Horror – Sids Story

I wanted to write a quick horror scenario which would fit in with pretty much any game and I figured that it couldn’t just be a magical teleporting serial killer, like Jason, Freddy or Leatherface.

Inspiration for this one is “Sids Story” from the Captain Britain trade paperback.
http://www.rambles.net/capbrit_88.html
http://marvel.wikia.com/Captain_Britain_Vol_2_4

Summary: A local homeless man is infected with an alien spore. It slowly transforms him into a monster but gives him unnatural urges, bouts of superhuman strength but when they recede, he’s just plain ol’ Sid. He’s driven mad by the spore and even sees himself only as a witness to the killings – so he becomes the primary contact for information. Eventually the horror cannot be hidden beneath his rags and cap and his urges drive him underground.

Sid doesn’t get any magical abilities. He’s just strong, streetwise, ashamed of his ‘condition’ and going quite mad – in utter denial of the situation.

Sequence of Events:

  1. Establish Sid the Homeless Bum as a local contact.
  2. A powerful shapeshifting beast is defeated by the heroes. You have to make it characteristic – like the creature eats a certain organ or attacks a certain way – perhaps it leaves needles from its back littered around, each covered by a nasty toxin. Perhaps in the purple bulbous nature of its malleable flesh. Whatever it is – make it a HARD battle – but an obvious, showy, non-secret one.
    The creatures eggs were taken and eaten by some homeless people. Most died, Sid got sick – slowly.
  3. Bodies show up and it’s assumed they died of exposure. No surprise as it’s cold out. Sid contacts them saying there’s a killer out there.
  4. Bodies show up, gnawed.
  5. Body shows up, rent from ear to spleen. Sid blames the killer. The PCs find the needles.
  6. Let it die down. For a few sessions.
  7. Bring it back. Sid is changing slowly, in constant pain and still in denial. He needs food constantly so the people attacked are other homeless, the workers in the soup kitchens etc and eventually some rich kid doing community service. Sid contacts them again, both putting them off the trail and telling them more about the creature.
  8. Fight.

The Aliens Are Coming

Stephen Hawking talks about how we should hide from aliens:

I imagine they might exist in massive ships, having used up all the resources from their home planet. Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonize whatever planets they can reach. … If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans.

At least until we get our own massive ships after looting the Earth for goodies and go out on the prowl.

This is the plot for “The War of the Worlds” after all. Just the distances may be many orders of magnitude greater.

225 days

SI 1995/3297, also known as “The Duration of Copyright and Rights in Performances Regulations 1995”, this UK law came into effect on January 1st 1996. At its most basic, it extended the copyright for any written work from 50 years after the author’s death, to 70 years. Any work which had already become public domain prior to 1st January 1996 remained public domain.

H. G. Wells died on the 13th August, 1946. All of his works thus missed becoming public domain in the UK by 225 days, and now remain copyright to his estate until 2016. Bizarrely, his works are public domain in the USA.

We’re currently investigating whether it is still feasible to publish War of the Worlds: Earth after learning of this curious quirk of legality.

WotW: Earth – Vox Populi

“Have you seen my Jim? Have you seen him? My son? About four feet tall, blond hair, covered in freckles? … what about you, sir? Have you seen my Jim? He’s about four feet tall–“

– worried mother, Ealing, Day 1 after the end of the invasion

“We opened fire with the mortars, next. I tell ya there was nothing like that feeling when we first got one of ’em. After that bleedin’ Heat Ray had wiped out ‘alf the squadron, including Sergeant ‘arkins, remember ‘im? Sometimes I wish those Invaders ‘adn’t all been killed by the measles, or whatever it was. That way, we’d get to kill ’em proper.”

– Corporal James Walker, East Surrey Regiment, Day 10

“The wing itself is curved like a teardrop, causing the air to move over the top of it. The air below the wing is thus at a lower pressure than the air above, causing lift. It is brilliant in its simplicity, and eminently reproducible.”

– Hiram James Maxim, addressing the Royal Society, Week 3

“Of course I’m sure. I ‘ad it from Bert Tate’s sister, y’know the one with the big ears, who ‘ad it from her brovver-in-law. ‘E’s a sergeant in the Buffs and ‘e saw one of the Fightin’ Machines go down into the water near Margate. There’s been nothin’ about anythin’ being recovered in Margate. I reckon we could make a bloomin’ fortune.”

– overheard in a pub near Canterbury, Week 5

“If you thought Black Strawberries were strange, you should see the Black Barley that’s growing round our way. Not sure I’d drink the Black Beer that might come from it.”

– farm hand, Sussex, Week 37

WotW: Earth – The Death Of The Martians

“My knowledge of comparative physiology is confined to a book or two, but it seems to me that Carver’s suggestions as to the reason of the rapid death of the Martians is so probable as to be regarded almost as a proven conclusion.

At any rate, in all the bodies of the Martians that were examined after the war, no bacteria except those already known as terrestrial species were found. That they did not bury any of their dead, and the reckless slaughter they perpetrated, point also to an entire ignorance of the putrefactive process. But probable as this seems, it is by no means a proven conclusion.”

It is my firm belief, in the face of the evidence presented, that a Martian could survive on Earth, in our air, indefinitely. In our post-mortem examinations of the Martian carcasses, we discovered three facts.

  1. The Martians possess blood, as we men do, and utilise the molecule Haemoglobin for transport of essential gases around the body for they too metabolise oxygen gas in order to generate energy for movement and thought.
  2. The only bacteria present in their systems were similar to those present in the normal human flora and fauna. There were no signs of abnormal tissue necrosis.
  3. The Martians studied suffered from intravascular coagulation following their injecting of Human blood. This would have caused them severe pain and eventually proved fatal.

It is therefore my belief that the Martians lacked foresight into their food supply upon Earth. It is entirely possible that with appropriate treatment, perhaps rivalling Landsteiner’s seminal work on blood typing and coagulants, the Martians may be able to safely inject Human blood. It is not known whether animal blood will have the same effect as we have no test subjects.

The urgency remains that in the event of a second attack, if the Martians bring blood purification devices or even more of their common biped food supply that we will not escape so easily.

WotW: Earth – Weapons of War

“Neither is the composition of the Black Smoke known, which the Martians used with such deadly effect, and the generator of the Heat-Rays remains a puzzle. The terrible disasters at the Ealing and South Kensington laboratories have disinclined analysts for further investigations upon the latter. Spectrum analysis of the black powder points unmistakably to the presence of an unknown element…”

The disaster at Ealing laboratories was the first attempted removal of the Heat Ray device from a Fighting Machine. What is known is that, despite the dormancy of the machine, the power generator was still active and caused an explosion which claimed the lives of the entire scientific team.

The second disaster, at South Kensington, involved the death of only one technician but caused many thousands of pounds worth of damage. The power generator device and heat ray had been decoupled from a fighting machine but upon activation it was found that there are sensitive control mechanisms within the cowl of the machine. As many of the components communicated with the power generator using unknown wireless means, this was an understandable error.

For the next few months, all investigations of the Heat Ray have been within the confines of intact Fighting Machines. Thankfully, there were still several of them with which the military scientists can work. Even with this limitation, there were amazing breakthroughs in the areas of adaptive hydraulics and inorganic ‘muscular’ machines for lifting and loading.

In an unparalleled level of co-operation, the Government permitted the Americans to send some of their top men to view the Martian devices. These scientists worked with the Naval Science Liaison, Harry Matthews, and successfully decoupled the Heat Ray from the generator. One of the scientists involved, Nikola Tesla, would later ‘defect’ to the United Kingdom in order to spend more time with the technology, a move which caused strained relations with the Americans for several years. Treaties of mutual co-operation and sharing of technology were only a partial solution and the scientists were forever escorted by bodyguards due to the danger of espionage.

Tesla and Matthews quickly became the acknowledged worldwide experts on the process of understanding and reproducing Martian technology.

WotW: Earth – The Flying Machine

“The sun sank into grey clouds, the sky flushed and darkened, the evening star trembled into sight. It was deep twilight when the captain cried out and pointed. My brother strained his eyes. Something rushed up into the sky out of the greyness–rushed slantingly upward and very swiftly into the luminous clearness above the clouds in the western sky; something flat and broad, and very large, that swept round in a vast curve, grew smaller, sank slowly, and vanished again into the grey mystery of the night. And as it flew it rained down darkness upon the land.” – Chapter Seventeen: The Thunder Child

The atmosphere on Mars is much thinner than on Earth and despite the lower gravity, it would be almost impossible to engineer a glider to achieve aerial transport on Mars. It is a testament to the cerebral abilities of the Martians that they were able to engineer and build a flying machine in a matter of weeks following invasion. While our best minds on Earth, with years of experience manage to glide awkwardly, these invaders soared!

The Flying Machine was salvaged from the pit and moved to a British Army training ground for study. While scientists and engineers from all around the world clamoured for access to Martian technology, the Army sought out Hiram Stevens Maxim, an American-born inventor who had invented the Maxim machine gun and had spent over a decade working on winged flying machines up at West Norwood. Maxim was a portly gentleman with a bushy white beard and unkempt hair. He could often be seen pacing up and down past the massive sheds which housed the Martian machine and his many decidedly-earthbound prototypes, bawling loudly at his assistants. He would work twenty-hour days and expect the same of his staff: as well as insane, the man was profoundly deaf! He proposed to meld the design of the Martian machine with human engineering principles – adopting the work of Elling and Barber in the production of a reliable turbine engine.

It took months for Maxim to produce a flying machine which could be operated by a human. But then, what a sight!

WotW: Earth – 21 Days of Invasion

The Narrator of the book was close to one of the arrival sites but this was not necessarily the most active site. He also spent more than two weeks (or a three week invasion) hiding in a collapsed house. He was not the first to discover the dead Martians at the end of the invasion and perhaps was even one of the last. We have to speculate what else happened during the time he was hiding and we have only the barest hints from the book

Week 1
This period is overshadowed by killing and destruction as the Martians make their presence known and start to cow the human populace and deter any efforts of the Military to gain any meaningful intelligence on their movements. The Martians spend this time constructing their machines to defend themselves and then set about building their towers and handling machines. The Humans, when they are roused from their overconfidence in the stability of their way of life are immediately routed and the roads fill with refugees. Some individuals attempt to hide among the ruins. Others still try to fight, joining the hundreds who have become an informal militia, both under-equipped and relatively low of morale considering the onslaught of crushing defeats. Armed with only relatively static and heavy guns, the defenders have to face the physical might of the Fighting Machines as well as the dreadful gaze of the Heat Ray and worse, the deadly caress of the Black Smoke.

Week 2
The Martians start to establish themselves and build their main factories. They shift their production facilities at the cylinders to constructing Handling Machines which process their raw materials as well as herd their ‘food’. They have built great cages into which the Fighting Machines deliver hundreds of frightened humans daily. The Handling Machines also start to collect and manufacture food for their human herds, raiding homes and shops at first and then upon analysis, producing it from the earth itself. These captive humans are under constant threat of death but after the first few days of captivity, their cries and wails die down as they become resigned to their fate. For those who misbehave, food and water are withheld from an entire group and that quickly becomes the leveller. Most relevantly, the Martians have exhausted all other food sources and start to feed upon their herds.

Week 3
The Martians are already deep in decline and the Red Weed itself seems to be suffering from a similar malady. Though the Martians never managed to adapt to our gravity, it is noted that they have become excessively lethargic, even their Handling and Fighting machine seem to spend long periods resembling statues. And in some cases, their installations are completely abandoned. Cage farms quickly become the domains of petty warlords, those who are strong and charismatic enough to mobilise a breakout and take control. At the same time, the remnants of a once-proud military nation start to creep back to their cities and resume their lives to find domains carved out of neighbourhoods, the destruction of homes and landmarks, the looting of food and valuables. There is also the opportunity cost as the British Empire is upon it’s knees at home and lifting it’s head once more just as news of it’s fall was reaching the colonies.

Social Class in WotW:Earth

War of the Worlds: Earth is set at the dawn of the 20th Century. You have the legacy of Victoriana, the sunset of the British Empire and the rise of other nations including the independence of former colonies. Even back then, state education was available to all, the British Empire (even as late as 1921) held sway over nearly half a billion people and covered about a quarter of the Earth’s total land area. Britain became a global policeman (the origin of Pax Britannica) and due to it’s prominence in world affairs became increasingly influential even in economies where they held no sway. Remnants of their influence are felt worldwide in legal systems, economics, the military, educational reforms, sports and most obviously in language.

We have to remember, however, that War of the Worlds: Earth paints a post-apocalyptic picture of Britain. The Government had, for the most part, fallen during the invasion which lasted merely three weeks. Refugees streaming out of the flaming cities would be a melange of social classes with Lord and Lady mixing up with paupers and cadgers. The rigid barriers of society were shattered and with everyone seen in the same light, broken spirited and soiled from their rout from home, it was not possible to tell apart Prince from pauper.

Afterwards, rebuilding society would have been incredibly difficult with thousands dead or missing and even those who returned to their homes would not always be the same. What right of ascendancy did the nobility possess when all were equalised by the invaders? More than anything, the new society of the 20th Century must embrace the potential for revolution, for regime change.

Collaboration, writing and vision

This weekend I was busy with family duties but still managed to do a bit of work on WoTW:Earth. Most notably taking the draft ideas Aidan sent through and turning them into mechanics and flavour.

Collaboration is hard.

I’m very conscious that I’m an ignorant so-and-so with strong opinions and a jeadstrong way of doing things. One sure-fire way to motivate me into completing something is to provide me with something that is not the way I’d do it. This isn’t to say that it’s wrong or that my way is actually better, but just the fact that it’s different is enough for me to work on something to illustrate my way.

Am I bloody minded enough to expect mine will be used? I’d like to think not but I think that even after all these years, I find it hard to work with others. Case in point: the lifepath systems we’re building for WotW: Earth can be done in a number of ways. I received Aidan’s notes and I wrote mine out and sent them on and I did say and will continue to say that it’s a work in progress. I don’t know, however, whether my personality (my bloodymindedness) can be put down by soliciting comment and inviting co-work. I’d have to get Aidan to be honest here about whether I am an ogre to work with.

Writing is hard

Harking back to the post on Quality of Play that I made the other day – I need to be very enthused by a game before I’d write for it (which is why I guess I don’t get paid to write – though I’ve never solicited paid writing work nor been asked). When enthused (the Solo Play part), I tend to be quite prolific and productive with writing which is why Crucible Design only published three games and they were the games that I conceived and wrote.

The irony of course is that my most productive times were when I was busy. I worked a 9-5, had a girlfriend, had a weekly game (or two) and would often have to do additional work at the weekends for my job. But I managed to hammer out The 23rd Letter. The next most productive person was Colin who had the job, the girlfriend, the hobbies and managed to do some excellent work on the Projects for The 23rd Letter. Everyone else was either in full time education (and no, it is not more work) or unemployed and getting writing out of them was impossible.

Vision is easy

What it tells me is that it’s easy to have a vision about something. It’s easy to think up a soundbite of a concept and pitch it at a small group of friends. You can wow them with some names you thought up, maybe even some basic sketches that are a subsititute for ‘real work’. The ‘Ideas’ page for LateGaming is incredibly long and I know that perhaps only 10% of them will ever have any real work done on them (and yeah, you can ask and no, they’re not all my ideas).

What this means is that in over five years of ‘writing’, we produced three books and they were the brainchild of (and written by) one person. We had plans for other books and games but none of them were ever completed and few of them got anywhere beyond the most basic concepts. Fancy playing a pirates game? We intended to write one (about 5 years before 7th Sea came out). Cowboys? Check. Corporate Superspies? Check. Commercially-minded Superheroes? Check. But I think that natural selection weeded out the weaker ideas.

The conclusion to this is going to be ‘What about Qabal?’

What about Qabal

It’s just a little too big for me and I need to get back into the flow of writing, raise the bar in terms of production values for the next books I bring out and re-learn a lot of terms. I need to ask friends who do design work for a living to help me with the look of the books and help me visualise the whole process. And all of this before I put any more pen to paper.

At the moment, I have smaller fish to fry.

WotW: Earth – Art

Last night I commissioned two art pieces from Storn Cook for the upcoming War of the Worlds book. I really like Storn’s art (massive thread on RPG.net here) and he was very nice when I enquired about the commission and explained what I wanted, even going so far as to suggest additional things.

The ‘look’ of the Martian fighting machine is very important. We’ve seen the interpretations from the 1953 Paramount film and the 2005 Spielberg film as well as the very recognisable version from the front cover of Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds ‘opera’. We need to take a different direction to all of these and start from first principles. We need something that looks in place in the start of the 20th Century but also Storn suggested we do an updated model which I find encouraging. I am now beside myself with impatience at what the result will be.

Some of the interior art from editions of the novel are striking. The theme of it being like a round hut on legs is peculiar as my impressions from reading is that the machines appear ‘cowled’. More on this later.

Things are moving along and we have a great vision for the book.

(Minor edit – fixed the link)
(Minor edit 2 – added in the RPG.net link)

WotW: Earth – The Second Launch

“Hundreds of observers saw the flame that night and the night after about midnight, and again the night after; and so for ten nights, a flame each night. Why the shots ceased after the tenth no one on earth has attempted to explain. It may be the gases of the firing caused the Martians inconvenience. Dense clouds of smoke or dust, visible through a powerful telescope on Earth as little grey, fluctuating patches, spread through the clearness of the planet’s atmosphere and obscured its more familiar features.”

Chapter One “The Eve of the War” – The War of the Worlds, by H. G. Wells

Roughly two years after the arrival of Martians on Earth, a second series of ten “shots” are fired from the surface of the red planet.  Is this another invasion?  Was the first invasion actually that, or was it just a scouting mission?  Now that we have had two years in which to come to terms with such technology has been left behind, will that make it any easier for us to communicate with inter-planetary cousins?

The Second Launch is a set of ideas, guidelines and scenarios for GMs to allow them to generate that same sense of wonder, awe and terror that the original landings created.  Here are some questions that will be answered:

  • Where do the capsules land?  Was England an accidental or deliberate target?  If they landed somewhere remote, would they have had more time to adapt and be ready?
  • What weaponry will they bring to bear?
  • Will they have some kind of protection against our microbiology?
  • Will they be able to multiply when they get here?
  • Do they have Earth-bound help?
  • Can we talk to them?
  • Can we kill them?
In running a WotW: Earth campaign, the GM has the opportunity to create a rich and dark atmosphere, based on the late 19th century society, and its science, in which the game is set.  To let the characters create their backgrounds, encounter some of the strangeness created by the Aftermath, and come to understand the world as it is now.  Then to put that world back into danger by giving them an enemy that is known but yet unknown, and terrifying in either capacity.
The Second Launch forms part of the War of the Worlds: Earth game book.

WotW: Earth – The Computational Analyser

“In the Spring of that year I had the good fortune to visit my friend, Mr Askell, at the Royal Society where they were pursuing development of a computational device using the research of intellectual giants who had gone before. Bright young scientists to’ed and fro’d with metal rods and some articles salvaged from the Martian machines. This device, Askell explained, could perform complex mathematics faster than the most talented idiot savant and I watched in awe as nothing particularly exciting seemed to be happening. “This,” Askell explained, “is the future”.
In the background I could swear I heard the tuts of the luddites of the Royal Society making their opinions known.”

The first Computational Analyser was built in Manchester University in 1900. It drew scientists from afar to view the processes which ran it – whole orders of magnitude faster than Babbage’s engine due to the salvaged Martian technology which powered it. What a Babbage Engine could perform in 3 minutes could be calculated in 3 seconds on the Analyser.

The building of the device was originally opposed by both the Royal Society and the British Association for the Advancement of Science. However it was funded entirely by the Royal Navy and by 1903, there were six analysers in Britain and a further two had been shipped to the Americas each with a full maintenance crew of twenty.

Supporting Links:
Babbage’s Analytical Engine
Thomson’s Differential Analyser
Cynical-C

WotW: Earth – System Proposal

Here’s a simple system that would get a WotW: Earth game up and running. Before I go into the details, here’s what was going through my head as I designed this.

  1. WotW: Earth is set in turn-of-the-century England
  2. Player characters are likely to have a base set of skills which can probably default to stats
  3. Highly technical skills don’t really exist, and science is still the realm of the wealthy
  4. Skills matched career very closely, and people generally had one career
  5. My feeling (from reading what Matt has written) is that this is a game about normal people in an abnormal situation, so there won’t be much difference between the characters

And now the system …

Continue reading “WotW: Earth – System Proposal”

WotW: Earth – The Martian Outpost

In another moment I had scrambled up the earthen rampart and stood upon its crest, and the interior of the redoubt was below me. A mighty space it was, with gigantic machines here and there within it, huge mounds of material and strange shelter places.

“I stood staring into the pit, and my heart lightened gloriously, even as the rising sun struck the world to fire about me with his rays. The pit was still in darkness; the mighty engines, so great and wonderful in their power and complexity, so unearthly in their tortuous forms, rose weird and vague and strange out of the shadows towards the light. “

The pit at Primrose Hill was the largest outpost the Martians secured in Britain and perhaps the world. Their fighting machines collected the materials from their cylinders and brought it to this pit so they start the construction of new machines. Handlers, refining machinery and buildings dot the landscape of the newly turned earth and their trails, dotted with powdered metal and the bones of their victims, weave an intricate web of snail trails.

Lofty towers affording observation of the surrounding countryside and armed with the dread funnel from which smoked the Heat-Ray. The land approach of the pit was of blackened turf and charred ruins of houses, tree stumps and the wreckage of anything that dared come near.

Now, the work of exhuming the dead and giving them a decent burial has occupied hundreds of men and women, eager to work for food, over the last weeks since the defeat of the Martians.

WotW: Earth – Air Superiority

“They’ve gone away across London,” he said. “I guess they’ve got a bigger camp there. Of a night, all over there, Hampstead way, the sky is alive with their lights. It’s like a great city, and in the glare you can just see them moving. By daylight you can’t. But nearer–I haven’t seen them–” (he counted on his fingers) “five days. Then I saw a couple across Hammersmith way carrying something big. And the night before last”–he stopped and spoke impressively–“it was just a matter of lights, but it was something up in the air. I believe they’ve built a flying-machine, and are learning to fly.”
I stopped, on hands and knees, for we had come to the bushes.
“Fly!”
“Yes,” he said, “fly.”
I went on into a little bower, and sat down.
“It is all over with humanity,” I said. “If they can do that they will simply go round the world.”

As if their Heat Ray and Fighting machines were not enough, the Martians have a deep understanding of science and in the weeks post-invasion were able to analyse our environment and create flying machines. Our most seasoned scouts were able to describe this process as they experimented with their machines, sometimes resulting in disaster for the Martian who sat in the hood but with every setback, the hammering within the pit would resume and soon enough a new machine would be created. The Flying Machine crumples easily, possibly due to the lightness of it’s manufacture and most resembles a “flying wing” style craft.

“Across the pit on its farther lip, flat and vast and strange, lay the great flying-machine with which they had been experimenting upon our denser atmosphere when decay and death arrested them.”

The Martian Flying Machine uses compressed air to launch itself into the air with a loud popping sound and further air jets and aerodynamic surfaces to provide forward motion and lift. They cannot hover effectively and are currently limited to strafing runs for deploying Black Smoke and attacking with the Heat Ray, a tactic which has proved thus far to be utterly devastating.

Forward observers have noted the craft are simply too swift to be targetted by normal artillery and even our best riflemen have expressed doubt at whether they could provide an effective hit. Scouts describe the screaming roar of the engines to be as terrifying as the howls of the machines themselves.

Thankfully the range of these terrible air-borne scourges seems to be approximately 50 miles. It would not have delayed their eventual defeat even by a day but should their range have been much greater, we can only imagine the destruction they would have wrought upon us.

WotW: Earth – London

“And as I looked at this wide expanse of houses and factories and churches, silent and abandoned; as I thought of the multitudinous hopes and efforts, the innumerable hosts of lives that had gone to build this human reef, and of the swift and ruthless destruction that had hung over it all; when I realised that the shadow had been rolled back, and that men might still live in the streets, and this dear vast dead city of mine be once more alive and powerful, I felt a wave of emotion that was near akin to tears.”

As an aside, Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds will be playing in the Odyssey in December. Am I going. Oh yes, I am.

WotW: Earth – Bows against the Lightning

“Forthwith the six guns which, unknown to anyone on the right bank, had been hidden behind the outskirts of that village, fired simultaneously. The sudden near concussion, the last close upon the first, made my heart jump. The monster was already raising the case generating the Heat-Ray as the first shell burst six yards above the hood. … Simultaneously two other shells burst in the air near the body as the hood twisted round in time to receive, but not in time to dodge, the fourth shell. The shell burst clean in the face of the Thing. The hood bulged, flashed, was whirled off in a dozen tattered fragments of red flesh and glittering metal.
“Hit!” shouted I, with something between a scream and a cheer.”

– The War of the Worlds, by H.G. Wells

Of all our vaunted technology, only the efforts of the modern artillery seemed to give the invaders any pause. Even our mighty Navy, though effective, found itself helpless at sea while the marauders burned and poisoned their way through the countryside.

Even so, a battery of six guns was no match for more than two of the Martian Fighting Machines. We would always strike from surprise and the Martians, once alerted to our presence, would strike back with their terrifying heat ray and destroy the entire battery. We found we were outclassed in several areas. The Martian heat ray was deadly accurate, quick to re-orient and could fire multiple bursts of deadly invisible phlogiston in quick succession. In comparison, our artillery, field guns and cannon, was slow to reload, sluggish in movement and, perhaps worst of all, woefully inaccurate.

“The Heat-Ray is certainly capable of dealing death – melting lead, softening iron, incinerating wood and cloth and searing flesh to ashes. When used, it handles as a man might handle a searchlight – playing over it’s targets for a split second before moving on, ever in search of victims to blacken and twist.

It is limited in several ways and as a result we must play to our strengths and be well aware of the limitations of the enemy. The Heat-Ray is quick, deadly and implacable. But it is also limited in range and can only fire within the line of sight of the Martian in the hood of the fighting machine. With camouflage, surprise and God’s help, we will be able to take on perhaps as many as four Fighting Machines at once with a minimum of casualties.

Our field guns have a much greater operational range and we estimate the artillery teams can fire as many as three times before the Fighting Machines come within operational range. We can also operate from the safety of an indirect fire location – behind a hill for instance. This gives us additional protection and opportunities to lay down fire upon the enemy.

With this tactic, we can effectively resist the invaders.”

This tactic, of course, was soon abandoned as quickly as the artillerymen abandoned their guns at the sound of the terrible howl of the Fighting Machines. England, and indeed the rest of the world, belonged to the Martians.

WotW: Earth – Progress

I don’t know if anyone is even reading this 🙂 Certainly doesn’t look like it in the comments.
I’ve got two more WotW articles on the back-burner. About the actual technology, machines of war, recovery of civilisation and what we were left with afterwards.

I’ve not written a jot on system yet. Will likely re-use one of the myriad systems I’ve already published in some form or another.

WotW: Earth – The Red Men

The tragic story of a face-eating fungus on Youtube and another about mind-controlling fungi has pushed me to write a little about the Red Men.

“The church bells were ringing for evensong, and a squad of Salvation Army lassies came singing down Waterloo Road. On the bridge a number of loafers were watching a curious brown scum that came drifting down the stream in patches.”

The War of the Worlds, by H. G. Wells

Of all things, a man’s home is his castle and such was our affrontery at being attacked by distant alien intelligences in our own homes. That they had travelled millions of miles in order to exterminate our way of life was taken by some to be a sign of extreme malevolence. I, on the other hand, presume their opinion of us to be quite different. Indifferent to our plight they came to destroy and plunder, treading roughly on the ant-hills of our civilisation.

In hearing the scope and magnitude of their plan, we must recognise they have come to disrupt everything – planning all but the most meticulous details and it is in those details that we eventually found our salvation. The plans they saw through to fruition go far beyond jets of black smoke, the unstoppable heat ray and the red weed which still stymies our agriculture.

If reports are to be believed, it was in Shepperton where the first of the Red Men appeared. He attacked two women who were walking along the canal and could only be subdued by two men from a passing barge who claimed his skin was dark and oily and he took “a lot of hammering” to break his grip on the women. When the civil defence militia arrived, there was a large crowd around what seemed to be a heavily waterlogged and extremely rotten corpse. Though there was much damage to the head, the body was identified as one Albert Hargreaves, a part-time labourer in the village who often operated Shepperton Lock when the Lock-keeper wasn’t about.

The body was shipped to London and reports were few and far between but one alleged witness reported that “even though old Bertie was dead, you could see things wriggling under his skin”.

Advanced examinations brought forth a dread warning for everyone to steer clear of any sign of brown scum upon the water and report it immediately. The scum was the spore clump of a fungal fruiting body which had infected poor Bertie. With their alien hyphae forcing themselves through his flesh and interfering with his mind, Bertie must have been driven insane. Weeks later, when the women who were attacked came forth with their story, one was adamant that the thng which had once been Bertie Hargreaves was pleading with them to help him and not attacking them as previously thought. One can only imagine his horror as his attempts to find help were met with violence, swift and deadly.

Shepperton spent weeks under quarantine but no other cases were reported there. What is known is that the Brown Fungus invades the human body and spreads quickly, attaching hyphae threads to nerves and through muscles. This process is extremely painful as the hyphae eat the protective myelin from the nerve sheaths causing jerking, threatening-looking spasms. Eventually the threads reach the torso where they start to build their fruiting body for spore production and the threads then travel north to the brain and drive the victim to water, for this is where the terrible spores will break free. The hyphal elongation of limbs is common, dissolving bone and leaving a flesh-wrapped fungal tentacle and as the fruiting body grows, the torse swells to enormous proportions, as does the skin surrounding the skull.

What I do know is that the Ministry of Science and War have samples of the fungus and they have been testing them on animals and humans to see what remedy can be found. The spores could be anywhere, or indeed everywhere by now.

WotW: Earth – Here is the News

“At the corner of the bridge, too, I saw one of the common contrasts of that grotesque time–a sheet of paper flaunting against a thicket of the red weed, transfixed by a stick that kept it in place. It was the placard of the first newspaper to resume publication–the Daily Mail. I bought a copy for a blackened shilling I found in my pocket. Most of it was in blank, but the solitary compositor who did the thing had amused himself by making a grotesque scheme of advertisement stereo on the back page.”

In the weeks following invasion, the news organisations of the world were quick to find their feet. Not only are stalwarts like The Times, The Daily Telegraph or the Daily Mail recovering but there are a plethora of independent news-sheets making their rounds in London. Most of them carry sensationalist headlines and in many cases can be obtained for free from their various hawkers.

Telegrams, of course, provide our international news. While the Martians had decimated the telegraphic communication infrastructure in England, they had not seriously damaged the links across the Channel or the Irish Sea. News from Paris flooded in about their own invasion and soon after we heard reports from Dublin, Berlin, Geneva. It seems odd now to think that it was easier to get news to Paris than it was to get news from Manchester or Edinburgh, but that was the way it was until the lines were again restored, a process which would take months and not weeks.

In every town and district, you will find notice boards with entreaties, offers, wishes and promises. Everyone needs some sort of help, be it help to find someone, needing help to rebuild, not wanting to travel alone in these dark days. There is certainly no reason to be idle and perhaps even less so now than before – I wonder at the actual worth of my savings considering the world came so close to ruin. How much is this paper worth?

All said, a good wage can be had for a fast runner in these times. Better still if he had a bicycle, can handle a horse or has an encylcopaedic knowledge of the train timetables. Information now, much more than before the invasion, is a valuable commodity and with millions of people worldwide displaced or missing family members, News has become the new currency.

WotW: Earth – Hybrid Vigour

Last time around we talked about the legacy of alien species added to the ecosystem. I happened across a cool web site called Human Descent which has some interesting if a little cartoonish hybrids.

Taking a stand here, to establish the ground rules.

What if the Red Weed was not a plant but an animal or a motile fungus?

What if the invasion plan was all about interbreeding, something made a lot easier when the dominant despoiler species, humanity, was extinct?

With the introduction of the alien species, we will see terran-martian hybrids which blur and, at times, obliterate, the barriers between plant, animal, fungus and even bacteria.

Examples:

Red Dogs
Referring to dogs in the main, but also applying to felines and other predators which feasted on the remains of the Martians. The average Red Dog looks like a normal member of it’s species but has crimson catfish-like feelers around the nose and mouth. These are prehensile, functioning both as a feeding apparatus as well as having a secondary offensive weapon and a tertiary sensory organ. The sensory nature of the feelers enables the Red Dog to sense toxins. The offensive capabilities are because the feelers are covered in tiny stinging cells which cause numbness in the affected area. Red Dogs will hunt in packs and attempt to take down prey much larger than themselves. Whether they are more intelligent than their terran progenitors is unknown but these creatures breed true and progressive generations show more of their martian heritage with slick, reddish, inflamed-looking skin.

Red Crows
This refers to the large black birds which seem to be populating the skies and replacing the carrion birds which have been mainstays of the countryside. Gone are the rook, the raven and the crow, and we are left with these heavy monsters. Bald-headed like a vulture and bearing the same mouth-feelers around their sharp, piercing beaks as the Red Dogs, the Red Crows have exterminated most of the aerial wildlife and are beginning to wage war on the rodents and other small wildlife. Stories abound of them attacking farm livestock and even children.

Black Fruit
The legacy of the Black Smoke was not as pervasive as that of the Red Weed. The Smoke, although immediately and painfully toxic to humans if inhaled, became inert and harmless on contact with water or steam. Once it entered the water table, we could see the harm it would do to our food chain. Plants which were subjected to large amounts of the Black Smoke would quickly wither. But if the particles were absorbed from the water table, after the smoke was left inert, then the problems would become much worse. Fruit and grain from affected plants would be black in colour and plants and trees would begin to weep a dark ichor where they had previously leaked sap. The fruit is not palatable to the taste, except to creatures already changed to the Martian strain, which find it delicious. It seems edible though and can be used to survive – and the markets that have sprung up around the cities to help stem the tide of hunger as the economy recovers have begun to sell Black Fruit as if it without taint. Rowing along the Thames on a Sunday is not the same with Black Strawberries and whipped cream. Not the same at all. The sap, if collected, burns well and in quantity is extremely flammable, which considering the state of our mines and refineries is fortunate indeed.

The Red Cull
As a result of the contamination of terran species, the government has started a progrom against any alien hybrid species. The fields of the english countryside would be signposted with great black plumes of smoke as the bodies of contaminated livestock and fields of crops were rendered by fire.

WotW: Earth – A Martian Legacy

“A couple of hundred yards out of Baker Street I heard a yelping chorus, and saw, first a dog with a piece of putrescent red meat in his jaws coming headlong towards me, and then a pack of starving mongrels in pursuit of him. He made a wide curve to avoid me, as though he feared I might prove a fresh competitor. As the yelping died away down the silent road, the wailing sound of “Ulla, ulla, ulla, ulla,” reasserted itself.” – The War of the Worlds, by H.G. Wells.

The presence of a new type of organism upon the earth would have consequences upon the delicate ecosystem which proved so effective against the martian invaders. Even though the Martians were vulnerable to the invisible, microscopic bacteria, the effects of the Red Weed, the Black Smoke and indeed the corpses of the Martians themselves would echo upon the earth for decades.

Already we have seen the carrion birds and stray dogs feasting on the flesh of the dead Martians. The red weed is but a plant and will be subject to the same senesence of terrestrial plants. What will happen to those creates which feed upon the flesh of these alien bodies. As it was our bacteria which was the finish of them – what dark secret has their god placed in their bodies which will be th end of us?

It may cause us to look upon the earth and see new creatures upon the lands, in the sea and in the skies over which we had no dominion. As quickly as we caused species to become extinct with our own lack of care for our environment, we would see new hybrid species, twisted mockeries of our own garden Earth. Our dogs and cats, lifelong companions, now changed. The birds of the air seeing with martian eyes, tasting the air with martian tongues.

There would be a new science, one dedicated to the new zoology and botany brought by our invaders. We could not capture a martian alive but perhaps in death they may reveal more secrets. I feel we must learn and learn fast. Their revenge will be swift.

WotW: Earth – When?

This was the question that struck me last night as I tried to process the jalapéno peppers in my pizza.

When is WotW: Earth set? (and for that matter, when am I going to get a better name for it?)

The way I see it, there are several options

  • 1898 – this was when the book was written. This would allow us to bring a lot of estbalished background, real and fiction alike. This was the era of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Wells himself, Jack the Ripper, Spring Heeled Jack. For fiction, we can turn to the tales of Sherlock Holmes, Fu Manchu, “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”, Victor Von Frankenstein, Dracula and of course, Van Helsing. In a post-invasion world, would you want to meet some of these luminaries? Would Dracula ally or fight against the Martians (considering both of them are technically vampires, would Dracula want to protect his “cattle”?)
  • 1938 – the date of the Orson Welles radio broadcast. In the real world we had the beginnings of World War II, the work of Robert E Howard and H.G. Wells was still alive. Crowley was moving from latest madness to the next big fad. In fiction we had the birth of Batman, Superman was in his adolescence. We had Zorro, Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers. Lots of options for heroic player characters.
  • 1953 – the year of the film which depicted them as flying swan-necked machines. Not long after Roswell, the US gripped by McCarthyism, Winston Churchill in his third cabinet – the era of Johnny Cash, Buddy Holly, Humphrey Bogart, the beginnings of Hammer Horror. In fiction we had the birth of James Bond in 1952.
  • Modern Day – well, wouldn’t that be easy?

At this point, I don’t know quite where to start. I have some more “martian-related” stuff to post, but I think the “When” question will decide a lot of things. My gut feeling is to go for either 1898 or 1938….

WotW: Earth – New Hope

As humanity climbs out of the ruins of their devastated society, we must now look at our future. We have seen the terrible destruction wrought by the Martian fighting machines and flying machines and the awful power of the Heat Ray as it turned all it touched to fire.

We hurry along the roads, as gusts of smoke continue to erupt into the air, fearful of attracting the baleful stare of one of the few fighting-machines left stalking the countryside. This morning, we passed two of the fighting-machines, toppled and stinking, by the roadside. A third fighting-machine appeared in the horizon and we did not tarry to investigate. The ghostly touch of the Heat Ray and the issue of the Black Smoke keeps us scuttling from crater to crater, from fox-hole to fox-hole. We can only guess what keeps these monstrous tripods moving when so many of their brethren have fallen. Some new dark surprise may await us.

There are nearly twenty of us now, holed up in a small village. We have enough food to live for a few months perhaps and we have begun to venture forth in the early morning when the fighting-machines seem less active to plant new crops and sow the seeds of our future. We can only hope that the grey skies will pass – at times I forget which season it is. The continued spread of the Red Weed frustrates our attempts to cultivate even the smallest plots but we have seen the first green shoots and with that, renewed hope.

Last night I turned my eyes skyward, looking again for the red planet and though I know it to be impossible, I could swear I saw a tell-tale green plume. I returned to our camp in the crypt of the village church and fell into a fretful, restless sleep.

WotW: Earth – Premise

“No one would have believed, in the last years of the nineteenth century, that human affairs were being watched from the timeless worlds of space. No one could have dreamed that we were being scrutinized as someone with a microscope studies creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. Few men even considered the possibility of life on other planets. And yet, across the gulf of space, minds immeasurably superior to ours regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely, they drew their plans against us.” – Narration by Bichard Burton at the beginning of Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds.

You may be a fan of the book by H.G. Wells or have seen the recent film with Tom Cruise. You might remember the 1953 The War of the Worlds or have even listened to the Orson Welles radio broadcast which caused mass hysteria in 1938. All of them end the same with a bit of a damp squib. I’m sure it was entirely deliberate of Wells to depict science and the military as being utterly ineffective against the Martian war machines. In this way he reminds me of Lovecraft’s Mythos stories where the actions of humankind are ultimately ineffective.

From a RPG plot point of view, it’s not very interesting. The players can’t really get into the mix at the start as, frankly, they’d get pasted. They would have to dodge the evil Black Smoke, the insidious Red Weed, the deadly Heat Rays and the throngs of panicked humans. And after all of this, the blinking aliens are defeated by some innoculous bacterium? How deus ex machina can you get! If this were a scenario, it would indeed be one of the world’s worst.

So, we can’t play in that sort of game world. We have to think of something else. The logical thing to do is extrapolate. Here’s the things we have to consider.

The Living Martians – not all of them will be dead.

The Dead Martians – what happens to a dying Martian. Does it decompose?

The Humans – society is still in a shambles.

The Red Weed – although affected by Earth’s bacteria as well, it obviously was able to survive better than the Martians themselves.

The Black Smoke – a binary nerve agent? Very topical in todays terrorist-fearing news.

The War Machines – there’s all this alien technology just lying about….

More Martians – they wouldn’t have committed this much without ensuring a second wave for resupply. By now they would have realised the attack was a failure….

George Pál, who produced the 1953 film, conceived of a War of the Worlds TV series which was finally shot and which ran from 1988 to 1990. Their premise was the aliens had not died but had slipped into a state of “suspended animation”. There’s some vague explanations as to why the aliens now look human (ahem, budget!) but the entire series seems a little tired (and frankly too hard to obtain to give a good review).

So, we’ll begin this by writing a little prose….and covering the areas we have mentioned above…

WotW: Earth

I was reading a posting on RPG.NET about how War of the Worlds was a typical game-master railroad, total player kill and then GM fiat to save the day. I disagree.

I reckon it was just background flavour.

The game starts now. Invasion over….ish. Some Martian war machines will alive on iron rations as they hadn’t been drinking blood. They’re getting desperate as their rations run out and waiting for the resupply from Mars. New machines, new rations…they’re forewarned and forearmed.

Meanwhile on Earth, our scientists are making Earth-Mars technology hybrids – human war machines – ….they just need 2 fighter pilots, 2 field scientists and some support team members…