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Saturday, June 04, 2011

Earl's Pulp Mill

I'm a big fan of pulp fiction, especially genre fiction set in the 1930s, 40s and 50s - stories of Fu Manchu, the Spider, the Shadow, Doc Savage and others. A relatively new subgenre of science fiction, steampunk, often uses that era to imagine alternate histories of widespread airship travel, steam-powered weaponry, retro super-science and larger-than-life heroes and villains. 

So when my friend Colin asked me if I'd be willing to help prepare some background material for a steampunk-themed roleplaying game he was organizing back in 2003, I happily complied. I scribbled out a couple of character sketches, some political elements of the world, some ideas for villains and a few ancient artifacts of great power - all the elements needed for pulp adventure in the Indiana Jones/Republic serials vein. Perhaps I'll use some of this material to bang out a couple of short stories...

Cain Hood
Taciturn, ruthless, violent, fiercely loyal to the Commonwealth, dedicated to protecting the innocent…and perhaps just a little insane. That’s Cain Hood, born on Jarvis Island (a usually uninhabited British possession in the south Pacific) to a Welsh father and an Indian mother, both adventurers, both dead, murdered by agents of the Divine Claw (see below).  

Cain is a tall man, over six feet, heavily muscled, but agile. He has a short shock of jet-black hair, dark eyes, and pale skin. He is thirty-six.

Cain is a master martial artist, expert torturer, and merciless foe. His chief weapons are his fists (often complemented by brass knuckles), his trusty Tommy gun (nicknamed, for reasons known only to Cain, “Jenny”), liberally thrown sticks of dynamite, and a sap.

Cain is, at heart, a decent man, not without a sense of humour (if a somewhat macabre one). He has a weakness for children, beautiful women, and marine life, particularly dolphins.

Tom Zephyr
Found abandoned on the doorstep of simple Manitoban farmers, Tom Zephyr grew up to become one of the Uncommoners’ top agents. With a  love for excitement and especially raw speed, Tom, a tall, wiry, brown-haired “boy next door” is a qualified pilot, race car driver, steamboat captain, climber, swimmer, gunslinger, pole vaulter, and harmonica player. Tom is twenty-four, and probably a genius, if an undisciplined one.

Tom’s favourite weapons are his bolos, boomerang, and Tesla pistol (see below).

Commonwealth Organizations
The Uncommoners
The Uncommoners come from all over the Commonwealth: men, women, children, and even some very special animals, each with a unique set of talents, each equally dedicated to the British Empire. All seven hundred seventy-seven Uncommoners gather every May 23rd (the day before Empire Day; see below) at the House of Uncommoners, on the island of Zanzibar.

Each Uncommoner is equipped with the best equipment the Empire has to offer, from the most modern pistols to the finest, fastest vehicles.

The Uncommoners are led by a man or woman known as the First Among Equals. The First is chosen by popular vote of the Uncommoners at each annual gathering, and is elected for a one-year term. A First may serve as long as he keeps winning the annual vote.

The chief weapons of the Uncommoner are the Tesla Foil, an electric sword that can be used to kill or stun opponents, and the Tesla Pistol, a sidearm with the same ability. Larger Tesla Guns are mounted on many Uncommoner vehicles.

The Uncommoners have a number of spectacular vehicles, but chief among them is the Sentinel, a triple-hulled airship bristling with weapons, including the most powerful Tesla cannon yet constructed, capable of leveling a mountaintop. The three hulls are arranged in an inverted triangle, with a landing strip, control tower, and service hangars for supplementary craft (4 scout biplanes, 2 cargo planes, 2 passenger aircraft) and its complement of two fighter squadrons (24 planes).

Unquestionably one of the mightiest ships at sea, the Thunderchild is a massive battleship, bristling with Tesla cannons, capable of reaching speeds of ninety knots. And with the flip of a switch (actually, the turning of a very large and heavy wheel), the Thunderchild can seal itself up and submerge for underwater operations.

The Uncommoners report directly to the Prime Minister.

The Imperial Rocket Society
The sun never sets on the British Empire, and the scientists of the Imperial Rocket Society intend to maintain that happy status quo. The Society intends to launch a seven-man crew to Mars, to claim the planet for the Empire. If all goes well, the Queen Victoria will land on the red planet within five years…unless someone else gets there first.

O’Malley’s Rapier
According to legend, the famous Irish pirate queen Grace O’Malley, a woman of incredible beauty and noble heart, used this rapier to slay an unnamed beast that threatened to swallow the Isle of Man whole. The sword is supposed to be unbreakable, with the ability to cut clean through any material. At last report – some fifty years past – a group of Cypriot mercenaries, on a secret mission for the Crown, lost the sword deep within the jungles of Brazil…

The Maltese Falcon
The true story of the Maltese Falcon – an unassuming stone bird, approximately life-sized – has been distorted time and again. Dozens of men have died to possess it, and many died uselessly, pursuing the wrong dream. Is the Maltese Falcon a source of great wealth – a mere bauble, as many assume? Or is it something more...?

The Skull Diamond
Hewn from one of the largest diamonds ever discovered, an anonymous genius hand-carved the raw stone into the shape of a human skull, to scale. The diamond is one of the most beautiful works of art ever created, a priceless jewel that has caused untold awe…and endless misery.

The Skull Diamond’s true power is to harness the sun’s energy and focus it into lethal beams of destructive light. Don’t take this outside on a sunny day without a blanket…

Mr. Bigby’s Pistol
This revolver, created by the mad scientist/sorcerer Elias Bigby, is like any other revolver…except it never runs out of bullets.

The Spear of Destiny
Fervently sought after by the agents of Adolf Hitler (see below), the Spear of Destiny (used by a Roman soldier to wound Christ on the cross) is rumoured to give ultimate power to whoever wields it. What form this power takes is uncertain…

Villains & Secret Societies
The Doomsday Railway
The Doomsday Railway is both literal, stretching across the globe through the thickest jungles, over the greatest rivers, and under the oceans themselves, and metaphorical, with lines laid down in dozens of nations.

The deposed Persian warlord Viper Khan rules the Doomsday Railway with an iron fist, with the beautiful but deadly Dagger Wasp at his side.

Railway personnel each sport a tattoo, a band of railway tracks with a snake writhing on the ties and devouring its own tail encircling the left wrist. Railway operatives may come from anywhere in the world, and hold the full range of occupations: labourers, clerks, thugs, assassins, prostitutes, spies, informants, entrepreneurs…and, disturbingly, elected officials and members of the Royal family.

Railway workers are armed according to their temperament, but often with the society’s trademark sidearm, the Kali Ray, an incredibly destructive beam weapon developed by captured Commonwealth scientist Dr. Benazir Kardalla. Rescuing Dr. Kardalla is one of the Uncommoners’ most important missions, but she is among the most heavily guarded assets of the Railway.

Doomsday Railway trains are not merely means of transport: they are heavily armed juggernauts, capable of leaving their tracks and switching to tracked mode. Each Tesla-powered locomotive is loaded with surface-to-surface, surface-to-sea, and surface-to-air missiles. The bow of the locomotive serves as a terrifyingly effective battering ram. Other cars feature Tesla cannons, ack-ack guns, net guns, and Chakra launchers.

Doomsday trains, while the chief vehicle of the Doomsday Railway, are not the only vehicular assets of this dreaded secret society. They also field a respectable fleet of airships and a sizeable wet navy – all covert, of course.

The Nazis
Bent on world domination, Adolf Hitler’s National Socialist Party rose to power in the 1930s. Ready to go to war to reclaim Germany’s lost honour and, not incidentally, to create a new empire, a Fourth Reich that would topple the British Commonwealth, the Soviet Union, and the upstart United States. Hitler isn’t ready to beat the drums of war just yet, but his dreaded SS already works their mischief all over the world, undermining governments and seeking out the legendary artifacts – especially the fabled Spear of Destiny – that will guarantee Germany’s victory.

The Divine Claw
Deep within old Mongolia beats the evil heart of the Divine Claw…super-secret organization of deadly saboteurs, assassins, and architects of mischief. The Divine Claw is led by the reasonable but ruthless Chen Sing Nin, rumoured to be six thousand years old. Nin wishes to bring order to a chaotic world – and since he is the oldest and wisest of us all, naturally Nin should be in charge…forever. Nin has many children, all daughters, all beautiful, all brilliant, all deadly…but not all are loyal.

The Divine Claw already secretly rules Mongolia, and is rumoured to pull the strings in a number of Asian nations. The chaos in China may in fact be due to the Claw’s malevolent influence…

Miscellaneous Interesting Facts
During the times of Empire, British citizens celebrated Empire Day each May 24th.

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