I was remiss in posting a play report from last week, so I’m going to combine that and this week… The game group picked up a new member the past two weeks, bringing us to seven. This is the largest group I’ve had in the last seven year, and managing pace and crosstalk always becomes a problem once you get over the 4 players and a GM. The new guy is new to gaming, and I needed a fast way to bring him into the action. This was going to be difficult, since they group had just been transported via the Eye of Shambala, an ancient Atlantean device, to said location in the Kunlun Mountains.

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The group found themselves surrounded by blue gi-clad monks in a fantastical valley surrounded by snow-capped mountains. A few minutes later, another set of monks brought a palanquin to the site. From this dismounted a tall woman, dressed neck to ground in a leather dress and cape. On her chest, the eight pointed star with Tibetan swastika — the symbol of Atlantis. She welcomed them to Shianking, and introduced herself as Queen Morana. Zelansky immediately realized that this was the empress consort of Mot, the Emperor of Atlantis. (More below…) Her attention is primarily on Veitch, the mechanic for the group, who has Atlantean blood and can activate their technology.

They are escorted to the massive building, the royal residence, they are told. They also notice a giant airplane, stopped just at the lip of the valley over a ravine into which the waterfalls of the place fall. It’s big and utilitarian, with the red star of the Soviet Union on it. Under the wings, it carried two small fighters. Morana will tell them the Soviets had come calling and were dealt with. (Zelansky knows Morana has a long history with the Soviets from OSI reports.) Inside the residence, they pass dozens of people; she’s got hundreds of people here, they estimate. Most are Chinese, but there are the Western/Oriental faces of Central Asians: Kazaks, Kyrgiz, a few Russians, she will tell them. There’s also dozens of Vril, residents of the former Hollow Earth. These people were left on Earth, as she was, when the “Interior World” phased through Earth and eventually settled into the same orbit as Earth.

One person stands out. He is obviously a Westerner, dressed much like the others. He has a slight limp and his left eye has a weird cast to it. He immediately tried to interact with them. This was the new guy, and I needed a reason for him to be here, but for him to have a “normal” enough background that the player could jump into the 1930s, but fantasy, setting of the game. I decided to use a real-life figure, an aviator that had been brought down and rescued by the monks. (A classic pulp fiction trope.) After some research, I wrote the new guy up the famed aviator, Wiley Post. (See the Wiley Post…post.)

He has been stuck in Shianking, as the Chinese call it, or Shambala, as the Central Asian call it for three years, ever since the “Ghost World” phased out of the Earth right in front of his Lockheed Vega. He had been on a solo circumnavigation, the first in history, testing the next autopilot and radio direction finding system Sperry Gyroscope Company was developing when the plane was crippled and he crashed. Days later he came to in Shambala, badly injured but miraculously still alive. He healed at an extraordinary rate. Something about the place encouraged life. The monks had taken in the many others that were suddenly left in the mountains by the Ghost World, including Morana. The queen quickly won over the men and Post later relates to them she has an uncanny ability to know what people want and helps them achieve it. Over the last three years, she took control of the monastery from the masters, then led expeditions into the surrounding areas to gain more adherents. She instigated the Soviet expedition to the valley — two Tupolev TB-3s, one with the fighters, but the other was loaded with paratroopers. They were quickly cut down by her people, and she forced the pilots of the second plane to land.

Some say she’s a sorceress, and Post would have thought that ridiculous, except he’s seen it. She can bend people’s will, make them see things. She can heal people with a touch, but he’s heard she can also take that life away. She wins her followers over with ease, and even he has been tempted to join her. The only thing that helped him resist is the desire to get back to his wife and child.. His escape attempts were hampered by the mountains. The altitude is too high, and it is too cold, to venture over; the valley, for some reason, has sea level pressure. He knows there is a tunnel out of the valley, but he has been unable to discover it.

Morana appeals to their desires: Veitch wants to feel important, and is insanely curious about the Atlanteans and the ability to use these gates to get to other worlds. That’s why she wants him:  to get back to Atlantis, her empire, and her son. For Zelansky, she tempts him with the massive library of ancient tomes, scrolls, and maps. For Cointreau, with a touch, she gives him the greatest pleasure he has ever felt. She knows this is what he wants — an escape from the world, his memories of the Great War, and his own cowardice. Pin-Lee and “Irish” O’Bannon, however, are not so easily swayed. For the next few days, they explore the valley and the various buildings, while Veitch and Zelansky pour through the library. There are hundreds of loyal followers, and they hope that some day the queen will lead them out of the city to spread their bounties to the world.

Finally, realizing the trap the place it, O’Bannon and Pin-Lee push for the group to attempt escape. Post has been unable to get to the airplane due to the well-trained monk warriors watching it. He’s only one man, but with six of them, they just might be able to do it. O’Bannon and Veitch act as a distraction, allowing Post, Contreau, and Pin-Lee to slip past and sound out the TB-3. It still has bladders full of fuel and appears to be functional. the machine guns are even still in place! The next day, they make good their escape, slipping onto the Tupolev and risking a dangerous launch with not enough runway. They just manage to take off, even with Morana using her enchantments to try and prevent them, and just clear the mountains around the valley.

That was the end of one night’s play…

We picked up this week with the TB-3 flying through the night sky toward Lhasa. The plane has no heat, they are flying at about 14,000 feet, and the cockpit on the Tupolev is open to the sky. Post and O’Bannon are trading pilot duties every 30 minutes to avoid frostbite and to keep each other sharp. Zelansky wired their findings in code to the OSI, and informed the British legation in Lhasa they were on route. (It wouldn’t do to just show up in a Soviet bomber, would it?) Five hours of flying, with Cointreau trying to cope with the idea that he would never feel that kind of pleasure again, and Pin-Lee trying to get his friend to snap out of it.

They land in Lhasa in the middle of the night and are met by one of the British. Yet again, there is another plane on the field outside of Lhasa — the TB-3 parked next to the Boeing they brought, parked next to the abandoned S-38 from the last campaign, next to the hulk of the Nazi Fokker Trimotor from the last campaign. Once they are back in the British legation, the characters got warm, drunk, and learned that the Brits had been searching for them for the last couple of days, as they hadn’t returned from their trip to the Gardong Monastery. According to the monks, they had been shown the artifact, then left (not actually a lie.) They assumed bandits had gotten them. Post took advantage of their hospitality to fire off a telegram to inform his family he was still alive. (Fortunately, at this time, US law was that without a body, a person was not officially dead for seven years.)

The next day, they were called to General Yama, the head of the Tibetan army. The old warrior knows about the Eye, their interest, and that they had an altercation with the monks before going through it. He wants to know where they went. While the others tried to shine him on, Pin-Lee immediately pointed out the location of Shianking and informed them about the danger of Morana and her followers. Yama points out the Eye is Tibetan property and gives them 24 hours to get out of the country. On returning to the legation building, Post got a telegram from his wife — she and his daughter were alive and well in Oklahoma, and doing well thanks to the generosity of his friend Will Rogers, and his sponsors, the US Mail Service and Texaco. They were waiting for him to come home!

The group them hatched a plan to try and find the Eye and perhaps abscond with it. Zelansky was worried about the international implications; this could be considered an act of war! Veitch took parts from the S-38’s Wasp radial engine to maintain the motors on the Beoing, while Post readied the Tupolev. Then O’Bannon and Post took the Boeing and did aerial reconnaissance, easily finding the monks and their Tibetan escort that were moving the Eye to a new location by mule-drawn wagons. The size and weight, Veitch has estimated, would allow it to be secured to the TB-3 under the fuselage between the forward landing gear, and after finding the Eye, they radioed to the others to come in. Veitch had serious issues flying the Tupolev slow enough to make a run at the caravan moving the Eye, but Cointreau managed to give them a warning strafe with the forward machine guns. One of the guards returned fire with Veitch’s coilgun, tearing up the observation dome in the nose of the plane and nearly killing Zelansky and Pin-Lee. At that point, Cointreau did something he hadn’t since the Great War: he mowed a few of the guards down with the machine guns. This was enough to take the fight out of the Tibetans.

Landing the Tupolev and Boeing, they quickly established they couldn’t get Veitch near the Eye or it would activate. The others used block and tackle to get the Eye affixed to the bomber, then O’Bannon flew the thin, while Post took the others, and they managed to make the 400 mile flight to Calcutta. Zelansky radioed ahead to get the US consulate involved, hoping to prevent the British from snapping up the Eye. He’d realized the likelihood the Chinese officials would impound it was high.

In Calcutta, they were met by consulate officials and marine guards, as well as British officials. One of the men was attached to the OSI, and informed them the Eye would be kept safe until their transport back to the States arrived. Admiral Byrd already had things in motion. They spent two days in India and the OSI offered to have them all return to the States for debriefing in California. Cointreau was in; Hollywood is in California! Pin-Le was in; he wanted paid! The rest were willing to head to the States to find out more about what the hell was going on.

Their ride turned out to be ZR-5, the USS Macon — America’s most advanced airship (which thanks to our alternate history, had modifications made to it that prevented her crash in 1935.) captained by Commander Herbert Wiley, the man who had commanded USS Los Angeles during the Hollow Earth expedition in the last campaign. Wiley was ecstatic to meet Post, a famed aviator and a bit of a legend. Post was similarly impressed to see Macon, which was still under construction when he disappeared.

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There was some description of life in the airship, some of the technological bits and bobs that interested the aviators (and the gearheads in the gaming group) while they flew their 8200 miles back to San Francisco, with a stop in the middle of the Pacific to tank off of a replenishment ship with the Yorktown aircraft carrier group. Finally, they flew over the Golden Gate bridge and arrived at the massive hangers of Moffett Field, where OSI and FBI agents were waiting for them, as well as the press who were waiting to capture the teary reunion between Post and his family.

We ended there for the evening, with the promise of supersicence at the “Barstow Project” down near Los Angeles. (Zelansky’s field group is the Atlanta Project.) But there’s also San Francisco and a chance for some mischief…

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One of the things I’ve been doing as I research for Sky Pirates of the Mediterranean and while doing game prep for our weekly game is looking for the weird and forgotten airplanes of the ’20s and ’30s. One of the truly beastly looking craft I ran into was the Tupolev TB-3, a Russian heavy bomber that was first flown in the 1932. It was supposed to be retired by 1939, but they wound up serving the Russian Air Force through the Second World War, often as a paratrooper platform. It could carry up to 4000 lbs and still hit a service ceiling was considered 16,000′.

But it was the brutally ugly, utilitarian look of the ship that really got my attention. That and they would occasionally sling two I-16 fighters under the wings so they could carry them long distances into combat. It had an open cockpit on the top for the two pilots, an open air nose gun emplacement, and a air of domed turrets amidships. There was a door on each side, just above the rear edge of the wing to allow people to walk out onto the wing to parachute off the plane by sliding off the wing (see below.) But really….look at this monster:

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So, of course this thing had to find a way into my game…here’s the stats (RNG is range, CEIL is ceiling.)

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The TB-3 turrets had a pair of belt-fed 7.62x54mm ShKAS machineguns, as did the forward emplacement. Undercarriage turrets were sometimes included, giving the aircraft 6-8 guns. It could carry up to 10,000 lbs of bombs if the plane was stripped down to carry them, but the usual load was 4,000 of bombs. The specs on the paired ShKAS machineguns: Dam: 4L  Str: 3  Rng: 100′  Cap: 64(b)  Rate: A  Spd: A  Wt: 20 lb.

They could be reconfigured as troop or passenger carriers (designated the Antonov-6) and held 36 people, not including the four man crew. The most ridiculous load was a variant that carried the Polikarpov I-16 “Rat” fighters under the wings. The fighters could be dropped by the pilots with a pull of a release lever for action. The Rats would then have to land normally; they could not reconnect, like the Curtis Sparrowhawk could with the American Macon-class airship.

 

Our latest release, The Queen of the Orient, is now available for the Ubiquity and Fate role playing systems as an ebook on DriveThruRPG and RPGNow! It comes with a period-accurate map of Shanghai (in PDF).

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The Queen of the Orient features information on the history of the city and the three municipal entities — the International Settlement, the French Concession, and the native City Government of Greater Shanghai. There is information on the infamous Green Gang (Qing Bang) that ran much of the crime in “the most dangerous city in the world”, as well as their opponents: the yakuza, the Triads, and  the Shanghai Municipal Police.

Crime is a close cousin of espionage, and Shanghai was a hot-bd of that. Chinese communists and Soviet allies, the Nationalist government of the Republic of China, British intelligence, the Japanese kempaitai were all active in the city. Everything you need to create a living, breathing Shanghai for your 1903 pulp game is here.

The ebook/map is $9.99, the print version (which will include the ebook and map) should drop next week at $19.99.

Here are the links for the Fate version and the Ubiquity version.

A note on the map — there’s no print version right now because the size of the thing is not supported by DriveThruRPG’s POD service — it’s a whopping 86×55″! You could possibly find a local shop that could print the thing as a poster.