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.)

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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.”

rom_princess_wallpaperThe group picked up with the characters traveling to Parras Das — the City of Gardens — aboard a Martian skyship they had rescued from pirates. The team, with their marine escort, had been taken aboard by the crew after their rescue of Priya, a dheva Princess of the House Arvasala. (Using the art from Revelations of Mars as an example…)

During the four day trip across the desert wasteland of Mars, the characters learned about the people and their world the best they could, as only Zelansky could speak their language, a version of Atlantean. The human-like “red men” were decedents of the Atlaneans and called zhul-ya, and the dheva the decedents of “the ancients.” The Earthmen they are calling vril-ya, and Earth is “vril” to them. Mars has been dying for millennia, and the Arvasala family is instrumental to the survival of many communities in the north of the world. They are ice and water dealers. Their grand ships move ice to the smaller towns, and they are responsible for the upkeep of the canals bring life-preserving water from the ice caps through Parras Das and south to other cities.

They learn the ships are held aloft by some kind of magnetic levitation system that is powered by “oridium” — a material that is also used as ammunition. It appears to be highly energetic and possibly radioactive. During the trip, Cointreau successfully seduced the princess, and gets to try some of his tantric “sex magic”. He finds her a very willing student and subject.

On arrival in the city, they are confronted by an Atlantean design — grand circular canals that take water from the northeastern canal, pump it through the city, and out on the northwestern and southwestern canals. The outer ring of the city is commercial, a massive bazaar, the second ring a residential and garden area, and the innermost ring is filled with beautiful and fanciful towers that could never stand in Earth’s gravity. The central one is the Lighthouse, also the city council chambers for the “Nine Families” that run the city (and much of norther Mars.) They have sussed out the dheva are a higher caste than the zhul-ya; they rule Parras Das, and possibly much more.

A tour of the city leads them to Arvsala House, where Priya’s family oversees the water trade. Their patriarch, Arvan, is interested in the aliens, but is also obviously disturbed by her interest in Cointreau; her brother, Vadra, even more so. Later that night, Cointreau slips out to investigate the many floors and rooms of the tower, only to witness an argument between the old man and his son, and Priya. Why, he does not know, but she appears much more headstrong and combative when there isn’t an audience.

The next day, they go out to see the sights and are attacked by 15 zhul-ya who turn out to be members of the pirate gang whose ship they destroyed when they rescued Priya. A firefight ensued in the Gardens of Pleasure, a beautiful botanical garden scene. The bad guys don’t stand much of a change, getting taken down by Post using Veitch’s coilgun. A stray round let to them fighting a six-legged elephant-like creature with mutliple trunks and a bad attitude. Eventually, they were able to win out, but were arrested by the guards of the House Davira, who are oridium traders and bankers who run security for the gardens. Davira is similar shocked by their arrival, and in the midst of talking to their scion, Zelansky was able to pull off a series of excellent diplomacy tests. He gains their trust, tells them of their desire to hell heal Mars by locating and fixing the “Great Machine”  on the Mountain of the Gods that keeps the Martian atmosphere alive, and to open trade between the United States and Parras Das, and to do this, that they need to find a gate home like the one they used to get here. There’s one in Motus Das —  the City of Dead —  according to their Arvasala hosts. that they want to go there impresses the Davira, who offer to fund the expedition.

Zelansky uses this to parlay a treaty between the USA and Houses Arvasala and Davira, in exchange for the Arvasala merchantman Warm Winds, and representatives and crew from both families. Over the next few weeks, Zelansky works to improve the relations between the families, while Post, Erha, and Veitch work to modify and improve the merchantman. They add trapeze hooks for the Dogfish mini-fighters to take off from  and be retrieved. They add powered flight to supplement the sails. Veitch figures out how to modify the oridium ammunition cartridges to fire through Earth weapons…their Colt automatics are now blasters! Cointreau conspired with O’Bannon to get Veitch together with the half-vril-ya inventor, Erha. They have so much in common and obviously like each other, and their plans culminate with a surprise balcony date between the two.

With everything finally ready, the characters and marines, together with a small crew of Martians led by Priya Arvasala and Sheri Davria, sets sail for Mortus Das, a city “fron which no one returns.”

For our Mars, I’m blending elements of the Barsoom-like Revelations of Mars for the Hollow Earth Expedition setting, and from Space:1889, including having more communities and live canals. I’ve replaced the high/canal/hill Martians of 1889 with the dheva, the zhul-ya, and more primitive versions of the latter. Also, we kept the telepathic Elosi, whose goals and actions remain a mystery. We’re getting more into the pulp super-science aspect of the Veitch character, and starting to build on how the worlds will collide once there is a way to get back and forth from the Red Planet.

The group met up tonight to pick up from the cliffhanger where they had found themselves on Mars instead of the “Second Earth”, Atlantia. While they tended to the wounded who had been rolled over by the minifighters that had exited the Eye of Shambala only to fall over and roll down the mound of marines, and tried to get the litle planes back on their landing gear, Zelansky was photographing their surroundings. He noted that the city they arrived next to had a larger “eye”-stlye gate that acted both as a portal, and as a door/gate to the city. Inside, the buildings seems to shift and more, changing, but in the center was a larger ziggurat with was surmounted by a strange object…a flying saucer much like those of the Atlanteans!

Suddenly, they realized they were being watched by three figures, very tall, dressed in white robes with red sashes. Their faces were disguised by featureless white masks. Yet, thy could hear these people in their heads, the language unfamiliar, but the concepts clear — “strange, one of them is a Vril-ya. I though they were dead or in the Celestial Keep. The other [Cointreau] has been touched by an ancient…but they are all asleep! How is this possible. They others, they’ve never seen their like; similar to the Zhul-ya, but not.” These creatures were quickly joined by more: strange humanoids with long arms and fingers, giant black eyes, none speaking but communicating directly to the characters’ minds. “The leader [Zelansky] is curious. The one touched by the ancient is larcenous, selfish, and weak; he is too dangerous to allow in the city. The Atlantean [Veitch]  is well-meaning but confused.”

Despite not having the same language, the characters are able to communicate. They are on Zhul — Mars, apparently — and Earth is “Vril” according to these things. The city is Elos Das, a term Zelansky thinks means either “hidden city” or “secret city”. The “people” are elosi — the hidden people or people of the secret. He’s not sure, the syntax is strange.

The creatures aided them with their injured, inspected the “crude but clever” Dogifsh minifighters, and examined the party. They find the marines bellicose. Far too dangerous to be allowed inside. Then, as a group, they turn to face northwest. Suddenly, they are headed back into the city, some of them simply disappearing as they go. The three “leaders?” inform them that there is food and water, two days march to the south, or to the northwest. In the northwest, they can see what the creatures saw: two ships in the air, sails out, coming for their position.

As they watch, the city twists and folds itself until it is gone without a trace. The marines spread out and prepare for hostilities, while Erha, O’Bannon, and Post get their Dogfish ready for the fight. The two ships separate, the larger one climbing, while the smaller bears in on them, firing a heat ray that carves a trench of molten glass in the sand and damaged Erha’s Dogfish. The three pilots get into the air, their minifighters faster but more unstable than ever.

The frigate or warship, or whatever it is, closes on the marines’ position while zelansky uses his math skills to aid the mortar crew in attacking the ship. Meanwhile, the Dogfish swoop and attack the craft, while getting fired at by strange cannons that shoot bolts of greenish light their way. These blasters miss the Dogfish, which are far too fast, and they successfully strafe the ship over and over. They noted that the crew of the larger ship seemed to be fighting each other, and they realized that it could be a prize for the smaller ships; perhaps they’ve been discovered by pirates?

The mortar rounds hit their target, and Cointreau finds himself using his Inspire to get the marine gunners to use their .30 machineguns to good effect. Eventually, the craft crashes into the sand near their position and the marines, led by Zelansky, Cointreau, and Veitch board and take the ship. they have to evacuate quickly, however, as the ship is on fire and eventually blows itself sky-high. The small crew is under guard by the marines, and their lone captive, a strange green woman with four arms! is being kept “safe” by Cointreau.

While this is happening, Post pulls a spectacular stall into a landing on the quarterdeck of the other skyship and gets them to surrender. Sure enough, the vessel was taken by the smaller ship, and the captain is a strange green-skinned man with four arms. Post is able to get them to land near the downed craft. Zelansky can talk to them; they speak a dialect of Atlantean. These green people are dheva (gods?), and the red-skinned people that crewed their ship, and that of the pirate vessel, are Zhul-ya, possible relatives of the Vril-ya!

They are able to talk their way into passage on the ship Warm Winds to Parras Das, the city “her highness” Priya, of the House Avasarava, is from. She is the first daughter of a powerful merchant prince in Parras Das, and she was taken captive by the pirates while being transported to a nearby city-state to a commercial negotiation. Priya is easily seduced by Cointreau, who finally gets a chance to try his “sex magic”, with high success (We decided that the tantrism thing he was going for seemed less a magic aptitude/ sorcery thing, than a psychic aptitude/ mind control thing, and changed the character to work more appropriately.)

The night ended with the characters spotting the spires of Parras Das, which sits on the conflux of two arrow-straight canal that stretch to the horizons. I opted for a fusion of the Revelations of Mars Barsoomian feel and that of Space: 1889, with its canals and zones of life for a mile or two around them. We’ve also got hints that the dheva are a royal or rich/aristocratic caste of Martian, whereas the “red Martians” or Zhul-ya are more common.

Last week, the game took the characters to Mars. The evening closed with a cliffhanger — the party having come through the Eye of Shambala onto the Martian plains in the late afternoon, just outside of a strange city, Elos Das from the Revelation of Mars sourcebook.  We established the half-gravity, compared to Earth and the thin air — on par with being at high altitude, but not so high as to instantly incapacitate…but that was it.

I was left with the choice of how much to use RoM, what to make my own to work with the elements of HEX and the Greco-Hindu mix of mythology that’s been hinted at, and whether to crib from my other favorite “planetary romance” source, Space: 1889. The RoM sourcebook has a decidedly Burroughs tilt toward it. The skyships in RoM have that spindly, alien look to them that was used in John Carter (really…not that bad an adaptation.) 1889 has a more traditional look to their cloudships. RoM seems to have a more “dead” Mars than 1889, which has cities and canals, and more habitable zones. So what to do?

Steal, brothers and sisters, steal! I decided all of the cities presented in Revelations of Mars will be present, and I’m using many of the Martian races — but not all. I’m losing the Saurian and Chitik, but keeping the Dheva as a wealthy class/race, the Zhul-Ya as the more common and poor race, and the Grodh (Gorilla Grodh…sigh…) as the equivalent of the savages of Mars. This parallels the High/Hill/Canal Martian slip of Space: 1889. I’m using the cloudships of 1889, as well; they’re prettier, a bit more realistic-looking, but what about their means of flight? I didn’t want liftwood and the RoM book is very hand-wavy…which isn’t going to work with my group. I decided to go with magnetic levitation that uses a form of “oridium” that the book cites as the ammunition for their blasters.

As for Mars, I’m using the Space: 1889 version, but with mods to fit in the RoM cities as stand ins for some of the Martian cities. There will be canals, many in various states of repair, some areas where water is still present under the surface (Valles Marineris). I’m keeping the “Great Machine” that is keeping everything from dying.

Now I just need to figure out what to do with it all…

We finished up the adventure from last week this evening. The heroes had been working on various projects while in the City of Angels: Cointreau auditioned his way into the villain/romantic competition role in a movie based incredibly loosely on the exploits of the Sky Rats in the Adriatic. He had done an excellent job, but had also had a dalliance with the leading lady, who is also the girlfriend of big time director Alexander Korda! Once he’s done with the picture, he’s probably going to find himself  blacklisted. Meanwhile, Post and O’Bannon got jobs on the film doing aerial stunt work, including a recreation of the “final battle between Cointreau’s “Moroni” and the Sky Rat “Sky Captain” played by Cary Grant. The battle, however, was much more real that they thought — the assistant director of photography was the son of the man O’Bannon shot down in the very battle their denouement is based on! he armed the other stunt pilot’s planes for real and only some tricky flying by the aviators.

Veitch and Zelansky had had working with the Boston Project on several of their schemes — from trying to uncover the mysteries of the Eye of Shambala, to working on their reverse engineered version of an Atlantean flying saucer (the result was a jet-powered craft with strange telluric repulsion units) and small “mini-fighters” — a cross between an glider, a motorcycle, and a fighter plane. (The players really latched on to these!)

After Veitch raced in one of these “Dogfish” to rescue his friends, and the villains were shot down, most of the team was scooped up by the LAPD’s “Red Squad”, which moonlights at protecting the people of the Boston Project. The team eventually wound up back at Project’s headquarters, hidden under the Goodyear Airship Factory in Huntingdon Park, where they get interrupted by alarms and a frantic call over the intercom for guard to get to Lab B. The lab with the Eye of Shambala!

They arrived to find OSI guards being gunned down by a pair of monks carrying some kind of futuristic energy weapons! A dozen more were advancing toward the characters, protect two monks that had grabbed a hold of Zebulon Edward Koenig — a once-colleague of Nikola Tesla who was stranded in the Hollow Earth until he was rescue by the Los Angeles mission in 1993. Since then, he has been working to reverse engineering the saucers with his daughter Erha. There followed a spectacular kung fu/gun battle between the players and a few OSI agents and the blue gi-wearing monks of Shambala…but where did they get the weapons!?! Eventually, they were able to cut through the bad guys, but only as Koenig was tossed through the Eye to who knows where.

Veitch had a momentary vision of what was on the other side — a futuristic-looking city in ruins…then Morana compelled him to close the Eye. Koenig was essential to the Boston Project, but this also represented a sharp escalation by Queen Morana. Where did she get those guns — some form of heat ray — and why take Koenig. (He has a familiarity with the equipment…she needs him to reproduce or repair them?) Zelansky’s conclusion: she has gone back to the Second Earth, to Atlantis! He uses all of his bureaucratic pull to get permission from the OSI to mount a rescue mission, supported by a company of US Marines armed to the teeth. They can fold the wings of the minifighters, so they’ll have the Dogfish as air support.

Two days later, they go through the Eye, but Veitch’s concentration on their destination wavers for just a moment… When they come through the gate, it is into a flat, dry, reddish-brown plain. The air is incredibly thin, the sky purple with a weak sun and two moons! They also walked out onto steps and the surprsie causes them to tumble into the new environment like people bailing out of a clown car. When the Dogfish are pushed through they pitch off their landing gear and roll over some of the men, useless!

The Eye they came through is much larger, and seems to act as a gate to a large walled city. As the Eye closed, they could now see the streets of the city and the strange buildings. Zelansky could swear that whenever he looked away, the buildings shifted or changed. Despite the obvious danger they are in, he is elated…

“We’re on Mars!

And this gave me the chance to finally bring the starts of the rocket corp/ rocket rangers/ planetary romance aspect of the campaign to bear. I’m planning on using some of the material from Revelations of Mars, though I’m not certain if I’m going to use their aliens, or the ones from Space:1889 (which I have a preference for…)

I discussed this particular game in another post, but that was aimed more at the idea of reusing old game ideas. Still, for those readers who frequent the site, there will be a lot of reused verbiage.

We had brought on a new player, one of the core group was away on vacation, so I thought I’d try them out on Hollow Earth Expedition. It had been four years since the death of the marvelously over-the-top Shanghai Campaign. We’d made a few abortive attempts to get a new campaign going, but the characters and the players just weren’t connecting. So, using the bones of a one-shot I ran for a Meetup RPG group, I put together a “backdoor pilot” using the same basic plot — the characters were looking for an academic that was lost in Equatorial Guinea, and claims to have found the mythic white apes of the Congo. Evil corporate interests with the backing of the local peninsulares are looking to stop word of the apes from getting out because…what does it really matter? They’re the bad guys. Little hints, in this case in the form of one character’s fascination with American pulp novels, allowed me to do a bit of foreshadowing. The lost city and white apes sounded a lot like Opar of the Tarzan books (which the character is reading during the downtimes — Tarzan and the Ant-Men — according to the player) and the Lovecraft short story Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family.

Here the missing fellow is Lord Trevor Ansom — Oxford Classics lecturer who runs about the world looking for mythic stuff. He’s a WWI vet, a bit addled thanks to serious PTSD, but just because he’s a bit weird doesn’t mean he’s not often right… The plot hinged on someone that would have the emotional connection to want to rescue him, and I wanted the new player to be the “lead” for the game. Her character: Margaret Ansom-Bose, recent divorcee and one-time companion of her uncle, who took her in after the death of her father in the War, and her mother from Spanish Influenza. She’s a “modern woman” who came of age as a flapper and an aviatrix in the ’20s, but after the Crash got married to an American oil tycoon to keep the family afloat. She’s a Beryl Markham sort of “damn it all, let’s have some fun!” sort.

The player leapt on this, but due to a series of crappy rolls over the course of two nights, this super competent woman kept coming up the damsel in distress for the other character to aid. Instead of decrying the situation, she’s added it to the flavor of Bose — she’s hyper-capable and useful until she needs to be a plot device. (I would point out, this makes her exactly the sort of heroine that was standard for 1930s/40s pulp.)

The next character was the problem one. The player in question just didn’t quite seem to jive with the pulp setting the two times we tried it. He had a big game hunter from Texas the first time around that just didn’t drop in well and the player didn’t connect with him. The second time he played a British occultist aristocrat…he liked the character but the notion didn’t sit well with me. I’ve found that unless magic or mind powers are common or ubiquitous, having a player with them sharply removes the feeling of danger and mystery from having powers loose in the game…it’s something bad guys have. The heroes have to overcome that. Look at almost every good horror/suspense piece — the good guys are usually outmatched and have to find some weakness that allows success. They don’t just hire a bigger sorcerer to take out the baddie.

The piece I was stealing from is set in Africa — big game territory. I took his original character of Gustav Hassenfeldt, and went to work with the editor’s scalpel. Background shifted from Texan of German descent to German who grew up in German East Africa until the British authorities tossed the family out in 1922. Didn’t connect with his dysfunctional homeland (and their actual family home is now in France and confiscated.) His parents moved to Texas to give me American adventure hooks, but he returned to hunting and being an  adventure guide for hire. There was my in to get the characters together. But the big reworking was to make him less arrogant and superb at his job (which he undeniably is — we’re talking Quigley Down Under levels of long shot goodness), less brash and impulsive, and made him a meticulous planner. Sensible and honest; a good man. This culminated nicely in a scene where he had the chance to take out a bunch of Spaniards at range and protect folks toward the end of night two, but quipped “This feels like murder…” This led to a non-violent solution to the scene — set up by the team’s combat bad-ass. It’s a great overturning of tropes. (He was also the guy referencing Tarzan.)

The first night started with getting the characters together through a mutual friend in Tangier. The necessary action scene to establish villains, get the characters to show their expertise and develop a connection, and set the stakes followed: goons hired by the Equatorial Lumber Company to get back the letter from Ansom, the map to his find, and (exposed) film wound up with a punch up and shootout on the harbor wall. Hassenfeldt character established himself as a guy that tried to talk his way out of big troubles, but is willing to throw a punch to be a gentleman and protect his employer (Bose.)

They travel by Bose’s old Sikorsky S-36 (stats are about the same as the S-38, here) over various points to Fernando Po, where they link up with the crew of Sylvia — the boat from the one shot, but now relegated to NPC status — who had been hired by the aforementioned contact in Tangier to get them upriver. The location they are going to will be inaccessible by airplane.

Here I was now back in the framework of the original one shot: a nighttime run past Spanish patrol boats, upriver until they are trapped by the Spanish in a tight section of the Benito River, rescue from the Spanish by the “lost” Professor Ansom and a platoon of gorillas led by a few white apes — gigantic, intelligent creatures that Ansom has befriended. They return to the city of the apes, called Mangani by the locals, and it is a place of strangeness: the color is all wrong, everything ooks like it is viewed through a funhouse mirror — geometry is peculiar, and the architecture looks almost Minoan. Ansom thinks it is an Atlantean outpost…and the piece de resistance is the temple, complete with a strange metal eye altar or icon (with the iris being an open space big enough for a few people to go through) — see the cover of Revelations of Mars for what I’m talking about.

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They try to figure out some of the mysteries of the place, but the cameras don’t work — everything must be drawn and annotated. The apes can communicate, and Hassenfeldt helps Ansom train the apes to use the rifles they’ve taken from the Spanish. When Spaniards from the company show up, including a highly educated Jewish doctor named David Gould, they manage to defuse the situation. While showing the Spaniards the importance of the place and why they should cease their attempts to destroy the apes, they discover the doctor — when in proximity to the Eye — causes it to light up with a strange blue energy field. (Yeah — it’s a Stargate. Steal, people, steal!) The Eye firing up spooks the apes, who run away. While investigating, Hassenfeldt trips through the gate, and knocks Bose with him.

On the other side, it almost looks like they are in the Yucatan. The ground curves away for some distance…a massive valley? and they spot some kind of huge creature circling them in the air. A single shot from Hassenfeldt’s .375 magnum brings the creature down: it’s a pterodactyl! Realizing how alone and possibly endangered they are, Bose convinces him to go back through to the ape city and the gate shuts down.

That was where we left, with two possible PCs for the vacationing player — Ansom or the Jewish doctor with Atlantean blood that allows the gate to work. The player in question preferred the Gould character when asked. So this week, when that player away again, I had us return to Equatorial Guinea and Mangani, right at the point we’d left off: they’d come back through the Eye to find the apes had decamped, fleeing the city…but that was not all: landscape around the city seemed discolored and twisty, and the buildings of the city itself seemed to be moving. Whenever they looked away, things had changed.

Lord Trevor went to scout and see if other apes were around. Bose looked at the inscriptions on the walls for more information. But quickly it was obvious that something dangerous was occurring — the very geometry of the buildings was wrong! They looked for an found Lord Trevor in another of the larger buildings, a minaret-like spire. Inside, a red glowing, crystal (never good) was in his hand and when he addressed them, he told them they hadn’t much time.

“I’ve been sleeping a long time… I never expected one of my own to find me. (This to Gould.) It is time I return, before those that cast me out realize I have awaken.” When they try to find out what is possessing Trevor, he remarks “I can only wear this face for a short time. I’ve had so many, over the years, but this karn is old and will not handle the strain for long.” When asked what his real face was, he doesn’t even remember. Those that once worshipped him called him the Faceless One. “The city is returning home. We must not wait.” He took them to the temple and the Eye, where he casts the crystal through to some place of red sands and pink sky. “You must go. The city will disappear soon…” and with that he releases Trevor. The heroes hot foot it out of the city just as it folds and twists and pops out of existence.

The few Spaniards who had escaped when the apes ran, having seen the whole thing, take the characters into custody and question them at the local logging compound. In the end, no one really knows what to make of the situation — the Spanish saw the city disappear, the apes flee into the jungle. While they have issue with Trevor’s actions, and they suspect that the character may or may not have been involved in violence against their people, how the hell are they going to spin any of this? And the characters can’t really make too much of the Spanish actions, white apes, or a missing city. No one will believe it!

Released, the characters flee back down the river and eventually get to Fernando Po, where Bose’s S-36 is moored and fly home to England. On the way, the group decides they aren’t letting this go — they hit the British Library to quietly start looking for references to the Eye in literature and history; Trevor and Gustav talk to the Royal Geographical Society about the apes and to try and find anyone who claims to have encountered a creature like the one Gus shot.

In the end, they had a few leads — an eccentric mountain climber and hunter named Kinnie, preparing for his attempt of the Eiger in Switzerland had claimed to have shot a “dinosaur” in Venezuela; the others found references to the Eye in the Potala Palace of the Dalai Lama in the autobiography of Francis Younghusband (now the chairman for the Himalaya Exploration Committee of the RGS), and another reference in the crazy works of Thule Society founder Rudolf von Sebottendorf (recently arrested in Germany, but escaped, and allegedly in Switzerland, as well…)

So with one quick toss off adventure, I now have two lines of attack for a campaign — the Tibetan mystical one, or the Venezuelan jungles.

It’s a sharp break from the long running space opera of the last half decade, but I’m hoping this time it’ll catch fire with the players.