Smash open with the characters — Dr. Gould, Hunter, and Olga — facing a tyrannosaurus rex just as they were hoping for a rescue from the flying saucer Aruna. With it’s guns damaged from the crash a few sessions ago, the saucer still aids them by presenting a shiny distraction for the beast, giving them time to find cover. From there, Hunter lives up to his name, using the .452 Wesley-Richards they’d nabbed after Gus Hassenfeldt was lost in the last session.

Finally picked up by the saucer, they fly back to the damaged flying wing the curmudgeonly “Uncle” Zek and his young daughter Erha used to help everyone escape the pirate attack on the Sanctuary. They land and proceed to try and find the body of Lady Zara, who had been thrown from Ivora the Magnificent’s airship Sela…but it’s nowhere to be found: no drag marks, no blood, nothing. While reconnoitering Hunter nearly gets eaten by a massive Venus mantrap, but cuts his way out with his sword. Lord Amon posits that she was taken by a pterosaur, but they just can’t be sure. (This is my back door for having the character return, if and when her player can/does come back.)

They manage to fix the cannons on Aruna and after some debate, head for Amon’s home city, Ultima Thule! Four hours of flying over ocean get them to the city on a large island. The city is Atlantis-like, with radial and circular canals, high walls and buildings, and it is surrounded by massive farms with animals that are more modern and recognizable. Landing at the royal palace, they can see a massive war saucer with the Hindu-style swastika — it’s Durga, the war saucer of General Inanna, Emperor Mot’s most trusted tactician! Amon and Shria are worried, and they have cause to be: his men arrest them immediately, and they are taken to face Captain Thoth — the head of the emperor’s secret police (all attired in basic black with gold swastikas.)

Thoth is here because the emperor knew about his mission to collect Gould, the Atlantean, and that he encountered some “issues.” He informs Shria she is to be returned to her father for “discipline” for her art in his efforts to subvert the emperor with the aid of this man (whom he thought would be taller…) He also discovers that Olga is something special — not Atlantean, but something much, much more valuable. He takes from Zek his “mind machine” — the remains of an Atlantean robot, which has been acting as interpreter and technology expert. (One of the reasons Zek is so good with machines…)

Gould, Olga, Shria, and Hunter (whom Gould rescued from a dungeon stay like the rest) are cleaned, dressed in appropriately Greco-Flash Gordon clothing, then given medical attention. For the first time in four days, they get a good meal and don’t smell like animals! Thoth questions them about the surface world, their adventures, all seeming like polite table conversation, but he is gathering intelligence.

Afterward, once they’ve had sleep and a storm has passed, they are preparing to go aboard Durga when a report that Amon and the others have escape is delivered. Assuming that they will use the secret tunnels, Thoth is about to dispatch troops when they hear the flying wing roar to life. Moments later, the plane strafes the guards and the audience room, and the characters take the chance to beat feet.

Chased by dozens of guardsmen, they manage to get to one of the Thule saucers, and take off, strafing the others and destroying them. Only the massive Durga remains, but they quickly effect their escape, catching up to the flying wing and having them follow to an island far out to sea, Avarda — Shria’s secret pleasure island.

Here they find a tropical paradise with jutting mountains, white sandy beaches, and a massive treehouse complex in the jungles. Shria’s attendants include nymph-like “greenmen” who assure them that they will know if Thoth and his forces approach. Rested, healed, and fed, the group has to make a tough choice — head for Argatha and abandon the Inner World, or take up arms against the emperor…but where to start?

As we’ve played in the Hollow Earth, I’ve more and more moved away from the Land of the Lost quality toward a Flash Gordon-esque one. We needed a good bad guy, so “the emperor.” Is it Ming the Merciless? Due to international copyright laws, no. But it sounds like Max von Sydow’s Ming! But its not… This gives the characters a purpose beyond adventuring from one sandbox to the next, and provides a force of bad guys whenever needed. The Hollow Earth’s Nazis, if you will.

A few things we know — the Inner World, based off the curvature, is far too small to be just under the surface of the Earth. In fact, the circumference would only be about half that Earth… The creatures they’ve seen include things of myth, ancient dinosaurs, modern animals and people, and access to and from the surface was, at one time, more easy. One person has described the Inner World as “a prison”, a place created by ancient gods to protect people from the things here. Could the Atlanteans have been their servants? And what is the relationship to the Vril, who are Atlantean, but cannot work some of their technology as Gould can? Olga, they seem to think, is related to something even older than the Atlanteans, and dangerous; she has an effect of orichalcum (finally worked it in),  an element that is part of the crystals that power so much of the Atlantean technology.

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One of the group’s contacts in Calcutta is driving a 1932 Alvis Speed 20SA with coachwork by Vanden Plas. It’s a gorgeous machine, the sports 4-seater, in the classic racing green, with a straight-six 2511cc motor producing 87hp, a 4 speed transmission, and stopping with 14 in. brake drums.

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Alvis Speed 20     Size: 2   Def: 6   Strc: 8   Spd: 70   Han: 0   Crew: 1   Pass: 4   Cost: $2500 (£500)

So the characters had returned from “the World” that they’ve assumed is the Interior World of a Hollow Earth due to the way the horizon bent upward and seemed to continue into the haze of atmosphere, and the perpetual sun hanging overhead. They returned through the Eye of Shambala to Lhasa, finding out their 40(ish) day ordeal seemed to take 3 days on Earth.

They found out that the Soviets and Nazis that had been fighting over Gould (and by extension the party) had led to a lot of injuries among the monks, as well as the two sides. A few Naizs had survived, and with their Luftwaffe pilots were jailed by the locals; one Soviet — the massive Dolph Lundgren-esque soldier — was also incarcerated. They recounted some of their adventures to the Dalai Lama, convinced him to release the Germans into Gus Hassenfeldt’s custody, and then they surveyed the damage wrought on Bernadette, their Sikorsky S-36, and Sperling, the Fokker F.XII the Nazis had borrowed from Lufthansa.

Eventually, after much debate about returning immediately to “the World” to make their meeting with one of their contacts there, hence risking the Germans getting the jump on them for their discoveries; or returning to Calcutta to present some of their world through letters and reports to the Royal Geographical Society, they chose the latter (Lady Zara’s desire for fame and fortune, and Gus’ desire for recognition got the better of them…) Working with the Germans, they cannibalized Bernadette to aid in fixing Sperling for the 400ish mile flight to Calcutta 9the nearest real airfield.)

A good roll allowed them to fix one of the damaged R-1350 Wasp Cs, and replace the forward motor with the still operational R-790 Whirlwind from the S-36. They managed to get off the ground with the remains of the German expedition and their own, but the adulterated fuel (they mixed the 50 octane from the Sikorsky and the 90 from the Fokker) led to the eventual failure of the little Pratt & Whitney, and the craft ran out of fuel on approach to RAF Dum Dum, outside of Calcutta. Some good rolls put the plane down intact(ish.)

The British authorities quickly secured their prizes from the Interior World, while seeing to the injured Germans. They did, however, release them as they had committed no crimes in the Empire. A Major Thomelson of the General Staff of the Governor-General of India invited them to meet with the Governor of the Bengal Presidency and the later sidelined Hunter to reveal that the Terra Arcanum knew they were back, and were worried about what they had found. Hunter proceeded to do some fancy talking and convince the major that he could control the group, and that using them to investigate the Inner World while containing their stories would be the best option for all.

They bought it.

The next morning, the insurance claim on Bernadette sailed through, and an agent of the company even directed Lady Zara toward a replacement, while the boys when to see what had become of their relics brought back from the Inner World. In the process, however, they were waylaid by a stalled Wolseley Hornet in the middle of the jungle-lined road. Two Ariel motorcycle came at them from behind and their Alvis Speed 20 was quickly surrounded by armed men!

I’ve had to do a bit of tap-dancing on the narrative and shift the focus from the lead of the game toward other characters, due to absences, but so far it seems to be holding together. We’ve continued the trend of a cliffhanger ending to the night, much to our collective delight.

On a side note, one of the players had asked it I had considered doing a ’30s noir-style game, and on further reflection, we may need a second set of characters for a differently flavored noir game set in late Prohibition LA or Shanghai. The other option discussed was a sci-fi police procedural with a noir flavor.

Memorial Day started with a gaming session to preface our cookout. When last we’d left the characters, they were jailed by the chua te or pirate “lord” Van Trihn in his citadel outside of the trading port of San Antonio. They’d figured out Dr. Gould was of Atlantean blood and planned to sell him to the Vril-ya. The boys were in one cell, the girls in another, and Captain Santiago — a pirate they’d had a run in was in the third.

As the pirates didn’t look to speak English, the characters had been plotting in that language how they were going to effect an escape before they could be sold into slavery or worse… Gus was still badly injured from his run in with the formidable major domo of the chua te, a 7’2″ monster named Tongo from darkest Africa. Hunter was still dressed, and even had his stiletto, and assured the others he could get the lock open with it. Santiago, it turned out, spoke English, and pointed out the only way they were getting out of here was with his help — his crew would surely be waiting for him, to aid his escape; if they release him, he will aid their plans.

Zara had formulated a way to keep the pirates’ minds off of the boys. She and Olga distracted them (and Gould) in fine “scandalous” fashion (one of Zara’s flaws.) While the pirates were ogling their affections, Hunter got the door open in a flash with his Larcency skill and he and Gus were on the guards. Gus’ injuries hampered his efforts, but he wound up pinning the one to the cell door, where Olga promptly ran the guard through with his own dragon sword. Hunter continued to impress with his combat skills, taking on a pirate with his stiletto.

Freed, the group armed up and stealthily reconnoitered the ground floor of the fortification Trihn castle sat on. They came on some of the guards and subdued them for more firearms, but through the rife port, they noted ships maneuvering out to sea…then a sudden barrage of smoke from the broadside of one. Moments later, the rescue plan Santiago’s people had put in motion was cause chaos in the citadel, as the two ships fired on the castle and Trihn’s flagship Sea Snake, a 6-mast war junk.

Through smoke and falling masonry, the character rush to the main courtyard, dropping a few bad guys in the process, and find themselves face-to-face with a half dozen pirates. An exchange of fire left most of them downed, and Olga and Hunter quickly did for the others…then the main event started: Tongo arrived, throwing his mongwanga, which would have taken Hunter’s arm off but for a judicious use of style points. Gus put a 4 gauge round through his pecs, but that only served to bring the monstrous giant down on him.

Lady Zara bravely took the man on, and was thrown across the courtyard. Gus used that moment to knock the man back through a cannon hole behind him. (The player is another writer, and understands the importance of villains that can come back to pursue you…) Cannon shots tore through the castle and forced the characters to flee to the main gate, just as it was blown open with a keg of powder by men from Santiago’s Hercules, and Curiosity, commanded by Captain Tomas Franco (or as he calls himself, Professor Franco of the Academie des Sciences) who was determined to rescue his acquaintance’s niece.

Into a longboat and rowing for their lives, they catch up to Curiosity and make good their escape. Behind them, the Sea Snake is getting ready to pursue. With 20 16 lbs and 16 32 lb broadsides, she’s more than a match for Franco’s 16 gun sloop of war, which is already shot up by their exchange. The characters aid in repairs and Gould in seeing to the injured, and soon they are pulling away from the junk.

In this place, however, there is no horizon, and the white and red sails of the junk fall further behind, obscured by distance, but always visible in the spyglass or binoculars. After discussing the man’s arrival in “the World” — in this case through some kind of portal in an Olmec temple in the Yucatan in 1924 — he has been exploring the place, first as a hand on a ship, now as a “pirate” captain.

After some rest and thinking on the matter, they convince him to put themashore with letters for home, and copies of notes and other materials for the Academie, and they arrange a meeting with him in a few months, after they’ve had a chance to resupply and come back for a real expedition.

They make their way with an incredible Survival test to orient themselves and after three weeks of trudging through the interior of the mountains, find their way back to Argatha — the city of the devi and asuras, and now home to the apemen. The rules for working together (badly positioned in the core rulebook just before the skills chapters — seriously, these need to be back with the other rules for die rolling!) gave the party an incredible Survival dice pool of 13! Trapping, fishing, knowing the botany well enough to fake it, etc. was assumed to be skills that one or the other character had an expertise in, and they easily arrived.

Finding the German, Dr. Heiser, still in the town, working with the ape’s natural philosopher Kordas on the manuscripts and other inscriptions on the buildings, he’s been compiling evidence to take back to the Surface World. This includes the skeletons of the devi that were entombed under the temple floor. After a few days of recovery, the characters finally drag all their discoveries to the cave with the Eye of Shambala, or whatever it is called, and go back through to Tibet.

They are surprised to find monks waiting sentinel over the device. Quickly, they call for the Dalai Lama and Billy Fish, their Ghurka guide. It turns out that although they’ve been, by Hunter’s watch and estimation, gone for 42 days, they have only been gone three days since the firefight with the Soviets!

At that point, we broke for the week, to celebrate those that gave all to their country.

Hooah.

We left the Hollow Earth Expedition game last week with the characters in a cliffhanger showdown with pirates in the muddy streets of San Antonio — a trading outpost in “the World” that was a melting pot of different races on the coast, a few days downriver from Argatha, the City of the Devi, where the Eye of Shambala deposited them.

The fight was on, with Lady Zara taking a pop at the pirate captain, only to come zero on the successes. He drops her with a smack of his pistol. Hunter, a former Marine during the Great War, proves supremely effective with his spear and take two of the pirates.  Gustav, furious at nearly getting his head blown off, pummels the captain insensate. Zara’s monkey, Rigoletto had distracted one of the men by jumping in his face and scratching him, allowing Gould, with some judicious use of style points, to takes out another, and injure a second. Finally, Zara drops one of the baddies with her bow.

While they are taking stock and grabbing guns and other things from the pirates, they are surrounded by more — Asians, this time, and led by a 7’2″ African named Tongo. Tongo and his crew are “black flags”, pirates under the chua te or “lord” Van Trihn, the pirate king of San Antonio. They were called by Phan Li, the brother owner who watched them take out Captain Santiago –a troublemaker at the best of times. Trihn himself arrives to thank them and drag Santiago and his remaining thugs off to a certain ill fate. After Zara charms them, and vice-versa, they are invited to dinner at the Citadel.

There they meet other captains — Papa Tome, the French Creole from Louisiana who sailed into a fog bank off of Bermuda in 1889, and emerged here; Tomas Franco, an acquaintance of Zara’s uncle Trevor, who was lost through a “vortex” in an Olmec temple he’d discovered in the Yucatan in 1924; Trihn arrived after his ship came through a storm in the South China Sea when he was a young man. None of them look as aged as they should be. Franco speculates, having traveled all over the “Inner World” as he calls it, that people with a particular psychic resonance or character are drawn into this place, that it seeks them out.

Through the party, the characters get roaring drunk and gorged on food. Zara lets slip that they are looking to return to the Surface World, and that they hope to return. Gould drunkenly hints at Atlanteans and Atlantis to Franco. Eventually, Trihn figures out one of them has “the blood”… He tells his story, of how he has secured the prosperity of San Antonio by protecting the crews of the town from the monsters and creatures that roam the waters of the Straits of Varuna. He shows them this insurance policy — a mermaid named Osha that is either the daughter or an important personage in their pod or school or whatever they call it. None dare attack their ships, now.

After dropping off, the characters (save Zara, whose “deep sleeper” flaw came into play) find themselves captured by Trihn’s people. They want to trade Gould to the Vril-ya, who will pay well for those with the blood. gould tries to negotiate his way out, offering to broker modern gun deals to the pirates from the surface world in exchange for their freedom. It looks like the pirate might go for it, but his mistress Phan Li is more savvy, and we broke on the characters in cells under the palace.

The guards had missed Hunter’s stiletto, and he is just waiting for the chance to pick the lock of the door. Zara has been hurling invective at the guard and anyone else who will listen (or not), and Gus is recovering from the savage beat-down he took fighting the mighty Tongo.

They players were formulating escape plans from picking the lock and scooting for Argatha, to dealing straight with the pirates (who would most likely want to keep the women hostage to insure their return), to escaping and going the way they wouldn’t expect — to sea, possibly with the aid of their fellow prisoner, Captain Santiago.

These are all good setups for continued adventures, and showed the players were really getting into the world and situations. Also, we’ve been falling into a nice pattern of cliffhangers for the end of the evenings, something I hope to maintain.

The campaign picked up after a week off with the characters in the mythic city of Argatha, a place where the sun never moves from its place high over head. The characters had gone through the Eye of Shambala to this place, expecting…well, Shangri-La, and instead finding a deserted and damaged city with a Hindu-Annamese vibe to the architecture, and strange plants and animals that were “almost prehistoric” in the words of Dr. David Gould, the member of the group with “Atlantean blood.”

Originally, two of the players were going to be around last week, so I split the party, and this evening started with Lady Zara, Gus, Olga, and Dr. Heiser, the Thule Society philologist and historian a “guests” of the apemen that inhabit Argatha. They had learned of an ancient war that was fought between the devi and the asura, and the following destruction of these “gods” by an advanced civilization that Heiser assumes is the Thule, and John Hunter — our Terra Arcanum overseer — thinks is Atlantis.

After having earned the trust of the apes, who have no real animosity toward the party, but also don’t much care what happens to them, they were able to trade the firearms that they had (they were almost out of ammunition) for swords, spears, and bows. Heading out with an apeman guide, Uth, into the wilds of “the World”, intent on finding Hunter and Gould, who had been washed downriver and over a waterfall, Zara resolved to go to San Antonio — a trading post the apes claim is at the mouth of the river, three days hard travel from Argatha.

Meanwhile, those two men had found each other, rested in the boughs of a tree, and were busily trying to find food and make weapons. Gould’s compass showed that the magnetic field was small, irregular and most likely highly localized. It is useless for navigation. Hunter has a working wristwatch and a stiletto; Gould a pocketknife. They are, in a word, screwed. They start marking the river-facing trees and rocks to let people know where they are, and after a few hours stumble onto a clearing where something has been hunting: there are animal remains of creatures that had been cleaned for food, and a tapir-like creature was in a snare trap, hanging from the tree overehead.

At that point, they are aggressed by a trio of velociraptors and find themselves in desperate straits, with Hunter bitten on the ass, and Gould driven up into a tree. Before things get too hot (and with a judicious use of style points) suddenly they find themselves watching a fight between the raptors and a trio of…cat people. A mother and her young male cubs has been hunting the area and assault the raptors. In the middle of the fight, Gus and Uth burst out of the bushes to save their friends (they had gotten excellent tracking rolls), followed by Zara (armed with a bow) and Olga (armed with a bullwhip one of the apes had traded.)

The fight quickly showed a problem with the velociraptor write-up. The 3 body and 5 dexterity meant that the characters had, in essence, no chance of killing these beasts. Even the fast and effective team of panthermen were having issues. (GM, say “oops!” Read the write-ups frst, Scott!) I quickly scaled their dexterities down to a reasonable 3 — still making them incredibly dangerous, but making them animals…not some super-monster.

With the raptors dispatched, the panthermen and Uth are suddenly at each other’s throats — the apemen and the more solitary cat people appear to have some kind of animosity. Gould and Gus attempt, and fail, to cool things off, but surrounded by a larger number of opposition, and not understanding each other, the panthermen decamp.

The characters carve up the raptors for dinner, and they turn out to be delicious. Uth points them in the direction of San Antonio, but he will go no further; the people of that town and the apemen do not get on.

They travel to the town — a smudge of dirt, stink, and activity surrounded by a wide alluvial delta. From a high vantage point, they see the horizon curves…up! disappearing into the haze of humidity.

Surrounding the town, there are farms where men are growing crops (using slaves in some instances) and husbanding dinosaurs and other strange creatures. The town is surrounded by a wooden wall, protected by a wood fort with cannon. The place has a wooden plaque over the gates: San Antonio Founded 1653. 

Inside they find a town with muddy streets, loads of poor and homeless, brothels, trading warehouses, and a wide beach with tents for the crews of the ships berthed in the sea — which they later find out are the Straits of Varuna — Chinese junks, caravels, other styles of ship from the 1400s to 1800s. The people of the town are universally human, mostly Asian (they hear Chinese, but also Annamese), the others are a collection of folks from everywhere.

At the church, a Franciscan friar named Julian takes them in and explains the place. It is a port of call for many in the area, run by the chua te, Captain Van Trihn and his crew. They keep the place safe from the other monsters out there. They find out that, though Julian was born here in the World, Father Ricardo — who once ran the place — was from what he called the “outer world.” The father was pulled into “the World” through a whirlpool in a place called the South China Sea — a story others have also related. Others have come by different means. The characters start positing the hollow Earth theory is correct, and even try to guess as to how gravity works here, and why the sun remains so constant in the sky.

Without money, they cobble together their belongings and are lucky enough to realize that Lady Zara’s silver flask and cigarette case will aid them. Soon they have supplies for the trip back to Argatha, including booze for the DT-addled Gould, and a flintlock rifle for Gus. As they are preparing to head out of town, they run into a crew of men who want to buy Zara and Olga (the dangers of having a character who is “attractive” in a pirate haven), and after some issues with language and Zara’s being a haughty English lady (How dare she know her own worth!?!), they find themselves in a fight…

At which point we broke for the night.

I needed a signature weapon for a possibly upcoming privileged henchman, and I settled on the mongwanga — a weapon that I’d only seen in the Q Manual for the old James Bond: 007 game.

The mongwanga is an Africa throwing “knife” that has multiple blades, angled to prove weight and spin for a throw. They are heavy, and with training are highly effective for parry maneuvers in melee combat. Here are a few examples of a mongwanga…

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Mongwanga     Damage: 2L   STR: 2   Spd: A   Special: Thrown range: 10 feet