Roleplaying Games


Last night we picked up our Hollow Earth Expedition game after a fantastic batch of spaghetti (seriously…) right on the heels of the Astor House Job. We opened with a rainy, foggy morning in Shaghai, with Anton Vietch — the young Serbian inventor and mechanic for the Sky Rats taking his Mk I coilgun for a test run. One of the elements of the character is that he is the total gun bunny — perpetually trying to find “the best” to over come his flaw CAN’T SHOOT (which gives his Firearms skill a -2D.) He runs through the 10 shot battery charge and absolutely destroys the old post he’s using for practice. The gunshots (the rounds break the sound barrier hard enough that strange tongues of fire and conical air disruptions are easily visible) and Vietch exultation at finally finally having hit something bring the flyers out to watch. At the end of it, Vietch gets some operating cash from Colonel “Captain Joe” Porter to develop one for their aricraft — the whole system is lighter than their .30 cals and 20mm cannons, one you add in ammo.

Cut to Edmund Zelansky, PhD and head of “The Atlanta Project” — one of the main programs for the newly-formed Office of Scientific Investigations. He had contracted for the B&E on his German competition, Obersturmbahnfuhrer George Werner of the Ahnenerbe. With the photos from the Minox Riga spy camera developed, they piece together the Nazis’ intentions in China:

Werner is here at the express orders of Reichfuhrer Heinrich Himmler of the SS to find and either abduct (or convince the Chinese to do so for the Nazis) a tulku from Tibet, Rinchen Chudak. This holy man had been one of the 13th Dalai Lama’s confidants and was the man who convinced him to allow the first team of explorers through the Eye of Shambala. The Nazis think it is the key to getting to the Second Earth, Atlantia (once the “hollow earth” or “interior world”…) Werner had tried to convince the Tibetans to let their science teams use the Eye, but it has been hidden away. Chudak most likely knows where it is, but he has not left the Potala Palace until just a few weeks ago, leading one of a dozen teams into southwest China to try and find the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama.

Zelansky immediatley sets off to gather his team!

Cut to Marcel Cointreau, famous actor of the Shanghai cinema scene, and secretly the cat burglar known as “the Fox.” He wakes in pain, his leg and arm bandaged from his close escape from the Shanghai Municipal Police the night before. He is on a rickety boat, one of the hundreds that make up a boat town on the Whangpoo River. This is the Pin-Yun Bang — the boat people that his friend Pin-Lee Cheng belongs to. He has gotten medical care for his injuries, and Cheng is upset he almost got himself killed. The martial artist and stunt man suspects over the gold sovereign in his pocket. He stole from the Nazi last night, didn’t he?

Worse, his drop off of the spy camera and film had been mistaken by the cleaning staff for a burglary attempt. He had almost been cornered by the police, but managed to effect his escape, nearly passing out at the wheel of “the Bullet”, his stripped down Delage D8S barchetta. Now it’s all over The Shanghai Times and Le Jounal de Shanghai — he was prevented from his robbery by a Sikh policeman and is injured. Hospitals are on the look out for him, and even the French garde municipal, which ignores crimes committed in the International Settlement, are looking for “the Fox’s dark, fast escape vehicle.” (Which is currently under a tarp amongst other trade goods and boxes the boat people have along the quay.) It might be time to take a break, the martial artists suggests.

After breakfast and some opium to dull the pain, they take a rickshaw to pick up his normal Delage touring car from his hideout in the Native City and head back to his place so he can rest.

Menawhile, Zelansky takes a rickshaw to find his people only to have an unexpected guest jump in while waiting at an intersection. It’s Werner, and he’s very pleased to meet Zelansky. He makes some light small talk about looking for the Chinese Secondhand Store to buy the ladies back home some gifts from the Orient…oh, is he getting use of the information his thief stole? The man was quite good — only two mistakes, and only one really let Werner know the game was on. He stole a gold sovereign from his briefcase; a trophy, he supposes. Anyway, he just wanted to meet his opposite number and let him know the score — out of professional courtesy. He then dismounted at the next stop light and went back to the Mercedes that had been tailing them.

Zelansky’s rickshaw, meanwhile, had passed the Cathay Hotel, where he missed Flight Lieutenant Declan “Irish” O’Bannon, with Captain Joe and Ting Mai, their resident Chinese aviatrix, entering the place. they are hear to meet Madam Chiang, the wife of the generalissimo and the curent head of the Aeronautics Bureau. Their boss. The Japanese have lodged a formal complaint and are making “act of war” noises over their strafing the IJN Tokozuru. She understands their bloods were up after their comrade was killed a week ago by a Japanese naval air patrol near Tsingtao, and they did what they were hired to do: protect Chinese trade. The Republic of China has responded that the Japanese were engaged in blatant aggression and piracy against legitimate shipping in Chinese waters. They are, however, using the Sky Rat’s mercenary status to distance China from the actions of the Foreign Volunteer Force (the Sky Rats.) The FVF will be fined for their actions, and she suggests the Ting and O’Bannon lie low for a few weeks.

Zelansky can’t find Cointreau, and when he goes to the Longhwa Airfield, Irish is gone and so is Captain Joe, but Vietch returns a few minutes later from his shopping trip to pick up the materials to make a new coilgun. Intrigued by his work, Zelansky and he work out some of the issues together and build a vehicular version of the weapon with a fast-charging capacitor for full-auto fire. Now to put it on a bird and test it!

Cointreau drives hom only to find there are goons from the British gangster “Diamond Jim” Greer. Greer is upset at the large amount of money he lost to the Frenchman at Pin-Lee’s fight the day before; his henchmen are there to get “something” back.  They spot each other and the chase is on! The heavy, but supercharged straight-8 powered Delage has the serious edge on the gangsters’ Citroën 7CV Traction Avant Berline (with a four banger generating 34hp!) but Cointreau is flying high on the Royal Oil, there’s traffic, and the ground is slick from the rains which favors the front-wheel drive Citroën. They race through the streets of the International Settlement and around the Recreation Grounds, the mooks blasting a .38 special at the car. Five round go into the trunk of the Delage (only one actually penetrates), and one almost hits Cointreau through the window.

A sudden clear spot allows him to use the supercharger and dodge the thick traffic, but the Citroën isn’t so lucky, bouncing off of the electric tram in the middle of the road and doing a 360 through a manure cart and its horse. He admits, Pin-Lee’s right; time to get out of Shanghai for a few days.

Everyone finally gets together at the Sky Rats’ HQ and Zelansky lays out the next mission. they have to beat Werner to the province of Qinghai, run by a Chinese Muslim socialist general from the highly powerful “Ma Clique”, and save the tulku from the Nazis. And hopefully find out where the Eye of Shambala is. The town they need to go to is Jyekundo — about 1300 miles west. That’s a 13 hour flight (the equivalent of some of the endurance racing airplanes are doing), if they had the teams and waypoints ready. Much of the interior is like going back to the medieval period! However, Werner is supposedly going by boat. that will take him 10 days. Even with stops to fuel and rest, they can fly there in two days.

They are taking the Douglas RD-3 Dolphin seaplane for the mission. It can hold six passengers and their gear, and can land just about anywhere. they decide to big up the new Mk II coilgun to the forward hatch, just in case. By sunset, they are ready. As they are working, they realize that a large group of men, 10 or so, are loading onto the Boeing 247D that one of the local cargo haulers operates. It’s Werner and he team. This race is already shaping up to be a lot tighter than they expected!

The two teams take off at about the same time, into a clearing red sky. Who will win!?!

The first part of the adventure, the Astor House Job, took a bit longer than I’d intended the other night, but the character bits — the gambling on Pin-Lee that led to a new foil in Diamond Jim, the getting shot by the police and the feeling of the law closing in, and the having to have a prize from the break-in — allowed Cointreau’s player to build a bunch of new issues for the team. The Nazis know they are onto them and that has led to a straight up race to Qinghai. There’s a completely unrelated threat from a low-level gangster and fight promoter. We got to see Pin-Lee’s boat people and also see the usually abrasive and arrogant fighter (based on the very young and cocky Bruce Lee) acting with reverence and respect for his elders. We’ve got weird science!

For only the fourth night, the campaign is running well and has easily found its footing and pace. I’m right chuffed.

Oh — new gear:

Douglas RD-3 Dolphin

The Dolphin seaplane is being used by the US president as an air yacht, and the US Navy and Coast Guard both use them for search and rescue. The Vanderbilt family has two. The aircraft is powered by twin Pratt-Whitney R-1340-1 9-cylinder rotary engines, it can seat six passengers, and has a range of about 680 miles with a ceiling of 15,000 feet. The FVF has one for cargo and observation flights called Rudy.

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Rudy, a Douglas RD-3 Dolphin: Size 4   Def 4   Str 12   Spd 150   Han 0   Crew 2   Pass 6

The Vietch MK II coilgun: See the MK I coilgun except this one is tied to a vehicular-mounted battery and alernator set-up that fast charges the coil capacitors. The stats are the same, except the Rng is 500′, Cap is 500 (a hopper of 12mm ball bearings), and the Rate is A. If unplugged from the vehicle, it’s a Mk I gun.

The Citroën 7CV Traction Avant: Size 2   Def 4   Str 8   Spd 60   Han 0   Crew 1   Pass 3

The 7CV came in a two and four door version (the Berline) and was powered by a 4-cylinder motor with a three speed (on the dash!) front wheel drive transmission. Because of this it has one of the most comfortable cabins, with no transmission channel in the center of the car.

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Note the gear shift just right of the steering wheel.

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Here’s an NPC that is featured in The Queen of the Orient sourcebook for Fate and Ubiquity. In the course of last night’s play, I threw in a bit of character development that came directly from a Facebook video, of all things. In it, she’s climbing out of her cockpit and snags her Mauser M1932 Schnellfeuer broomhandle. It’s a select-fire “carbine” where the wooden stock/holster turns the pistol into a short-barreled rifle. she leaves it in this configuration because inside the stock is another Mauser M1932 broomhandle.

I can’t embed the video, but here’s the link (https://www.facebook.com/Anthonysfirearmwarehouse/videos/1911688675513828/)

In this week’s session of Hollow Earth Expedition, one of the characters used his Weird Science talent. While others have had this in the past, it has rarely been used for anything other than understanding strange technology encountered. This was the first time someone actually built something with it.

Anton Vietch, a self-taught engineer and mechanic from Serbia, works with the Sky Rats in Shanghai. He was first established in his workshop playing with an experimental railgun he couldn’t get working right. At the end of this week’s session, he blew a style point and made a great roll to create the weapon.

VIETCH MK I COILGUN

Using a special battery and capacitor system, this magnetic accelerator fires 12mm ball bearings at speeds approaching 3000fps! This is the equivalent power of a .30 caliber rifle, but with astounding accuracy and range. However, the weapon is heavy at 28 lbs. and has a limited power source.

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The batter is stored in the butt of the rifle, and the ball bearings a poured into a hopper on the left side (50 ball bearing can be stored.)

MK I COILGUN:   Str 3   Dam 7L   Rng 250′   Cap: 10**   Rate M   Spd M   cost ~$500

**The gun can fire at slower speeds and save its power pack, gaining a shot of CAP for every dice of damage sacrificed and halves the range. (ex. Tuning the rifle to Dam 3L would give Cap 14 and a Rng of 100′.) If the coilgun is tied to a car battery or other reliable electrical source, the rifle has a Cap of 50 and a Rate of A.

(I got the coilgun image off of the internet because I wanted something suitable retro, but plausible looking. This is apparently from the Fallout 4 video game, cribbed from http://fallout.wikia.com/wiki/Gauss_rifle_(Fallout:_New_Vegas — SCR)

The design and building of the rifle did highlight an issue I’d had with Ubiquity’s invention rules, which seem slap-dash and ill thought out. Due to the math behind the game, making stuff would be a major pain in the ass by the rules. You pick something in the Secrets of the Surface World book as a template — in this case, a Browning BAR, and “enhance” the thing, taking limitations to get the difficulty to build something to reasonable levels. To build the coilgun required a Craft or Science 5 in the end. He easily beat that with a smoking roll, but even with his Craft 6, this would have been a hard go.

One of these days, I’m going to take a crack at a simplified invention rules set for the game.

We started our second Hollow Earth Expedition episode for the new campaign (tentatively titled the Second Earth) this week. We opened on Edmund Zelansky, a quasi-reputatable archeologist whose crack-pot ideas on the Hollow Earth turned out to be true. Having been supported by Admiral Byrd, who had commanded the Los Angeles mission into the center of the planet, Zelansky is now a high-ranking team leader for the Office of Scientific Investigations (codename: Atlanta Project.) Zelansky is meeting with the local US Navy Intelligence attache, who tells him that Byrd’s opposite number, Obersturmbahnfuhrer George Werner of the Ahnenerbe, who had commanded the Deutschland mission to the Hollow Earth at the same time as the Byrd mission, is in Shanghai for unknown reasons.

Following the emergence of the Hollow Earth into “Atlantia”, the Second Earth now in a trailing orbit behind our world, Werner had attempted to find the “Eye of Shambala”, the old Atlantean gate that had allowed the original characters in the first campaign access to the Interior World, in Lhasa. The Tibetan governent had hidden the Eye after the events of the first campaign, and the 13th Dalai Lama had been intransigent on saying where. Worse for the German, Tibet’s close ties with Britain meant that he was blocked at every turn by their agents. Why is he in China, now? There are plnety of Ahnenerbe agents doing research here… It is decided to find a good B&E man to go through Werner’s room at the Astor House hotel and look for clues. If they are unsuccessful, they may have to take a bigger risk and try the same on Werner’s temporary office in the German consulate! Zelansky decides to turn to Marcel Cointreau — famous B-rate actor in Shanghai (and unbeknownst to the archeologist, the infamous and also celebrated cat burglar “the Fox”) — to find someone.

We had a short interlude to show Declan “Irish” O’Bannon, a flight captain with the Foreign Volunteer Force in Shanghai (known as the “Sky Rats”) and Ting Mai, the first female Chinese fighter pilot to score a kill, responding to distress calls from freighters running from a Japanese coastal monitor, the IJN Tokozuru. The vessels are out of the north, and while they might be carrying illicit materials (or no), they are in Chinese territorial waters. Tokozuru is out of the concession port of Chefoo, and has been chasing them down to board. Irish radios the Japanese to break off and in a tense battle of wills, the Sky Rats blast the warships with a couple of strafing runs to make their point, eventually driving the Japanese off. Running on fumes, they barely make their landings in a rainstorm, on the muddy makeshift airfield in Tsingtao.

Irish O’Bannon uses a Polykarpov I-16 “Rat” fighter, as does ting Mai — although hers is painted in a striped black and yellow she called the “Bumblebee.”

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We cut back to Anton Vietch, a mechanic for the Sky Rats, who is arriving at the Union Jack Club to deliver Cointreau’s beautiful Delage D8 which he has just modified with his own designed and built supercharger.

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Cointreau is at the club to watch his friend Pi-Ling Chen fight the “Belfast Bruiser” Patrick McCoy — a bare-knuckle fighter of some note. there was some gambling and banter, then a short fight between the massive Irishman and Chen, who eventually wins the fight. This makes the reckless Cointreau £400 for the match (about $2000US and $4000Shang)…it’s a lot of money and the fight promoter, “Diamond Dick” Wilson is not happy to turn over.

After the fight, having linked up with Zelansky at the fight, the plan to hit Werner’s room is put together, with Cointreau claiming to “know a guy…” They also meet up with Irish and Ting, just back from Tsingtao, and the whole group goes out for a night on the town at the Astor House — a popular spot for the Shanghai entertainment industry. Some social and character building moments ensued, with Vietch almost getting lucky with Ting, O’Bannon and Zelansky schmoozing actresses and military figures, while Cointreau donned his le Renard gear and broke into Werner’s room, with Chen– posing as a waiter — keeping watch.

Cointreau searched the room and found a briefcase with a secret bottom containing a Walther PPK (with the red Bakelite grips emblazoned with the Gestapo symbol) set up for a silencer and with cross-cut ammunition. Werner is a serious man, it seems. There are also £150 worth of gold sovereigns which the thief struggles not to steal. with a judicious use of a style point was able to find Werner’s other briefcase, hidden in a crawlspace access in the closet. After getting the combination worked out, he used the Minox Riga 120mm spy camera (only just released that month in Germany!) he had been given by Zelansky.

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After putting everything away nearly perfectly, Cointreau simply couldn’t resist…how would Werner know one gold coin was missing?

Afterward, the group went their own ways, with Zelansky going home to bed, the Sky Rats returning to their barracks on the outskirts of Longhwa Airfield, and Cointreau heading to his secret hideout in the old Chinese City to recover “le balle” or “the Bullet” — his stripped down Delage D8S getaway car, dressing at the Fox, and going to the Park Hotel to deliver the goods to Zelansky. Did he have to be so flashy? Nope. Is it in character? Absolutely.

He gets caught slipping in by a Chinese cleaning lady, pawned her off with a wink and a kiss, but she winds up calling the police. After leaving the camera and film rolls outside of Zelansky’s door and knocking, pausing at the stairwell so he can be seen by the scientist/spy, he finds himself in a chase through the building with a Sikh police officer who wings his leg with a careful shot from his Webley. There’s a short fight scene with another cop waiting by the Bullet in a rain-soaked, neon-lit alley (because, of course it is) and he makes good his escape!

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Vietch, back at the repair shed for the Sky Rats, meanwhile, is struck by inspiration and finally uses his “Weird Science” trait, finishing the coilgun we established he’d been experimenting with. A stupendous Craft roll and a style point and we’ll be seeing the fruits of his labor next session… (and you can see it in the Vietch Coilgun post.)

What are the Nazis up to? We’ll find out next week!

Here’s a bit of errata that didn’t make it into The Queen of the Orient. (There’s always room for a second edition, I suppose…)

To keep up with events in the world and China, English-speaking visitors can turn to the most popular morning edition newspaper in the Orient, the North-China Daily News, published by the Morris brothers in Shanghai. This paper can even be found, on occasion, in London and New York. The main competition of this newspaper is The Shanghai Times. For evening papers, the Shanghai Evening Post and Mercury was a fervently anti-Japanese publication. More balanced was the Evening Telegraph.

This was one of the snippets that hadn’t gotten fleshed out in the final editing passes, so I thought I would expand on it. Shanghai was, after 1932, the cynosure for Oriental reporting, eclipsing even Hong Kong. Journalists than had been stationed in Peking (Beijing) found themselves moving to Shanghai, where in 1937 they would have a front-row seat to the Japanese invasion of that city. “Nowhere else is a great metropolis likely again to have a ringside seat at a killing contest involving nearly a million men,” wrote Edgar Snow of the China Weekly Review.

One thing frequently noted by the journalists of the time was the disconnected, imperial attitudes of the Shanghailanders, both the Europeans and the Chinese. The European residents of the city acted as if all the troubles that had been plaguing China were in the past. While the Great Depression was still dragging on the rest of the world, it was a time of prosperity. A devil-may-care, live for today sensibility allowed the Chinese residents of Shanghai to scramble for what they could enjoy…because while everyone claimed nothing would come of the Japanese aggression, everyone knew a reckoning was in the offing.

Some of the English language newspapers that were popular in the city were the morning edition North-China Daily News, owned by the Morris brothers, and which had an international reach and could be found in London, New York, and Canberra. The main competition for this periodical was The Shanghai Times, another morning paper with high circulation in the city and Nanking.

Evening editions included the Evening Telegraph, which had an excellent advertising rate and was popular for its extensive classifieds section. The Shanghai Evening Post and Mercury was a smaller circulation rag with a fervently anti-Japanese editor, but was the best source for news from Northern China. Excellent reporting was also found in the Shanghai Evening Post, for which later New York Times luminary Tillman Durdin worked. The China Press rounded out the reputable English language evening periodicals and was American owned and operated. As such, the The China Press editorial style was a strange, schizophrenic combination of classic colonialism and liberalism. The evening edition of the Morris news company was the North-China Herald, which was not as influential as their morning paper, but still popular. The weekly China Weekly Review was also widely read inside and out of China, and was American-owned.

In the French Concession (or sometimes “Frenchtown”), there were several dialies, as well: Le Journal de Shanghai was relatively new, having started in 1928. L’Echo de Chine was a tabloid connected to Catholic foreign missions in the city and had a scathing view of the French government in Shanghai and “radical” views regarding the social situation in Shanghai. (This was one of the hardest bits and what held up this section of the book — information on the French publications of the period is very hard to come by, for some reason. I was going to attempt to look up titles in the Siccawei Library [which still exists], but hadn’t gotten to it… SCR)

For German language newspapers there was the eveningn daily Neue Zurcher Zeitung, which had particularly courageous reporters who would slipped behind the fighting during the 1932 Sino-Japanese War to do their reporting. Initially skeptical of the Nazi Party, they would bow to pressure from the Reich and tepidly carry water for the government in Shanghai. Their competition, beginning in 1932, was the Nazi Party supporting morning edition Deutsche Shanghai Zeitung, which would change it’s name in 1936 to Der Ostasiatische Lloyd — the name of another newspaper that was published from 1889 to 1936, and had the reputation of being one of the best and the oldest continuously published newspaper in the city. The original Der Ostiasiatische Lloyd was a weekly that also published Deutsche Zeitung für China, another weekly.

Easily the best and most honest reporting in Mandarin was the British owned Shen Bao, which was published in the International Settlement, and hence was not subject to the rigid guidelines and censorship of the Kuomintang that other Chinese tabloids were. The political affiliations of the newpaper in the 1930s leaned toward the quasi-communist, often supporting Sun Yat-Sen’s widow Soong Qingling’s positions whule she was in serving in the Legislative Yuan. Shen Bao was started in 1872 and would publish until the Chinese Revolution in 1949.

The Fox — that gentleman thief of Shanghai — has been spotted and chased once again by the Shanghai Municipal Police, but as yet they have been unable to capture the elusive burglar. One reason is his choice of automobile. Based on witness statements, the police have established it is a European-made barchetta with a large displacement straight-6 or -8 motor. The vehicle is matte black, without headlights or indicators of any kind…

— The Shanghai Times

…and here it is: a 1932 Delage D8S, heavily modified for racing, then further tweaked for le Renard‘s night-time escapades. With a 4 litre straight-8 motor (a first for French cars at the time), and a four speed Cotal pre-selector gearbox, the standard model D8S could generate 102hp! Le Balle (the Bullet) uses a Roots supercharger to boost that to almost 120hp.  Strippred of fenders, identifying bodywork, indicators and headlights, le Balle is a machine designed to run fast and turn swiftly, and no be easily identified.

22406148_1574295129297352_6439127602740782098_n.jpg“LE BALLE” 1932 DELAGE D8S:   Size: 2   Def: 6   Str: 6   Spd: 100   Han: +2   Crew: 1   Pass: 1

The alter ego of the Fox is the famed French actor, Marcel Cointreau, who has been highly successful in romantic comedies and song & dance films for Tianyi Studios in Shanghai. His around town vehicle shows his love for the Delage brand —

1934 DELAGE D8-105

The motor size of the straight-8 was reduced to 2.7 litres for the model year to take advantage of tax scales, but the -105 model was released shortly afterward as the performance version of the D8 Normale. A 3.4 litre motor turned out 105hp, and the bespoke bodywork on this Delage is from the Parisian house Letourneur & Marchand. Recently, a supercharger was added to the motor by one of the mechanics in the Foreign Volunteer Force (aka “the Sky Rats”) giving it a 120hp (as well as shorter range and a new overheating problem…)

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Size: 2   Def: 4   Str: 8   Spd: 80*   Han: 0   Crew: 1   Pass: 4 (* With the supercharger, the speed is 100mph.)

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.

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