The Complete Canal Priests Of Mars is now available!The original publication of Canal Priests Of Mars cut slightly over a third of author Marcus L. Rowland's manuscript to fit GDW's adventure format. The Complete Canal Priests Of Mars restores the cut material, features all new artwork by Paul Daly, and adds many useful player handouts. Enjoy the "author's cut" of a classic Space 1889 adventure, or experience it for the first time!
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Rescue at Bordobaar
In a departure from our usual practice, this issue's adventure is not a conventional description of a scenario, but is an excerpt from the continuing series of after-action reports we prepared during the time we here at Delaware played the adventures the Transactions Campaign is based on. As I pointed out in the Editorial, we just shut down that campaign a few weeks ago, and Lord Herring and the rest are all NPCs now. In honor of that campaign (the best I've ever played in), I decided to give you a taste of what our games were like. All of the people who played in the campaign have told me that this was probably the best single session we ever had; hope you like it.
As those of you who have been following this series of adventures know, our intrepid band of heroes (see the character descriptions at the end of the next Transactions Campaign) have had rather a tough time of it here on Mars. In the last episode, they just managed to foil the fiendish plot of the ARI to destroy the Bhutan Spice trade, in the process uncovering the involvement of the German government in the affair. As a direct result of the player's actions, the Germans were forced to withdraw their support for the rebels in Shastapsh, freeing up troops on the Oenotrian front. The Oenotrians sued for peace, and a cease-fire in that war is now in effect. The players were invited to participate in an expedition to the legendary city of Bordobaar, led by the noted explorer William Melville. Accompanied by the reporter David Hannay, the group set out for the city on board the steam launch HMS Corgi, traveling through Crocea to Bordobaar. As the adventure opens, the players have just arrived in mysterious Bordobaar.
Major Charles "Branded" McGrath (Bret Crouse): Ex-Guards Cavalry officer and intrepid explorer (Player not present)
Sergeant-Major Peter O'Shaughnessy (Jon Balls): The Major's guide and companion
Lord Redmond "Kipper" Herring (Matt Ruane): Wealthy traveller and all-around annoying person
Clive Wentworth (Jeff Boyle): Lord Herring's manservant and keeper
Bruce Hyde (Ken Megill): Australian dandy and bushwhacker
William R. Melville, RGS (Brian Kendall): Not so intrepid explorer and born survivor
David Hannay (Steve Whitmore): Intrepid reporter and photography buff
A new day dawned, the morning rays striking first the towering pinnacle of the Palace of Seldon, and then illuminating gradually forbidden Bordobaar, city of madness and death. Mr. Melville, Mr. Hannay, and Wentworth were the first on deck of the HMS Corgi. Melville had been unable to sleep, the excitement of reaching his goal at long last being almost too much for him to bear. He had spent the night before polishing his equipment over and over. Mr. Hannay, on the other hand, had slept soundly, having closed his porthole against the hundreds of gleaming eyes that were staring at the ship from the banks of the canal. No one was sure why Wentworth was out so early, but the fact that Lord Herring was still asleep in bed, giving Wentworth a few moments to walk about free from worry about possible explosions or random gunfire, probably explained his presence.
After a round of hearty "Good Morning's, the three fell silent as they shared a pot of tea. Their enjoyment of the spectacle of the sunrise was cut short by a feeling of unease. A few moments of contemplation (and a few short die rolls) later, they realized that some sort of music was in the air. Noting that the sound seemed to be coming from the south, the three immediately determined to lower a small boat and locate the source of the noise. After proceeding for about a mile, rowed by crewmen from the Corgi, Melville put his telescope to his eye and spotted a large procession of Martians crossing the bridge a mile south. The party then put to shore, concealed themselves, and proceeded to observe. Hundreds of Canal Martians were crossing the bridge, dressed in the white ceremonial robes that tradition called for at funerals. Some of them carried musical instruments, accounting for the music the party had heard while breaking their fast, but most of them carried weapons, lances and muskets by the look of it.
Then, to their astonishment, they saw a sight that galvanized them into action. Supported on the shoulders of a number of burly Martians, a sedan chair carried a human woman, clad in Martian dress and obviously drugged. Behind her, also carried, was a funeral brier, upon which lay an old Martian, clad in royal vestments. They were all shocked that a European woman could come to such a pass. They turned to Aroujie, Melville's chief martian assistant, for an explanation. Aroujie told them that it was traditional for some tribes to sacrifice the youngest wife of their leader on the occasion of his death. Horrified, the men immediately resolved to rescue her.
They sent Aroujie back to the Corgi to collect the rest of the party; Wentworth took him aside before he left and told him to be sure to bring some weapons, as the party was armed only with handguns. Not long after Aroujie left, the end of the procession passed over the bridge. Wentworth and Mr. Hannay resolved to follow the Martians; Melville remained behind to guide the rest of the group. The two soon came to a wide boulevard leading into the city, where the procession had trod. Keeping to cover along the side of the street, they followed the Martians deeper into the forbidden city.
Meanwhile, Aroujie arrived back at the Corgi and proceeded to collect the rest of the party. Mr. Hyde, hearing that guns were required, went into the arms locker and loaded up in preparation. The Sgt. Major, wiping sleep from his eyes, went to rouse the Major, and then hopped into the boat. Lord Herring, apparently confused by the noise, wound up in the boat as well, though he seemed unaware of what was going on. They pulled for shore, and everyone except for Lord Herring got out. On the trip out, Lord Herring had realized that he hadn't tried out his aerial flyer lately, and so he decided to return.
The rest of the group in the boat got an update from Mr. Melville as to what had happened. They then had to persuade Mr. Hyde that this was a worthy endeavor. Bruce seemed to have a very hard time understanding why the others even wanted to attempt a rescue, but after some appeals to his better nature were unsuccessful, mentions of the possibility of jewels led to his enthusiastic acceptance of the importance of the mission. He immediately set off at a rapid pace, the Sgt. Major in tow. Mr. Melville and the Major followed at a more leisurely walking gait.
Meanwhile, Wentworth and Mr. Hannay had found that the path of the procession had changed, moving south towards a large black building. They came across a drunken Martian, whose arms bore the characteristic tattoos of a Worm Cultist. Questioning him, they confirmed the hypothesis of the intended sacrifice of the woman, after which he passed out. Mr. Hannay left a note for the others on the Martian, and pressed on. They soon saw that the black building was a Temple of the Worm, shaped in the form of an enormous coiled snake, with huge fanged heads forming the top of the structure. A large crowd of Martians, presumably from the procession, stood in front of the temple. A priest stood on the steps, leading them in an ominous chant. The woman they sought to rescue was nowhere to be seen. Wentworth and Hannay decided that they needed to circle around to one side, but the underbrush was too thick for the penknives they carried, so they waited for the others to arrive.
Bruce and the Sgt. Major, moving quickly, soon came upon the drunken Martian. Searching his body, they found the note. Before they left, Bruce, apparently annoyed by the vomit on his shoes, slit the Martian's throat, excusing his actions on the grounds that Worm Cult tattoos made for a Martian better off dead. Moving forward, they joined Wentworth and Hannay. The Sgt. Major used his machete to clear a path into the underbrush, as the rest of the group left a marker to guide anyone who followed. They moved into the side street, where they were soon joined by the Major and Mr. Melville, the latter looking a bit green around the gills (he had seen the dead Martian).
Their first effort to circle about proving unsuccessful, the party doubled back and undertook a wider circle. As the chanting of the Martians grew louder, Mr. Melville became consumed with a desire to deal with them directly. He returned to their first path, along with Mr. Hyde. The rest of the party continued their attempt to gain the rear of the temple.
Mr. Hyde, in an unusual display of common sense, actually served as a restraining influence on Mr. Melville, who upon reaching the square wanted to immediately confront the Martians and tell them that he wouldn't stand for their nonsense. Instead, Bruce managed to persuade him to keep hidden and look for some way to sneak in. Failing in this, Mr. Hyde reverted to his usual self and leveled his gun at the head priest. Mr. Melville, reverting to his usual self as well, restrained Mr. Hyde, persuading him to await events.
As is usual when Lord Herring is anywhere in evidence, events soon came to a boil. As they watched, Mr. Hyde and Mr. Melville began to hear a sound, the sound of an aerial flyer. Although it didn't sound like Herring's flyer, it soon was seen to be just that. Upon his return to the Corgi, Lord Herring had determined that his flyer was operational, repaired and modified by Mr. Jones, inventor of the Jones Patent Torpedo and the Jonah diving suit. He then loaded it with rope, a can of grey paint, several billiard balls, and six cans of beanie-wienies. Lowering his goggles over his eyes (leading to corrections all around the table when he tried to use both hands, since Lord Herring had lost an arm to a cannonball in an earlier adventure) and wrapping a scarf around his neck, he set out for adventure. Stopping briefly at the site where the group had come ashore, he unloaded the beanie-wienies, and then flew on to follow the procession. When Hyde and Melville saw him, Herring had just seen the temple. Herring swooped towards it, hoping to rescue the woman and be off. Failing to see her, he resolved to torment the Martians instead, and flung his can of paint at the Martian priest, hitting him. The rest of the Martians proved none too enthusiastic about this behavior, and began to fire at Herring and his flyer, missing him but hitting the engine and the lift controls. It appeared to Hyde and Melville that Herring would try to escape as the flyer pulled out of its dive and clawed for altitude, but at the last minute Herring put the stick hard over and dived for the crowd, the engine spluttering. It looked as though Herring was trying to sacrifice himself, but at the very last minute he executed one of his famous rolling maneuvers, depositing himself and his gear on the top of the temple, as the flyer spiraled into the crowd and exploded.
This proved to be almost too much for Mr. Melville, who was moved to try to applaud, prevented only by Mr. Hyde's concern for their continued concealment. To divert Mr. Hyde, Mr. Melville then decided that the time had indeed come for the application of firepower. Mr. Hyde gunned down the acolyte who had taken the paint-soaked priest's place, and Mr. Melville emptied his revolver into the crowd to little apparent effect. The Martians responded by diverting their attention from Mr. Herring to the two of them, and as the fanatical Worm Cultists charged, Bruce and Mr. Melville did the prudent thing and ran away, the Martians in hot pursuit.
Meanwhile, The Sgt. Major, the Major, Wentworth, and Mr. Hannay had reached the rear of the temple. Finding no door, they resolved to climb up and see if they could enter from above, where they saw smoke drifting lazily out of the mouths of the serpent. The difficult climb was rendered easier by the age of the stone and by the fortuitous arrival of Lord Herring above them on the temple's top, who, after shaking off the effects of his fall, proceeded to lower a rope down to them. After reaching the summit, the Sgt. Major moved to look down the serpent mouth, Mr. Hannay following close behind. What he saw chilled his bones.
Below lay a large circular room, the floor seventy feet below. In the center the dead old Martian Prince lay on a slowly smoldering funeral pyre, the source of the smoke. To one side lay a door, barred, and rows of benches where Martians sat with bent heads and chanted. On the other side lay a hole, into which four Martian priests, their bodies naked except for the hideous tattoos of the Worm Cult, tossed raw meat in time with the chants. From the hole hideous sounds of slurping emerged, loud enough to almost overpower the chanting. Between the hole and the pyre the Sgt. Major saw the young white woman, dressed only in jewelry and tied up
The Sgt. Major sprang into action, lowering the rope, sliding down it and dropping to the floor. Wentworth soon followed, covered by the gun of Mr. Hannay. As Wentworth went after the priests, the Sgt. Major headed for the young woman. They suddenly heard her scream. An enormous white worm, fully 15 feet in diameter, emerged from the pit, its tongue seeking to caress the firm flesh of the maiden (at least you'd think she's a maiden, this being Space: 1889). Mr. Hannay immediately fired, as Lord Herring slid down the rope and fell rather awkwardly to the floor. As the chanting Martians looked up, Herring plugged one with his revolver on general principles and told the rest to stay back. Half of them fled, but the rest charged, waving ceremonial daggers.
The shot fired by Mr. Hannay got the worm's attention, and it emerged from the pit and flew upwards towards him. He managed to get off another shot, but then the monster was upon him. He tried to get away, but its tongue wrapped around his leg, pulling him inexorably into its maw. Meanwhile the Sgt. Major had managed to free the lass, and as he turned to look at the one remaining priest that Wentworth hadn't killed, his attention was momentarily distracted by the Worm. "Imagine the size of the lift glands in that beast," he mused to himself, "I wish I had more time for a dissection." He came out of his trance as Lord Herring came running around the pyre, followed by the screaming cultists. The Sgt. Major then shot the last priest (whose bulging neck muscles and urgent gestures toward the Worm seemed to be somehow significant).
As that last priest gurgled out his final breath, the hold on Hannay's leg loosened. He scrambled out, assisted by Major McGrath, thanking his lucky stars. After a few moments, the screams from below attracted their attention, and they ventured a peek back inside. It was not a pretty sight. Blood covered the walls, bodies were scattered about, and the worm ate from among the assembled parts of those still alive as if it were exacting a horrible, twisted revenge for centuries of torment. Their faces pale, the Major and Hannay realized their failure the woman and their friends were dead. Shaken and depressed, they lowered the rope to the ground and made their way across the plaza and towards the canal, their hearts heavy with loss.
Meanwhile, Bruce and Melville had led the Martians a merry chase. With their lead, the two managed to get out of sight after a mile or so, and tried to conceal themselves. Melville was successful, but a small bug bit Bruce just as the Martians came near, causing a twitch that gave him away. He leapt to his feet, and fled again. He soon gained the main street and increased speed. Just as he thought he might get away, the rattle of musketry rang out behind him, and he was spun half around, a ball nicking his shoulder. He started to dodge, but the loss of blood slowed him down. He had run for over a mile before he was hit, and he had to run for two more, all the while dodging bullets and trying to keep from collapse. Just as he made it to the bridge over the canal, the cultists caught him and dragged him to the ground. He was winded, but still too strong for them. Bruce knocked two of the cultists cold, threw the rest of them off in an almost impossible feat of strength, and dove over the side of the bridge. As he surfaced, he heard the angry screams of the cultists, and the welcome strains of a familiar voice. "Please be over here coming, Mr. Hyde" shouted Aroujie with some urgency from the ship's boat. Bruce, his lungs bursting, swam with all his might. At last he reached the boat, but as he grabbed for Aroujie's hand, he felt something brush his leg, and his head went under water. Gunshots rang out, and the next thing he knew he was on the launch, being rowed at full speed towards the Corgi. "Very pesky these cultists are being, Mr. Hyde." Bruce turned his head and saw Aroujie reloading a rather large revolver. "Soon you safe will be being," Aroujie continued, as he emptied the pistol towards their pursuers with gleeful abandon.
Aroujie was right. Under a full head of steam, the Corgi was rushing to their rescue. The characteristic "pom-pom-pom" of the Nordenfelts was music to Bruce's ears, and as soon as he was on board and comfortably ensconced in a deck chair, Aroujie brought him his rifle, with which he was able to take a few pot shots. After dispatching the cultists, they continued on, having spotted Mr. Melville further down the canal. He, it turned out, had had a rather leisurely stroll through the city back to the canal bank after the Martians passed him in pursuit of Mr. Hyde. After picking him up, the ship proceeded even further, soon to find the rest of the survivors. Mr. Hannay and the Major got on board, followed by Herring, Wentworth, the Sgt. Major, and the young woman. The sight of the girl proved too much for Mr. Hyde, who promptly collapsed.
Wait a minute, you say. Weren't all those folks eaten by the Worm? Obviously not, but how did they escape? Well, it was rather simple, really (as the Sgt. Major might say). The charging crowd of Martians gave them no choice: they had to enter the Worm's pit. Fortunately, it had a set of stairs in it, so they managed to get below just as the Worm abandoned Mr. Hannay's leg and turned on its worshipers. Dragging the woman with them, they descended, until they reached a room. Inside they found walls whose fungus covering gave off a ghostly light, and the bodies of nine Martian women, wrapped in cocoons of silk. All of the women had expressions of horrible agony on their faces. The Sgt. Major, after investigation, determined that the women still lived, but only in some sort of suspended animation. He plunged a knife in all their hearts, and the agonized expressions relaxed. Meanwhile, the light revealed to the rest of the group the young lady was wearing nothing but her jewelry. Lord Herring immediately gave her his jacket, and instructed the others to keep their eyes averted. At the urging of Wentworth and Herring, the Sgt. Major finished his knife work hurriedly, and they then fled deeper into the sewer system, going down a hole too narrow for the Worm. Being sure to avoid the sides of the corridors (there might be a brillo hedgehog down here!), they reached the outlet on the canal, where they met Hannay and the Major. What a happy reunion!
Being back aboard the Corgi allowed cleaning up all around, the provision of proper clothing for the young lady, and the eventual serving of tea and scones. What is her story? What will exploration of the rest of Bordobaar reveal? Tune in next week for "Secrets of the Forbidden City."
"I'm not surprised; I saw Lord Herring over there recently."
Bruce, after being told he saw a large pillar of smoke in the distance.
Posted Monday, 04-May-2009 19:51:02 EDT