The official “gillmen” in Hollow Earth Expedition‘s Mysteries of the Hollow Earth sourcebook are anthropomorphic fish people. They have legs, and are pretty unseemly things. I was originally going to ignore them, but a possible angle to the current campaign has given me a possible use for an aquatic race. I just don’t like these ones…

05b9db24b04505837d649cee3db2e738I decided I wanted something with a more Abe Sapien vibe from Hellboy, but I also wanted them to be alien; a tail was something I thought was needed.

The obvious choice was to go full merfolk… But all the merfolk images tended to be sexy mermaid crap.

Then I stumbled onto Ian McCaig’s on the left. Similar enough to the Abe Sapien look I wanted.

So I reworked the Gillman package into the Mermen package.

Mermen

Ancient, mysterious, and the subject of intense superstition, merfolk are one of the more populous races in the Hollow Earth, but are rarely directly encountered. Their appearance ranges from truly alien — gilled, long tails, scaled, to strangely human. Some have even been rumored to have legs!

Physiologically, from the “waist” up they appear nearly human, but caudally they have long tails. Their faces are eerily human, but will large, dark eyes, gills to the sides of the head and neck. They have no apparent ears, but hear through their skin, using a form of echolocation. Additionally, they possess Ampullae of Lorenzini, like sharks, and can sense fain electrical fields, allowing them to find prey more easily. Some merfolk are known to wear jewelry about their bodies and it has been speculated that this may enhance this ability. Some have “hair” that look to be some kind of protective growth and tend to only be seen on the females.

Culture

Very little is known about the culture of the merfolk, other than they travel in “pods” of “schools” of a dozen to perhaps three or four dozen. They communicate through a complex tonal language that can be heard for tens of miles when they are underwater and is sometimes mistaken for whale-song by those from the Outer World. Some of the merfolk have been known to lure sailors to their deaths but hypnotizing them with certain frequencies and progressions in their songs.

They are romantic, impulsive, artistic, and philosophical, but they are also hardly pragmatic as a race in the highly competitive environment they live in can be.

They appear to believe in something called the “Great Deep” — an allegory for eternity. They claim to have been “created” by the Ancients that once populated “the World”, as most of the beastmen were.

Language

There are some that claim to have talked to these creatures, and that some have learned the speech of other denizens of the Hollow Earth.

Mermen Zero Level Skills

All mermen are assumed to have at least zero level (see the sidebar in Secrets of the Surface World) in Athletics, Brawl, Melee, Performance, Stealth, and Survival

Mermen Characteristics

Starting attribute adjustment: +1 Body, +1 Dexterity, -1 Strength, -1 Charisma

Natural Advantages: Aquatic (double movement rate  in water, but half Dexterity (round down) and movement on land; Captivate: Can use Performance to entrance a target for the number of rounds equal to their number of successes over the target’s Willpower; Gills: can breath in water; Echolocation: can “see” without light; Electroreception: can sense electrical fields in water, +2 perception in water; Siren Call: This is a longer version of Captivate that can only be used in non-violent situations. The length of time is in minutes equal to the number of successes over the target’s Willpower.

Normal Flaws: Dry Skin (after an hour will take 1N damage for each hour not hydrated.), Primitive

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So, tonight saw the culmination of the party’s attempts to find the Eye of Shambala, and the start of a new chapter in their adventures.

Having left off in Lhasa, Tibet, the team arrived a day after the Germans, led by Dr. Albert Heiser and Haupsturmfuhrer Werner. A tense dinner for the team is thrown by the village elders, and the Germans are (of course) invited. That evening, everyone has intense dreams — Gould dreams of a faceless creature calling to him, calling him son, and dreams of trackless red desert and lush, improbable jungle landscapes; Zara dreams of a particular encounter in Africa she had; Gus Hassenfeldt of losing him father (for a time) to the Great War…

13thDalaiLama1910The next morning, they are taken to meet the 13th Dalai Lama, who is concerned and intrigued by the sudden arrive of people in airplanes, and intent on seeing the Eye — an artifact of great import, but one that has resisted their every effort to unlock its mysteries. Even the purest of heart cannot open the Eye. Gould admits that he did just this think in Africa. Only the Ancients could do this! He is a descendent of the people from the birthplace of the world!

Before they can get much further on this, Gould noticed a strange droning noise no one else does, sees shadows from the windows no one else does. Then all hell breaks loose — the monks warn the Dalai Lama that men have invaded the Potala Palace, and the sound of automatic gunfire comes from the city. It’s not the Nazis, Werner has no automatics! At that moment, an airship — SSSR-V6 — appears out of nowhere! At the same time, strange, ghostly things invade the audience chamber! (All the characters did well enough to sense these invaders, but only Gould could see them for what they were — Russian soliders, and two that held back, a man and a woman. He senses the pull of the man, the attempt to bend Gould’s perception with his will.

After having dropped hints about the Bekterev Brain Institute and Olga’s connection to the same, I thought it was time to up the ante…if you’re going to hint at Russian psychics, you give the audience Russian psychics. (Looking at you, George Lucas and Steven Speilberg!) The man, Arkady Lenshev is known as “the Ghost” and can make people and things disappear with the power of concentration; the girl, Galina Obreva, is a mind reader and mind controller.

Olga recognizes the misty figures and warns them it’s “Section 2!” Then the fight is on — Gus throws a heavy bronze vase at one of the figures and drops it, where it turns into a Russian soldier. Obreva takes over Werner before he can fire his PPK, and makes him take a shot at Gus. Before this can happen, however, Zara throws Rigoletto — her capuchin monkey — at the Nazi and throws off his aim. Hunter attempts to save Gould and gets into a fight with the stereotypical Russian man-mountain and doesn’t do so well.

Gould runs for it, gets out into the hallway only to be squared off with the Ghost, who is impressed — no one has ever seen through his cloak before. Gould fakes a surrender, gets close, and manages to get a knee in Lenshev’s soft and danglies. He’s just getting the Tokarev out of the man’s holster when a half dozen soldiers burst in.

The others are deep in a fight. Other Russian mist figures grab Olga, but Gus manages to get one off of her and choke him out. Olga is taken over by Galina and nearly busts Hunter’s head open with her knout, then is knocked unconscious by the monstrous, Ivan Drago-esque Russian soldier. Hunter struggles out his revolver and is about to take a shot, but is taken over by Galina for a moment (the plaer got an incredible Will roll!) and realizes it’s her trying to take him over. He is able to shoot the big Russian in the back.

The Russian backup arrives just in time to make things more complex. Zara, Gould, Hunter, and Werner gun down a bunch of the bad guys while retreating after the Dalai Lama and his monks. As they are making good their escape, Werner’s German troops show up and a gun fight ensues.

The characters escape, and led by the monks, get to the Dheva Cave where the Eye is held. Gould’s presence opens the eye, and his connection to it is even more powerful with Olga in proximity — it’s the first hint of why the Russians want her back: she is a focus for magic; her presence enhances the connection of magicians and magical objects to their source of power. The sounds of fighting move closer, and Gould grabs Olga and jumps through, with Hunter and the others following close.

On the other side, they arrive in a cave and startle a bunch of bats, which drives them out into the daylight. The characters find themselves in a hot, humid, and mountainous jungle. The air is thick, the sun small and incredibly bright, and around them are the grand ruins of an ancient city…Shambala or Shangri-la!?!

That was where we ended the night, with the characters finally having reached some exotic and unknown locale. The hollow earth? Some jungle on Earth? An alien world?

 

A little tweaking was needed this week for one of the NPCs in our current campaign. Here’s the result…

Olga Markova

Born in Kiev, 6 June 1911, Olga was the second child of Samuel Markov and his wife, Rachel. Her brother, David, is two years older. Her parents were Jewish, and ran a successful tailors shop. Her father was lightly involved in socialist politics, but avoided trouble. With the Revolution in 1917, her father moved swiftly to join the local Soviet, and avoid becoming a target. Her father was a member of the Ministry for Jewish Affairs under the Ukrainian  People’s Republic, and once the Bolsheviks arrived in force, he quickly joined the Yevsektsiya — the Bolshevik organization designed to eradicate Jewish culture and Zionist movements — in 1921.

An ally of Trotsky, when the Yevsektsiya was disbanded in 1929, Samuel fell afoul of the new GPU. Her parents were executed, her older brother David was sent to one of the new “gulags” in Siberia. 17 year old Olga became the plaything of Mikhail Ruslan, one of the local GPU Special Department officers. From there things get strange, and a lot of hearsay surrounds her background.

Ruslan was a protege of Gelb Bokii, the head of the Special Department, who was a close ally to both Lenin and Dzerzinsky. In addition to running the work camps, Bokii frequently was tasked with strange, esoteric operations. One of those operations under his oversight was the Bekhterev Brain Institute, where experimentation on “psychometry” and other mental abilities was conducted. He also was in charge of missions to find objects of power, and to investigate the location of Hyperborea. Olga was frequently at the Brain Institute, and was supposedly “very important” to Alexandr Barchenko — the head of the BBI — and was a regular attendee of the orgiastic gatherings of the Special Department at the Kuchino dacha.

Eventually,  in early 1932, Olga contacted the Bosphorous Hebrew Relief Fund, leaking information that Ruslan and Barchenko would be in the Crimea. The Rabinowitz Group attempted to kill the two men, but missed, having been intercepted by GPU agents. Olga, however, killed Ruslan and injured Barchenko, before escaping with one of the Rabinowitz thugs. This earned her a ticket to Istanbul, where she has been working wth the group ever since.

Olga has quickly established herself as a competent spy and blood-thirsty assassin of Cheka agents. She even made an attempt on Trotsky, himself, but missed. Most people do not see her coming; she uses her good looks and aloof demeanor to draw in her targets. Among the Rabinowitz Group she has a powerful reputation for her absolute calm in tense situations, the collection of whip scars on her back, and her vicious use of a great knout when questioning enemies.

Recently, she and her companions have become aware that she is of great interest to the Special Department’s Section 2 — their “mystical” investigations unit — and that Bokii, himself, wants her returned unharmed. There are several theories as to why: 1) she is a latent psychic, 2) she has some kind of mystic competency, and most likely 3) she has captivated several of the men or the Special Department.

Archetype: Spy     Motivation: Revenge     Health: 5     Style: 5

 

Height: 5’8”     Weight: 110 lbs     Hair: Black     Eyes: Green     Age 22

ATTRIBUTES: Body: 2   Dexterity: 3   Strength: 2   Charisma: 3   Intelligence: 3    Willpower: 3

Secondary Attributes:  Size: 0   Move: 5   Perception: 6   Initiative: 6   Defense: 5   Stun: 2

 

RESOURCES & TALENTS: Attractive; Finesse Attack: Systema and Melee; Magical Aptitude; Magical Focus: Can act as power source and focus for other magicians

FLAWS: Callous, Criminal; Hunted, GPU and other occult groups

LANGUAGE: Russian & Yiddish (native), French, Hebrew

SKILLS: Acrobatics 1/4, Athletics 2/ 4, Con 2/ 5, Diplomacy 1 / 4, Firearms 2/ 5, Investigation 2/ 4, Language 2/ 4, Martial Arts, Systema 2/ 5, Melee 2/ 5, Performance, Acting 1/ 4, Stealth 2/ 5, Streetwise 1/ 4, Survival 1/ 3

WEAPONS:

Knout Damage: 1N   Rng: 8’   Rate: 1   Spd: A

Ithaca Field Gun 12 gauge, sawed-down: Damage: 4L   Attack Rating: 9 (4+)L    Rng: 25’

Cap: 2   Rate: M   Spd: A

Knout is Russian for a type of scourge or whip. Often they had multiple rawhide thongs attached to a stout and long handle (like a cat o’ nine tails), but could also be a single, whip body that was less flexible than a bullwhip; these were more like oversized saps. These were used to punish criminals and political offenders until their use was abolished in 1845, and replaced with that of the pletti.

A variation, known as the great knout, consisted of a handle about 60 cm (24 in) long, to which was fastened a flat leather thong about twice the length of the handle, terminating with a large copper or brass ring to which was affixed a strip of hide about 5 cm (2 in) broad at the ring, and terminating at the end of 60 cm (24 in) in a point. This was soaked in milk and dried in the sun to make it harder. some versions replaced the lead shot or iron rings at the ends with fish hooks.

cossack knout

The pletti was a shorter, triple thonged knot that usually had lead balls woven into the ends.

knout

Knout or pletti:   Damage: 1N   Range: 6′   Str: 1   Spd: A

Great knout:   Damage: 1N (1L hooks version)   Range: 10′   Str: 1   Spd: A

 

This car was spotted in the garage of the man fixing their plane. It started with a toss off line about a beautiful Alfa with a Zagato body…little did I know that a few of these existed. And they’re gorgeous. So here it is, presented for the Ubiquity system:

1931 Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 Zagato Spyder

This 1931 Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 Gran Sport is from the fifth series of production and wears coachwork by Zagato, and is equipped with a superchanged 1750cc six-cylinder engine that provided 85 horsepower at 4400 rpm. In reality, it was first registered on August 10th of 1931 in the village of Saint Varent in Southwest France to Baron Phillipe de Gunzbourg and he owned it until about 1935. He used it for racing and hill climbing events.

31-Alfa-6C-1750_GS_DV-12-PBC_020

31-Alfa-6C-1750_GS_DV-12-PBC_025

31-Alfa-6C-1750_GS_DV-12-PBC_a05

Size: 2   Def: 6   Str: 6   Spd: 100 mph   Rng: 180 mi. Han: +2   Crew: 1   Pass: 1   Cost: $5000

This week’s play centered on the player that had been absent last week, and the introduction of a new player into the group. Most of the evening was character interaction, with the leader of the crew — Zara — going to a swanky jazz club, Maxim, for the evening with an old boyfriend. She encounters the new character, John Hunter, an agent of Terra Arcanum who has been tasked with keeping Dr. Gould safe and out of the wrong hands…

Maxim was a popular jazz joint near the embassies in the Pera District (Pera Palace was the most ritzy of the hotels, at the time), a section of Istabul that was also known for being a bit “rough”, much like the International Settlement of Shanghai. In many ways, the two cities parallel each other at this time: high levels of new immigration, with those populations being refugees from Russia (and after 1933, Germany and Eastern Europe.) The big players in the underground are White Russians, and Jewish refugees from various places. Maxim was run by an American black man, the son of Mississippi slaves who had emigrated to Russia, then fled to Turkey, where he wound up running the club.

We had it as the cynosure of jazz and expatriate culture — American and German performers, the infamous Greek opuim kings — the Eliopoulous brothers, Jewish academics recently arrived from Germany… During the course of the evening, Zara encounters Pavel Rabinowitz, the head of the ring that aided the other players last week, and Olga, the knout-weilding Ukrainian girl. He was doing her the courtesy of letting her know the boys were alive and well, and what they were up to.

Eventually, during the course of play, Hunter was able to gain enough trust to be invited along for the ride, and to my surprise, they also decided to enlist Olga in their exploits.

Next up — plane trips, India, and Tibet!

One of the NPCs introduced last time that seems to have caught the players’ attention. They have recruited her into their company…

Olga Markova

olgaOlga Markov was born in Kiev in 1909. Her father and mother ran a tailor’s shop and were solidly middle-class for the Russian Empire. Her father dabbled in socialism, and he was active in helping to fund legal aid for Jews that were targeted by the legal system, but never got into trouble himself. During the Great War, the family was able to avoid terrible hardship until the October Revolution in 1917. The Ukrainian  People’s Republic was formed and her father was a member of the Ministry for Jewish Affairs. When the Soviets came, he quickly joined the Yevsektsiya — the Bolshevik organization designed to eradicate Jewish culture and Zionist movements — to protect his family.

Her father was a traitor in many Russian Jews’ eyes, and despite his best efforts, when the Yevsektsiya was disbanded in 1929, he fell afoul of the NKVD for having been a supporter of Trotsky. He and his wife were executed, and Olga’s older brother David was sent to Siberia. She, on the other hand, had attracted the attention of Mikhail Ruslan — one of the local NKVD officers, who “rescued” her, making her his consort for several years, and it is rumored, worked on turning her into an agent of the state.

She was able to escape Ruslan’s clutches by setting him up for a squad of Jewish assassins from the Rabinowitz Group during a trip to the Crimean seaside. They were not successful in killing him, but Olga finished the job for them, and thus gained her ride to Istanbul with the few surviving assassins in 1931. She is one of the most effective killers the group has…very few see her coming.

She is tall at 5’8″, with a cold, unemotional demeanor. She rarely, if ever, lets her guard drop. The aloofness seems to make her highly attractive and often men underestimate her talent for violence. Those that know her reputation find her terrifying, partl for her preference for the knout — a kind of whip that was popular with tsarist landowners, and now with some NKVD agents.

Archetype: Spy     Motivation: Revenge     Health: 5     Style: 4

Body: 2, Dexterity: 3, Strength: 2, Charisma: 3, Intelligence: 2, Willpower: 3

Size: 0, Move: 5, Perception: 5, Initiative: 5, Defense: 5, Stun: 2

Resources: Rank 1 — Rabinowitz Group

Talents: Finesse Attack, Systema and Melee

Flaws: Callous, Criminal, Hunted, NKVD

Languages: Russian & Yiddish (native), German, Hebrew

Skills: Acrobatics 1/4, Athletics 2/4, Con 2/5, Diplomacy 1/4, Firearms 2/5, Investigation 2/4, Linguistics 2/4, Martial Arts (Systema) 2/5, Melee 2/5, Performance, Acting 1/4, Stealth 2/5, Survival 2/4

Weapons: Knout     Damage: 1N   Attack Rating: 6N   Rng: 8’   Rate: 1   Spd: A

cossack knout