. A new Lockheed Electra 10D with upgraded R-1340 Wasp engines. The plane is perfect for some of the ideas he had to push the boundaries of aviation. While there, they are approached by Mark Hooper, a stunt coordinator for MGM that knows Post. He needs pilots for a new film about to start filming. The movie is a love story set against the fight between an Italian sky pirate gang and a fictionalized version of the Sky Rats. Having O’Bannon and Veitch immediately got them an offer, and Cointreau parlayed this into getting a audition with the casting director.

With an excellent series of rolls, Cointreau found himself bumping Mischa Auer for the part of Moroni, the Italian gang leader and rival for the hear of Sophia, played by Merle Oberon. The lead, Cary Grant, is playing “Sky Captain” — obviously patterned on “Captain Joe” Porter, and there’s even a character that is obviously a take on O’Bannon himself, played by David Niven. There’s a young plucky mechanic who is comic relief played by Mickey Rooney (this drives Veitch nuts!) The story takes massive liberties with the final battle the Sky Rats fought against the Cavallieri del’Aria (Knights of the Air), an Italian sky pirate band the Foreign Volunteer Force took down for the Yugoslavian government in 1931. The asistant director of photography doing the aerial battles is a Dave Morelli, whose father supposedly told him stories of the Sky Rats and pirates…he’s thrilled to be working with them.

There followed a montage of vignettes: Cointreau doing well in his work, seducing Oberon only to be discovered in the act by her boyfriend, famed director Alexander Korda. Korda has complained to Mr. Mayer and it looks like Sky Rats! might be the Frenchman’s first and last Hollywood movie! Veitch has been getting close to Erha, while aiding in their work on the saucers and the Eye of Shambala. Zelansky has finally gotten the group paid well for their work, but the government has put their pay into an annuity (which is subject to the new 50% tax on their wealth bracket…thanks, FDR!) O’Bannon and Post are filming aerobatics, including a wing-walking scene where Pin-Li, posing as a David Niven’s character, jumps from one plane to the other to pull the “enemy pilot” out of the cockpit and take over. (There’s another pilot hidden in the plane…PIn-Li can’t fly.)

Finally, Cointreau goes to watch the aerial shoot during a break in his filming, only to find the boys are already up. Veitch is at the Boston Project, but Post and O’Bannon are flying Curtiss Jennies dolled up to look like the Aero A.12s the FVF had flown in the campaign against the Knights of the Air. The “emeny” planes, a Jenny made up to look like an Aeromarine AS, and a Curtiss R3C racing seaplane painted red to play the Macchi M.39 of the villain, Moroni, are joined by the film plane with ADP Morelli in it. The grip on site at the Burbank Airport says they were called in early for the shoot…and moments later Hooper and the other pilots arrive. What they hell is going on? That’s not the routine!

That’s because Morelli is the son of Andrea Morelli, the wingman to Marco Pasquale — the commander of the Cavallieri and a man that O’Bannon had shot down five years ago! O’Bannon remembers the battle — their battered Aero A.12s against the new, nimble Macchi M.71 seaplanes, and Pasquale’s M.39 racing plane that had been armed. It was twice as fast as they, just as maneuverable, and armed with twin .30 machineguns. In that fight, O’Bannon had shot down Morelli’s father, but Pasquale had taken his plane out. Captain Joe had managed to kill Pasquale’s plane by using the slower Aero to pull the faster Macchi in tight, then had rammed the tail of the racing plane to defeat the sky pirate.

It’s the battle that they are supposed to be reenacting.

The “bad guys” has actual bullets in their guns and Post and O’Bannon find themselves using their superior flying skills to try and outfly their opponents. O’Bannon leads the R3C into the canyons north of Los Angeles and manages to get that pilot to damage the plane badly. He then uses Captain Joe’s tactic, out-turning the R3C until the racing plane has to slow down lest it overshoot him…then rams the plane, sending it careening into the neighborhood below.

Post tangles with the “bad guy” Jenny, lopping them to get behind, then just under them before the observer shoots, taking their own tail apart. He then gets under them and nudges the plane into an uncontrolled roll toward the ground. (Post’s player was out for the night and Veitch’s player was rolling for him.) To keep the Zelansky and Cointreau players involved, they were rolling for the bad guys.

Cointreau knows the boys are in trouble and calls the Boston Project, getting contected to Veitch. He tells them about the dogfight and urges him to get out there to help.  He convinces Erha to loan him a Dogfish and together they fly out in the motorcycle-cum-airplanes to the rescue. Veitch arrives just as the plane Post flipped is returning to the fight, and strafes it with the Dogfish’s twin .30s, taking it down. Meanwhile, O’Bannon comes up on the “camera plane” with Morelli and uses his propeller to shred the tail, then follow the damaged craft down to land in the streets. He and PIn-Li were leaping out to face Morelli and his Mafia buddy as Veitch and Erha were closing in the Dogfish.

That’s where we ended for the night.

The Hollywood interlude was fun and focused on the strengths of the characters — Zelansky’s science and bureaucracy, Veitch’s invention, O’Bannon and Post’s piloting skills, and Cointreau’s attempts to break into the Hollywood scene. It also allowed us to do a playtest of the new dogfighting rules  for Ubiquity that will be in the Sky Pirates of the Mediterranean sourcebook we’re working on at Black Campbell Entertainment. I wanted something that was both simpler than the rules in the Secrets of the Surface World sourcebook, and captured the elements of a dogfight better: the jockeying for position that is key to setting up a shot, and how quickly that can be overturned.

Originally, when I started working on this adventure, I had thought to pull it back a bit after the sorcery and kung fu antics of the last few episodes. Instead, we went for more pulp goodness, just with airplanes, that allowed us to delve into the history of the O’Bannon character, which we hadn’t really done yet. The next session I decided not to pull back, again — I had wanted to do something with the Dust Bowl and Okies. Instead, I’m doubling down on our new villainess, Morana.

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