Wednesday, July 13, 2016

"The Flight of the Icarus" - Escape from the Hollow Earth, Chapter 1

The patrons of London's Victoria and Albert Museum were startled by the sudden explosion of smoke bombs within the gallery!

There were shouts and screams and the sound of combat in the murky gloom. The smoke began to clear and revealed a tableau of carnage. Two guards lay dead by the door. They had been cut down by the sword-wielding masked thieves that made their escape via the exit. The thieves wore the dark close-fitting costumes of the mysterious assassins of Japan.

Four assassins guarded the escape of their leader and one other. The leader wore a white costume while his dark-clad companion carried a large Chinese urn. The urn was a centerpiece of the museum's exhibit of treasures from the orient. The leader and his companion entered a waiting car and sped away.

Elizabeth Xu, the curator of the exhibition, cried, "They've stolen the remains of Emperor Soong! Somebody stop them!"

The four remaining thieves looked menacing and held their swords ready and waited for their getaway car to arrive.

A tall bearded Welshman stepped forward and approached one of the waiting thieves. He declared in his distinctive accent, "Lights out, gents!" He curled his thick muscular hands into large club-like fists and delivered a powerful blow to the startled thief. The Welshman was none other than famed explorer Bodak Danger.

A well-dressed thin Englishman likewise approached the thieves. The man was a gentleman and somewhat a dandy in his grey pin-striped suit and long flowing hair. He withdrew a concealed pistol and shot one of the thieves. The Englishman pointed his pistol at the others and quipped, "Surrender or face the consequences."  Unbeknownst to the thief, the decadent Englishman he faced was the legendary immortal Jack Flash!

A third man, a slight Japanese fellow wearing an eye-patch, withdrew a contraption from a valise against the wall and donned it like a knapsack. Attached to the boxy apparatus via a thick rubber-coated cable was a complicated metal tube adorned with glass disks and terminating in a polished chrome orb. The Japanese man in the eye-patch vigorously began spinning a small hand-crank attached to the apparatus. The cranking made a whirring sounds in an ever increasing pitch. The cranking caused glass tubes of incandescent gas placed on the apparatus to begin to glow. The device began to spark and pop and emit the smell of ozone.

The Japanese man wearing the electric device stepped forward and let fly an arc of flashing electricity towards one of the thieves. The thief jerked and fell unconscious. The Japanese man was renowned inventor, scientist, and adventurer Hiroshima Overdrive!

The remaining thief put up a brave resistance. He slashed his sword across Bodak Danger's arm, cutting his suit and causing a bloody mess!

Jack Flash stepped forward and effortlessly ran the blade of his sword-cane through the final thief as the getaway car pulled up in front of the museum exit.

Jack Flash rushed the car and pulled the driver out. Hiroshima Overdrive managed to climb into the back seat as Jack Flash sped off. Bodak Danger ran to catch up and barely managed to grab hold of the back of the fleeing vehicle. Bodak then climbed onto the roof of the car as it sped off in chase of the other thieves.

Jack Flash managed to pull up alongside and slam into the other car. Bodak reached out and grabbed the roof of the opposite vehicle and transferred himself from one car to the other. Bodak climbed over to the driver side and smashed his fist through the window in an attempt to grab the driver. His attempt failed and he caught his sleeve on the broken glass. The driver retaliated by firing his revolver through the ceiling. His shots narrowly missed the Welshman.

Hiroshima was taking aim with his pistol at the tires of the other car when Jack Flash thew open the driver door. Jack suddenly and without hesitation let go of the wheel and leaped onto the passenger door of the other car. Hiroshima shot the tire out of the other car as his own car began to careen dangerously into traffic. Hiroshima shouted in alarm and climbed into the driver seat. He struggled to regain control of the vehicle as it veered left and right through the busy London traffic.

Hiroshima's shot caused the tire of the fleeing vehicle to burst and the driver was forced to slow to a stop.

The driver of the stopped vehicle got out and leveled his pistol at Bodak. The driver was an Italian man with slicked back hair and a thin mustache. Bodak slid off the car and withdrew a shotgun from his long leather overcoat. Bodak managed to get off his shot first. The driver sprawled dead onto the rainy pavement.

The leader of the thieves climbed out of the car and drew his curved sword. Jack Flash held his own sword-cane at the ready. The two clashed but it was Jack's superior swordplay that won out. The leader of the thieves slid off Jack's bloody blade and slumped to the wet street.

The remaining thief still clutched the urn in the back seat of the stopped car. Bodak ripped open the door and Jack Flash ordered the thief to surrender. The thief withdrew a small pill from a hidden pouch and bit down. His mouth frothed and his eyes rolled back into his head as the thief died from the suicide pill.

Hiroshima managed to regain control of his own vehicle and threaded the oncoming traffic of the one-way street to rejoin the other two. They loaded the stolen urn into the car and returned to the museum.

There Elizabeth Xu asked them if there was any way she could thank them for their fine work.

"Well," said Bodak with a lascivious grin, "I'm sure we could think of way or two..."

"Nonsense," interrupted Jack, "It's all in a day's work for the Hyperion Society!"

(cue theme music)

The next day, Jack Flash, Bodak Danger, and Hiroshima Overdrive simultaneously arrive at an elegant London flat. All three men carried invitations. They were each invited to the home of noted literary historian and fellow Hyperion Society associate Cedric Justice.

They are greeted at the door by a young Chinese man-servant wearing a traditional silk robe. As t hey enter they notice a parked car across the street occupied by two Italian men. One of the men is reading a paper while the other is watching the flat.

The Chinese boy escorted the men upstairs to the study. The study was filled with books, mostly fiction. A nearby desk was covered in papers, notebooks, journals, and old maps. Several leather-upholstered chairs were arranged around the desk.

There they met Cedric Justice, a tall burly man with a bookish demeanor and scholarly round glasses. Despite his imposing size Cedric was friendly and affable. He greeted each of his visitors and offered them tea, coffee, or scotch which he directed the Chinese boy, whose name was Panda, to prepare.

After pleasantries, Cedric got down to business.

"Gentlemen, I have made the discovery of a lifetime! I have learned that much of what was once thought as legend and fiction is, in fact, truth! I have discovered the location of the mythical land Pytheas called “Ultima Thule” - the “Land Beyond the Mists” hidden in the far north.

"The Germans believe that Thule was once the home of a great civilization, populated by a race of giant supermen, linked into the Cosmos through magical powers. They had psychic and technological energies far exceeding the technical achievements of the 20th century.

"Even now as we speak, the Germans are actively searching for this place. But they do not have the map! I do!

"Gentlemen, I wish to mount an expedition to find this land and return to the world with its secrets and its treasures BEFORE the Germans! To that end I have secured the services of the airship 'Icarus' and its crew. I have supplied provisions for a six month expedition into the arctic.

"If you choose to join me on this expedition, I will pay you each £10,000 plus an equal share in 60 percent of the value of the treasures recovered."

The three men thought about this proposal then accepted the offer.

"Excellent! Excellent! Then we shall meet at the airfield tomorrow at dawn. Please make all preparations you deem necessary."

There was a buzzing at the door. Panda answered the door and soon returned upstairs carrying a package about the size of a shoe box wrapped in plain brown paper. He explained that it was delivered by an Italian gentleman.

Jack Flash grabbed the package and listened to it. He heard a ticking sound. It was a bomb!

There was some urgent debate over the proper course of action. Did they throw the bomb out the window into the street? Should they immediately evacuate the building? Hiroshima Overdrive took the package and opened it. Within were several sticks of dynamite attached to an alarm clock. He brandished his trusty Swiss army knife and went to work. The other men looked on with moistened brows as the Japanese inventor quickly deactivated the bomb!

The expedition gathered on an airfield outside London on the following morning. The group consisted of Cedric Justice, Panda, Jack Flash, Bodak Danger, and Hiroshima Overdrive. There they met the three-man crew of the Icarus: the Englishmen Captain Bennett, Reginald the co-pilot and navigator; and Johannson the Swedish ship's mate and cook . The assembled group loaded the airship with supplies and set off on a north-easterly course through foggy English skies.

The airship gondola was about the size of a lorry or bus. The inside was packed with food and equipment leaving little room for walking about. There were six fold-out cots along the wall for sleeping and two small benches for the passengers. The pilot and navigator occupied the only proper seats in the cockpit.

Their route took them to Longyearbyen on the island of Spitsbergen north of Norway. There they resupplied and refueled before continuing north.

The stopover in Longyearbyen was uneventful. Cedric learned from the locals that a German U-boat stopped there to resupply only a week previous. Crew members from the U-boat reported that they were likewise searching for the legendary island of Ultima Thule.

The Icarus took off and flew north. It was summer in the arctic and the sun rolled low around the horizon without ever setting. The Icarus flew over uncounted miles of unbroken ice marred only by the occasional iceberg jutting up like a mountain. Hiroshima Overdrive inquired if he might be allowed to pilot the airship. Captain Bennet obliged. Overdrive was soon joined in the cockpit by Bodak Danger. Thus the pair piloted the airship for several hours.

At one point Hiroshima Overdrive noticed a large flying shape like a giant bat. He asked Bodak to confirm but the Welshman saw nothing.

Bodak calculated that they were nearing the location indicated by Justice's directions. Bodak reported that the compass was beginning to drift. Hiroshima tried to compensate but the compass began to swing wildly. Soon the compass was spinning like no one on board had ever seen!

To everyone's surprise the sun began to dim as the Icarus was engulfed in a strange glowing fog that mysteriously appeared in the clear summer sky! The Icarus began to spin and tumble. Captain Bennet took the helm but it was too late. The Icarus careened wildly! The craft's altimeter spun down indicating a rapid descent. The altimeter read 300 feet, 200 feet, 100 feet, 50 feet. Captain Bennet shouted, "Brace for impact!"

The crew and passengers prepared themselves for a crash that never occurred.

The altimeter began spinning out of control and everyone was overcome by a strange vertigo and a sense of endless falling before passing into unconsciousness.

The crew and passengers of the Icarus woke up in a clearing surrounded by jungle. They were sprawled amidst the strewn wreckage and cargo of the airship. They were remarkably unhurt. It was strangely hot at humid. The sounds of jungle animals could be heard all around. The sun burned bright directly overhead. The peculiar heat and humidity along with the jungle locale and the orientation of the sun overhead could only make sense if the crew were somehow transported to the equator. The thick cane-like grass of the clearing was six feet high but had been knocked down near the area of the airship crash.

Beyond the clearing was a jungle composed of towering trees taller than any other seen by man. Impossibly tall mountains rose in one direction. In all other directions the horizon curved upwards and disappeared into the hazy sky. Opposite the mountains was more hills and jungles. In another direction one could see the grey-green surface of an ocean rising into the sky.

The airship was destroyed. The craft had disintegrated and its engines were irreparable. The crew and passengers began gathering up the scattered supplies. Hiroshima Overdrive collected machine parts in hopes to salvage something.

Jack Flash noticed what appeared to be an aircraft near the edge of the clearing. He moved through the grass. The plane appeared to have been there for over a year and was covered in grass and weeds. It had a single wing and strange engine arrangement with both a standard propeller and a rear-facing pusher type propeller.

As he examined the plane, a herd of large beasts entered the clearing. The beasts were the size of hippopotamuses but their heads bore a large bony frill protecting the neck. Two long horns protruded from above their eyes and a third horn emerged from its nose like a rhinoceros. He knew it immediately as a triceratops from earth's prehistory!

The herd of triceratops filled the clearing as they began to eat on the tall cane. The dinosaurs seemed unafraid of man but made threatening defensive movements whenever anyone came too near. Reginald became nervous and aimed his rifle at a beast. Hiroshima Overdrive calmed the navigator and convinced him to lower his weapon.

Jack Flash moved back across the clearing to rejoin the others but was interrupted by the sound of panicked triceratops at the edge of the clearing. The panic spread through the herd and the large creatures began to flee. He immediately spotted the source of the commotion. A large bipedal saurian emerged from the jungle chasing the triceratops across the clearing. It was a tyrannosaurus rex!

The panicked herd stampeded and crushed everything in its way. Much of the salvaged equipment and food was trampled into the ground under their flight. Everyone was able to dodge the rushing triceratops and take cover amid the remaining clumps of tall grass as the tyrannosaur drew near. Reginald, already frightened by the triceratops, panicked and fled into the brush.

Mister Johannson helped Bodak Danger and jack Flash flail their arms in an attempt to draw the beast's attention from the others while Hiroshima Overdrive began cranking up his electrical contraption. The Tyrannosaur charged forward and chomped down upon the hapless Johannson. The Swede was crushed by the monster's mighty jaws.

Jack Flash ran under the monstrous predator and slashed at its belly with his sword-cane. Bodak Danger fired his shotgun at the beast. Hiroshima Overdrive managed to let one sparking electrical arc fly at the gargantuan reptile only to draw its ire. Hiroshima was grievously injured by the tyrannosaur's bite.

Jack Flash managed to run up onto the back of the saurian and stabbed it once again with his sword while Bodak fired another blast from his shotgun. The king of the dinosaurs put up a brave fight but was eventually done in by the heroic adventurers.

A closer inspection of the airplane by Hiroshima Overdrive revealed it to be a Latham 47 flying boat. The growth on the plane along with its general state of decomposition and disrepair indicated that it had been sitting in the clearing for just over two years. The plane was missing its fuel tank and one of its floats. The wings were damaged and the engine was useless. The explorers found the pilot's log but could not read the Norwegian writing within.

Jack Flash looked around the edge of the clearing and found old trail markers cut into some of the trees. The surviving members of the expedition gathered what equipment they could carry and set off on the trail.

The expedition followed the trail markers through the jungle for what felt like hours. Despite the perceived passage of time the sun still shone directly overhead as if it were noon. Bodak checked his watch but noticed that it behaved erratically. The seconds would stall then count backwards then speed forward only to count backwards again. Jack Flash checked his compass but saw that it spun uselessly.

Passage through the jungle was difficult. The expedition had come equipped for a polar trip. They carried no machetes and the overgrown flora slowed their progress. Suddenly Reginald was carried aloft in the coiling strands of a strangling vine. The vine wound around Reginald's neck and arms and was quickly choking him to death. Bodak Danger and Jack Flash rushed to the co-pilot's aid. They were eventually able to cut and tear him loose from the cable-like vines.

No one could tell exactly how long they trekked through the jungle. The expedition was at the brink of exhaustion when they encountered a band of native hunters. The natives had brown skin and wore clothing made of reptilian leather. They carried machetes made of metal and spears with metal heads. The natives were wary and curious but otherwise peaceful. The natives attempted to communicate using several unknown languages including what sounded like a strange pidgin dialect of Norwegian!

The natives led the expedition to their village which was hidden away in a narrow valley. The village consisted of several structures built in the canopy of the incredibly tall jungle trees. Each tree was connected by rope bridges made of woven vines. The expedition was surprised to also see components of parachute cloth and the skins of balloons and zeppelins integrated into the village's construction. Indeed they were shocked when the wicker basket of a balloon was lowered via a complicated pulley system. They were ushered into the basket and hoisted aloft as if in an elevator. A plaque on the inside the basket read, "Andree’s Polar Expedition 1897"

The expedition was taken to a large tree hut where they were allowed to rest. They were given some water and food. Every native that attended to them was mesmerized by their modern equipment.

Suddenly in walked a tall tan-skinned man of European descent! He had a beard and shaggy hair and wore an old jump suit augmented and patched with pieces of reptilian leather and skins. He was recognized immediately. It was famed explorer and associate of the Hyperion Society Roald Amundsen!

Roald was accompanied by the village chieftain. The chieftain was a portly native wearing a robe made of jingling bits of metal woven together by copper wire. Roald exchanged introductions with the members of the expedition and served as translator between them and the natives. The chief was able to converse with the newcomers in a pidgin dialect of English mixed with some Norwegian.

The expedition were to be the guests of the village and a feast of roast boar was set out for them. Roald listened to the tales of the crew and passengers of the Icarus while he ate before explaining his own circumstance. Roald said that he had discovered the anomaly near the pole many years ago but was threatened by a mysterious organization to never reveal what he encountered. He learned that the name of the mysterious organization was Terra Arcanum. He was further warned to never attempt to explore the anomaly further.

Fellow polar explorer Umberto Nobile attempted to fly over the pole in 1928 using the airship Italia. The airship crashed and an international search and rescue mission was undertaken. Roald used the cover of the search and rescue mission to return to the anomaly. He and his two crewmen entered the anomaly and they crashed. He found himself here in this strange inner world. His two crewmen were subsequently killed by dinosaurs but he has managed to survive with the help of these friendly natives.

Amundsen further explained the strange new world they found themselves in. He told them about the perpetual noonday sun. There had been no night since he arrived. The strange concave horizon, indicating an inverted world occupying the inner shell surrounding the aforementioned constant sun. The presence of dinosaurs, beast men, ancient ruins, and even pirates and vikings!

When he was done, he turned his attention to his guests.

"So tell me," inquired Amundsen, "What is the world of 1930 like? What have I missed?"

Jack Flash replied, "1930? Sir, the year is 1936. Eight years have elapsed since you went missing!"

Amundsen's eyes widened, "Impossible! By my own admittedly imperfect reckoning it has been only two years! How can this be?"

Hiroshima Overdrive suggested, "Ah! Perhaps this world does not obey the same rules of time as our world."

Amundsen mulled this over, "This is evident. So. I have told you my story. What about yourselves? What brings you to this strange place?"

Cedric Justice explained that they were here searching for treasure and knowledge. He wondered if there were any cities or ruins or any other evidence of an advanced civilization. Roald eyed him warily but remained silent.

The chief's eyes grew wide, "You speak of city of smooth stone!" The chief ran his hands along his coat of metal bits and bobs. "Much smooth stone! Very dangerous! Not go place!"

Roald cleared his throat and reluctantly explained that there was indeed evidence of a once-advanced civilization but that their cities now all lay in ruins and were occupied by dangerous hostile natives. Cedric asked if he could speak with Roald privately. Upon completion of the feast the two excused themselves to discuss private matters.

The rest of the expedition were able to rest and they fell into a deep restful sleep. Their rest was interrupted some unknown hours later by the arrival of native scouts. The scouts reported that they had found another stranger from the Outer World - a pale-skinned woman!

The woman walked in. She had the smooth pale complexion of someone from a Nordic country. She wore the long black leather coat of a German military officer over a black leather waistcoat and black jodhpurs. She had raven hair and piercing light blue eyes that chilled the souls of anyone that looked into them. She was immediately recognized by the other members of the Hyperion Society.

She was the famed psychic occultist Edith Odinsdottir of Iceland.

"Gentlemen, there are Nazis afoot and they must be stopped at all costs!"


GMs Notes - En Media Res
I decided to start the game en media res in order to get straight to the action. I wanted to grab the players attention right from the start as well as allow them to become familiar with the new rules system.

I really like the simplicity and ease-of-use of the Ubiquity system. It is very user friendly and intuitive. My players grokked it right away. 

My only complaints on the game so far:

1) There are no stats for ninjas. Admittedly, they post-date the pulp genre, not becoming popular until You Only Live Twice in the sixties, but they would make great  opponents for a game featuring the Japanese Empire. At least have some Arab hashishins or other masked killer equivalents. 

2) For a game called Hollow Earth Expeditions, almost all of the pre-written adventures take place on the surface world. There are one or two introductory adventures written to GET you to the Hollow Earth but only one takes place entirely within the Hollow Earth and its intended for native characters. I really wish there were more adventures written for people stranded in the Hollow Earth. I have written up a campaign outline with several locales but I'm keeping the details loose. I will mostly improvise as we go since those tend to be our funnest games anyway.