So, as we get closer to the end of this chapter…volume…whatever of our Dungeons & Dragons campaign, I’ve been giving thought as to “what next?” I have some idea of what i want to do with the D&D game, but it’s not really been thought out beyond this point. Moreover, I’d really like to get some pulp action, which lead me to start working on idea for the next stage of the Hollow Earth Expedition game we put on hiatus earlier this year.

We ended on a pretty setting changing note: the Inner World was some kind of ancient prison built by gods(?) to hold in all manner of things. When the Great Machine that held the world inside the Earth in a pocket dimension of sorts was turned off, this Inner World slipped loose and eventually — inverted into a world of its own — sat in the same orbit as Earth, trailing some distance our world.

It’s a pulp game, so the hows, why, and do you mind if I don’ts do not matter…we have a Second Earth.

So, the ideas: there should be two sets of characters, one on Earth and one on “Atlantia”, as the place is being called by the scientific community. I like this, but as I think about it, I suspect leaving the old characters to be NPCs if an when they are discovered is a better way to go.

Second, the passage of the worlds, which were not quite in dimensional synch with each other means that some of the things from the Hollow Earth were deposited on the Surface World, and some people and things from Earth were transported with Atlantia. This would allow for the new players who weren’t there for the first campaign to be thrown into this new world without knowledge of what came before.

I mentioned that the Second Earth came through our world on the Pacific side, so most of the effects were felt in the Far East and South Pacific. Why? Because that’s where 1930s pulp stories often had the weird stuff happening: new islands with dinosaurs, half-man creatures in China and Tibet; on Atlantia, a missing Japanese Imperial navy task force…

Third, both the German and American expeditions to the Hollow Earth escaped with their Atlantean flying saucers. That means the Nazis and Americans are feverishly trying to reverse engineer the technology of the Ancients. And now the once-secret Hollow Earth is there for everyone to see 20 degrees trailing Earth…

I’ll be jumping the timeline three(ish) years from 1933 to 1936, to give the various powers a bit of time to come to grips with the tech and the new world. There’s best way to go, I think  — 1) World War II will happen later or not at all, as Atlantia captures their attention, 2) a “space race” to get to Atlantia and discover its secrets with a Rocket Ranger kind of quality to it.

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So, tonight was an example of how something can go beautifully right and wrong at the same time. The characters were left in various cliffhangers: several of them toppling to their deaths, and one captured by the Emperor of Atlantis, and their former friend Olga — now a sorceress self-named Lady Morana.

We opened with Dr. Gould, hallucinating from the massive hit he took from the Emperor’s “ring of power”. He was in a black space with a trio of eyes, one atop another, gazing on him in disappointment at being distracted by the Inner World. That prison is the past, he is needed now…but before they can say much else they are interrupted by Olga’s voice askng “Who are you?” to the Eyes. The presence is stunned — she has been resurrected! Kaarna! “No, she is here, but she is not speaking,” Olga tells it. In a panic, the eyes close. gould wakes up from this dream to find himself prisoner on the imperial barge, headed for Atlantis.

Meanwhile, Gus Hassenfeldt and Lady Zara fall to their near-death, landing in a pool in one of the other suspended gardens. After doing some quick first aid, they try to get to the top of the strange building they are in, making their way through plant growth that has taken over the lower levels. Eventually, they reach the top promenade to see the barge and its saucer escort flying away. They also find their saucer shot up and their pilot near death from smoke inhalation. Once everyone had gotten attention, they settled down to the business of survival: finding plants they could eat, hunting some of the birds. After a few days, they were finally rescued by Lord Amon and Zek , who had come for them, despite the impending attacks on Atlantis’ forces.

Gus stumbled on the idea of using the uniforms from a few of the dead imperial guardsmen so that he and Amon can sneak into the royal tower and rescue Gould. It’s an insane plan, but they needed the doctor for something big…the fate of the Inner World could hang in the balance! Under the cover of a heavy thunderstorm, Gus, Amon, and Zara head for Atlantis to save Gould.

Over those two days, Gould was nursed back to health by some of the half-dressed slave women (ain’t they always?) in the palace before being brought before the head of the secret police, Cpt. Thoth — the vril who wears a strange beaked mask to hide his disturbingly damaged face. He is pumped full of drugs to make him malleable, then with the Emperor and Morana/Olga, he is taken to see the “Great Machine” which gives this place existence….

Their saucer arrives without incident and Amon and Gus, using Zara as the ol’ “prisoner they’ve captured” gambit, get taken to Thoth, who immediately recognizes them. This led to a full blown firefight with a half dozen armed policemen, a dozen or so “observers” who keep tabs on the goings-on in the city, and Thoth. In the process, Thoth seals the room and lets poison gas into the chamber (his mask filters it out.)

Amon is shot, Gus manages to disarm, then demask, Thoth, who surprisingly fights back! Despite a horrible crack to the head with a heat rifle, the secret policeman continues to attack! Gus tosses the mask to Zara who wears it while pulling Amon to the doors. His face isn’t the only thing damaged, he tells Gus; his injuries prevent him from feeling pain, including the gas that is steadily killing all of them. Gus gets a hold of the guy and uses his face to smash the buttons on his control panel, opening the doors and allowing them all to escape.

Thoth dies, but they get a hold of his lieutenant, Iris, whom Zara shoots and questions for Gould’s whereabouts. With Amon out of the action, and Zara going to find their other friend Shria, Gus gets into one of the imperial elevators and heads for the Great Machine, deep under ground.

Unfortunately, Gould has already seen the thing — a massive crystalline device that burrows deep into the ground below. Pulsing with energy and tied into the electromagnetic field of the Earth, the machine is keeping the pocket dimension of the Hollow Earth inflated and created the central sun. Olga’s presence has supercharged it, and he can feel it filled with energy and information. Mot goads him into joining with the machine, but wasn’t counting on Gould gaining control of the device. It’s all too much, however, and when Olga tells him to let her into his mind, he does. With that, she has him “turn the key”, opening the prison forever!

The world twists and turns, wracked by lightning storms, the ground tearing itself open, and the sun balloons in size, heating everything unbearably…the city is falling down around their ears, the canals are draining into the new fissures in the ground, the clouds are boiling! Then it is as if a wall of rock in superimposed on them; like they are sliding through it — save a few places where the superimposition does not hold…then the world turns inside out!

In the ruins of the imperial tower, Gus gazes out on the destruction, and beyond to the setting sun on the horizon. In the sky overhead, a moon — except no moon is a blue and white mottled ball with its own small moon. He manages to find a way down on of the elevator shafts to find Gould, and together they climb back to the surface.

Outside in the wreckage, they can see Earth, a bit smaller than the moon, in their new night sky

We ended the night there and have put the campaign on hiatus because 1) it’s a great stopping point for the game, and 2) I have no idea what to do now. It was an exciting night, with a good fight, creepy moments, big set pieces, and one hell of a cliffhanger, but it all came together because, well, I forgot to save my notes for the night.

Which brings me to the GM tips section of this piece: what the hell to do when you’re not really prepared on game night? Have one, maybe two basic things you want to accomplish. I wanted 1) a rescue attempt, 2) a showdown with Thoth, and 3) the reveal on the Great Machine.

The rescue attempt is boilerplate Star Wars: Imperial guard uniforms and saucer (it’s an imperial transport…), they slip in to the big secret base, and eventually have to fight their way out. I kept it simple — a single CON roll to convince the other guards they should be there until they got to Thoth. A good death trap to go along with a creepy major henchman with some kind of hook (he’s horribly disfigured and doesn’t feel pain.)

What i hadn’t planned on was Gould going along with their plan quite so easily. He had a few options: Destroy the inner world and keep the surface safe, stabilize the inner world and make it more accessible from the outside, or decouple it from Earth entirely.

I was going to go with a Space:1889-esque beat and have the Inner World settle over Venus to get my jungle world with dinosaurs to complement the dying Mars, but it seemed more reasonable to create a new Earth, trailing ours close enough to be seen. This new angle gives me a few options for future games — they can try to find their way home (probably through one of the “Eyes” like the one they originally traveled through); they can engage in some sandals and sorcery action; or I can shift the focus to a pre-WWII Earth that just got some Atlantean technology injected into the mix, and which now has a new world only a few light seconds away.

The last option presents a classic alternate space age WWII — rockets and Nazis in space!

Or, I’ve jumped the shark. I guess we’ll see.

So, this week saw everyone back and just in time for the big meet with the Emperor of Atlantis. The characters had convinced the Valhallans to join the fight to preserve Ultima Thule, and decided to bring the Soviets from the crash of SSSR-V6 back with them. The two members of the GPU unit that have been trying to recapture Olga since early in the campaign are convinced they’ll be needed to stop her, if her powers have truly been unleashed, but the characters — rightly not trusting them — leave them at home.

They head to the location they and the Atlanteans had agreed on — a neutral spot on an inland sea outside the control of Atlantis. There they found a high mountain range with a massive inland sea and near the northeastern spit of water, a huge crystal and metal building, like an upside-down ziggurat from which streams of water and clouds of steam escaped. The middle of this inverted pyramid was open, stepped leading down to a super-heated pool of water. Various “islands” with water features and gardens were suspended in the middle and the scale of everything was that of a place made for people bigger than Man.

Nearby, a large imperial ship in red and gold waited, and a few saucers were keeping the area secured. They landed on a pad, and Dr. Gould stayed inside the saucer with their pilot, planning on only revealing himself to win Olga over, if she was there; they knew he was of value to the emperor, and it was too risky to show him off. Gus Hassenfeldt, “Sky Marshal” Hunter, and Zara, with a small guard of panthermen to protect them, were directed through the upper floors of the structure to a massive suspended park with waterfalls and gardens.

There they found Emperor Mot (I settled on going with the classic Max von Sydow Ming for the general look and feel) and Olga — or Lady Morana (a Russian death goddess) — dressed in your basic black slinky femme fatale number, complete with cape, and their collection of royal guardsmen. After some banter between the sides, Gus tried to keep the conversation on peace-making: they only started the rebellion to reseat their friend Amon in Ultima Thule (done), and to rescue their friends Olga and Shria. Olga/Morana, however, doesn’t need to be saved. She is perfectly content to be the emperor’s right-hand and consort. Mot even agrees to return Shria to them, if they walk away and disband their rebellion.

Meanwhile, Olga has reached out and touched Gould’s mind, luring him to join them. There, he is surprised to find she doesn’t want to leave with them. She has everything she needs here, but they need him to save the Inner World from collapse. Mot needs him to help “turn the key” and save this world, and he needs Olga’s ability to supercharge the Atlantean technology to do it. They try to convince him to join Mot and his friends can leave in peace…he might even mean it, they think.

But Gould pushes too hard, trying to convince Olga to run away with them. She refuses — Mot has given her more than she could have out there: she has been awakened to her power, she has authority and resect, power, and when she is done with Mot, she will rule this world! The final dig — he also gave her a son. Gould falls apart and she is able to ensorcel him to leave while giving the guardsmen their orders.

The battle was fast and brutal. Gus takes out two guardsmen with rapidity, while Hunter hoses the emperor down with his Chicago Typewriter…but the .45s from the Tommy gun reflect away as the emperor raises his fist. There is a glowing ring with the symbol of the Terra Arcanum on it. He then uses telekenesis to launch Hunter over the side of the bridge to his apparent death below.

Gus grabs Zara and throws them both over the side into a water feature to escape the heat rays of the guardsmen remaining. They are sucked through some kind of tube and expelled into the central terracing of the pyramid, falling…

The gunfire snapped Gould out of it and he runs for it, just in time to see their saucer apparently explode on the concourse above! They are trapped. Then he sees his friends gone, the panthermen cut down by heat ray fire, and Mot closing on him. With a flick of the wrist, his telekinesis knocks the doctor cold. As he passed out, his last sight is Olga standing over him with that derisive look she always gives those enemies she deems beneath her.

This was a fun one, and mostly played off the cuff. I didn’t have much time to plan as I had a last minute hire at the local community college to teach history, and was scrambling to get through the paperwork and mandatory training.

I knew I wanted a big action set piece that was weird and exotic, and big — the same way the Star Wars settings like the Death Star interiors were BIG. This was their first meeting with the big bad, and we had to see him in a venue that was big, strange, and intimidating to give the character more impact, as well. The von Sydow Ming remains one of the all-time best biddies in cinema history and he was always in my mind when I was mentioning the guy as the sinister off-screen presence. He had to POP to make this work: he couldn’t be a push-over, couldn’t be anything but calm, menacing, but charming in his own way.

I was fortunate enough to bunce some ideas off of Runeslinger last night. I wanted something that had that hawkman city vibe from Flash Gordon, but bigger. He suggested the geyser idea, which I ran with and changed the venue to the giant upside down pyramid for the weird factor. He mentioned “spa o the Gods” and it all clicked. (One of the other players used the same term later in play and got a style point for it…)

Olga had to come off different. She was always quiet, violent, but with that defensive, abused quality that made her a bit human. Now they see her as a sort of Black Queen: confident, powerful, angry, and twisted. Mot has either made her into something obscene, or worse…released something that was always there. This NPC was always an enigma. I had early visions of her secretly being a GPU agent trying to find the Hollow Earth. I considered that she was just so broken that she was truly sociopathic, but hadn’t crossed the line into cold-blooded killer (but was close.) But when she got captured, I knew I had my angle — the abused creature of power that is finally trained well enough to be dangerous and now has her own agenda, which might be to see everything burn (Gould’s concern), unbridled power, or something else.

So again we pulled off a top-notch cliffhanger with a major PC captured, his girlfriend turned into a sorcerous villainess, the others falling to their deaths(?) and the emperor winning.

 

We were down a person for Hollow Earth Expedition this week, so with a bit a soft-shoe we pressed on with a bit of “talking about or feelings” — we saw that Gus Hassenfeldt was shacked up with his mermaid “wife” in a damaged warehouse on the waterfront, where she was out of the ever-present sun of the Inner World, and had access to water from the interior boat dock. Dr. Gould is throwing himself fully into the campaign against Atlantis in a desperate attempt to save Olga (now known as Lady Morana, the emperor’s “favored” consort…) and has been showing tactical acumen that is impressing the turncoat, General Inanna.

They visit the impressive Royal Library of Thule, where Lord Trevor and a couple of the German science team from Deutschland have been digging through the history of the Hollow Earth. They ascertained that the place was artificially created — something all the denizens seem to know — by some “Great Lord” about 1000-2000BC, to rid the world of the evils created by the “gods” of Man. They posit this might be Ahura Mazda, or even Yahweh… The Atlantans were the guardians of the gateways to this prison, and they seemed to have fallen from grace somehow. This led to the “sinking of Atlantis.” Most of their people died along the way, replaced by their servants, the vril. There are vril with Atlantean blood, but for some reason some of the Ancient tech doesn’t work for them, only for humans with Atlantean blood.

Their visit with the scientists is cut short — Atlantis is sending an envoy to parlay, responding to their request to open a dialogue. She arrives in a saucer, a slinky smart woman with a pantherwoman as a pet on a leash. This is Captain Iris of the Imperial Secret Police. She is here to suss them out, and delivers the emperor’s offer to talk, but only with the Outlanders. He sees them (rightfully) as the impetus of this rebellion, and wants to find out what they want. Everyone on the alliance side realizes this is almost certainly a trap to get their hands on the Atlantean-blooded Gould. They agree, but say that will only send Gus, but they want Olga there, and want a meet in a neutral spot. (They intend Gould to be hidden until the right moment, hoping he can win Olga back to their side.)

After Iris is away with their counter-proposal, they get more disturbing news: the German airship, Deutschland, was seen yesterday heading toward Valhalla…but why? They were supposed to be doing a goodwill tour and picking up more troops for Ultima Thule’s defense. Is it some kind of double cross? They’ve left two scientists and a platoon of their men in Ulitma Thule under Linz, a junior Obersturmfuhrer…he is as gobsmacked as they!

Gould and Gus race to Valhalla in a saucer and arrive to find Deutschland and Los Angeles both gone. King Woden was informed their attack on Ultima Thule had failed, and Obersturmbahnfuhrer Werner convinced Admiral Byrd to take Los Angeles and head for the surface. Both airships have a pair of the Atlantean saucers they were given as gigs, and they took the craft with them! (They know that Werner would have needed the LA to get out of the Hollow Earth — Gould’s brother, aboard the American airship, is the only other person they know whose presence can open the Northern Entrance.)

Woden knew the story about their loss at Ulitma Thule was a failure, but let them go. There was obviously some ulterior motive for the Outlanders decamping the Inner World. Fortunately, he has some idea of why from the same place he knew the reports of their failure were false: his new friends, the remaining crew of the crashed Soviet airship SSSR-V6! With the crew is the GPU psychic, Galina Obreva (an on-going antagonist) and her superior, Capt. Arkady “the Ghost” Lenshev, a man with the power to “cloud men’s minds.”

They warned Gus and Gould about Olga — that she had powers far beyond those they knew about. Even the Special Department of the GPU wasn’t foolish enough to train her. But if the Emperor of Atlantis has wakened those abilities in her, no one is safe — not here in the Inner World, or on the surface.

They must stop her, and they will help with the rebellion to do so…

After two weeks of holiday nonsense, the group got together to continue our Hollow Earth Expedition campaign. The characters, now bolstered with Amazons, hawkmen, panthermen, Waffen-SS, and Atlantean turncoats, turn their fleet of airships toward Ultima Thule, with an eye to restoring Amon to the throne, and staging their next action against Atlantis…

Lady Zara, once thought dead, but actually rescued by the “green women” and given to the Amazons to heal, quickly drops herself back into the thick of things. She is surprised to find Hunter in charge, and tries a new tactic to help them prepare for their assault on Ultima Thule — winning General Inanna to their side by offering to try and rescue her daughters, Princess Shria (whom they had traveled with until she was captured with Olga) and Mara. The general knew that would be near impossible. The Amazon general, Aella, offered something sweeter — a return to command of troops. Be a general again, but on their side. She will not be welcomed back by the emperor; she lost her ship to a small force! But with them, she might have the chance to become important again. With a damned good roll, they won her over and shot apart most of the big fight I had planned for the night.

Inanna countered by demanding to be freed, immediately, and given her fancy cabin back. They acquiesced. She then aided them with a developing a plan to hit Ultima Thule, and introducing to Hunter some of the ideas of modern combined air-ground operations that wouldn’t be developed for decades. The big win, however, was went she talked them past the the air traffic control for Captain Memnon, the man running the city since Amon was deposed. She claimed Deutshland was an Outlander prize they took in battle.

This got Shiva to the ground while LZ-128 held the air. As soon as they hit the grounds of the palace, General Aelaa of the Amazons, and Gus Hassenfeldt and SS-Obersturmfuhrer Werner led the combined troops into a short fight, using surprise to overwhelm the honor guard and troops on display for General Inanna’s arrival. Shiva and Deutschland traded shots with the antiaircraft heat ray batteries in the towers around the city, disabling them, while the ground forces pushed forward to the strategy room of the palace and killed Memnon. Amon then reclaimed his throne and ordered his people to stand down.

Ultima Thule was taken!

Over the next week, the characters started working on their next steps. Dr. Gould, predictably, wanted to try diplomacy and they sent a courier to Atlantis; Hunter and General Inanna focused on putting together a coherent defense of the city, while Gus — who was offered an officer’s position with Amon’s forces — was in charge of teaching their rag-tag forces how to shoot. Werner offered to take a representative of the hawkmen, panthermen, and Amazon back to their respective homes in Deutschland to solidify their alliance, and after a week, headed out from the city.

We knocked off there for the night with the ball in Emperor Mot’s corner.

We had a player out for the night, so we focused on Gustav Hassenfeldt and David Gould, and had Hunter off-screen for the night. Now the Sky Marshal of the alliance, he was busy politicking with Amon’s aid, pulling together the various factions, getting their crew put together, and seeing to the preparation of Shiva for their raid on Ultima Thule.

Gus and Gould, meanwhile, went with the scientific teams from the two surface world airships aboard Los Angeles. For the Americans, it’s a flag waving tour and trying to collect more data to take back with them; for the characters, it was to invite people to join the alliance. They brought with tem a representative from the hawkmen, the merfolk, the cargo cultists from Sanctuary, and members of the German science team.

First, they made contact with the panthermen that live in the mountains to the south of where Sanctuary had been. Here their way was eased by one of the cat people that had been a prisoner of the hawkmen, now released on Gould’s request. The pride, at least the females with young cubs, and the elderly, live in a massive matrix of treehouses, connected by walkways and the classic rope bridges. This is to protect them from the predatory dinosaurs of the island. The are high on the mountain slopes because the massive herbivores live in the valleys and plains. Most of their people are solitary, except when mating or when older; a great number of their people live out in the jungle, hunting, and only return here to trade or when injured or sick. The pride leader of the panthermen was unwilling to support them, but gave some of his braves permission to join the fight. A dozen did so.

They were also introduced to Haika — a greenman or “dryad” according to Lord Trevor, their philologist. Haika’s people will not involve themselve in the conflict, but will provide medical aid to those they find, and are willing to provide communications. She, like the merfolk can through the sea, can communicate across vast distances through the flora. She points them toward the So Nai Valley, where one of her sisters took an Outlander they once discovered. They are a warlike race and may help…but be cautious.

This led them to a valley with several towns and a small city centered on an old “Saracenic” rock-carverd temple or palace…the people below stream out on horseback and riding dinosaurs, armed to the teeth and wearing armor. And not one of them is male.

They make contact with the ground through Lord Ansom in ancient Greek, only to be answered in English by one of the women — none other than Lady Maragaret “Zara” Ansom-Bose, their companion they’d thought dead for several months. For her, however, it has been over a year, being nursed back to health by the Amazons of Thermadon.

They are eventually led to the presence of Queen Penthesilea V and her advisor, Hero the Centaur, and there they pitched the alliance and the chance at glory toppling the emperor. The queen throws her support behind them, and allows those warriors that wish to seek fame and glory to join them. They immediately have more volunteers than they can take.

Byrd, however, has received word from their German counterparts on Deutschland that a storm is headed their way — short-lived by violent. Los Angeles has to pick up and circle around the storm, leaving the scientists and the characters for the next two days.

After a feast and bit of debauchery that evening, the characters catch up with Zara. She was rescued by the dryads, who — she thinks — brought her back from the dead and gave her to the Amazons for safe keeping. She has obviously settled in well, and even her uncle’s entreaties to return home with him are met with skepticism — the surface world, she’s always going to have to fight for respect and freedom; here, they take her as is. She is someone, part of something.

But she’s damned sure not missing the party at Ultima Thule and is joining the Amazons going.

Later, there was a bit of hunting a pair of spinosaurus that wandered into the city. The Amazons were having trouble with the giants, until the party brought their guns to bear. Even still, they had to chase out into the jungle to kill one of the creatures.

Finally, Los Angeles arrived with Deutschland and Shiva in tow. With a battalion’s worth of hawkmen and Amazons, dozens of panthermen and legged merfolk, and 50 cargo cultists, Waffen-SS soldiers, and an assortment of Atlantean vril who changed sides, they headed for Ultima Thule to restore Amon to his throne.

On the way there, Los Angeles turned north for Valhalla to give Woden the report on how things are going and to refuel. If the assault on Ultima Thule goes badly, they can fall back and meet up; if it goes well, they can take messages back to the surface, but unless Byrd gets instructions from FDR, he cannot commit his people.

We ended with Shiva and the German airship closing on Ultima Thule.