A little something that showed up in a recent game session of Hollow Earth Expedition.

Putilov “Stalin” Stal-2 

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This strange aircraft is based on plans stolen from the American project to reverse engineer a Vril flying saucer recovered by the Los Angeles mission to the Hollow Earth. Putilov group created the Stal-2 (Steel-2) — a small flying saucer that uses contra-rotating blades around the circumference to provide lift. The craft is extremely nimble but has problems with arresting fast descents. It takes lots of practice to learn how to fly well, and only a few of these have gotten out into the field. None, so far, have survived testing or use in the wild.

It is armed with a pair of 20mm cannons facing forward that are controlled by the co-pilot/gunner. The craft features a pressurized cabin and can achieve high altitudes.

SIZE: 4     DEF: 6     STR: 10     SPD: 150   CEIL: 21,000     RNG: 300     HAN: +2     CREW: 2     PASS: n/a; Twin 20mm cannons:  Sze: 0   Dam: 8L   Rng: 500’   Cap: 150   Rate; A

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The third installment of our Hollow Earth Expedition campaign picked up right where we left off. Veitch and Erha rescued, the vril psychic in custody, and an expedition to Shambala planned. A small battalion of US Marines get ready to go through the Eye of Shambala. They know Morana, the former self-crowned Queen of Shambala has support there, so they go through in force, with motorcycles, a pair of M2 light tanks, 400 men with mortars, machineguns, and other weapons. Lastly, they’ve rigged an incredibly dangerous catapult system to throw the Dogfish minifighters through the Eye. To stay aloft, the pilots have to release the folding wings into position as soon as they are through or they’ll go into the ground like lawn darts.

Zelansky rides in one of the lead tanks, the marine colonel in the other. They find, on the other side, not just an entrenched force, but that the environment in the city is changed. Instead of a temperate climate with almost sea-level pressures, they are in a cold, snowy valley in the Himalayas — Shambala is here, but it has been damaged by bombings, and the once verdant valley is dying from cold. What happened!?!

But before they could investigate, they found themselves in a brutal fight with the people guarding the Great Gate — white-suited men with red stars on their caps: RUSSIANS! These are their elite reconnaissance paratroopers, some of the first in history. There are six Tupolev TB3s parked near the ancient spire that houses the Great Library of the city. The Russians have machinegun nests and mortar emplacements and soon the marines are in a pitched batter with the communists at 15’000′ in the most remote place on Earth. Moments later, the Dogfish come through and both O’Bannon and Veitch nailed their pilot tests, dropping their wings and taking to the skies. Fortunately, the minifighters are still tuned for Maritan air, and handle the shift to high altitude well.

The battle is pitched and Cointreau finds himself flashing back to WWI France. He and PIn-Li do their part, but try to stay out of the main fight…until Pin-Li gets blown up by a mortar. (Not killed, thanks to a massive plot point dump.) Cointreau loses it and takes up a gun — he first time since he was a lieutenant in the war — and starts mowing down any Russians he can find.

Zelansky leads his light tank in combat, punching through the Russian lines to hit the Tupolevs before the pilots can get them started. He succeeds in destroying several, including one that had a pair of I-16 fighters slung under the wings, but they don’t hit the two strange vehicles that come zipping out from behind the TB3s…weird saucer like craft that take to the skies to engage the Dogfish! Something like this…

xp5a693e0dThe Russians have flying saucers!?!  The craft seem to use contra-rotating fans along the outside of the aircraft, and it’s got a smoky exhaust, so not powered by Atlantean crystals or any exotic power source. It’s also got two pilots, one facing forward, one aft, and they each have a pair of 20mm cannons! The dogfight between the minifighters and saucers showed the Russian craft to be very nimble, but that they had trouble with slowing their descent rate. O’Bannon used this to crash one of the saucers, but he was shot down before he could splash the second. Veitch, however, got a great shot and damaged the second. It crashed while trying to line him up for a kill. For the scene, we ditched the dogfight rules from Secrets of the Surface World, and instead used the rules that we developed for Sky Pirates of the Mediterranean.

Eventually, they are able to win through. Between Cointreau going on a killing spree and an excellent use of diplomacy by Zelansky, they got the Soviets to surrender. Having secured the gate, they investigated the old tower and the city and found a few survivors from Shambala that had been kept for interrogation, and a single vril in the uniform of the Imperial Guard of Atlantis. This vril had come here with Morana to bring her followers to Atlantis, and to take what they needed from the Great Library. To Zelansky’s horror, the library is gone! Morana made off with about a third of the material, and burned the rest!

On their return to Los Angeles through the Great Gate, the decision was made to wire the gate in Shambala with enough explosives that, should it look like another force (including Morana) was going to take it, they could destroy it. They also hauled the wreckage of the Soviet saucers home for study only to find out, they are based on one of the Boston Project designs that Zek (Erha’s father) and she had been working on.

They’ve got a Soviet spy in their midst!

For the session after the invasion of Shambala, we switched it up. Instead of continuing with the current group of characters, we moved the action to the Second Earth, Atlania, where we opened on a Japanese torpedo boat, IJN Hayabusa, which had been lost here since 1933 when the inversion and emergence of the Second Earth happened. Only two of the original crew are left — one a PC named Hideki Reizo. An engineering lieutenant who had studied in the United States, he is from a good family of warriors and politicians. He, on the other hand, is a lair, cheat, and coward who was using the navy to get some cache to move into a more lucrative field, like landing a rich wife…and they he got stuck here.

Their ship was attacked by pirates months back and he agreed to help them with the boat in exchange for his safety. He and Ito, one of his machinist mates, are locked in a coal bunker turned into a brig along with the ship’s cook and “comfort woman”, a lizardwoman named Goldie. The ship has just taken a Thulian merchant ship and one of the captives is dumped in the hole with them. He is “the Doctor”, a man that supposedly wanders around helping all the creatures of the world. He knows all the weird chimera races, can fix anyone, it is said.

The Doctor is one of our players’ characters from the first Hollow Earth Expedition campaign in this universe, David Gould –a Spanish doctor who has Atlantean blood which made him our plot device to go to Tibet and find the Eye of Shambala the Americans currently have. He was also lover to Olga Markova — now Morana, the Empress of Atlantis and Queen of Shambala — who was responsible to releasing the Hollow Earth from its “dimensional bubble” inside the Earth. He helped create the Second Earth, and the disasters befalling the people, from the extreme climate changes, to the volcanoes and earthquakes, to the die off of the dinosaurs, to night, which still terrifies many on the world. This is all his fault, and he has been wnadering more to avoid people figuring this out and killing him.

Hideki is released for his shift in the engine room, and convinces the pirates Gould must aid Ito, who has been badly beaten for interfering with the crew when they sought to have Goldie cook her latest clutch of eggs for a crew’s meal. (Ito lost it because not only was this cruel…these men would be eating eggs they fathered on her!) Gould is released to try and heal him and at that moment, things go pear-shaped. Gould spots something in the water — dozens of merfolk, and riding one of them is Gustav Hassenfeldt, a big game hunter and the PC of another player and Gould’s companion in the old campaign.

With the aid of a lizardman (Blue Eye) and a hawkman (Icris) — both PCs — two dozen merfok, and Icris’ sons, Greay Feather and Swiftwing, they assault the ship and take it, while Gus’ beautiful 120′ trimaran comes into view. Gould and Gus meet for the first time since Gus saw Gould leave to track down Morana in the cavern of the Great Machine that had held the Hollow Earth inside of Earth. Gus is ecstatic to see his friend alive, but Gould is convinced they are simply waiting to kill him or worse. At some point he realizes that Gus has always been incapable of deceit; his friend is actually happy to see him.

They return to Gus’ base in the port town of Sagras just in time to catch a message runner coming from the west with a message for the Queen of Ultima Thule, whom Gus operates his trimaran as a privateer, hunting pirates and evil-doers. She has returned! it tells them. Morana, it seems, has returned to Atlantis. They fix and provision Hayabusa, which Hideki renames Soyokaze (“slow wind”) and they make to set off to Ultima Thule to warn the queen. Gus sneds word through the merfolk. Their songs can carry for hundreds of miles in the water, and they can move messages around the world faster than any ship or hawkman.

There was an interlude to do some character bits, including seeing Gus’ living conditions. He lives in a massive warehouse with his “wife”, the mermaid princess Osha, with whom he now has four children (and one on the way). We made out merfolk really alien, I used a mermaid design by Iain McCaig that is pretty, but really weird. For the longest time, it was their siren call that kept gus with her, but now…well, now it’s just his life.

When they get to Ultima Thule, they find the place has been slowly putting itself back together. There’s the beginnings of electrification, gun and powder manufacture, andthe rebuilding of section of the town destroyed by the inversion. Queen Inanna, a former general for the Emperor of Atlantis, is concerned about the news. Morana was dangerous before, but who knows what she’s been up to in the last three years. Gould is convinced they need to stop her, that there is something “inside her”, an entity or thing, he doesn’t know. Inanna’s new chief of the secret police, a Russian psychic that had been hunting Morana for years in the other campaign, agrees. She had no real talents outside of being able to act as a sort of “psychic battery” that other psychics could pull power from.

Gould gets the idea — Soyokaze has a radio. Could they call for help from Earth? The radio set is shortwave and they don’t have the power or antenna to pull it off, but Inanna has someone who might be able to help…

And that’s where we left off last week.

(Image credit: I snagged this Soviet flying saucer off of Pinterest a few weeks ago but don’t have original source info. My suspicion is Popular Mechanics or some such. If anyone happens to know where it’s from, let me know.)

So the second adventure in the current campaign of Hollow Earth Expedition saw our heroes, freshly returned from rescuing the members of their expedition on Mars, having a few days to finally rest and recuperate. The Martians they brought with them are still adapting to the Earth’s gravity and have been meeting with various diplomats and journalists. Rumors of how the Americans managed to get to Mars abound, but the Office of Scientific Intelligence has so far kept a lid n the truth.

The players found themselves our for a night on the town that involved some meeting period movies stars before they returned home to the Ocean View Motel in Bunker Hill (which, of course has no view of the Ocean…) that OSI uses as housing for their agents and scientists. The next morning, they are ready to head to the local HQ housed under the Goodyear Airship Factory in Huntingdon Park, but discover that Veitch (whose player was absent for the night) and Erha — the inventor characters — had not returned home. After they establish neither had gottne back to the Ocean View, they go to their headquaters, thinking they might have just gone back to work on the various projects. Nope.

They inform Director Byrd, who gets the FBI and LAPD out looking for them. It turns out, their FBI tail never returned from his shift, either! That’s not the only strangeness: one of the marines that had been on duty as a machine gunner when they first returned from Mars has been found dead in his barracks at the naval station in Long Beach. The autopsy is ongoing and finally reveals no reason for death…he just died. While the doctors assume natural causes, Zelansky — in classic cryptoscientist fashion — thinks that Morteus, the Atlantean God-King that had rules Morteus Das, the City of the Dead, on Mars and who seemed to take on living hosts might be loose in the Greater Los Angeles area!

But that was not the focus on this adventure. They are called out to the Los Angeles river, near Griffith Park, where the FBI agent’s car has been found with him stuffed in the trunk. Foul deeds are afoot! They check with the bus driver of the vehicle that Veitch and Erha had taken to the pier. They confirm they were some of the last people enjoying the rides at the amusement park there, and that they called a cab. One of th eride attendants remembers them because of Erha’s shocking white hair, and that there was another, foreign, couple. They establish that the cab was one of the green and white of the United independent Cab Company.

At the cab company in downtown, they talk to the shifty dispatcher, a guy named Manny Polo. The driver picked them up and dropped them off at the Ocean View, according to the dispatch logs. This is one of the first radio dispatch companies, so the logs were radioed in. The driver will be in soon, but Polo has them wait while he calls the guy in early. What he does, however, is calls some of his mafia toughs, and this leads to a spectacular fight in the street out front of the United Independent, involving chop-socky from Pin-Li and the pilot, O’Bannon; some swordcane play from the actor and cat-burglar, Cointreau; a bit of the use of the guardian trait by Zelansky, and a bit of damage to the headlight and hood ornament of Cointreau’s new Duisenberg.

They get a hold of the driver and establish he took them to the Ocean View, where the other couple drugged the passengers, and when an FBI agent tried to intervene, the man shot him. He then drove them to an address in Beverly Hills that turns out to be owned by the Austrian government, and is a consular residence protected by diplomatic immunity. Not wanting to wait for the niceties of diplomacy because who knows what the Austrians are doing to their people, they decide to let Cointreau do his thing and cat-burgle the place to rescue the pair.

The next session Veitch’s player was back so we startered with finding out what was happening to the pair: the Austrians are covering for a Gestapo snatch squad. The couple have another couple of men here to guard the house, and a vril! This man, Damien Weiss (Mr. White), is a Gestapo agent who was “rescued” after the Second Earth emerged from the Hollow Earth, He has been working for the Nazis, who hold him up as a racial exemplar. He’s also telepathic. He and the couple have been working the pair over, questioning them about the layout of the OSI headquarters, how far along the reverse engineering of the Atlantean flying saucers is going, and other aspects of the American program to unlock the secrets of the Hollow — new Second — Earth, and Mars.

The rest of the group rented a moving van as cover, so they could grab bad guys, if necessary, and to look nondescript. Cointreau took his Duisenberg, which in Beverly Hills, was also fairly nondescript. They bust into the house, confront the Gestapo which led to a hell of a series of fights between O’Bannon and Pin-LI with the Germans (a few who knew kung fu because of course some of the bad guys had to…) They rescue the pair, but Weiss and one of the Nazis are escaping in a Cadillac! Cointreau and Pin-LI, with Erha and Veitch in his Duisey, give chase, while O’Bannon winds up joining the chase late (long fight scene) on a Zundapp motorcycle. Zelansky, following the traffic laws and taking a safer route, eventually catches up to the aftermath of the chase, but it was great comedic relief.

The chase scene was classic action movie through the streets, with gunplay, cars ramming each other, and finally a spectacular crash by the Caddy, which landed on the motorcycle moments after O’Bannon bailed from it. Great stuff. They capture the vril, and get everyone home in the now destroyed Duisey and panel van. Which Zelansky returns unscathed…to get back the deposit, of course.

They now has an vril agent of the Gestapo with mind powers in the infirmary. But there’s intelligence from Shanghai that their former nemesis, Obersturmfuhrer Werner had been released by the Germans, and that the Nazis are trying to bribe the Chinese Nationalist government to let them take an expedition “into the deep interior” (they assume to find Shambala) in exchange for aircraft and training support. The Chinese are considering it. They have to secure Shambala before the Nazis get there. It looks like it’s time to fire up the gate!

We picked up our Hollow Earth Expedition campaign right where we left off: the characters had returned from Mars through the ancient Atlantean gate in Moreus Das, the City of the Dead, arriving in the underground headquarters of the Boston Project of the Office of Scientific Investigations. They came through the gate, pursued by the ancient God-King Morteus, and Veitch — their resident man with Atlantean blood — only just managed to close the portal in time. However, a strange energy surge blasted out of the gate, knocking everyone down. But they were home, and had to quickly move to protect the Martian, an elosi named “Silent Watcher” who they had brought with them, from the antsy marines guarding the place.

Quickly, they report the situation to Director (former Admiral) Byrd: the marines they had been trapped on Mars are still there and need rescuing, but the other gate opens onto a city where some ancient force is keeping people from dying, and electrical technology doesn’t work. He’s been putting together a force, commanded by Colonel Trevor Adams, for just that purpose. They even have another man that can operate the Atlantean technology, a doctor named Gould. His brother was stuck on the other side of the Hollow Earth when “the incident” happened, causing the inner world to turn inside out and emerge from the Earth. It now follows Earth in its orbit, close enough to be seen easily with the naked eye, but far enough it has not disturbed Earth’s path. While the marines are preparing their mortars, machineguns, flamethrowers, and other equipment, Byrd gives them the low-down on the situation on Earth.

Their message from Mars has set off a firestorm throughout the world. Every amateur astronomer, ham radio man, and military in the world picked up the signal, and some even identified it as American. The cat’s out of the bag and the space race is on! They have to get their men back, but after that there are a bunch of fires to put out!

With another rifle company of marines, Veitch opens the Eye of Shambala to Mars and they rush through to secure the place. The body of Morteus is gone, and the Martians that have been kept alive by whatever force ruled here are dying — some were held on the edge of expiry for centuries and simply stopped, others are still hale enough to be a problem…but not one marines with .50 calibers, flamethrowers, and mortars can’t handle. While they are securing the perimeter, Zelansky realizes the healing effect is gone…might the effect preventing electric equipment be, as well? He tries the marines’ radio, calling the Dogfish minifighters on the Martian cloudship Warm Winds, which they can see is in the sky a few miles away, tacking to the north as it abandoned the city. It works! They manage to call back the ship, and while the marines hold a perimeter, recover their men, the three Dogfish, and they are able to convince Princess Priya, who had come on the mission to “establish relations with the Earth”, as well as the pair of gorilla-like Grodh that serve Cointreau, to join them in returning to Earth.

With this successful mission to another world under their belt, the characters were given checkups and medical treatment, while their Martian friends were taken care of. The massive Earth gravity is almost too much even for the powerful Grodh! Zelansky is taken aside by Byrd: The next matter is that of the world-wide story of life on Mars, and that it might have been Americans. Other nations know the messages were US coded and have speculated about it. The president wanted to keep it quiet, but with the arrival of the Martian guests, Roosevelt has decided to meet the problem head-on (and also shine some light on American ingenuity) by giving a press briefing right here in Los Angeles on the situation. He has requested the leader of the expedition, Zelansky, be present, and they want to do a dog-and-pony show at the news conference with the aliens.

FDR and Eleanor are on a campaign tour and are making their stop in Los Angeles. Aliens! Americans on Mars! And Alf Langdon’s not really doing much in the way of campaigning! The president has his reelection in the bag, despite the issues the New Deal is having with the courts. They put the aliens up at the Biltmore, on the same floor the president has set aside for him retinue, and the party finds themselves invited to a presidential function. Following the spectacle of Zelansky’s briefing, and the introduction of Priya, Silent Watcher, and the Grodh, the characters are pulled aside by Byrd.

OSI is riding high on this one, and the president has already assured him of all the support they need. Which brings him to the next matter: there’s one unsecured portal on Earth. Shambala, in Tibet. The Russians and Germans both know about it, and somehow their old nemesis, Obersturmfuhrer Werner, has managed to escape from Chinese justice by buying the Nationalists off. The Germans are offering planes and men to train the Chinese Air Force in exchange for dropping the charges against Werner and allowing expeditions into the deep interior of the country. They will have to move fast, but this is dangerous territory  — the United States can’t just invade another sovereign country, especially an ally. They have to make certain that no one knows they are there.

He knows most of Zelansky’s party aren’t Americans, and have no real skin in the game …but are they in? The State Department already has a reward for O’Bannon — an Irish passport, and the dropping of all charges against him for his part in the Irish Civil War by both the British and Irish governments. Byrd can offer Veitch a place with Boston or Columbus Project: both are in need of a man with his talents. OSI would set him up with a lab to work on their reverse engineering of the Atlantean flying saucers, or some of the other projects with Nikola Tesla in New York. Cointreau and Pin-Li have provided invaluable service to the United States, and as a result, they’ve got that nice stipend, but he’s wrangled a work visa for them both, should they wish to return to the US to work in Hollywood. Or, they’ll be going home in style on the Pan Am  Philippine Clipper from San Fran via Hawaii and Yokohama, then a first class ticket to Shanghai. It’s an open ticket.

Erha wants to know about her father (who was captured in the last campaign by Morana, a powerful psychic or sorceress…they don’t know which); when are they going to rescue him? First, Byrd says they need to secure the gate and prevent any outside influences from engaging with Morana. The Russians and she have a rich and sordid past, and the Nazis — who knows what Hitler would do with a few more flying saucers. Their intelligence says some of their diesel-powered ones have actually flown. They need to secure the gates to Earth, find out more about Morana and her connection to Atlantis, up there on the “Second Earth”, so they can figure out how to save her father.

All of the characters decided to join up for the fight…

Our new 50 page guide to airships from the interwar era has arrived. The book included the actual histories of the vessels, with suggestions for how to tweak history to use these giants of the air in your Ubiquity games. Rules suggestions to more realistically use these ships in combat, and game statistics for them are included.  Got to DriveThruRPG or RPGNow to find the ebook for $9.99.

airship front ubi

The party reached Morteus Das, the City of Dead tonight. The city was found to be crumbling, the buildings twisted and ruined, and there were several wrecks of skyships that had crashed at various times. Zelansky decided they would land outside the city, upon seeing that. They could see the Black Gate in the center plaza of the city, a gate large enough for battalions to walk through, for tanks and other materiel to drive through. Around the walls of the city, small, desperate settlements with movement. The great X of canals that carved through the city have been dammed, preventing flow into the city and a wide circular canal hems the city in. Even though the land outside the ring canal is green and as fertile as Mars gets, the settlements on that side of the canal are abandoned and in disrepair…why? The feeling of despair, loneliness, and danger permeate the air, and Veitch hears in his head, “I knew you would come! I am so looking forward to meeting you, my boy.”

Before Warm Winds could land, however, Davira — one of the Martians fronting the mission — ordered the captain to hold a few dozen feet over the ground. Streaming from the settlements around the walls of the city were hundreds of Martians, offering relics and other junk in trade for food. They had crossed one of the bridges over the ring canal, and as they approached, the party could see signs of “Martian plague” — a disease combining the worst elements of dementia, leprosy, and proteus syndrome: mis-shappen from their disease, poxed, limbs eroding, the denizens of the settlements around the city tried to beg supplies, and became increasingly erratic when they were not heeded, most shuffled back to the city as the symptoms of their injuries or illnesses took hold. Only one remained to warn them away from the city, but in terms that I knew would provoke the characters with curiosity flaws into investigating.

Zelansky was not so certain their mission to the city could be successful. The gate was larger than they anticipated and most likely could not be moved, if the city had some kind of effect that disabled vessels. The people were diseases and hostile. He considered taking the marines and pushing into the city in force, but Captain Smith, the marine commander, suggested against it. They had no way of knowing what they were walking into. In the end, he decided on a small reconnaissance mission comprised of the party and Cointreau’s grodh servants, Gruhl and Zhargo, and the enigmatic Silent Watcher, an elosi. They knocked up a small 10-man boat from wood and canvas, and entered the city under cover of darkness.

While inside the city, they realized their compass gave a true direction, seemingly toward the center of town. They stopped to radio the ship, but found themselves attacked by a prehistoric-looking creature with six legs, a hammerhead with a lamprey-like mouth, and a tail studded with spikes which it used to nearly kill Post. Post found his heat ray rifle, and Veitch that his coilgun were non-functional! The oridium bullets in their pistols did not produce blaster blots, but instead looked more like dull tracer rounds. At this point, O’Bannon, armed with a BAR .30 from the marines, cut the beast down with a long burst. This, however, brought the attention of the city’s denizens, and they had to slip away before a throng of Martians found them.

Their compass led them to the palace of Morteus himself, and inside they foudn the throne room, with the infamous Sundered Throne, broken in the war between Atlanean God-Kings. They were greeted by Kallas, the Martian from the riot when they were landing. He knew they would come; the Black Gate is their only way home to Earth. Silent Watcher added that Veitch can activate the gate, and Cointreau has been touched by “one of them” and she — they knew instantly he meant Morana, the would-be empress of Atlantis, and “Queen of Shambala” — would answer their calls to open the gate. Once done, they will be able to leave this world with their followers. Kallas proceeded to monologue for a bit, with the shadows of the throne room thickening around him, until they seemed to be wrapping him in tendrils that worked inside of him…then he seemed to big for his skin, eventually exploding open to reveal a 12 foot tall, four-armed god much like Shiva — dark skinned, wild-eyed. Morteus himself!

Cointreau dropped a smoke bomb and the party ran for it, with the followers in hot pursuit. Pin-Li got to do some chop-socky on a group of them, while Cointreau used one of his pistols to knock over one of the brazers lighting the room and cut off some of their pursuers behind a wall of flame. They found themselves in the central plaza, in front of the ornate and enormous Black Gate, and the monstrous sacrificial altar, shaped like a horribly shaped head and set of jaws made out of obsidian that stood in front of it. The Martian followers of Morteus slipped into the plaza from all sides. they were surrounded! Zelanksy order Gruhl and Zhargo to take a message to the ship, informing the marines to return to the safety of Sigeus Portus, where they had set up a communications relay with an orichalcum-powered radio. Cointreau, meanwhile, reached out with his mind, calling to Morana for help (and with some style points, got a great roll.) Suddenly the gate opens!

Zelansky yelled for Veitch to visualize the labs back on Earth, but Silent Watcher suggested another place — somewhere desolate and empty, a plain with brilliant stars overhead. Veitch realizes he is planning on trapping Morteus! He focused on the image in his mind and when Morteus plowed past them to go through the gate, Silent Watcher ordered him to “close it!” Where did he go? Silent Watcher’s thoughts assured them he was someplace “safe.”

Veitch reopened the Black Gate and they dove through to escape the closing ranks of enraged cultists, landing in the facility in Los Angeles, but without the grodh or Silen Watcher. The marines…they are stuck on Mars. And Erha’s father remains stuck in Shambala or Atlantis, or wherever he is.

That was the close of our current run of Hollow Earth Expedition, while we swap over to our Roman fantasy campaign. To try and mesh the flavor of the campaign and capture the types of magic from Celtic and other period myths, we are moving from Dungeons & Dragons 5th Ed. to a new set of mechanics to see how it goes. (If it doesn’t we can always return to D&D.)

Heavy work loads have kept me from updating of late, but our Hollow Earth Expedition campaign continues apace. The characters, aided by scions of the Houses Arvasala (who control the canals and water trade in the area near Parras Das, and the Davira, who mine oridium — the element that powers many of the ancient Atlantean contraptions, as well as being the material “blasters” use. Their vessel is Warm Winds, a large, armed merchantman they have modified with a carry deck for the three Dogfish. They can be launched and recovered using a trapeze rig similar to those on the airship Akron. Crewed by the US marines under Zelansky’s command, and Martian sky sailors under the captain hired by the Arvasala and Davira, the ship moves along the canal out of Parras Das to Avevel, a city on the edge of the Aerian desert. The nearby hills are inhabited by Red Martians that mine the oridium for the Davira family.

Of course, they get attacked by a pair of vessels from a nearby city-state that has attacked the oridium mines and the villages the miners live in, attempting to snatch the oridium trade from the Davira. A battle between the two slave-driven galleys (ala Space:1889) was short-lived, with some excellent rolls by the characters. The Dogfish, in particular, had been ripping up the enemy. This led to the destruction of one raider galley, and the capture of the crew of the second. The characters put down a boarding party to force the surrender of that crew, but the commander was not disposed to give in, and Cointreau wound up killing him. This led to him picking up a pair of Grodh, the four-armed ape-like “people” of Mars. They were slaves of the captain, now they are his by right of combat, as is everything else he had.

They learned a force had been landed by these pirates to take the mines, and the Dogfish raced off to investigate, finding a pitched battle between a hundred of the raiders vs. twice as many miners who were not as well armed, and whose villages had been bombed from the air, pushing them into the hills. A few strafing runs and the arrival of Warm Winds led to these soldiers retreating into the desert…and a certain death. As a punishment for the attack on the villages, the crew of the second ship were turned over to the locals. Almost certainly, they are now slaves.

The ship continued south toward Morteus Das and was caught in a massive, days-long sandstorm that damaged the ship and caused the maglev drive to malfunction. They were only just able to put the ship down in the blinding swirl of dust, then had to wait out the storm. The next day, they woke to find the ship had nearly gone over a half mile deep chasm into the Meridani Sinus, an area that has some of the last free-standing water on Mars due to the valley having been cut off and its aquifer blasted to the surface by meteor hits on either end of the valley. They also found dead animals and Martians from several caravan vehicles that had been blown across the desert to end up in the sand dune under Warm Wind‘s aft. Several had attempted to scale the dune to get to the broken out windows of the captain’s cabin, but were killed by sandblasting.

A two day stop at Sigeus Portus, the “Gateway to the Valley” provided a diverting stop where they were feted by the priests of the city for their “pilgrimage” to Morteus Das. The ship was fixed and they continued over the lakes and scrublands of the Sinus, then through the mountains to the City of the Dead. In the passes of the mountains, they anticipated an attack, and the Dogfish spotted a pirate vessel with smaller propeller-driven skiffs getting loaded up to attack. A few strafing runs damaged the lead vessel, but the skiffs got away in the twisting valleys of the mountain range and almost made it to Warm Winds. One was shot down by Veitch and his new, orichalcum-powered coilgun; the other crashed into the side of the ship and led to a boarding action that was quickly repelled by Cointreau, Pin-Li, and the Grodhs. A few exchanges of cannon fire saw Warm Winds damaged, and the pirate vessel dropped from the sky.

Finally, they made it to Morteus Das, the City of the Dead, and the first Atlantean city of Mars. The city was found to be crumbling, the buildings twisted and ruined, and there were several wrecks of skyships that had crashed at various times. Zelansky decided they would land outside the city, upon seeing that. They could see the Black Gate in the center plaza of the city, a gate large enough for battalions to walk through, for tanks and other materiel to drive through. Around the walls of the city, small, desperate settlements with movement. The great X of canals that carved through the city have been dammed, preventing flow into the city and a wide circular canal hems the city in. Even though the land outside the ring canal is green and as fertile as Mars gets, the settlements on that side of the canal are abandoned and in disrepair…why? The feeling of despair, loneliness, and danger permeate the air, and Veitch hears in his head, “I knew you would come! I am so looking forward to meeting you, my boy.”