After running Hollow Earth Expedition for the last six months or so, I’ve started to note some issues with the game design. When the game came out in 2006, it was slick and quick compared to many game systems, but with the rise of Fate, Cortex, and other mechanics, it’s become downright clunky.

One of the biggest issues is dice modifiers, which I addressed in this post.

Where I’m finding consistent issues comes from the Secrets of the Surface World sourcebook, specifically the magic and invention rules. I suspect that Jeff Combos has a formula he uses to try and keep inventing gear and spells, etc. balanced. Other Ubiquity fans and designers have been reverse engineering the system to try and figure this formula out. I went another way with Sorcery.

First, why?

Simple. Sorcery is handled like weapons, for all intents and purposes. There are mods for range, for area or effect, for the number of people affected, for “basic rituals.” Other rituals have their own modifiers based on what they do and what they do it to. This is all in the name of balance, and it was why magic users in early editions of Dungoens & Dragons were, until they reached a certain level, utter useless. “I’m a fighter, I get these mods all the time!” “I’m a wizard, I can make a magic light appear for 10 minutes once a day!”

Magic in pulp games (I’m specifying this because Hollow Earth Expedition fits a genre, and should fit the tropes and expectations of that genre) should unbalance the game. That’s why the bad guys have magic, and rarely — if ever — do the good guys. They overcome through grit, luck, and in the case of Jack Burton, because it’s all in the reflexes.

Second reason — psychic powers are very well done in Secrets of the Surface World. Mentalists aren’t invulnerable, they’re not all-poweful, but they are powerful. Why was the Shadow so dangerous? He could cloud your mind; you didn’t see him coming. A guy who can control your mind is dangerous, but you still get a Will test. And they just do it.

Magic in HEX is hampered by table and table of modifiers to your dice pool which, in effect, render sorcerer less useful than a 1st level wizard in AD&D. Worse, they have to take five rounds — an eternity when your opponents have guns and harsh language — to launch…if you succeed. More worse, you only have a ritual per skill level. So your sorcerer with the 6 skill rating and 4 Intelligence only knows two spells. One is probably casting a light spell for 10 minutes once a day.

This isn’t Ming the Merciless, or David Lo Pan, or any number of magic using bad guys in pulp comics. So how to make magic feel more like the comics and movies?

First: Number of rituals known. The number of rituals a sorcerer can know is the skill rating, not the level. You have a rating of five, you can know five off the top of your head. If you have a book or scroll, etc. you can still use that spell, but it takes longer and you’re not as likely to succeed. (More in a moment.) Now, you have to gain access to learn those spells — you might not start with them. There’s your game balance.

Second: The Rank of the skill is the base difficulty (unless skill test is contested by another character…) So a Cast Light ritual might be Rank 1. A sorcerer with a skill rating of two could just take the average and bust this out. Oooh! Magic is cool! Now, maybe he’s using Drain Life on you. That’s a Rank 3, but it goes against your Body. Their difficulty is 3 minimum because that’s how hard it is to do, but if you have a Body 4, you get to roll eight dice (or take the average of 4.)

Three: The minimum number of round requires to cast a ritual is equal to the Rank of the ritual. However, in the name of balance, if there are modifiers to the difficulty, the GM could increase the time of the ritual. So a Bless would take one round, a quick muttering of incantation and some hand waving; opening a portal to Summon and ancient Horror would require 30 seconds (5 round) minimum, but other modifiers might lengthen that time.

Fourth: Modifiers. Geez, the number of modifiers! Here’s a good rule of thumb — ranges are simple in pulp movies, shows, and books: you can touch them (no mods) , you can see them (+1 or a +2, maybe), you can’t see them (+4). A villainess doing sympathetic magic on an unsuspecting target on the other side of town has a +4 to their Curse (Rank 2) because they are across town. To do the spell in the first place requires a piece of something from the victim (blood or hair, say) — so that counts as touch range. Ignore the modifier. They have a skill of six; taking the average, they can levee a -2 die curse on the target.

Area effect v. specific targets: Use Size here. Up to human size is Size 0 — no mods. Size 1 gives a +1 to the base difficulty. Size 2 is up to 14-15 feet: +2 to the difficulty. But say trying to effect two particular targets in a Size 2 area that has a crows of people — each person adds a +1 to the difficulty because the caster has to be discriminate.

On other skills, simplify the modifiers. Animating the dead? That’s Rank 4, but the corpse is badly decayed — +2 difficulty; he’s a skeleton +4. Is it big? Size 2, say? Add +2. Simple. Levitating something? That’s a Rank 4, so it’s damned hard to start with. So instead of worrying about the size of the object, go with “size matters not” — or if there you want a modifier, it’s the size of the thing. Size 2 — +2.

Keep it simple It still makes success hard for a sorcerer, but they are more likely to kick ass this way than it you nickel and dime them on their dice. Magic should be big, flashy, and powerful in a pulp game — something to be feared and hard to overcome.

So, working on adventure scenarios for Hollow Earth Expedition and Ubiquity in general has illustrated (for me) one of the flaws in its design…adding and subtracting to the dice pool. Over the last year, I’ve noticed that adding to a pool feels natural for most players and is easy enough to do, but subtracting — while still easy — is less intuitive. And this is something that Ubiquity relies on — modifiers to the number of dice in your pool.

What this can quickly do is render a competent character completely ineffective. You have a six dice in something, but with the range, other difficulty you are reduced to, say, two. You are, effectively, able to complete a task with a one difficulty. (Yes, you can roll a two, but essentially, your average is one.)

Here’s my suggestion for GMs. Cut the dice modifiers entirely. If something is at twice the range, don’t chop the player’s dice pool by -2; add a +1 modifier to the defense of the target. No one die, a one. It’s taking the average, but it’s quicker to pull one off  or add it to a total. And alway apply it to the difficulty, not the players roll. It puts more on the GM, but I’ve found it speeds play quickly.

The other benefit is environmental effects don’t get stupidly powerful. Oh, it’s dark and a bit misty — that’s -4 dice! So that could be an effect of 0-4; or take the average of two. Add it to the difficulty and press on. It becomes pretty intuitive for the GM to hand-wave some things quickly.

“Oh, you are trying to run across a snow covered field in the dark. That’s a +2 to a normal Difficulty of two, so roll your Athletics v. a 4.” Done. Easy. You don’t even need a chart.

For style chips, we’ve been using something similar. It always seemed a rip-off to make a player pay a style point for an extra die; we’ve always just given them a +1 to their total. (Making style points useful…)

The impetus to this idea came when I started working with the Sorcery rules. Which are, to my eye, a hot mess. But more on that next post…

One issue that crops up from time to time with Hollow Earth Expedition is the vehicular rules. For small craft like cars, or even smaller boats up to a tramp steamer, they work well, with the size and mass of the vehicle roughly doubling for each size doubling. The issue is once the scales start to outstrip the clean doubling rules at about size eight.

In Secrets of the Surface World, Exile Games, gave us a few very large ships — all size 16. Most of these bigger vehicles had a length of 600-800′ and often in the 15-30,000 ton range, or much more that the doubling that Hollow Earth Expedition was initially settling into. This gives you a couple of issues when it comes to combat vs. massive ships and aircraft: either they are so weak that a good roll with a machine gun might incapacitate them (something as unlikely for the airship Graf Zeppelin as for the mighty Arizona…), or you have to find some fudge factor like adding defense/structure points to model armor or size.

So I see two options to fixing vehicles for Ubiquity:

The First: Keep the scales consistent. A Size 16 would be roughly 101-200′ in length and 100-200 tons or so in size. Size 32 200-400′, Size 64 400-600, and 128 600-1200.

Under this option, USS Arizona would be Size 128, with a Defense of six for metal and and extra, say, 2 for armor giving her an 8. But her structure would be 136. Even with some great bombing runs, it would take dozens of bomb runs to kill the ship.

This is more accurately modeled, when you consider that a similar sized ship, the IJN Yamato, took 11-13 torpedo and 6-8 bomb hits — somewhere around 120 points of damage for just the weapons, if you took the average.

Option 2: Create steps between Size 8 and 16 to keep the scaling from Secrets of the Surface World consistent. Here, you would add a Size 10, 12, and 14 — with a size of 100-200 for Size 10, a 200-400 for Size 12, a 400-600 for Size 14, and-600-800 for size 16. You would add the size to the material to get the Defense and Structure as usual, but ignore the negative modifier given for the lack of Dexterity. In other words, normally, the Size modifier for defense cancels itself out — Body bonuses lost to Dexterity — so that you are trying to beat the material. A wood vehicle of size 8 would have a Defense and Structure of 12. this would, in practice, make it nearly impossible for someone with a .45 Colt  to damage a 50-100′ yacht, say, but a Tommy gun on full auto might make a bit of a mess. That’s mostly accurate. A decent pilot with a medium-sized torpedo could do a few points to Arizona, but it would take a remarkably good hit to sink her with one shot.

Personally, I rather like the first option, but your mileage may vary…

Smash open with the characters — Dr. Gould, Hunter, and Olga — facing a tyrannosaurus rex just as they were hoping for a rescue from the flying saucer Aruna. With it’s guns damaged from the crash a few sessions ago, the saucer still aids them by presenting a shiny distraction for the beast, giving them time to find cover. From there, Hunter lives up to his name, using the .452 Wesley-Richards they’d nabbed after Gus Hassenfeldt was lost in the last session.

Finally picked up by the saucer, they fly back to the damaged flying wing the curmudgeonly “Uncle” Zek and his young daughter Erha used to help everyone escape the pirate attack on the Sanctuary. They land and proceed to try and find the body of Lady Zara, who had been thrown from Ivora the Magnificent’s airship Sela…but it’s nowhere to be found: no drag marks, no blood, nothing. While reconnoitering Hunter nearly gets eaten by a massive Venus mantrap, but cuts his way out with his sword. Lord Amon posits that she was taken by a pterosaur, but they just can’t be sure. (This is my back door for having the character return, if and when her player can/does come back.)

They manage to fix the cannons on Aruna and after some debate, head for Amon’s home city, Ultima Thule! Four hours of flying over ocean get them to the city on a large island. The city is Atlantis-like, with radial and circular canals, high walls and buildings, and it is surrounded by massive farms with animals that are more modern and recognizable. Landing at the royal palace, they can see a massive war saucer with the Hindu-style swastika — it’s Durga, the war saucer of General Inanna, Emperor Mot’s most trusted tactician! Amon and Shria are worried, and they have cause to be: his men arrest them immediately, and they are taken to face Captain Thoth — the head of the emperor’s secret police (all attired in basic black with gold swastikas.)

Thoth is here because the emperor knew about his mission to collect Gould, the Atlantean, and that he encountered some “issues.” He informs Shria she is to be returned to her father for “discipline” for her art in his efforts to subvert the emperor with the aid of this man (whom he thought would be taller…) He also discovers that Olga is something special — not Atlantean, but something much, much more valuable. He takes from Zek his “mind machine” — the remains of an Atlantean robot, which has been acting as interpreter and technology expert. (One of the reasons Zek is so good with machines…)

Gould, Olga, Shria, and Hunter (whom Gould rescued from a dungeon stay like the rest) are cleaned, dressed in appropriately Greco-Flash Gordon clothing, then given medical attention. For the first time in four days, they get a good meal and don’t smell like animals! Thoth questions them about the surface world, their adventures, all seeming like polite table conversation, but he is gathering intelligence.

Afterward, once they’ve had sleep and a storm has passed, they are preparing to go aboard Durga when a report that Amon and the others have escape is delivered. Assuming that they will use the secret tunnels, Thoth is about to dispatch troops when they hear the flying wing roar to life. Moments later, the plane strafes the guards and the audience room, and the characters take the chance to beat feet.

Chased by dozens of guardsmen, they manage to get to one of the Thule saucers, and take off, strafing the others and destroying them. Only the massive Durga remains, but they quickly effect their escape, catching up to the flying wing and having them follow to an island far out to sea, Avarda — Shria’s secret pleasure island.

Here they find a tropical paradise with jutting mountains, white sandy beaches, and a massive treehouse complex in the jungles. Shria’s attendants include nymph-like “greenmen” who assure them that they will know if Thoth and his forces approach. Rested, healed, and fed, the group has to make a tough choice — head for Argatha and abandon the Inner World, or take up arms against the emperor…but where to start?

As we’ve played in the Hollow Earth, I’ve more and more moved away from the Land of the Lost quality toward a Flash Gordon-esque one. We needed a good bad guy, so “the emperor.” Is it Ming the Merciless? Due to international copyright laws, no. But it sounds like Max von Sydow’s Ming! But its not… This gives the characters a purpose beyond adventuring from one sandbox to the next, and provides a force of bad guys whenever needed. The Hollow Earth’s Nazis, if you will.

A few things we know — the Inner World, based off the curvature, is far too small to be just under the surface of the Earth. In fact, the circumference would only be about half that Earth… The creatures they’ve seen include things of myth, ancient dinosaurs, modern animals and people, and access to and from the surface was, at one time, more easy. One person has described the Inner World as “a prison”, a place created by ancient gods to protect people from the things here. Could the Atlanteans have been their servants? And what is the relationship to the Vril, who are Atlantean, but cannot work some of their technology as Gould can? Olga, they seem to think, is related to something even older than the Atlanteans, and dangerous; she has an effect of orichalcum (finally worked it in),  an element that is part of the crystals that power so much of the Atlantean technology.

I finally got a few moments to work on converting some more of the ships from the old Space: 1889 game to the new Ubiquity version. We’ve already had a guest poster give his rules and reasoning behind his work, and now it’s my turn. The old Space: 1889 and the connected Sky Galleons of Mars boardgame were directed more at the old school minis and wargaming crowd. In fact, while I occasionally use minis to clarify certain battle scenes, Space: 1889 was the last game in which I would shift from roleplaying game to wargame when it was time for a fight.

Ubiquity really isn’t set up this style of play — not that you couldn’t find a way to combine the old school wargame with the more narrative-oriented play of the new game. To that end, my stats on the cloudships and aerial flyers of the Space: 1889 world will be more Ubiquity-directed, and may not satisfy the person looking for more “crunch” in their aerial antics over the sands of Mars; I direct those players to the link above.

So why are the stats what they are? Some are going to have similar complaints about the lack of uniqueness between the vessels. (Similar complaints were levied at Cortex, which could be made crunchy PDQ.) Here’s why the stats are what they are. Size — in Ubiquity, animals were lumped into size categories that were exponential. If you were a certain weight or size, you might jump to the next category, and at a certain point, it was assumed the Defense of the thing would be too great for you to do much harm. The ships are lumped into those size categories. Defense is usually just cribbed from similar vessels in the Secrets of the Surface World sourcebook, but a good rule of thumb would be assume the material (4 for wood, 6 for metal) and if armored, add half again (6 for wood, 9 for metal). The size of the vehicle is going to make it very easy to be hit, so Defense here is going to be based off the physical material.

Structure is pretty basic — what’s the material plus the size modifier. For instance a wood (4) ship of size 8 has a Structure of 12 as it’s base; a metal (6) one would be 14. To give a bit of variability, you could factor in armor, but what I’ve wound up doing is going with that base, then looking at the damage a vessel could take in Sky Galleons. An Aphid-class, for instance, has a total of 10 points for its hull, and 2 armor. I assumed the 14 and added 2 for the armor to get the Ubiquity version. A more massive ship that was still in the Size 8 category for physical size I rounded up a few points in the initial write-ups; Now I look at the armor and total structure. If it’s lower in the old rules, it gets boosted in the new; if it’s higher in the old rules, it gets that structure in the new rules (although a few places I’ve ignored that — like with the Warm Winds, which would have been stronger than an Iowa-class battleship.) I err on the weaker numbers in general on the assumption that liftwood vessels, as with all aircraft, have an inherent flaw…they lack support against gravity. Hit in the right place, do enough damage in the wrong place, and the superstructure can come apart, regardless of the overall damage taken. As any WWII combat pilot that got a wing shot off — the rest of plane might’ve looked great as it went into the ground like a f#$%ing dart.

I would suggest adding in the very low to very high altitude ceilings in your game. Divide the structure by the number of altitude zones, and assume that once that amount of structure is removed, the ship loses an altitude zone.

So here’s a few more Martian cloudships:

Sky Runner Medium Screw Galley

Wth five decks and a crew of 32, these screw galleys are usually out of the shipyards at Karkarham, but are found in service all over the Red Planet.

SIZE: 16   DEF: 4   STR: 20   SPD: 20   CEIL: VH   HAN: -2   CREW: ~32   COST: £25,600; WEAPONRY: 3 heavy guns (fore and wing mounted): Dmg: 8L   Rng: 250′   Rate: 1/2   Spd: S   Size: 2

Endtime Medium War Galley

This is the mainstay of the Oenotrian sky navy, and has been turned out in large numbers. It is the smallest vessel to mount a lob gun, and the heavier weight gives it limited ceiling and a sluggish speed, and the focus on firepower disadvantages these ships with shorter range of fire than the human gunboats.

SIZE: 16   DEF: 4   STR: 20   SPD: 15   CEIL: H   HAN: -2   CREW: 45   COST: £31,500: WEAPONRY: Rod gun (fore) — Dmg: 8L   Rng: 500′   Rate: 1/2   Spd: S   Size: 2; Lob Gun (amidships) — Dmg: 10L   Rng: 250′   Rate: 1/2   Spd: S   Size: 2; 2 heavy guns (wing-mounted) — Dmg: 8L   Rng: 250′   Rate: 1/2   Spd: S   Size: 2.

Skyfire Heavy War Galley

The Oenotrian Sky Navy has two of these brutes in service. The design is conservative — a typical double deck forecastle, a thin spine to the five decked aft hull. The screw requires 42 people just to operate at full efficiency, and it is heavily armed and has a ram-prow (see below.)

SIZE: 16   DEF: 6   STR: 22   SPD: 15   CEIL: H   HAN: -4   CREW: ~95   COST: £105,400; WEAPONRY: 4 Rod gun (2 fore, 2 aft, behind bulkhead) — Dmg: 8L   Rng: 500′   Rate: 1/2   Spd: S   Size: 2; 2 Rouge gun (broadside, behind bulkheads) — Dmg: 8L   Rng: 250′ Rate: 1/2   Spd: S   Size: 1; 8 heavy guns (broadside, behind bulkheads) — Dmg: 8L   Rng: 250′   Rate: 1/2   Spd: S   Size: 2; 10 tether mines — Dam: 12L   Rng: up to 500′   Rate: 1/2   Spd: S   Size: 1

Prow Ram: With a successful Pilot test, the Skyfire can do up to it’s DEF in damage to an opponent ship. With +1 success, the ship is stuck into the target and boarding can commence through a hatch in the ram, or from the main deck.

Play tonight was truncated by scheduling issues, and one of the players was out for this week (and next, as will another of the players.) This necessitated some tap dancing on my account to keep us moving for the weeks folks were away.

After having gone through the Eye of Shambala, the characters found themselves in a strange jungled valley, surround by craggy high mountains, a small, bright sun overhead, and a large — seemingly abandoned — ancient city in front of them. maxresdefaultImage cribbed from one of the Uncharted games…

The night’s adventure revolved around trying to figure out where they were and exploring the city in front of them. The height of the sun, the hot and humid aid, the Aian architecture (complete with monkey god statues and the pagoda-like stylings on the bridges, led them to believe they were somewhere near Borneo.

There was some character bits — Olga, the Russian girl they’d picked up — clues them in on the Russians that attacked them in Lhasa: members of the Bekhterev Brain Institute, the girl was a powerful telepath; the man had the ability to use his will to bend people’s perceptions. “Just like the Shadow!” enthused Zara. They also learned that Olga was a focus for magical energy, a sort of battery. There was a bit between her and Hunter, the Terra Arcanum overseer, whom she nearly killed while under the telepath’s spell. He also had been nearly taken over by the woman and confirmed her story.

Armed with a few handguns and almost no ammunition, they set out to search the city before risking returning to Tibet…they don’t know what has happened with the GPU and Nazi agents. Hunter’s assumption is the Tibetans have “handled” them by now.

The city is obviously old, possibly even older than the pyramids! and the stonework is unbelievably advanced. There are indications of combat — with fire damage, artillery (Hunter thinks) strikes, and the occasional bleached skeleton. Eventually, they make their way to the temple complex in the center of town where Hunter accidentally reveals that he can read the ancient language, Atlantean. This is “The Center of the World, where the Gods reside.”

Inide, they find skeletons piled on each other of massive beings — 8 feet tall, at a glance — and while investigating, they disturb a section of dirt and plant material, only to have a half dozen giant centipedes — 6 feet long, fast — suddenly lunge out at them. (This was an especially pleasant bit of creepy horror, as one of the players is seriously creeped out by the bastards.) In the ensuing firefight with the creatures, Gus Hassenfedlt shows his use with judiciously careful shots with Zara’s little .32 Astra, managing to kill two of the creatures, injuring one. Gould similarly injures one with the Tokarev he took off of a Russian. They drive off the creatures, but not before Hunter stps on a weakened section of floor and disappears into darkness below (that player was not present.)

The characters got after him, only to find the section below that had also collapsed, spilling him into the waters below the island the temple complex sits in. Gus rappels using a vine and discovers a crypt filled with these creatures, including one with four arms! Gould chases along the bridges and waterfronts trying to catch Hunter, only to hit a section of balcony over the water that breaks off, dumping him into the rushing waters, only to be taken over a series of waterfalls (guess who’s not here next week!)

This leaves Zara and Gus, with Olga and Dr. Heiser, the German philologist and historian (and Thule Society member) to be captured by the secret inhabitants of the city — giant apemen, similar to the creatures they encountered in Africa. they are taken to one of the sections of the city in better repair, where they see females and children apemen. One of the creatures addresses them in Chinese, then decent French. He is Kordas, their “natural philosopher”, who learned the language from the traders in San Antonio.

They learn that they are in “Argatha” — the city of the Gods. This is the birthplace of the asuras and devas, those beings that (the apes assume) created the World. The unmoving sun overhead is the greatest of them. They’ve been in Agatha for hours, yet the sun hasn’t moved. Where are they? “The world” is the only response Kordas has, but he tells them that there are people who are drawn into the world from strange realms outside the world. They don’t have much more knowledge of the outside world (if it is outside…) The apes also recount that another race destroyed the asuras and devas, or they did it to themselves, but it’s been so long, there’s no record of what happened.

This is all terribly interesting to Heiser — who thinks the Argatha, Ultima Thule, and other lost cities might be one and the same place. (He’s wrong, of course!) And who are these other people that might have destroyed the asuras and devas?

When they learn that there was a member of their group that could open the Eye of Shambala, they are stunned — the ancients have long been dead. There are descendants, but most of them cannot operate the old artifacts. They ask for descriptions and are pleased that the man does not appear to be “Vril.” (I’ve decided the Vril-ya of the setting need to be pumped up a bit…)

After collapsing from fatigue in the never-ending day, the characters are setting off to locate their missing friends.

So — to compensate for folks being out for a week or two, we’ve split the party, so the one set of players will be able to continue without much issue for the next session. It also keeps them stuck in this strange place they’ve find themselves in — they can’t use the Eye without Gould — and badly prepared and armed (they’ve each got a handful of ammunition left), the environment will be much more of a challenge for them.

Well, we’ve made to the Hollow Earth in our Hollow Earth Expedition campaign (or have we..?) So it’s time to start working on what my version looks like. To that end, I spent the weekend digging through the Mysteries of the Hollow Earth sourcebook to see what Jeff Combos and the boys at Exile did with it. The last time i ran the game, we never got out of 1930s China, save for a short adventure on the East Coast of the US. This time I’ve committed myself to go full pulp, so Hollow Earth (or is it Venus? Or an alternate reality?) it is.

The characters had gone through an eye-like Stargate-ish artifact called the Eye of Shambala that was stored under the Potala Palace in Tibet and emerged in a setting cribbed from the Shangri-La in the Uncharted series of video games (I haven’t played them, but the visuals are great…and look to be highly influenced by the Shangri-La of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.)

A few of the things I’ve already started playing with:

Shangri-La — is this it? Or is it actually on the Surface World but only accessible through the Eye? This place looks uninhabited, which would fly in the face of the paradisiacal valley where people live long, idyllic lives.

How much dinosaur? Is the whole of the place dinosaur filled, or only certain bits?

The big one was how to incorporate Buddhist and Hindu mythology into the setting. Seems appropriate that sections of the Hollow Earth (or is it?) would have “nations” of a fashion — places where the devas and asuras ruled, places where their cousins, the Æsir and Vanir, or the Titans/Olympians might have ruled. We know the Atlanteans were around, but are these the same people as folks of Ultima Thule, or Hyperboreans? (Answer: no…and yes.)

That leads to the two races I know are going to have to get used — the Titans and the Vril-ya. The Titans don’t work for me. I see where they were going, but I’d rather go with these being the direct descendants of the creatures humans on the Surface World once called gods, but brought low by their own infighting. Perhaps a few of the old codgers are still around and ruling little fiefdoms? I also wanted to do a tie to the Mars from Revelations of Mars — and the Dheva are the link there.

The multi-armed thing works well with the Hindu angle. Perhaps the people of Mars and the Titans have a common lineage? One might be the experimental product of the other? It would also be a good reason for the animal-people of the Hollow Earth: all this is the result of the Titans or old gods playing around?

As for the Vril-ya — I’m not sure I want to use the “official” version. I think they might have to be modified to be the Atlanteans/Thule/Hyperboreans. Maybe they were caught in the crossfire of the War Between Gods?

I’m still musing on where I want to go with this, but I tend to be a sucker for using mythology in my games (the Battlestar Galactica campaign took a sharp turn into Greek myth coupled with transhumanism.) and the idea of playing with Hinduism is alluring, especially as their gods die and are reborn.

Known as “the Ghost”, Lenshev’s ability is to use his powers of will and concentration to mask the presence of people and things…he “clouds men’s minds”, to quote a popular radio show.

Archetype: Spy     Motivation: Duty     Health:  7

Body: 3     Dexterity: 3     Strength: 2     Charisma:  2    Intelligence: 2     Will: 4

Initiative: 5     Defense: 6     Stun: 4     Move: 5     Perception: 6

SKILLS: Acrobatics 5, Athletics 5, Bureaucracy 5, Con 3, Diplomacy 3, Firearms 5, Investigation 4, Larceny 4, Martial Arts, Systema 6, Stealth 6, Streetwise 3, Survival 3

RESOURCES: Rank: Captain, GPU

TALENTS: Finesse Attack, Systema; Iron Will, Iron Jaw, Psychic Ability: Cloaking

LANGUAGES: Russian (native), English, French, German, Mongolian

FLAWS: Callous, Sadist, Vow

WEAPON: Pair of nickel-plated  Tokarev TT-33

Galina was introduced this week as one of the members of the GPU’s Special Department, Section 2 — psychics working for the Bolsheviks. She is a telepath and mind controller. Tall and slim, she has blue eyes with an Asian cast to them and red-brown hair.

Archetype: Psychic     Motivation: Duty     Health:  6

Body: 2     Dexterity: 2     Strength: 2     Charisma:  3    Intelligence: 3     Will: 4

Initiative: 7     Defense: 4     Stun: 2     Move: 4     Perception: 7

SKILLS: Acrobatics 4, Athletics 4, Bureaucracy 5, Con 6, Diplomacy 6, Empathy 6, Firearms 4, Investigation 6, Linguistics 6, Science, Biology 6

RESOURCES: Rank: Lieutenant, GPU

TALENTS: Natural Linguist, Psychic Ability: Telepathy, Mind Control; Quick Reflexes

LANGUAGES: Russian (native), English, French, German, Mongolian

FLAWS: Callous, Sadist, Vow

WEAPON: Tokarev TT-33

So, tonight saw the culmination of the party’s attempts to find the Eye of Shambala, and the start of a new chapter in their adventures.

Having left off in Lhasa, Tibet, the team arrived a day after the Germans, led by Dr. Albert Heiser and Haupsturmfuhrer Werner. A tense dinner for the team is thrown by the village elders, and the Germans are (of course) invited. That evening, everyone has intense dreams — Gould dreams of a faceless creature calling to him, calling him son, and dreams of trackless red desert and lush, improbable jungle landscapes; Zara dreams of a particular encounter in Africa she had; Gus Hassenfeldt of losing him father (for a time) to the Great War…

13thDalaiLama1910The next morning, they are taken to meet the 13th Dalai Lama, who is concerned and intrigued by the sudden arrive of people in airplanes, and intent on seeing the Eye — an artifact of great import, but one that has resisted their every effort to unlock its mysteries. Even the purest of heart cannot open the Eye. Gould admits that he did just this think in Africa. Only the Ancients could do this! He is a descendent of the people from the birthplace of the world!

Before they can get much further on this, Gould noticed a strange droning noise no one else does, sees shadows from the windows no one else does. Then all hell breaks loose — the monks warn the Dalai Lama that men have invaded the Potala Palace, and the sound of automatic gunfire comes from the city. It’s not the Nazis, Werner has no automatics! At that moment, an airship — SSSR-V6 — appears out of nowhere! At the same time, strange, ghostly things invade the audience chamber! (All the characters did well enough to sense these invaders, but only Gould could see them for what they were — Russian soliders, and two that held back, a man and a woman. He senses the pull of the man, the attempt to bend Gould’s perception with his will.

After having dropped hints about the Bekterev Brain Institute and Olga’s connection to the same, I thought it was time to up the ante…if you’re going to hint at Russian psychics, you give the audience Russian psychics. (Looking at you, George Lucas and Steven Speilberg!) The man, Arkady Lenshev is known as “the Ghost” and can make people and things disappear with the power of concentration; the girl, Galina Obreva, is a mind reader and mind controller.

Olga recognizes the misty figures and warns them it’s “Section 2!” Then the fight is on — Gus throws a heavy bronze vase at one of the figures and drops it, where it turns into a Russian soldier. Obreva takes over Werner before he can fire his PPK, and makes him take a shot at Gus. Before this can happen, however, Zara throws Rigoletto — her capuchin monkey — at the Nazi and throws off his aim. Hunter attempts to save Gould and gets into a fight with the stereotypical Russian man-mountain and doesn’t do so well.

Gould runs for it, gets out into the hallway only to be squared off with the Ghost, who is impressed — no one has ever seen through his cloak before. Gould fakes a surrender, gets close, and manages to get a knee in Lenshev’s soft and danglies. He’s just getting the Tokarev out of the man’s holster when a half dozen soldiers burst in.

The others are deep in a fight. Other Russian mist figures grab Olga, but Gus manages to get one off of her and choke him out. Olga is taken over by Galina and nearly busts Hunter’s head open with her knout, then is knocked unconscious by the monstrous, Ivan Drago-esque Russian soldier. Hunter struggles out his revolver and is about to take a shot, but is taken over by Galina for a moment (the plaer got an incredible Will roll!) and realizes it’s her trying to take him over. He is able to shoot the big Russian in the back.

The Russian backup arrives just in time to make things more complex. Zara, Gould, Hunter, and Werner gun down a bunch of the bad guys while retreating after the Dalai Lama and his monks. As they are making good their escape, Werner’s German troops show up and a gun fight ensues.

The characters escape, and led by the monks, get to the Dheva Cave where the Eye is held. Gould’s presence opens the eye, and his connection to it is even more powerful with Olga in proximity — it’s the first hint of why the Russians want her back: she is a focus for magic; her presence enhances the connection of magicians and magical objects to their source of power. The sounds of fighting move closer, and Gould grabs Olga and jumps through, with Hunter and the others following close.

On the other side, they arrive in a cave and startle a bunch of bats, which drives them out into the daylight. The characters find themselves in a hot, humid, and mountainous jungle. The air is thick, the sun small and incredibly bright, and around them are the grand ruins of an ancient city…Shambala or Shangri-la!?!

That was where we ended the night, with the characters finally having reached some exotic and unknown locale. The hollow earth? Some jungle on Earth? An alien world?