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by Mark Clark

Parachutes are a logical part of the Space: 1889 universe, given their history in our own world. Parachutes were first described by Leonardo Da Vinci in 1514, and several other writers in the 16th and 17th centuries also mentioned the use of this invention, though as far as is known none of these individuals actually did experiments. The first recorded parachute descent took place in the late 1700s, when Joseph Mongolfier, who later went on to invent the hot-air balloon, dropped a sheep off a tower in Avignon, France without injury by placing it in a basket connected to a seven-foot canopy. Several other French experimenters worked with parachutes over the next 20 years or so, most descents being made from towers. The first manned free parachute descent took place on October 22, 1797, when Andre-Jacques Garnerin descended unhurt over 3,000 feet from a hot-air balloon, using a large umbrella-like parachute. Wilbur Wright later wrote that this was one of the most courageous acts in aviation history. Garnerin continued his experiments over the next few years; his subsequent endeavors included a jump from over 8,000 feet in England in 1802.

Parachute jumping from balloons existed throughout the 19th century, primarily as a thrilling entertainment at county fairs. Parachutes gradually became lighter and more sophisticated. The principle change was a shift to construction using multiple pieces of cloth arranged in a pie slice-like pattern, which served to limit the extent of rips when they occurred. By the late 19th century, parachutes had become a relatively well developed technology, albeit one with limited application due to the high cost of ballooning. The coming of the airplane changed all that. The first successful parachute jump from an airplane took place in 1912, when American Army Captain Albert Berry jumped from a Wright plane and landed safely. During World War One, parachutes were used extensively by artillery observers who flew in balloons, and late in the war became common equipment for airplane pilots of most nations. The use of parachutes for airborne assault was pioneered in the late 1920s and 1930s, primarily in the Soviet Union and Germany. World War Two saw extensive use of parachute troops in combat operations, and operations today are essentially similar to the pattern developed then. Sport parachuting is by and large a post World War Two phenomenon, the availability of war-surplus gear and the return to civilian life of military parachutists being the trigger.

Parachutes in Space: 1889

Given the above history, how does the parachute fit into the Space: 1889 universe? The best way to approach this question is to consider aerial flyers in Space: 1889 as the equivalent of airplanes in our world and proceed from there. In Space: 1889 aerial vehicles (liftwood and hydrogen based) have been around for about 15 years on Earth. Thus, one would expect parachutes to be about as developed as they were in our world about 1918 or so. Parachutes would be recently introduced but common equipment among crews of European military aerial vessels. There would be no existing military units that use parachutes to enter combat, though several theoretical articles have appeared in military journals advocating just such a plan. There is no such thing as sport parachuting, though certainly inventors and their daredevil assistants are testing parachutes on their own time with the idea of selling their improved versions to the military. With these basic ideas as guidelines, the following history and rules for parachutes in Space: 1889 are suggested.


Based on their reading about balloons, Thomas Edison and his companion Jack Armstrong, the Scottish explorer, carried parachutes with them on their first flight to Mars in 1870 in Edison's recently-invented ether flyer. The parachutes allowed them to escape the flyer when their hydrogen gasbag ruptured during their descent through the Martian atmosphere; the gasbag had been weakened by exposure to the ether during the trip to Mars. Ever since, careful travelers have carried parachutes when traveling by air. The American military has equipped the crews of its aerial flyers with parachutes from the beginning; the US Navy's Mark 2A parachute, the third design adopted for service, is reputed to be the finest in the world. Germany has also long equipped its zeppelin crews with parachutes based on models used by balloonists. The Berlin-based firm of Schleicher und Sohn sells parachutes to the German navy and to other countries who have purchased zeppelins.

The British aerial service has been backward in employing parachutes. Until 1885, British ships were not equipped with parachutes at all, but with its Martian equivalent, the "lifelog." Similar in concept to the lifeboat, a lifelog is a single sturdy piece of liftwood equipped with a series of straps for a number of sailors (usually 7) to hang on to and a simple lever in the center to control trim. To abandon ship, sailors would strap themselves onto the log and jump overboard, trusting to the sailor in the center to control trim and get them to the ground. This device is just as dangerous as it sounds; it soon was nicknamed the "deathlog" by British sailors in the aerial service. In 1885, when the British Navy took over control of all aerial vessels from the Army, one of the first activities at the new Navy training center (see the article "Ethersuits and Ethernauts" in Transactions #1) was the testing of parachutes for service use. These tests climaxed in the Imperial Parachute Field Trials in the summer of 1886. Twenty different models from eight countries were tested, including three from Great Britain and five from Germany. The American Navy's Mark 2 (the predecessor to the Mark 2A) was clearly superior in early tests, but the tragic death of its inventor Major Jonathan Warsinski on the final day of the trials during the climactic high-altitude jump test led to its withdrawal from the competition (rumors have persisted that Johan Schleicher, chief engineer of Schleicher und Sohn, was somehow responsible for Warsinski's fall). The withdrawal of the Mark 2 left no clear winner in the trials. Schleicher und Sohn managed to obtain a small contract from the Navy, but later allegations of corruption by several British parachute inventors, as well as quality-control problems with the parachute's German synthetic silk, led to the contract's cancellation a few months later after the delivery of the first fifty chutes. Since then, the Navy has continued testing, and several British parachutes have been purchased in small production runs for trials (Parliament has forbidden the further procurement of foreign parachutes). However, no parachute is standard equipment in British service as yet.

At present, all of the British Navy's aerial flyers on Earth are equipped with lifelogs, with the exception of the Locust, which is currently conducting a test of the Anderson-Warsinski parachute (an English copy of the American Mark 2A). Although deck officers of all Earth-stationed aerial flyers have been issued the Schleicher und Sohn parachute to supplement the lifelogs, none have been actually used. The official explanation is that the design was not suitable for the hardships of service; 96% of these parachutes have been rendered unserviceable for one reason or another ("eaten by rats" is the most commonly listed cause of loss, followed closely by "lost overboard in storms"). Unofficially, naval officials will admit that the parachutes were destroyed by the officers themselves; it seemed to them unsporting that they should have parachutes while their ratings have only the "deathlogs" to depend on. This is yet another indication of the unusual closeness of officers and men in the British aerial service.

The situation on Mars is different. There, ships officers have been able to take advantage of a legal loophole that dates back to the First War of the Parhooni Succession. Unlike the British Army on Mars, which serves the Queen directly, those who serve in the Navy are technically gazetted to serve the nominal sovereign of the Crown Colony, presently Prince Amraamtaba X of Syrtis Major. The Prince has no real command authority, but several subordinate supply officers concocted a scheme to purchase parachutes in his name and present them to all the British aerial crewmen on Mars as a "gift." The Prince was reluctant at first to go along, but when it was explained to him that it was a way to assert his royal authority, he quickly fell into line, and even arranged a series of ceremonies where he invited the various aerial flyer crews to his palace for dinner and presentation of the parachutes. Needless to say, this caused rather an uproar at the Residency, and the young supply officers were ordered disciplined by the Governor General. However, the chain of command works in mysterious ways, and the young officers were sent out on "dangerous" aerial patrol duty, which both got them out of Syrtis Major and gave them a chance to go to the Prince's palace prior to their departure for presentation of their personal parachutes (black market American Mark 2As with golden buckles, it is rumored). In any case, as a result all the British aerial flyers on Mars are fully equipped with parachutes for all crew members. The exact type varies by ship, though each vessel's crew will all have the same type of parachute. The Vindication's crew, for example, all have Tuckerton Patent parachutes, an English model; the players will be issued these when they board.

Using Parachutes

Parachute jumping is a basic skill under Agility; it has no cascades. Only ex-members of a military service that owns aerial vessels or an inventor who has invented a parachute may take the skill during initial character generation. If a character has the use of the parachute explained to him in a training situation and has a chance to practice putting the parachute on (for example, the training the player characters get in this adventure), have him or her make a quick role against Intellect. If successful, the character gains a parachute skill equal to one-half Intellect rounded up. If failed, award a skill of one (note that characters of Intellect 1 or 2 have a maximum skill of 1 from training). To gain additional skill, the character must make actual parachute jumps; how skill is awarded then is up to the referee.

Putting on a parachute correctly is automatic if the character has a skill of at least 1 and is not under stress. If a vessel is out of control or on fire, putting on a parachute is an Easy task. Failure on this role indicates the aerial vessel has fallen an additional level if it is out of control (normally why one is trying to get ready to jump); the character may then roll again. A character can add one-half their skill rounded down to another character's attempt to put on a parachute; they may not take any other action that round, including putting on their own parachute (remember, get yours on first, then help others). On British military vessels, only boarding parties (Marines) and non-combatants put on parachutes before combat, normally when Battle Stations is sounded. All other crew members keep their parachutes close by but do not put them on until the "Abandon Ship" order is given; the parachutes are too bulky to wear at all times. In this adventure, the players will be expected to have their parachutes on as soon as they get up on deck in a combat situation.

Once the character jumps, deploying the parachute is an Easy roll versus either Agility or Parachute skill (whichever is lower); failure means the character drops one level and can try again. Note that parachutes in this period have no rip cord; the user holds a small parachute in their hand, the successful release of which extracts the main chute from the pack. Landing is an Agility task roll. Making a Moderate task means no injury, Easy success means 1 point of damage (minor sprain, cuts and bruises), complete failure indicates the character is knocked unconscious. Adjust the level of difficulty depending on the landing surface and wind conditions.

Lifelogs operate under separate rules. Getting into the harness is an Easy Agility roll, Moderate if the character is wounded. After jumping, survival depends on the skill of the individual operating the central lever. On landing, make a roll versus Trimsman skill. Formidable success means the passengers are uninjured; Difficult success means each person takes 2 points of damage. With Moderate success, each player takes damage equal to half his initial (not current) hit points rounded down. Lesser success means the players are killed, unless they make a successful quick roll versus Endurance, in which case they are unconscious with one hit point left. Lifelogs are for the truly desperate or the really, really good

The above rules are not designed to accurately simulate parachute jumping, but are intended to provide the gamemaster with a way to save player characters in the case of an aerial flyer accident. Gamemasters with a cruel streak should feel free to increase the difficulty level of any parachute-related task.

Posted Monday, 04-May-2009 19:49:27 EDT

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