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The TransactionsCampaign

Secret of the Pyramid

by Mark Clark

"Martian Civilization is over 30,000 years old. Humans have been on Mars for less than thirty of those years. We must therefore conclude that we have only just begun to scratch the surface of this ancient planet's history. If we are to learn more, we must proceed to literally scratch its surface, excavating the treasures buried for millennia to learn the secrets even the Martians themselves no longer remember. The process is often dangerous and difficult, but if Science is to replace ignorance we must persevere, even in the face of great danger. I do not know if I will return from the desert this time, but I will never regret my going."

Excerpt from Dr. Jonathan Hollingsworth's address to the members of the Royal Martian Geographical Society before his departure with the members of the Golden Pyramid Expedition, August 2, 1889. The full text of his address can be found in Victor Hatherly, A Memorial Tribute to Dr. Jonathan Hollingsworth, Being an Account of His Discoveries and Tragic Death at the Golden Pyramid of Na-AlepAkoth, Digby and Digby, London and Syrtis Major, 1890.


Ancient Martian burial sites are the surest way to wealth on Mars; they are also the most dangerous. In this adventure, the characters explore the golden pyramid they found in the course of the first Transactions adventure "Mutiny on the Majestic." They will meet a number of interesting advisors in Syrtis Major, travel to the dig site, and then delve into the secret of the tomb. They then face danger from both above and below, as their old friend Colonel O'Reilly of the ARI decides to pay a call.

The Story So Far

The character's journey to Mars was rather rudely interrupted by the hijacking of the ether liner they were traveling on, the HMS Majestic. In the course of the mutiny, they were imprisoned by Colonel Ian O'Reilly of the Army of the Republic of Ireland, a notorious Fenian. O'Reilly left the characters to die in the wastes of the Aerian Hills, to the east of the Martian Crown Colony. Due to their skills at wilderness survival, they managed to return to civilization. During their travels in the hills, they discovered a small golden pyramid uncovered by the wind. They tried to excavate it, but without tools they were unable to reach its base. After noting its position, they went on. As this adventure opens, the players have just reached Syrtis Major after being picked up by a British Army patrol. Follow this link to descriptions of the Transaction Campaign Characters.

Meet the Press

The characters are media celebrities as a result of the hijacking and their experiences in the desert. They are questioned at length by reporters about what happened to them, and they see their names in print the next day in the Syrtis Star. Major McGrath and Sgt. Major O'Shaughnessy are ordered to report to the Governor General's office at the Residency, and will be expected to give a full report on O'Reilly's troops and defenses. No doubt someone in all of this questioning will say something about the Golden Pyramid (Lord Herring is an excellent candidate). Even if they don't mention it in public, the players no doubt will want to return to it and explore. Any preparations they make to that end, either public or secret, come to the attention of Mr. Lionel Tyler, who invites them to call on him at his office in the legation compound (see map in this issue's "Edward's Guide to Mars").

Mr. Tyler!

Lionel Tyler is a rather interesting gentleman (see the article following this one for a more complete background). After taking the group to lunch and giving them a tour of his museum and library (both Victor Hatherly and Clive Wentworth should find this very interesting), Tyler will bring up the pyramid. He offers to finance the expedition, in return for a share of any treasure found and the right to examine all artifacts discovered. He will also offer to use his influence with the Governor General to get troops assigned to protect the expedition. No doubt the group will accept. Tyler explains that he is unable to go himself, but that his good friend Dr. Hollingsworth will accompany them.

Dr. Jonathan Hollingsworth (Doctor, Detective)
     Strength: 3     Intellect: 5
     Agility: 3      Charisma: 3
     Endurance: 3    Social Level: 4     

Skills: Close Combat 1 (edged weapon), Crime 2 (lockpick), Marksmanship 3 (pistol), Tracking 2, Science 4 (Biology), Theatrics 1, Linguistics 1 (French), Medicine 5.

Dr. Hollingsworth came to Mars to pursue his interest in biology, and has made his living as an expedition physician. He is a good friend of Tyler's, and will look out for his interests before he meets his demise in the course of the expedition. Dr. Hollingsworth is constantly accompanied by a young Martian boy with a peg leg, Marzipan (Hollingsworth named him for the boy's favorite candy). Hollingsworth saved the boy's life after he was attacked by canal sharks, and he has been the doctor's faithful companion ever since.

Organizing the Expedition

Tyler is as good as his word. The party meets Dr. Hollingsworth the next day. He will help the party obtain gashants and ruumet breehrs to carry their baggage, and some twenty Martian diggers to perform the excavation. Hollingsworth also suggests they arrange for a private telegraph line to link the expedition to the outside world (see the article "Parhooni Telephone and Telegraph" in this issue).

If the characters make any inquiries about the armed escort Tyler promised to find for them, they are told that the unit will meet them the next day when they set off. No other details are available (military secrets, you know), but any character who makes a difficult Observation roll notices that the people they are trying to get information from are trying very hard to keep from laughing.

Setting Off

The reason for their amusement becomes apparent the next day. After their baggage is prepared and the Martian diggers assembled, their escort will arrive. The unit is none other than Company A of the 62nd St. John Fusiliers, better known as the Amazonians. This all female unit is detailed in GDW's Soldiers Companion. For those without that reference, treat them as a trained platoon sized unit (nine persons in Space: 1889 terms), but with a marksmanship of 3. No doubt the group will be scandalized, especially the Major and the Sgt. Major (Protected by women? How absurd!), but protests will be unsuccessful. All other troops are needed for the Oenotrian War, so it's these women or nothing.

After sorting out a marching order, the party sets out. The exact location of the pyramid is up to the referee, but it is suggested it be in the Aerian Hills, between 50 and 100 miles east of the midpoint of the Syrtis Major-Parhoon canal. The road running along west side of the canal provides the easiest travel route, and Dr. Hollingsworth will suggest it. The canal runs through essentially flat country for the first 300 miles out from Syrtis Major, and then ascends through a series of locks the last 200 miles to Parhoon. The first hundred miles out from Syrtis Major are fertile and well populated (the pushti fruit plantations just north of the city are particularly spectacular), but as the Aerian hills draw closer, the fertile strip becomes much narrower and settlement is sparse. The last fifty miles before the group turns off into the hills is uninhabited, and the only signs of civilization are the poles of the Royal Parhooni Telegraph Company. The referee should feel free to roll for encounters along the way; treat any result during the last fifty miles as a repair crew working on the canal banks.

Sometime during the trip, the party should see a British Aphid-class aerial gunboat overhead. If they signal it, it will descend. It is, in fact, the Aphid, out on routine anti-piracy patrol. After exchanging information with the party about local conditions and warning them to keep a careful watch, the ship will continue north.

Into the Desert

When the party reaches the point where they turn off into the hills, they will have to cross over from the road to the east side of the canal. Prior to crossing they should hook up the telegraph, using the short length of submarine cable the telegraph company provided. The canal is at low flow, so the party should have no trouble crossing (unless the referee is feeling frisky).

The trip into the hills should be without incident. The fertile strip along the canal is very narrow here, and the party will soon be in an arid region of

rolling hills. Since this is the same route they followed to get to the canal, they will have little problem finding the pyramid again. Once in the general area, a difficult Tracking roll (roll once per day) allows the location of the exact site.

The Pyramid

After setting up camp and arranging for guards, the players can examine the pyramid. It looks much as it did when they last saw it: a small four-sided pyramid made from some sort of golden metal sitting on top of a small hill. A small clear crystal is set into the top of the pyramid. The pyramid stands only two feet high, but it goes down into the ground as far as casual digging by hand will reveal.

The Martian diggers will quickly uncover the first ten feet around the base. This reveals a hole on one of the faces five feet in diameter. The interior is filled with dirt as well. After the dirt is removed from the inside, light reflecting from the crystal on top will create a sparkling pattern of lights inside the structure. The crystal was originally a holographic projector powered by sunlight; wear on its outside surface has made it into merely a colored light machine. The lights have no effect other than to make the Martian diggers nervous enough to demand higher pay.

The pyramid continues down for another 120 feet. The party will no doubt dig inside rather than outside; the digging will go much faster. It will take about two months to reach the base digging from the inside; this time can be reduced if Hatherly or Wentworth come up with some sort of hoist or digging tools to aid the Martians. If for some reason they dig on the outside, it takes six months to uncover each face, and the surface uncovered will be completely featureless with no entrances.

At the base of the pyramid the party will find a rock floor, upon which is a smaller pyramid similar in shape to the larger one. The Martian diggers will immediately flee for Syrtis Major when the top of the pyramid is uncovered, as it is inscribed with the ancient Martian symbol of death. The party will have to uncover the rest of the pyramid themselves. The small pyramid has writing on three of the four surfaces. One is in an unknown language, the second is in ancient Martian language as yet untranslated, and the third is in Ancient Egyptian! An average Archeology roll translates the inscription to read: "Here waits Na-AlepAkoth for the return of His Companions."

The fourth face reveals a representation of the solar system, surrounded by the outline of a door. If someone touches it, they will find that all the planets except Mars will move in their orbits. There is also a ninth planet with an orbit outside Neptune (this is Pluto, as yet undiscovered in 1889). If the arrangement of planets is recorded, later calculations by anyone with Physics 2 or better will give a date of about 3500 BC as the last time the planets were aligned that way.

If the planets are aligned in relation to Mars as they are in 1889 (Pluto can be moved at random once the other seven are set), the door will open, revealing a pyramid-shaped room. In each of the four corners is a life sized statue, one of a Human, one of a Martian, one of a Lizardman, and one of a Selenite. All of the statues are naked, perfectly formed, and made of solid gold. At the center of the room is a small rectangular dais with a clear glass sphere on top. Inside the sphere floats a brain. An easy Biology or Medicine roll will reveal that the brain is not that of any known race. Next to the sphere is an orrery (a model of the solar system) that appears to be very old. It is unusual in that it has a planet where the asteroid belt is. The surface of all the planets have a small mark at one point. The mark on Mars corresponds to the pyramid's location.


After the party has a few minutes to examine the room, they will hear the sounds of gunfire. Returning to the surface, they will see that they are under attack by a hundreds of Hill Martians. The remaining troops have retreated to the dirt piles excavated from the pyramid (the party did remember to shape them into breastworks, didn't they?). The telegraph operator manages to gasp out that he sent a call for help, and then dies from his wounds. Things look bad for our heroes, as the Martians wave the heads of the diggers who fled (remember them?) on the ends of spears and shout about killing the infidel who violate the tombs of their ancestors. The fight can go on as long as you wish, depending on the tastes of your players, but just when things look black, the players will hear the sound of British artillery. It's the Aphid, come to save the day! The gunboat will drive off the Martians, and then land, with the players cheering, no doubt. Their joy will turn to horror, as they see who commands the Aphid: Colonel O'Reilly!

O'Reilly Returns

O'Reilly laughs, and explains that his new ship Tyrant's Death (made from parts of the Majestic) defeated the Aphid in combat, and he now plans to use the Aphid for his cause. He will disarm the players, and proceed to examine the pyramid and take the statues. The brain he tosses to the floor just to watch it break; when Hollingsworth tries to interfere O'Reilly shoots him down. O'Reilly then departs, taking Marzipan kicking and screaming with him, along with all the surviving members of the Amazonians. The players then are free to return to Syrtis Major.


The players now face the task of getting out of the hills and back to civilization. O'Reilly cut the telegraph wire before he attacked, but if the players can make it to the canal, they can hook up their transmitter and call for help. When they return to Syrtis Major, Tyler will pay each survivor fifty pounds in exchange for their notes and pictures of the pyramid. He will also take the orrery for display in his museum. If the players examine the orrery carefully, they will notice that there is a small mark on each of the planets or on one of its moons. Just where each mark is is up to the GM, but the Earth mark should be on Egypt. What are those marks, and what might be located there? Only more adventures will answer that question!

Posted Monday, 04-May-2009 19:49:34 EDT

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