Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Episode 36: A New Adventure With an Old Acquaintance

A new day dawned on Mars to the news that the Persephone had been lost in the Crocea-Gorlimsk Swamplands.

Persephone had been chartered by Dr Grant for some sort of expedition to the swamplands. Not only were Dr Grant and the crew lost, but Grant had taken along is erstwhile assistant miss Elizabeth White.

It was quite the talk of the Explorer’s Club public lounge, in which Captain Forsyth and Dr Phipps had received the news that Waldmont would not be remaining on mars, but would be returning to Earth to take up the reins of his family business. Indeed, Forsyth and Phipps were talking about it to a new acquaintance, a former military chap by the name of Hartwell when they became aware of being avidly watched by a young woman scribbling in a notebook.

Forsyth intercepted her and learned she was the author of the newspaper article reporting the loss of the Persephone, and that she was looking for more information on the late Mr Waldmont and Professor Wilhelm, absent from the world of the Brotherhood of Luxor for many months now. Forsyth was polite but firm that neither he nor his friends could add anything of value to the story.

The next day Forsyth was presented with a letter signed by Assistant Deputy Commissioner Mandrake informing him that his presence was required at the Governor’s residence at 4pm where a garden party was being held. He was also informed that he was needed to resolve a … situation … and furthermore, that an “honour guard” would be provided “as a courtesy”. And indeed, at 3:45pm four burly soldiers in the uniform of the Parhoon Rifles arrived to “escort” Captain Forsyth to the party.

As he arrived at the Governor’s residence, Forsyth caught a strong smell of something he hadn’t smelled since he was on Venus. Before he could speculate he emerged into the garden where the sight of two dozen scantily-clad tribal Venusian Lizardmen greeted him. Before he could react, one lizardman, slightly more ornately clad than the rest (a matter of the number and type of feathers in his headband) stepped forward and demanded to know why Fogg was not present. Forsyth immediately recognized his acquaintance Ssassafrash! That very lizardman who had been so helpful on Venus and who had been so impressed by the pugilistic skills of the reverend Fogg. Ssassafrash and his fellow Venusians had come to “honour Fogg” he said, and at the mention of the name “Fogg” each lizardman exulted, hissing the name “Fogg” reverently. The Governor’s representative muttered “you see our problem, Captain Forsyth” and made himself scarce.

Forsyth explained as best he could that Fogg had passed away, fighting bravely to the end, and had been buried in a secret place Fogg himself had forbidden anyone to visit (this because it occurred to Forsyth that even if he could locate the grave-site, it had been improvised with whatever rocks were to hand to form a cairn over Fogg’s body and that the elements and Martian scavengers might likely have disturbed the scene. Heaven alone knew what the reaction of this, this, Cult of Fogg would be to such a discovery. Forsyth waited a decent interval, then made his excuses and left to inform the others of this development.

The next day the Earthmen were contacted by yet another representative of the Governor’s office, a “Mr Smith”, with the news that Dr Grant and Miss White were being held by swamp pirates who were demanding an immense ransom for the hostages, a ransom so large the strategic reserves could not encompass the demand. Furthermore, all military assets were currently occupied with the Oenotrian menace, and an official rescue attempt into neutral Crocean territory would certainly push those neutral city states bordering the swamplands into the Oenotrian camp.

Smith suggested that were a private expedition mounted, a certain amount of funds could perhaps be made available to help equip it.

Forsyth, Phipps and Hartwell discussed the mater among themselves for a few minutes, discarded the idea of using a flying vessel and decided that a large canal barge of narrow draught would be ideal. It was also suggested that Forsyth approach Ssassafrash with a view to asking him and his fellow Venusians to join as extra muscle. Ssassafrash listened to the proposition, then announced it would seem to be the perfect way of honouring Fogg.

And so it was that on the 14th of September, the Krahaanik's Folly left the dockside of Syrtis Major, ostensibly on a scientific expedition mounted by Dr Phipps to search for a certain type of martian leech that would be invaluable in creating new medicines. The machine gun mounted on the bow was simply a precaution against Canal and Swamp Pirates, both of whom were known to interfere with peaceful folk going about their lawful business on the waterways of Mars. The many cases of ammunition were merely an expression of the nature of the hazard involved.

The crew were five loyal Martian boatmen, Ssassafrash and his two dozen spearmen, Forsyth and his batman Jones, Phipps and the new chap, Hartwell. It was quite a crowd, and their departure was watched carefully by several people including the young woman who had accosted Forsyth in the Explorer’s Club, some Martians and a sinister human who was taking pains not to be spotted.

The week long trip to the swamp was mostly uneventful, and each night the Krahaanik's Folly would dock at some canal-side town to trade minor items and gather information. The picture that emerged was grim, if speculative. The crew of the Persephone had, by all accounts, been sold as slaves to some High Martian “king”, while the unfortunate Dr Grant and Miss White were being held for ransom from the British - or whoever could pay it!

There was one encounter with canal pirates, which ended badly for the brave explorers but very badly indeed for the pirates. The Krahaanik's Folly was hailed by an approaching vessel and ordered to heave to for an “inspection”. Suspecting foul play, Forsyth and Phipps opened fire withtheir small arms while Hartwell attempted to fire the machine gun - but it jammed! The pirates returned fire with their sweeper and landed a very (un)lucky shot that dropped two Martian crew and poor Jones. A shot from Phipps aimed at the madly reloading gunner then ignited the pirate’s supply of powder and blew the bows completely off the vessel, sinking it with the loss of all aboard.

Jones was badly wounded, but alive thanks to his stout Welsh constitution. The two Martian crewmen were not so lucky.

Finally reaching the mouth of the swamp, the Krahaanik's Folly cautiously made its way into the network of channels and islets, like and yet unlike the swamps of Venus. On Venus the vegetation is varying shades of green. Here, it was of course varying shades of red. But barely had the crew begun to admire the screnery when a flotilla of swamp pirate skiffs, well prepared and crewed, sprang a classic swamp pirate ambush and surrounded the Krahaanik's Folly!

The Earthmen readied themselves. Hartwell, anxious to redeem himself, gave good account with the machine gun, dropping a pirate. Phipps and Forsyth also began firing, as did Jones. But all were astonished at the military precision of the Lizardmen as they leapt overboard at Ssassafrash’s urging, and in what seemed expert military fashion began attacking the pirates with their spears.

The pirates, desperate now their ruse was up, fired pistols. Rounds tore through Hartwell’s new safari jacket, ruining the tailored line, and struck the proud figure of Ssassafrash, standing in clear view and urging his cohorts on with sibilant commands in whatever Venusian language they all spoke. One lucky shot dropped a Lizardman.

And then … but you will have to wait until next month’s exciting episode to find out what happened then, dear reader.

Thursday, March 24, 2022

We Are Going Back To Mars ... And The Rules Change Yet Again

We shall be returning to Mars and our heroes in early May, when our brave lads will have to face a menace so insidious and deadly that ... but I've said too much.

We shall also be undergoing a rules revision (again).

I'm not finding the SWADE rules very exciting for Space 1889, and there is a lot of work to edit the setting book into line with SWADE that I am unwilling to undertake, so we will start using a version of the rules similar to those in the Flash Gordon RPG - half arsed SWADE if you will.

Characters will build using the procedure in SWD but will combine CLIMB, SWIM and THROW into Athletics, and default GUTS to Spirit. Yes, this means that those oh-so valuable build points will stretch further. CLIMB, SWIM and THROW will still be in the game for specific Edge/Hindrance + circumstance modifiers but the rolls will be "Athletics".

No, it's easy dammit!

Power point allocations for weird science types are back to the lovely way they were before the daft SWADE homogenization took place. i.e. Weird Scientists will get number-of-devices * power points available, rather than number-of-devices / power points available. A starting weird scientist will have around four times the clout than they would under SWADE.

I'm changing how conviction counters are awarded - they don't exist in SWD, but I like the "blue fate chip"1 mechanism. When a player draws a joker all players get conviction if they don't have any. Players can hold only one conviction counter per session. A player may spend their conviction token like a bennie to grant d6 to all their trait tests in that round of activity.

And I'm adding a mechanic from Savage Worlds Pathfinder: By spendng a benny a player may extend that conviction effect into a further round.

And all unused conviction is surrendered at the session end.

  1. Previous edition Deadlands Reloaded thing

Monday, February 28, 2022

Interlude: A Short Break

The GM, who has had a wild and very enjoyable time watching the team fight and defeat the Brotherhood of Luxor, needs a break, a change of pace as it were, and so this group will be pausing their Victorian avdvenuring while they spend a few sessions at the other end of time, in the 31st century.

We will be playing Planet Mercenary RPG 1, a game set in the blackly comedic SF world of the Hugo-nominated Schlock Mercenary webcomic2

I probably will not be publishing that game's log. The idea is that the PM game is a break for me too.

Rest assured that after this hiatus, we fully intend to return to the Victorian Era, Mars and Syrtis Major.

  1. Planet Mercenary RPG
  2. Schlock Mercenary Archives

Sunday, February 27, 2022

Personal Letter from Capt. Henry Forsyth, RE (ret.) to his brother Clarence.

Letter from Capt. Henry Forsyth, RE (ret.) to his brother Clarence.

Mars, late evening following dinner with the governor (again).

Dear Brother,

I trust you are well and the gout is less troublesome. I am pleased to hear that you that have gone to the spa and are partaking of the waters. My good friend the doctor here tells me that, what he calls ‘the ammonia content’, will kill off any infection.

The back-brace you describe on the chair, while lowered into the pool, strikes me as rather reminiscent of some middle age contraptions. I can’t quite recall where I’ve the seen the like, perhaps ducking stools or I recall a similar device in the dungeon at the Tower of London. What a ruse that was, what! Pretending to be ensigns to gain entry. Oh wait, I was an ensign!

I have to tell you that things have gone rather well here on Mars. In my last correspondence, I told you about the events in Thoth and my good fortune to be ‘ennobled’, if only by a lowly Martian prince.

Following that, a threat was removed from the Kingdom, when their aggressive neighbours and foe of the empire, suffered a catastrophic loss. Seems their munitions store unexpectedly exploded. I’m afraid I can’t comment on rumours of a surprise attack from unassigned British personnel. It would be unprofessional and immodest.

Our return to the capital was much feted. Indeed, a play was held in our honour. Sadly, a Belgium affair, which is what may have aroused my suspicion. After all, one simply cannot put the words ‘Belgian’ and ‘Culture’ into the same sentence without sounding utterly ridiculous.

As I suspected, the affair was a sham. The later cocktail party turned into a violent free for all, with the lethal Red Sands being released in an attempt to assassinate all the British hierarchy.

It was horrific, people transformed to monsters in the blink of an eye. The perpetrators, foul villains that they are, had planned to watch. But I and my companions had other ideas. I don’t mind admitting privately, I’d carried a concealed revolver to the event.

I know how monstruous that must sound, but I was vindicated. The evils visited in that room are such that I cannot commit them to parchment. We escaped with our lives, with the Governor and many leading lights of society here. Some lost their lives in the most horrific of conditions.

As you have probably heard, the opera house, the jewel here on Mars, was burnt down in the chaos. It’s a sad loss, but I take comfort in that the loss could have far worse.

It is true that I directed the fire crews to damp down and preserve the surrounding buildings. I judged that the structure of the opera house was already lost to the flames and preventing the spread of the fire seemed to me to be the priority.

Naturally, we tracked and traced - I apologise for my poor use of language, not an expression I can ever imagine being used. In mean to say, that our enquiries led us to the house of a supposed scholar, previously employed, by the late lamented Reverent Fogg and I believe previously by either Waldorf or Stadler.

We managed to find the corner this traitorous dog called home. Within we found evidence of the dastardliest plot to destroy the British Army on Mars, with a cowardly attack planned to use this deplorable ‘Red Sands’. An evil that cannot be countenanced.

We set off in pursuit, it seems their airship had left our capital shortly before, to attack our gallant troops from behind. At the airship enclosure, we were near to dismay, our quarry was already on the horizon, how would we hunt it down?

Then there was our old friend the Wasp, building a head a steam. Seems she had been chartered by a group of hunters. By great good chance, I’d met them on Venus, exchanged a loyal toast and when I cried ‘for Queen and Country, I need this ship’, they waved their charter and joined us in the pursuit.

We were underway with minutes and managed to keep the smaller enemy vessel within sight for days. Indeed, with a combination of luck and some skill, we were able to close.

Then the unexpected happened. The accounts we’d read described a dread vessel as being invisible. Now we understood, as this vessel appeared from nowhere before our eyes. Its considerable arsenal fired, our vessel was shaken, but now stirred.

Although now facing a much larger vessel than our own, with a much larger crew, we lost no time in grappling. Indeed, had we not done so, we could have faced more horribly superior barrages than we had to endure anyway.

As we did so, the foul villains swung from their rigging to our decks. Meanwhile a pitiful few of my colleagues made it over the gunwale to the enemy deck, our advance checked by the threat to our own ship and the limited boarding point which meant we could only leap into the fray one at a time.

The heat of battle is always hard to remember. For sure the brave Wasp was in jeopardy and it fell mostly to the crew to deal with the foul boarders. For a long time it was touch and go, but eventually British pluck won the through.

It left those very few of us that crossed to the deck of enemy ship somewhat exposed to superior forces. Thankfully we had the covering fire of the original hunters, who had charted the vessel and now made sport on behalf of the empire, their great elephant guns at least keeping the enemy out of the open.

It soon became apparent, that all of the dastardly conspirators were aboard. All known to be skilled fighters and fanatics to boot. They employed many a fiendish device, strange occult weapons with deadly powers.

We were outnumbered and outgunned and although my revolver grew hot with the action, the situation seemed all but hopeless. We fought to a standstill.

Then the Wasp finally cleared its decks and her brave captain led the remainder of the crew over the side. Sadly, I have to report, he was cut down in short order.

With supporting fire from a machine gun regained by the marines, the tide turned in our favour.

I have to mention by batman, Jones. Despite my reservations as to his character, he does somehow manage to turn up with the unexpected. He can be trouble have no doubt about that, he has a knack of finding himself in difficulties, yet he has also found ways of getting us of scrapes. He gave admirable supporting fire on this occasion.

Moreso, it was he that realised one of the enemy cannons on a mid-deck was at liberty and prepared to fire into the Wasp at point blank range. The consequences would have been dire. He called attention to it and directed his fire there.

It was enough that the one shot they got off was so misdirected as to only be a glancing blow to the Wasp and another disaster was averted. Thereafter he fired on a powder keg, with resultant explosion dislodging the cannon.

Slowly we advanced across the deck on the enemy, a more lethal combat I’ve not experienced. These were all merciless killers with abilities the likes I’ve never seen. Their weapons were strange and monstrous, truth to tell, we were badly outmatched.

Yet we had the one truest weapon of all – hearts of oak. For surely nothing can withstand British courage and so we fought with all the conviction of rightness, for Queen, for Country, with ne’r a backward step.

The acts of bravery are too many to recall, everyman giving his all.

So it was that the enemy now depleted, showed his true colours, the last turned and fled.

We paused a moment; the deck was ours!

As I prepared to face and root out the enemy below decks, the good doctor realised the danger. Clearly beaten, what were the those remaining foul fiends doing below decks, with this mass of Red Sands a weapon more lethal than anything known.

Their ship would never reach it’s intended target, their plots, their plans were over.

The body of the gallant Captain Thurgood was recovered, most regrettably others were not. We made haste on the Wasp to be up and away from the inevitable.

We saw the last of villains, all but the leader that is, dive from the ship in strange costumes that seemed to control their fall. But then the great enemy ship convulsed and exploded. Its deadly cargo released harmlessly over a barren desert. The falling craft and its contents overwhelmed those villains with their strange descending apparatus. Fittingly, they became victims of their own plot.

It was heavy toll. We lost many good men and as I looked around my comrades, we all carried injuries. The doctor and to a lesser extent myself, were hard pressed to treat the wounded. But we had the satisfaction of victory.

So, dear brother, the course is run, the plot defeated and the empire saved.

Yet there is one small detail. The leader of this evil cabal, a Martian, had some strange device which allowed him to move anywhere in an instant. He disappeared from the deck using this device. So, I believe him still at large.

I write as I recover from these momentous events. Of course, such a small action, will never trouble the public consciousness and perhaps it’s best that way. I rely on your discretion as always when writing.

I believe I am well regarded by society here on Mars, but what the future holds I am uncertain.

But for now, the Empire and by extension, humanity, is safe.

Yours Respectfully,

Henry

Saturday, February 26, 2022

Episode 35: The Adventurers Triumphant

It seemed that the Wasp was doomed.

The Death Seeker, Kronos' flagship, had turned off it's invisibility device and declared itself at point-blank range. Before the Wasp's helmsman could react the Death Seeker fired its mighty cannons and scored a direct hit!

The Wasp rocked with the impact of the iron cannonballs smashing into its side, but her hull was made of stout liftwood-backed oak plated with iron and she shrugged off the attack, though the helmsman and trimsman had to work like devils to keep her steady and on an even keel.

The Wasp returned fire, but even though her guns were more powerful, more technologically advanced and manned by eagle-eyed gunners under the steady command of Sgt Pepper, the Death Seeker showed no obvious signs of damage.

The battle between the Wasp and the Death Seeker raged for several exchanges of largely ineffective fire before the Wasp was able to come alongside the Death Seeker and grapple her so that the British crew and the adventurers, incensed by the dastardly plan to drop Red Sands on the stout British lads standing to against the might of the Oenotrian Empire, could board and bring the leaders of the foul Brotherhood of Luxor to long-deserved justice.

The battle was pitched and no quarter was asked or given. All the Brotherhood leaders were there, many carrying exotic and deadly weird science weapons, while the British crew had only their trusty Martini-Henry rifles, the light of a just cause in their eyes and their indomitable British courage. And one of the Wasp's machine guns.

Lady Hyperion strode out onto the deck of the Death Seeker, aimed her terrifying Fear Pistol, and was engulfed in a fiery explosion as her fiendish device malfunctioned catastrophically! The crew of the Wasp, gave good account of themselves, repelling a determined team of boarders of their own and bringing the fight back to those aboard the Death Seeker. The adventurers had spread themselves among their crew, apportioning command responsibilities and using their own not inconsiderable heroism to its best advantage. Lord Hyperion was sent to his just reward, as was his wife, now fighting with more conventional firearms.

And our heroes won the day.

Kronos, cornered below decks, set off an infernal device and vanished in a burst of green lightning. But not before he had activated what was clearly a powerful bomb. Crius, Oceanus and Coeus had leapt overboard, using lift belts to break their long, long fall to the Martian desert below.

The adventurers scrambled to get everyone back to the Wasp,cut their grapples and raced away from the doomed Death Seeker, which was suddenly split in two by an enormous explosion. This breached the cargo hold and spilled out tons of deadly Red Sands powder, which fell in a crimson fog that engulfed the escaping officers of The Brotherhood of Luxor.

Those devils could look forward to a very nasty death.

The adventurers discussed their options and agreed that it was highly unlikely that anyone other than the three Brotherhood fiends would be wandering this desolate, arid area of Mars, that those devils would be dead and swallowed by the shifting sands before they wold have the chance to infect anyone, and that the Red Sands dust itself would dilute in the wind and become relatively harmless before it could do its worst on anyone.

Returning to Syrtis Major each would be feted, celebrated and made a household name in every British family on Mars, and certain reputations would be, if not erased, at least forgiven.

And if, on cold, dark nights over dinner and port, talk shifts to the whereabouts and doings of Queeleek Thorshian aka Kronos, we shall draw a curtain over those private cogitations.

This marks the end of the current campaign of Space 1889.

Clear Credit: Picture of the members of The Brotherhood of Luxor from page 59 of the Space 1889:Red Sands setting book published by Pinnacle Entertainment Group. No challenge of copyright is intended. I do not have clear attribution for the art itself, the book citing Interior art by: Richard Clark, Christophe Swal Cartography by: Jordan Peacock. If the responsible artist will contact me I will attribute the artwork properly.

Episode 34: An Old "Friend" Revealed As An Implacable Enemy

After conferring with the govenor concerning the events related in Episode 33, the adventurers were walking through Syrtis Major when they saw one of the waiters from the reception they had so narrowly escaped with their lives.

Giving chase they witnessed the waiter being attacked by what were obviously Brootherhood assassins, and they waded in to render aid - and grab the waiter for some interrogation as to the whereabouts of Lord and Lady Hyperion. The team were victorious, but the waiter was badly hurt and dying. He was able to give his testimony before departing this plane of existence.

Kronos is planning a massive assault. He is using the final batch of Red Sands in conjunction with aninvisible ship, Death-Seeker, to subjugate the largest British army division on the planet.

Even if it fails to do anything more than destroy the troops, the balance of power will shift to Oenotria. The war will end with a Martian victory. With proof that the red devils can be beaten, all of Mars will rise and the sands will run red with blood.

This time the Red Sands may do more than it did at the gala, and I do not wish my people to be turned into monsters. The way to the secret location of the Death-Seeker is located in the home of a Martian scholar…named…Queeleek Thorshian.

The team, anxious to talk to Queeleek after the recent events aboard the Wasp, quickly tracked down his address and hurried to make a house call. Arriving at Queeleek's house they observed several shadowy and shady figures, but were able to evade the,m and effect entry. In a concealed basement they discovered many pieces of evidence that poijted to Queeleek being not only involved in the machinations of The Brotherhood of Luxor, but the ringleader - Kronos himself!

Not only that, there were detailed plans of an attack to be made on the British forces, including fleet movements and Army positions on the Oenotrian border, and listing a landing station in the dockyards of Syrtis Major.

Upon exiting the basement the adventurers became aware that the house was under attack, but they were able to fight their way clear with no injuries, and they raced for the Dockyards but were too late to prevent the ship that was docked in the aforementioned station from departing at speed.

But all was not lost. Nearby, the redoubtable Wasp was heaved-to, with boiler alight. The team borded her and persuaded her captain to give chase.

And a tense chase it was too, lasting well into the next day, with the Brotherhood kite making the most of the uncharacteristically unpredictable weather to keep ahead of the Wasp until, with no warning, a huge war kite seemed to appear out of nowhere at point-blank range, bearing directly toward our gallant band!

to be continued

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Episode 33: The Play's The Thing

The intrepid adventurers returned as quickly as possible to the Wasp there to plan and concoct two clockwork infernal devices.

The plan was simple: Steal a small screw-skiff from the Shastapsh boatyards, where such a craft had been espied, fly it over the warehouse, "neutralise" the four shadowy figures crouched there, effect a landing, and then place the bombs inside the warehouse by means of the ventilation slits and a broom handle.

Dr Phipps came up with an elaboration, in the way of an alteranative should the "roof" plan go awry as it were, in which he paid to have food delivered to the Shastapsh watchmen on guard on the streets outside the warehouse. The food was to be doctored with opium, of which he just happened to have an adequate supply close to hand. What a stroke of luck!

The plans' prerequisites were acquired and the plans themselves encated the next evening. By good fortune it turned out that Waldmont was a passable trimsman so the problem of how to stabilise the little airship with respect to altitude was solved. What a stroke of luck!

At the appointed time, Dr Phipps' "kind" gift was delivered, rendering almost a dozen of the stout watchmen hors de combat before, in fact, any combat had so much as shown its face. Meanwhile, unnoticed by all, the small skiff silently swept over the Shatstapsh skies1 and arrived over the warehouse.

While about half the available guards were falling about on the streets below, a net was lowered from the skiff and dropped over the unsuspecting Shadowy Figures, who were then fired at with crossbows in a surprisingly unsporting manner by the adventurers. Clearly emotions had run so high the Englishmen quite forgot themselves. Thank heavens no-one of import was around to see this. No doubt some sort of secret ceremony2 would be undertaken later in which the adveturers would swear eternal secrecy, never to mention the events in detail to anyone not of The Brotherhood of the Boat and so forth. After all, it wouldn't do for everyone to be tarred with the same brush as poor old Waldmont.

Unfortunately, one of the Shadowy Figures got off a shot with his black powder pistol, a large calibre, slow-loading weapon of comparative antiquity when shown alongside weapons from Earth. They do have one feature that the adventurers could have done without at this particular moment: they are very loud when fired.

Spurred on by this eventuation, the adventurers finished off the last Shadowy Figure. Sadly, the netted bundle of bodies fell from the roof to the streets below, alerting the few watchmen still standing that there was trouble above.

Quickly landing the skiff, the players found a large skylight that they culd open, and set and lowered their devices to the bales of - Red Sands? - below.

As they raced for the city limit in their tiny airship there was an incredible explosion behind them and the boat was battered by a bastwave such as Captain Forsyth had never encountered in his entire service in the British army. The entire roof of the warehouse had been replaced by a fireball rising above Shastapsh almost as though Lucifer's own powder magazine had been detonated. The sight was fascinating and horrifying, but the team was convinced that the threat of the "mind control" dust was burning to ash in front of their very eyes. The threat to Thoth was over.

The Prince of Thoth was beyond himself with appreciation for this service, as were the people of Thoth once the story got out - though the adventurers would never be sure how that had happened - and these brave Earthmen, the British Empire and the Crown Colony of Syrtis Lapis were the talk of the town, the cream of the crop. The treaty was signed.

Returning to Syrtis Major the adventurers were almost as celebrated and were invited to a celebratory event in the form of a Thesbian Evening at the Syrtics Major Opera House, where the Belgian play Princess Maleine will be performed by a crack troupe of actors from Earth. Black Tie. Best Behaviour and all that.

Fortunatley, the Prince of Thoth had shown his appreciation in the form of a line of credit placed with the best outfitter in Syrtis Major - what a stroke of luck3!

The day of the play Forsyth insinuated himself into the theatre for a spot of adavanced recce (his paranoia was running high after the events in which he had participated of late and he saw this gathering of the best and brightest of British Society in one place as a tempting target for the foul Brotherhood of Luxor). This proved to be very wise, as he was able to discover that the cast had been replaced owing to their being rumoured deaths during a Ground Cleanser riot.

The adventurers had a box, which gave them even more freedom to wander abroad during the perfomance, but all seemed suspiciously normal other than the nervousness of the lesser cast members. The performance was ... not excellent. The lead actors seemed the only ones who were comfortable on stage. Indeed, it seemed as though the rest of the cast might be on stage for the first time in their lives. Very odd.

At the after-performance reception, the lead actors, Raymond and Leone Mathieu, were ebulient and generous hosts, but the adventurers were on high alert and noticed that the waiters were actually some of the cast from the play. Quite what this meant was not apparent, but when handed glasses of pink champagne the team were suspiscious enough to be on guard against treachery.

Noticing that the Heroes of Thoth were getting ready to spoil things Raymond Mathieu suddenly broke his flowery speech praising The Queen to call for a toast to her Britannic Majesty, and glasses were lifted all round. The players, sensing a trap, moved in to confront the Mathieuses who reacted with preternatural speed to neutralise the adventurer's attacks. Leone completely overwhelmed Waldmont's attempt to ambush her and, having beaten him to the punch and to the floor, fled the scene. Raymond drew some sort of Weird Science pistol and fired it at Forsyth. Immediate chaos ensued as the crowd seemed to become overcome with fear and a stampede of terrified elites of Syrtis Major ensued that helped screen the Mathieus' escape.

But the team was now faced with a more immediate problem. About a third of those who had drunk the champagne suddenly began to have seizures, and each sprouted a writhing, thorn-tipped, green tentacle from the middle of their backs. Those affected then began attempting to attack the reast of the people there.

Within seconds the room began to fill with a heavy, heady scent Forsyth recognised from his stint on Venus. The smell of the Death Flower!

The brave adventurers, confronted with the growing threat of the deadly perfume of the Death Flowers and outnumbered by tentacled horrors that were once innocent members of the British who's who on Mars decided that discretion was the better part of valour, and beat a reteat, managing to lock the opera house before the horrors could escape only to hear the sound of breaking glass and smell once more the heady perfume of the Death Flowers.

Playing on their new-found fame and popularity, the team managed to mobilize the forces of law and order to affect a terrible solution to what could have easily become a disaster of unheard of proportions. The opera house was burned.

  1. The narrator pauses to refit his teeth
  2. The teeth again
  3. The players are newly introduced to the Joys of Penury since Waldmont the Elder's estate is still tied up in probate and Wilhelm is nowhere to be found, robbing the team of their access to unlimited wealth

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Episode 32: The Raid on Shastapsh

The Adventurers had beaten off the dastardly coup attempt and dealt with those who took part, but a new threat was raising its head in the form of a recovered letter detailing a threat to back up any failure with the spraying of some sort of mind-control powder over Thoth and the subborning of the armed forces by ... The Brotherhood of Luxor!

The Prince of Thoth showered the brave Earthmen with praise, and the noble houses of Thoth agreed that an alliance in the form of a treaty with Britain would be a good and honorable thing in light of the obvious high character and loyalty of the British people to the people of Thoth and their Royal Family. Mr Smith stayed diplomatically silent rather than point out his nationality to those Martians who praised him mistakenly as British, then quietly corrected the narrative to include friendly Americans. No member of theteam could walk abroad without drawing nods of approval from High Caste Martians, respectful bows from merchants and cheers from labourers.

And if there were any that felt differently about the state of matters, they made sure to keep to the shadows and remain unobserved. The Prince was as popular as ever, and the people all seemed to view his continued rule as a positive thing, and his new friends as worth cultivating. Thoth influence would surely grow, as would her markets, and Shastapsh could perhaps be brought back to the negotiating table with the arrival of British troops and cloudships.

This new plot was worrying though, and the Prince asked if his new friends, so obviously capable when it came to martial matters and possessing marvelous British armaments far superior to those that Thoth itself could manufacture, could perhaps travel to Shastapsh, locate the place where this dreadful mind-control dust was stored and attempt to destroy the stockpile.

The team immediately agreed. They were riding high on adrenaline and felt invincible when it came to putting Martians in their place. They had the Wasp for transport. They had their fighting skills and spirit. And they had their implacable determination to thwart the vile Brotherhood of Luxor at every chance they could, until the opportunity presented itself to bring the leadership to heel and enact justice for the terrible things done in that organization's name.

The morning began with perhaps two good omens. Firstly, a message from Captain Turngood sayng that he had been approached by an Englishman asking for passage back to Syrtis Major. This turned out to be one Dr Phipps carrying an impressively large medical bag. He was quite eager to obtain passage to Syrtis Major, and as a result was perhaps rather too easily persuaded to join the adventurers on their proposed sortie. The other was when Forsyth recognized a former lance corporal of his acquaintance standing in the crowd, dressed much like a Martian. The poor soul had obviously hit on hard times and "gone native". Forsyth and this man, lance-corporal Jones spent some short time getting re-acquainted before Forsyth suggested he needed a factotum, someone to "do" for him and Jones was so grateful it was almost embarrassing.

During this meeting, Smith was approached by a Martian noble and a merchant who, in broken English, informed him that they were pleased to meet someone from the Kingdom of America, that they had heard of the wonderful new repeating muskets carried by the cavalry there and that they wished to obtain perhaps 25 of these marvelous muskets with maybe 100 rounds of ammunition for each weapon. These weapons would be issued to a special unit of soldiers raised by this Noble for the service and greater glory of the Prince.

Smith declined to be drawn into this proposal, and the Noble and merchant took polite leave of him.

Waldmont noticed that while this was going on, two sinister figures in hooded robes were observing the conversation using a monocular, and were apparently recording what was being said by lip-reading. He trailed the figures to an alley between two large properties but lost them there.

The team staked out the alley, then decided to investigate, and were rewarded by spotting that they were being ob severed from both rooftops. On one side this proved to be a residence block of terraced apartments, but a concierge would not allow the team access to the roof after a conversation between Jones and the concierge became very heated. A small contingent of militia turned up, and the argument shifted to being between them and the concierge, so the team decamped to the other building to try their luck there.

This, being a sort of souk or bazaar, proved to be a better bet, but Waldmont got caught up in a seemingly endless transaction with a merchant leaving everyone else to investigate. Forsyth went up to the roof and wandered over to the parapet, where his eye was drawn by a sudden flash of reflected light. Leaping to one side he was narrowly missed by a crossbow bolt. He drew his pistol and fired at a fleeing figure (cloaked, sinister) but missed his shot. The fleeing figure leaped over the further parapet in a move Forsyth had seen last in Meepsoor when a Brotherhood saboteur had made it to escape over the side of the Wasp.

A short argument broke out again when Forsyth came down to report as the concierge had followed the team dragging the militia along with her, but the merchant busy instructing Waldmont in how to haggle sharply pointed out that the team were in fac the very heroes that had saved the Prince from insurrectionist scum, and the militia officer told the harridan to go back to her desk, saluted the adventurers with a very tired expression on his face, ordered his troop to about face and got back to the business of keeping the peace.

Postulating that the Brotherhood was possibly in on their plans the adventurers made plans quickly and left on the evening of the third day, setting a course to fool any observers and travelling only by night. There were two close brushes with Shastapshi kites over the course of the two-night trip, but the Wasp was able to evade them both without an exchange of fire. The days were spent grounded at anchor, the Wasp hidden under camouflaged tarpaulins.

The team were dropped off outside the Shatapsh city wall and made their way stealthily into the city on the search for the warehouse storing the mind-control dust.

Things were going well, and information was gained thanks to Jones's streetwise abilities, but then the adventurers ran into a patrol and Jones's powers of persuasion proved not up to snuff wen challenged by the officer in charge. The officer grabbed his sword hilt and Phipps, wound tight by the tension, drew and fired.

The fight was short. Phipps was quite severely wounded by the halberd-wielding guards and soon the team were obliged to surrender. They were disarmed, chained and marched off ... to the warehouse they were looking for! Chained to the wall of this building the team were able to detect that the warehouse was some sort of grain store, was very dusty (the ventilation slits were voiding a veritable mist of powder), and that dust smelled faintly of the Red Sands that Forsyth had encountered in Colorado.

Whispered conference produced the opinion that the atmosphere in the warehouse was highly explosive. If only there were some way that a flame or spark could be introduced into that building the problem of the "Mind Control" dust could be dealt with in a flash. Talk of lobbing a lit fuse through one of the vemtillation slits was quickly quashed by consideration of the force of the resulting explosion. It was known that similar explosions had wrecked dockyards on Earth. No-one standing in close proximity to this building could be expected to survive such an event.

Alternate talk of bombing the building from the Wasp was also abandoned when consideration of the effects of the blast on the ship were added into the discussion.

Jones chose this moment to produce the key to their chains, filched during their capture, and the adventurers freed themselves and stole into the night to make a workable plan.

Clear Credit: Map of Shastapsh from the board game Cloudships & Gunboats © 2000 by Frank Chadwick, published by Games Designers Workshop. Map reproduced to illustrate narrative. No challenge of copyright is intended. I do not have clear attribution for the art itself, the rulebook citing Interior art by Lauretta Oblinger. If the responsible artist will contact me I will attribute properly.

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Personal Letter, Colorado and later, Various Places on Mars, Captain Henry Forsyth (Ret)

On ongoing letter to Clarence Forsyth from Capt. Henry Forsyth RE (ret.)

Thoth, Mars, sometime in the afternoon.

 

Dear Brother,

I must apologise for my lack of recent communication. I trust your housekeeper advised of my attempted visit, it was crass of me to call unannounced, but time is continually pressing in the most infernal way.

We left Denver, at the same time as my last letter, crossing much of America by train and hence hotfoot back to England. I cannot express how good it felt to be back in civilisation, to be able to visit a decent tailor and be back among properly mannered folk. The manners of the Americans are rather rough.

Alas, I had so little time to spare and you had taken the family into the country. I did manage to call on our parents and was pleased to find them in rude health. Naturally I could not reveal the true nature of my business to them, Mother always worries so. I’m afraid I cited ‘government business’ as the reasons for my travels and absence. But in this I am truthful, for we met with some senior people.

The plots against Europe I previously spoke of have mostly been thwarted, but I fear not entirely. You will be aware of some disturbances in London. Again, look to the coded letters, I left the more recent ones with your housekeeper. She seemed trustworthy enough despite the strange accent. Where is she from prey?

Sadly, it was necessary for my colleagues and I to depart post-haste for Mars! Our party has been joined by Walmont’s brother, of course he is a little shunned with the vile lies reported about his dead brother. But I saw the truth of the matter, which I’ve previously recounted.

It was a sad occasion when we collected his body from a poorer place as I’ve seen. It was clear that the villains there intended us ill. We took the coffin on a cart to head towards civilisation and a long journey that has been.

These rough types with guns, bad intentions and in dire need of some decent dentistry, came after us. Well, it was easy enough to set an ambush and once again turn the tides. Franky I’ve come against spear armed natives in the Punjab who could teach these fire armed bumkins a thing or two. How we lost a war to these ill-mannered louts is beyond me.

Their leader was a different sort of cove, most capable, but he had the misfortune, or good fortune as it transpired, to meet the fist of Fogg. A straight knock-out! Of course, we questioned him once he regained consciousness. A quiet remarkable thing occurred, Fogg reasoned and prayed with him and the man broke. Swore he’d follow the path of righteousness and in his eyes, you could see he meant it. It was most moving and the good reverend never ceased to impress me. We let the fellow go, even gave him his horse and gun back.

I digress, the need for us to pursue the evil villains behind all this chaos is as strong as ever. With great regret I joined my comrades on the first available ether flyer to Mars, which is where the dastardly coves have flown, before I had time to arrange a visit. I regret the inconvenience, but the stakes could be no higher and I am duty bound.

Here on Mars things are in a very delicate position. I daresay you will read soon enough of some setbacks to our forces and a massacre of a column of our men. Things are finely balanced, our empire sits on a knife’s edge, nay a precipice which we are already sliding toward. Our grip here is tenuous at best and could easily end with outside forces over-running us or a repeat of the Indian Mutiny. Forgive my precipitous words, I seek only to convey the import of the situation.

At the heart of this is undoubtedly this shady, evil and unholy organisation which we are tracking. If we can cut of the heads of this hydra, not just the Empire, but humanity may survive.

We have had some adventures already here on the Red Planet. Bad and good. We accepted a diplomatic mission to Thoth, because that was the matter of most import on our arrival. The invite was to those legends Wilhelm and Walmart, the latter being dead and the where-abouts of the former not known.

As my colleague Burke is in the Foreign Office, he was entrusted with the mission of securing a treaty with this city state. Failure and the British possessions would be surrounded by hostile states. Success and there is a counterbalance to the worst aggressor against us.

So, we took flight in an old flying craft across the skies of Mars. It’s rather like being on a steamer, smoke bellowing out, the wind in your face, except one is flying, most remarkable. Our first stop was Meepsoor, where sadly we were subject to sabotage. Although once alerted we did for all but one of the wretches, they fatally damaged the ship and killed some of the crew.

We were able to order parts and with it came replacement crew, so it merely delayed us. After which we have across the Idisis desert, but that was no plain sailing either. On one occasion, moored at an oasis, we were subject to a night attack by a gang of thieves and murderers. Once again British mettle was to the fore and we saw off the vermin.

We were strangely dogged by privateers, who seemed to show up far to regularly to be co-incidence. With one such trailing us we saw a dreaded Martian sandstorm on the horizon heading towards us. Thankfully I have my telescope and was able to spot a canyon where we could reach shelter.

Even there I can tell you that the Sandstorm is a horrific experience; without the right equipment a man will surely die. But much debris fell on our rigidly anchored vessel placing it great peril. Seems the kite pursuing us had flown overhead, arriving in the sanctuary too late. Out in the howling winds and swirling sands we found a mast and rigging strewn across our vessel.

One of the anchor ropes was torn out. The reverent Fogg made a gallant attempt to secure it, but it was more than one man could do, but together we made fast the bucking ship that was threatening to tear itself against the canyon walls. Sadly, a crewman had also been killed by the falling debris.

After the storm was over, we rapidly came upon the wrecked hull of the enemy vessel. Curious, actually, very curious, (and this may be my downfall) as to why this ship had been able to follow us, I insisted that we investigate. But everyone was for this anyway. Burke, Fogg and I descended on it.

I confess I fatally assumed that all would have killed by the crash. A mistake I vow I will not repeat. There were two hatches on the deck aft and fore. Fogg and I took the fore, while Burke took the aft, in hindsight another mistake.

While I enjoy the company of extraordinary brave people, I also yearn for simple military disciplines, which would occasionally serve us better.

Below we found a hold full of hostile Martian marines lying in waiting. They’d heard us board and prepared weapons. Although only muskets, they can still take you down and I can testify to the hurt they cause, especially when there’s a whole company of them.

Burke was all but killed in a fusillade, I was severely injured and decided to go back and call for reinforcements, why Fogg thought he could dish them all single handed I know not, but he’s performed just such miracles before.

After shouting up top for the marines, I tried to give covering fire from the hatchway. Walmort arrived and we descended, by then the good Rev., neigh the very esteemed reverend had taken critical wounds and was at the mercy of those alien scum.

Those loathsome creatures actually tried to negotiate with us, but both Burke (also at their mercy) and Fogg yelled out NO! I have little experience in negotiation, but to deal with these foul creations was beyond all bearing. Death before dishonour! It was shortly decided by the appearance of our own gallant marines. Answering my earlier call, those fine fellows dropped through the aft hatch and rapidly proved too much for their Martian counterparts. It was all over in seconds.

Burke, ailing badly was removed to the ship. But Fogg, that fearless man, who dealt divine justice and retribution on one hand and saved souls on the other, was in the arms of the Lord. I mourn him. One of the greatest characters I’ve stood alongside. I hope his spirit lives on.

We had more fire encounters as we probed below deck. Walmart had joined us before the final encounter with the marines. He led the line on clearing a couple of others.

We found several things on the lower decks. First and foremost, must be Wilhelm, a captive of all things! But it’s our good luck finding him on this mission, as he’s a named friend of the royal invite we have.

We also found some American gentleman, I do use the term in its widest possible sense.

I also found why they were able to follow us. A tracking device on their bridge. A tripod device, much like I’d use for measuring distance, but this pointed to our ship. Back onboard, after an ordered search, well, that is to say much was searched, we found an orb and the two devices followed each other. We have them now, so maybe we’ll get the opportunity to turn the tables.

Fogg was buried with all due ceremony. A larger than life character, he will be much missed.

We eventually reached Thoth, with the great good fortune to have Wilhelm once more part of our little band. We were warmly welcomed and a ceremonial banquet held in our honour! Of course, I’ve experienced such things before in India, but this had a certain affection about it on the one hand and a very great deal of tension on the other.

The urgent request for those great hero’s came from the Princess, whose life they had previously saved. It seemed a coup from the enemies of the Empire was imminent. So, we were quartered close to the Royal Family as added protection for them.

Alas, some of their guard proved disloyal and a fierce hand-to-hand fight took place between guards. The loyalists barely prevailed, but they did and raised the alarm. It was clear to us that this must have been a co-ordinated action, with the true rebels about to show their face.

There were two staircases to the Royal chambers, I fortified one and barricaded the other. If we could survive the night, then loyalist troops would surely make short work of the traitors.

We shot their exploratory duo with ease. Thereafter they blew-up the other blocked stairway, rendering it useless, a tactically naive move. They used some very old style bomb grenades, but, at risk, we were able to lob these back, I simply pinched the hissing fuse out of one.

The problem of working with civilians in a military situation, is that they don’t stick to a plan and forget the objective. So, they forgot the defensive position (and the primary objective of protecting the Royal Family) and carried the attack to the enemy in a very uncoordinated way.

I’m not sure that they appreciated that I remained on station in order to ensure the objective. While fine fellows and courageous to a fault, they can be a little excitable in combat. Only when I felt I could tip the balance and the assailants could no longer reach the Royal Family did I join the fray. Besides Burke could still act as a last line of defence, he’d done exactly the right thing by firing on the enemy below from the vantage point of the hole left by the explosions and given the enemy a lot to worry about.

As I feared it was foolhardy and I was quickly rendered hors de combat. But I’d done enough and the day was ours. Thankfully Wilhelm with one of his remarkable devices from which he is rightly famous, was able to restore me to health. What a fine fellow he is!

The plot was defeated, the enemy all dead bar two who fled, but I doubt will outrun retribution. Amazingly for such a small act, we are treated as royalty. I believe I have some title now, which I will learn to pronounce in due course.

The treaty is signed and will be hopefully returned soon, I am sending this letter with it.

I may say dear brother that I may have put the slightest gleam on the family name. But we now face a far greater challenge for we shall have to carry the attack to the enemy. They are armed with deadly and despicable weapons, which we must cut off at source before they can be deployed. How we do this in this inhospitable environment is currently beyond me. Yet we have to try even if it means all our lives.

On a more positive note, I met our young cousin Bruce. I briefly ran into him in London, a chance encounter and I greeted him, “nice to see you”. He chucked and said “yes, that’s it, before responding in kind, although I think he got his words round-about.” I fear he may some notion of becoming an entertainer!

My most earnest regards,

Henry

Sunday, August 8, 2021

Episode 31: A Reunion, And Intrigue in Thoth

The seach of the wrecked kite continued when Sgt Pepper swore he could hear someone shouting belowdecks, even though the wounded adventurers were centrally concerned with healing their wounds 1, the team decided to investigate once Burke had been put into a swoon by Forsyth's clumsy attempt to render medical aid.

The sounds were determined to be coming from the kite's storeroom, and when the door was opened the adventurers were amazed to find, cained to the wall, none other than Professor Wilhelm, inventor extraordinary and legendary adversary of the foul Brotherhood of Luxor.

It was the work of a few moments for the nimble fingers and lockpicks of the redoubtable Captain Forsyth to free Wilhelm from his confinment, and together they made their way to the kite captain's cabin to retrieve Wilhelm's gear. There was a small problem of there being two more dastardly Martian marines waiting for them, and a brief combat erupted, with Wilhelm taking vengeance for his capture and Waldmont assisting with the grim business of pirate eradication.

In the captain's cabin they discovered the badly mangled body of cpatain Kreuger, a German national obviously in league with Shastapsh Insurrectionist Pirates, as confirmed by Wilhelm, who had much to say about the Herr Kapitan and his behaviour twoard prisoners.

The crash had demolished one wall of the cabin and Kreuger had been crushed, as had his desk. Amid the wreckage were recovered a handful of posters bearing depictions of Waldmont, Wilhelm, Burke and Forsyth, each with their names displayed in Koline2 and each bearing the unmistakable trident sigil of The Brotherhood of Luxor! There were also letters of marque issued by the City State of Shastaph, and a document outlining a dastardly plot to render the defenders of Thoth helpless by means of some sort of mind-control dust.

Also in the cabin was an unconscious male human, clearly another prisoner judging by his condition, one Nathan Smith an American national.

Wilhelm deployed his wonderous Healing Machine to good effect, bringing back Burke, Forsyth and Waldmont to, if not perfect health, a reasonable facsimile of it. They also managed to revive the other prisoner who turned out to be an American who was himself not unacquainted with The Brotherhood and who was firmly aligned against those mangy sidewinders.

Wilhelm remarked that the late, unlamented Kapitan Kreuger had claimed to have some sort of device for tracking the Wasp, and it was decided to explore further with a view to proving or disproving that intelligence.

They found it on the flying bridge of the Iron Heart, the name Kreuger had bestowed on the doomed vessel. In what looked like aniron tripod sat a translucent globe some 9 inches in diameter which glowed with a weird green light. Inside, at the center, was a glowing arrow, about half an inch long, pointing at the hull of the Wasp and pulsing about three times a second or so.

Returning to the Wasp , Wilhelm was able to use his Healing Device to bring Burke back from the brink and even cure most of the damage that worthy had suffered in the fight against the Martian marines.

Meanwhile the others searched the Wasp and discovered two things:

  • A four inch diameter globe, also glowing with a weird green pulsing light sitting amongst the bibles in Reverend Fogg's steamer trunk toward which the arrow in the larger globe pointed unerringly
  • The complete absence of Queeleek, Fogg's Martian translator, whom no-one could remember seeing since the Wasp left Meepsoor.

A brief round of incredulous commentary followed as each member of the team (except Wilhelm) expressed wonder that no-one had been watching the old scholar. Though it seemed that the adventurers each assumed dastardly treachery by Queeleek, one or two of the crew suggested he may have been ambushed in Meepsoor and be entirely inncocent of the machinations of which he was being accused.

And so the Wasp finally was able to sail into Thoth to a warm welcome from Princess Aramaranda, who was there with a retinue to meet personally with the team when they disembarked. After greeting her old friend Wilhelm and comiserating with Waldmont, Princess Aramaranda told of a plot to remove her Father from power and substitute a weaker cousin who would be a puppet to Shastaph interests, and begged the adventurers for help.

The Adventurers were quartered in the Royal apartments at the top of a tower in a circular complex featuring a secret passage that was neither that secret nor secure, giving access as it did between every room in the complex. The team did a quick survey and ensured there were no exterior exits or entrances to this ridiculous architectural feature.

That evening, after a reception in which several dark looks were aimed at the adventurers by certain Martian nobles the Royals and the team retired leaving guards on duty. While they slept the opening moves of a coup began with traitors among the guards attacking the loyal guards in a brief, violent bout of lethal swordplay. By the greatest good luck the loyalists prevailed and raised the alarm.

The adventurers placed the royals in two of the suites, not their original suites, each with a loyal guard. The secret passage portals were blocked with furniture, and one of the two stairwells giving access from the lower floors was blocked using furnishings from all the suites, and a barricade was constructed in front of the other to form a redout from which invaders could be repelled with extreme prejudice.

The first cautious probe by insurrectionists was repelled, killing two traitors with no loss of loyalist life, but the traitors were not idle while the standoff seemed to be in place. A powerful explosive was wedged into the tangle of furniture in the blocked stairwell and detonated with devastating effect. The stairs were demolished, and a large hole blown in the floor. A second attempt on the other stairwell was beaten off with no casualties on either side.

Suddenly two grenades were tossed up through the new hole in the floor. Resembling lawn bowls with fizzing fuzes, these devices posed a major hazard to the team, and out brave lads sprang into action. Burke and Waldmont raced across the room, each grabbing a grenade and tossing it back down the hole, where they exploded amongst the traitors.

Realizing that the massed volleys of musket fire, while very effective suppressing fire, were not coordinated as they would have been had they had the benefit of British Army training and thus gave several seconds opportunity while the vile Martian traitors reloaded their primitive weapons, Smith and Wilhelm raced down the stairs and engaged the enemy at close quarters. Burke gave supporting fire from the edge of the hole in the floor, and Waldmont ran into theater with complete disregard for his own safety. Forsyth took up station at the top of the stairs, after calmly walking over and pinching out the fuze of yet another tossed grenade.

The fighting was desperate and deadly. Waldmont and Burke exchanged gunfire with the traitors, Wilhelm and Smith took on others in hand-to-hand Foryth used the unlit grenade to distract others while he fired with his trusty pistol.

The battle was fierce and at times seemed in the balance, yet eventually the Adventurers prevailed, killing all but two of the vile traitorous insurrectionists, who fled the field. The battle was won, the treaty now a certainty. Yet there was still the matter of the Shastapsh Plot to deal with.

The War might yet be lost.

  1. Curiously, no-one had thought to add a corpsman, medic or doctor to the crew before the Wasp set out, and now the team were paying dearly for that oversight
  2. The Martian lingua franca of trade

Monday, July 26, 2021

Episode 30: The Weather Turns Nasty

The Wasp landed at a small Oasis to take on water and make needed repairs to the boiler, and the officers, adventurers and a select few crew - to serve as lookouts and provide essential services - descended from the close-moored Wasp to bivouac and have a civilized dinner.

The captain had reported seeing a kite in the far distance, possibly shadowing the Wasp, but the distant ship didn't seem anxious to close with the British craft. Having learned the lesson that six pairs of eyes are better than four, the adventurers joined the watch rotation and were thus able to spot a band of Steppe Martians sneaking up on the encampment before it was too late.

A swift battle ensued with the ambushers proving more stalwart than is usual for these poorly-armed opportunistic sneak thieves, who usually run like quicksilver down a wall at the sound of a Webley pistol, and they continued with their brave, if foolhardy, attack even after many of them were taken down by the British defenders.

Eventually the survivors saw sense and ran for their lives.

A burial party was formed from the other ranks and though the ground was inhospitable, cairns were raised over the dead and a service said for their souls.

The Wasp set out again, heading for the next oasis, and soon it was apparent that either the party had not lost their Martian escort, or had picked up another, and that now the kite was intent on catching the Wasp. A shift in the wind had Captain Turngood concerned that the Wasp might be overhauled, explaining that though the steamship had a speed advantage it would need to take on water, and that while the kite was a slave to the winds, those winds were favouring the sailing ship, which could run non-stop and do so almost silently.

The Wasp was anything but silent, and the trail of black smoke and steam she left was a clear signal of her position and heading. A good captain could even make an estimate of speed from the exhaust. The crew of the Wasp would be particularly vulnerable at night, when the kite would be very hard to see.

A brief reprieve came when the wind shifted to come from ahead, but that brought with it new peril. A blurring on the horizon could only be one thing, a dread martian sandstorm.

The weather on Mars is generally arid, with no clouds. Rain is almost unheard of. But in the deserts, winds can build, picking up the fine dust and sand and carrying the detritus to very high altitudes. Every skyship captain knows the danger of being swept up in a sandstorm, and the only way to avoid them is to go around them if possible, or go to ground in sheltering terrain. To be caught in a sandstorm is almost certain death. Absent those two options a ship must run ahead of the storm and hope they can reach safe harbour before they are overtaken.

Around noon Captain Turngood spotted likely shelter in a small group of mesa-like features, and the crew expertly nursed the Wasp into a narrow canyon and moored her to the rocky walls with stout ropes. Everyone then took shelter, with a skeleton watch assigned. Those outside were forced to wear special goggles and respirators and to shelter in the lee of whatever superstructure could provide as the wind-driven sand was, despite the shelter of the canyon, still blowing with considerable force and one couldn't see a hand in front of one's face a lot of the time.

A couple of hours into the storm there came an almighty crashing sound and the Wasp shook as though pounded by a titan. Venturing topside, Reverend Fogg found the deck a catastrophic jumble of fallen wreckage, seemingly from a kite. He attempted to reconnoiter the deck fully, but the wreckage was almost impassible, being made up of a mast fallen on the starboard decking, and a colossal tangle of rigging, ropes and blocks that worked like a net to imperil the explorer.

Captain Forsyth joined Fogg on deck and together they rescued the fallen crewman on the flying bridge who had been felled by wreckage. A sudden lurch warned of trouble brewing and Fogg and Forsyth discovered one of the crucial mooring ropes had parted from the canyon wall. They clambered over the fallen mast, mostly blinded by the orange fog of wind-borne sand and dust, and made several attempts to re-secure the Wasp to the canyon wall, eventually succeeding.

The next day the storm had subsided and the crew and adventurers worked to clear the Wasp of the wreckage and get underway again, but the sight of the hull of a crashed kite some distance down the canyon pulled them up short. It was decided to board the wreckage and see what could be found.

Burke, Forsyth and Fogg made the foray, lowering themselves down ropes from the Wasp . Burke made to enter by a hatch aft, while Fogg and Forsyth too a hatch toward the bow. Unfortunately, a crew of crack Martian Marines were lying in wait, having heard the Wasp's approach and made plans for just this contingency. Each was armed with a black powder musket and two black powder pistols. When you have to take so long to reload the enemy can shoot you several times with their advanced Earth weapons, you carry spare firearms.

And so when Burke hit the lower deck he came under heavy fire from four Marines and was severely wounded.

Forsyth fared little better, managing to survive the first fusillade relatively unscathed. Fogg charged in with his signature lack of concern for personal safety, but was met with ruthless swordplay and taken down.

It was at this point the Martian commander called for the adventurers' surrender, but Forsyth answered this cheeky demand with some more ineffective pistol fire then being badly wounded by a second volley of pistol fire from the Martians. Waldmont joined the fray in the bow but was pinned by heavy fire and himself badly wounded. It was all he and Forsyth could do to make for the upper daecks and collapse, groaning from their gunshot wounds.

Burke seemed done for, but Sgt Pepper and some of his 'lads' crashed into theatre and made short work of the Martian marines, rescuing the man and bringing him above decks for treatment. Sadly, Reverend Fogg bled quietly to death while this was taking place.

To be continued ...

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Interlude: Rules Change

The Space 1889:Red Sands setting book was published right at the point that the Savage Worlds Deluxe Edition of the rules replaced the original Savage Worlds Explorer's Edition. The changes weren't sweeping, so more an incremental change, some rewording. The biggest change in my opinion was to the chase rules.

The result was that while the Deluxe Edition rules work very well with the setting book, the aerial combat rules for fights between flying ships on Mars require knowledge of the original rules to understand what they are trying to explain. No big deal.

Recently 1 the Deluxe Edition was superceded by the Savage Worlds Adventure Edition (aka SWADE), which made many changes to the Deluxe Edition rules. The character generation has changed, the original slimline skill set has been expanded and rationalized in places, and the chase rules have been changed again.

Some of the changes have been for the better in my opinion. Some leave me cold. There is an overall taste of "leveling" the game, spreading the awesome in the character build and removing the sacrifice to get it. A character build system that makes everyone awesome can end up making [no-one

awesome. This is especially noticeable in the new Deadlands:Reloaded setting.

In my opinion.

However, there are other changes I feel worth lookimg at and I got into Savage Worlds after 30 years spent mostly running Call of Cthulhu (BRP) as a way of challenging my assumptions, and that turned out to be an exceptionally good call.

So from Episode 30 forward we will be using the SWADE as our basic rule set, bending it where necessary to accommodate the Space 1889:Red Sands setting and "feel".

We have a small problem with the vehicle rules. The speeds are *way* too slow, which only is a problem when infantry interacts with them. Unfortunately, on Mars, this can happen a lot, when High Martians attempt ambush of flying steam vessels.

The SWADE chase rules, developed from the Deluxe Edition chase rules, do not dovetail with my players desire to use tactical ship combat with minis (VTT tokens) on a map. But fortunately I have a copy of the old GDW board games depicting this. It is my plan to raid these rules to see what can be fitted into the Savage Worlds RPG framework.

Part of this has involved re-figuring the speed and acceleration figures quoted in Space 1889:Red Sands according to "real world" speeds quoted in the original GDW Space 1889 materials. I've come up with multiplying the quoted values by four. It seems to work in a GURPS-like way.

I don't like having to kludge something mid-game, but I don't see an alternative. We can use the SWADE cinematic chase rules for those situations where tactical fighting is not required.

But my players do like to see those maps and "minis".

  1. i.e. about a year and a half ago