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It’s been a very busy couple of months, but work on the sourcebook for 1930s pulp Istanbul continues. We’re about two-thirds of the way through writing, with layouts getting roughed out. Art orders for maps of the city and the Grand Bazaar are going out soon.

Right now, it’s a pretty vanilla tour guide to the city, but the pulpy bits are getting added soon including two adventure scenarios. The page count is anticipated to be about 80 — about the same size as our Queen of the Orient, and expect a similar price structure. There will be both a Fate and Ubiquity version and the planned release date should be August. Inshallah.

bannerI’ve been hammered this semester with a fair amount of work. The college I work at doubled up my classes (yay, money!), and my teaching certificate program (wait, haven’t you taught for years…yes, but not high school so that’s entirely different! But it’s not…), and the usual collection of life stuff, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been busting out words on Gateway to the East, our upcoming guide for pulp-era Istanbul. As with the other Black Campbell books, it’ll be for use with Ubiquity and Fate. I’m estimating a final page count of about 80 pages — on par with our Shanghai book, Queen of the Orient. There will be two adventures included in the sourcebook.

Depending on work schedules next semester, I’m hoping to have this out by the beginning of the coming summer, as end of summer seems to be a popular time for the Kickstarter campaigns of other games to fire up and we got lost in the onslaught this year.

In addition to Sky Pirates of the Mediterranean, we’ve been working on a companion piece: Airships of the Pulp Era. I’ve wanted to do an airships book for a long time. In fact, my original dissertation pitch was to do a piece on the Imperial Airship Scheme (and hints of what it would have been are in the portion on R.100 and R.101.

The book is coming in at roughly 50 pages, but if I can laid my hands on deck plans of some of the ships that are public domain, that might blow up a bit. It’s with the editor, who tends to work as fast as I do and uses the same software, so my layouts will be mostly intact. That means the book should be on DriveThruRPG in a few weeks.

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.

The Hollow Earth Expedition game continued tonight with the characters, having escaped the underground lair of the “hungry ghost” Dai Pan and the arrival of Morana, the “Queen of Shambala.” She had made off with a finger from Anton Veitch, who has Atlantean blood and can activate their ancient technology. Following this the characters had used the gate in Dai Pan’s lair to pass through to the eye of Shambala, which was being unloaded from the airship Macon at nearby Moffett Air Field. The group was arrested by the shore patrol until the FBI and Dr. Lancaster of the Office of Scientific Investigations could come get them released. Veitch, missing his finger was admitted to the naval hospital. (Recap here…)

We opened the night with Zelansky and Lancaster talking about the situation. The local FBI office and SFPD were incensed over the fire in Chinatown that consumed three buildings and left dozens of Chinese gangsters (the On Yik Tong) dead. They were seen with another gang (the 17 Tigers) attacking the place and many of those gangsters are now missing. J. Edgar Hoover and RADM Byrd have cut a deal allowing the team to remain free and to cover up the incident under the guise of gang violence. The local FBI agent in charge had wanted to deport his team and hand O’Bannon over to the British. (Both the British and Irish have arrest warrants on him. He is protected in Shanghai only because the Sky Rats are agents of the Republic of China.) They are told to lie low and that evening they are put on a train to Los Angeles.

On arrive in that city, they are picked up by the OSI’s “Boston Project”, which Lancaster heads up, and given nice apartments in a new motel in Bunker Hill, the Ocean View (which it does not have…) It is the residence for the unmarried men of the project. The characters minus Wiley Post, who is not an OSI contractor and was staying with his wife (and the player was out for the evening), were taken to the Goodyear Airship Factor in Huntingdon Park. A separate building on the property, far from the airship sheds and company offices is the home of the Boston Project, and the facility they use is hidden under the grounds. After a security briefing and signing agreements to keep their mouths shut, they are finally showed the new home of the Eye of Shambala.

Lab B is where the scientists will be studying the Atlantean artifact. But next door in Lab C is where the fun stuff is — one of the Atlantean flying saucers, and the OSI reverse engineered version using “telluric countergravity” and gas-powered turbofan (jet) engines. The designer in Zebulon Edward Koenig, last seen in our other HEX campaign, a long lost associate of Nikola Tesla. He had stopped an invasion from the Hollow Earth in 1908 using Tesla’s telluric cannon, which destroyed miles of the Siberian forest, but had been sucked into the vortex created and deposited in the Hollow Earth. He had escaped with U.S.S. Los Angeles at the end of the last campaign, and now, which his daughter Erha, is working for OSI.

In addition to the saucer were a few prototypes of Erha’s “minifighter”, made by Curtiss: the XM-01 “Dogfish.” (The gearhead players really loved these things, as I thought they might…) We’re finally getting more super-science in the game: flying saucers, mini-fighters, and they think they’ve figured out how to use telluric energy (the earth’s electromagnetic field) to create antigravity, as well as a weapon (similar to the one Tesla and Koenig used to save the world in 1908.) Veitch was also interested in starting work on robots.

After their visit to the facility, the group returned to the Ocean View in time to join Post in his trip to the Burbank Airport, to see his new airplane provided by his sponsor Texaco. A new Lockheed Electra 10D with upgraded R-1340 Wasp engines. The plane is perfect for some of the ideas he had to push the boundaries of aviation. While there, they are approached by Mark Hooper, a stunt coordinator for MGM that knows Post. He needs pilots for a new film about to start filming. The movie is a love story set against the fight between an Italian sky pirate gang and a fictionalized version of the Sky Rats. Having O’Bannon and Veitch immediately got them an offer, and Cointreau parlayed this into getting a audition with the casting director.

With an excellent series of rolls, Cointreau found himself bumping Mischa Auer for the part of Moroni, the Italian gang leader and rival for the hear of Sophia, played by Merle Oberon. The lead, Cary Grant, is playing “Sky Captain” — obviously patterned on “Captain Joe” Porter, and there’s even a character that is obviously a take on O’Bannon himself, played by David Niven. There’s a young plucky mechanic who is comic relief played by Mickey Rooney (this drives Veitch nuts!) The story takes massive liberties with the final battle the Sky Rats fought against the Cavallieri del’Aria (Knights of the Air), an Italian sky pirate band the Foreign Volunteer Force took down for the Yugoslavian government in 1931. The asistant director of photography doing the aerial battles is a Dave Morelli, whose father supposedly told him stories of the Sky Rats and pirates…he’s thrilled to be working with them.

There followed a montage of vignettes: Cointreau doing well in his work, seducing Oberon only to be discovered in the act by her boyfriend, famed director Alexander Korda. Korda has complained to Mr. Mayer and it looks like Sky Rats! might be the Frenchman’s first and last Hollywood movie! Veitch has been getting close to Erha, while aiding in their work on the saucers and the Eye of Shambala. Zelansky has finally gotten the group paid well for their work, but the government has put their pay into an annuity (which is subject to the new 50% tax on their wealth bracket…thanks, FDR!) O’Bannon and Post are filming aerobatics, including a wing-walking scene where Pin-Li, posing as a David Niven’s character, jumps from one plane to the other to pull the “enemy pilot” out of the cockpit and take over. (There’s another pilot hidden in the plane…PIn-Li can’t fly.)

Finally, Cointreau goes to watch the aerial shoot during a break in his filming, only to find the boys are already up. Veitch is at the Boston Project, but Post and O’Bannon are flying Curtiss Jennies dolled up to look like the Aero A.12s the FVF had flown in the campaign against the Knights of the Air. The “emeny” planes, a Jenny made up to look like an Aeromarine AS, and a Curtiss R3C racing seaplane painted red to play the Macchi M.39 of the villain, Moroni, are joined by the film plane with ADP Morelli in it. The grip on site at the Burbank Airport says they were called in early for the shoot…and moments later Hooper and the other pilots arrive. What they hell is going on? That’s not the routine!

That’s because Morelli is the son of Andrea Morelli, the wingman to Marco Pasquale — the commander of the Cavallieri and a man that O’Bannon had shot down five years ago! O’Bannon remembers the battle — their battered Aero A.12s against the new, nimble Macchi M.71 seaplanes, and Pasquale’s M.39 racing plane that had been armed. It was twice as fast as they, just as maneuverable, and armed with twin .30 machineguns. In that fight, O’Bannon had shot down Morelli’s father, but Pasquale had taken his plane out. Captain Joe had managed to kill Pasquale’s plane by using the slower Aero to pull the faster Macchi in tight, then had rammed the tail of the racing plane to defeat the sky pirate.

It’s the battle that they are supposed to be reenacting.

The “bad guys” has actual bullets in their guns and Post and O’Bannon find themselves using their superior flying skills to try and outfly their opponents. O’Bannon leads the R3C into the canyons north of Los Angeles and manages to get that pilot to damage the plane badly. He then uses Captain Joe’s tactic, out-turning the R3C until the racing plane has to slow down lest it overshoot him…then rams the plane, sending it careening into the neighborhood below.

Post tangles with the “bad guy” Jenny, lopping them to get behind, then just under them before the observer shoots, taking their own tail apart. He then gets under them and nudges the plane into an uncontrolled roll toward the ground. (Post’s player was out for the night and Veitch’s player was rolling for him.) To keep the Zelansky and Cointreau players involved, they were rolling for the bad guys.

Cointreau knows the boys are in trouble and calls the Boston Project, getting contected to Veitch. He tells them about the dogfight and urges him to get out there to help.  He convinces Erha to loan him a Dogfish and together they fly out in the motorcycle-cum-airplanes to the rescue. Veitch arrives just as the plane Post flipped is returning to the fight, and strafes it with the Dogfish’s twin .30s, taking it down. Meanwhile, O’Bannon comes up on the “camera plane” with Morelli and uses his propeller to shred the tail, then follow the damaged craft down to land in the streets. He and PIn-Li were leaping out to face Morelli and his Mafia buddy as Veitch and Erha were closing in the Dogfish.

That’s where we ended for the night.

The Hollywood interlude was fun and focused on the strengths of the characters — Zelansky’s science and bureaucracy, Veitch’s invention, O’Bannon and Post’s piloting skills, and Cointreau’s attempts to break into the Hollywood scene. It also allowed us to do a playtest of the new dogfighting rules  for Ubiquity that will be in the Sky Pirates of the Mediterranean sourcebook we’re working on at Black Campbell Entertainment. I wanted something that was both simpler than the rules in the Secrets of the Surface World sourcebook, and captured the elements of a dogfight better: the jockeying for position that is key to setting up a shot, and how quickly that can be overturned.

Originally, when I started working on this adventure, I had thought to pull it back a bit after the sorcery and kung fu antics of the last few episodes. Instead, we went for more pulp goodness, just with airplanes, that allowed us to delve into the history of the O’Bannon character, which we hadn’t really done yet. The next session I decided not to pull back, again — I had wanted to do something with the Dust Bowl and Okies. Instead, I’m doubling down on our new villainess, Morana.

Something that will be making an appearance soon in our Hollow Earth Expedition game is a “mini-fighter” that is being developed by the Office of Scientific Investigations “Boston Project”and built by the nearby Curtiss-Wright.

I needed something dieselpunkish and spotted this on DeviantArt by Leonard M Grion:

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An innovative design that came out of the Office of Scientific Investigations’ Boston Project, the Dogfish was created by a refugee of the Hollow Earth, Erha Koenig. This ultralight is powered by an Allison V-12 motor positioned behind an open cockpit that provides more of a motorcycle-like position in the aircraft. The idea was that small, nimble aircraft could outmaneuver the enemy planes, while being inexpensive and less of a financial loss in combat. Armed with a pair of Browning .30 caliber machineguns, the Dogfish had a center of gravity and lift that were balanced in the middle of the craft. Difficult and somewhat terrifying to fly, and with a limited ceiling due to the smaller wingspan, only a few prototypes were created.

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