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/)

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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!

I jumped on the Kickstarter for Rayguns and Rocketships in the spring. It’s a board game produced by IDW for 2-4 players. As the title suggests, this is old school pulp sci-fi. The players take the role of one of four factions fighting for galactic supremacy: the Galactic Astro-Rangers, the Blaarg Collective, the Grand Zardian Navy, and the Space Mercenaries of Samadi. Created by a veteran video game designer, Scott Rogers, the game hit their stretch goals, so I also received a pack of mercenary captains and their captain cards (which can be used with any of the factions.) I’m not certain these will be standard on later editions or not. Delivery for the backers started this month, but Amazon is already showing a listing, so I suspect there will be general availability in the next month or two.

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Set up is fairly quick. The players get a rocketship board for their character pieces to be placed on. Each faction has a rocketship piece that is placed on the star map board. They each get a deck of cards with maneuvers from which they can choose three maneuvers per round or play. Each turns over their card and performs the maneuver in turn, with some modifications for if they’ve placed crew on engine or bridge spaces in their ships. Next, they take turns shooting at each other’s ships, if in range. The vessel or the rayguns, specifically, can be targeted. The players with ships hit can sacrifice a crew member rather than take blast points, if they are in the area targeted. Lastly, in turn, they can move their crew, including exiting the craft to fly around on their jetpacks, or to raid the other vessels.

Each of the three card reveals is a “turn”, with three turns a round. The rules were a bit unclear on this the first read through. At the end of the turn, any action points accrued but not used for damage control, extra moves, etc. are lost and the whole process starts again. There are points given for crew killed, rayguns destroyed, ships destroyed, and the like, and the length of games can depend on the target points. There are scenarios that can set other victory conditions, as well.

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My daughter an I played through a round the first day we had the game, and finally got a chance to play a full game this afternoon. A standard game took about 45 minutes for two of use, and would most likely hit the 90 minutes suggested on the box. Age recommendation is 14, but my kiddo is six and had no problems with the rules or the time. Play was fast and fun, and “programming” your moves proved tricky. We both used special maneuvers (or “star”) cards at inopportune times. In the end the Astro-Rangers barely squeaked out a point victory before the obvious victory that the Star Pirates were headed for.

Style: It’s a nice looking game with quality boards and cards, and good plastic pieces —  4/5 stars. Substance: the game plays well and quickly, and was enjoyable — 4 out of 5 stars.

So is it worth it? For the $70 I pledged and at the price point of most games like this: a qualified yes — mostly because I suspect it will be closer to $50-60 if and when it hits Amazon and other game outlets, then it will be a more solid yes.

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.