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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To make a long story short, l finally decided I'd be better off using runes that I and other players already knew well. Chaosium's Call of Cthulhu was the obvious choice, since I have probably spent more time running it than any other game system. What cinched the choice for me was that I also owned the Call of Cthulhu Victorian background pack, Cthulhu By Gaslight.
There are a lot of advantages to using Call of Cthulhu rules, not the least of which is that many players are already familiar with them; in Britain it's the third or fourth most popular RPG. By using Call of Cthulhu rules you also add an element of fear‹players can never be quite sure that you haven't slipped in one or two Mythos creatures, and of course there's nothing to stop you from doing so. At a first glance the sanity rules aren't particularly useful if you are sticking to a strict Space: 1889 background. But even the bravest Victorian adventurer may occasionally run into a genuinely horrific situation; the sanity rules give you an easy way for fear to affect them.
Although I was developing a Space: 1889 adventure and wanted to stick to a strict Space: 1889 background for my playtest, l've since given some thought to a hybrid system that combines the awesome menace of Call of Cthulhu with the interesting backgrounds from Cthulhu By Gaslight and Space: 1889. I call this system Cthulhu: 1889.
Cthulhu: 1889 is based on the Cthulhu Mythos, but it is a Mythos H. P. Lovecraft might have imagined if he were writing some years after humanity colonized the Solar System, as described in Space: 1889. The outer worlds are haunted by the creatures of the Mythos. R'lyeh is somewhere in the Asteroid Belt or possibly on the Moon of one of the outer planets; the Plateau of Leng is on Mars; and fire vampires roam the bright side of Mercury.
The ancient Martians drove the worst creatures out of the inner system, and the canals of Mars are a gigantic warding spell, an Elder Sign on a vast scale, a symbol that is slowly losing its power as the canals fall into ruin. The effort of the canals' construction drained the resources of the canal builders. Their heirs are corrupt and know little of the symbolic significance of the channels.
Occasionally the more powerful and malevolent creatures of the Mythos venture closer to the inner worlds, summoned by evil magicians or taking advantage of rare natural events which negate the power of the Martian pattern. Earth still has its share of evil cultists and sinister sites, but they are just part of a much bigger picture. There are similar cults on Mars and Venus, and the Selenites and Moon Men may also know something of this ancient horror.
Most people know little or nothing of the Mythos; Brittania rules the ether, and the empire (on which the Sun never sets) is slowly expanding toward the stars and toward the ho horror r that waits in the outer Solar System. Of course there are occasional unexplained events, but most people ignore them. Only a few brave souls are aware of the terror that surrounds them and are prepared to fight the creatures of the Mythos.
While it would be possible to set events in this variant system in the 1920s to tie them to the main Call of Cthulhu game, a Victorian environment is more fun. There's also the advantage of being able to use anything published for Space: 1889 without the need to change social and political details.
Gaslight and Space: 1889 both attach considerable significance to social class; this characteristic can be selected by players or randomly generated by a D6 roll as in the Social Class Table.
One last point about character generation‹when developing statistics, don't forget the Sanity rating. This is a hybrid system, end there are things out there in the void of space‹the sort of things that tend to have a rather damaging effect on this particular characteristic.
For airborne combat use the Space: 1889/Sky Galleons of Mars rules; however, shots are fired and either hit or miss using normal Cthulhu skill rolls.
To relate Space: 1889 artillery damage to Cthulhu rules, divide the burst indictated in the Space: 1889 field gun and cannon firing tables by two to give the explosion radius; damage is 1D6 per burst, also divided by two. For example, a 5" howitzer has a burst value of 14 in 1889. For Cthulhu this is reduced to seven yards in radius, damage 7D6.
This "quick and dirty" conversion may not suit every referee. In practice, you are probably dead if you are anywhere near an exploding shell, so precision isn't too important.
Azathoth is surrounded by vast whirlpools of ether turbulence which are thousands of miles in diameter. Any ether flyer caught in the turbulence will be inexorably sucked toward the god; the only escape is to dismiss Azathoth before it's too late. Travellers are strongly advised to avoid Azathoth.
Byakhee and shantaks are among the creatures most likely to be encountered in space. Star vampires are encountered less frequently. Fortunately, all seem to be repelled by the radiation of ether screws. Any ship which is forced to cut engine power may have some unwelcome visitors.
The colour out of space (see Cthulhu Now) is another infrequent visitor to our system. It may possibly attack ether flyers and may be attracted by (or able to feed on) the radiation of ether screws.
Cthulhu is still confined in R'lyeh, but R'lyeh itself may be mobile; it may be an asteroid, moon, or comet. If Cthulhu is freed, he undoubtedly has the ability to fly between the planets, using his wings to harness the ether. Cthulhu is massive and comparatively slow moving, cruising at about one to two million miles per day.
Deep Ones are very common on Venus and unknown on Mars. Many Venusians are probably tainted with their blood.
Fire vampires infest the bright side of Mercury and may be attracted to the bright ether drives and solar boilers of spacecraft. They try to steal magic points from passengers and crew; unfortunately, the fire vampires usually burn their way through the hull to reach their targets! Such incidents are usually reported as meteorite damage.
Flying polyps are known to have colonized several worlds in the Solar System. If you see a mysterious well covered with stone anywhere in the Solar System, don't be tempted to lift the lid!
The Great Race of Yith undoubtedly explored much of the Solar System and may even have reached the stars. A base or ether flyer built by this race would be the archaeological find of the century -- and would probably also be unbelievably dangerous.
Mi-Go, the fungi from Yuggoth, are disinclined to have anything to do with the hprimitives't of the inner worlds, although they occasionally visit to mine rare ores.They are occasionally sighted by ether flyer crew members, who usually know better than to report their observations. Yuggoth (Pluto) hasn't yet been discovered by Terran astronomers.
Nightgaunts probably inhabit the more hellish corners of most worlds.
Yog-Sothoth is another outer god that occasionally visits the inner planets. The last log entry of the freighter mentioned under Background (page 46) described a sighting of "iridescent bubbles."
However, the cults of the Mythos tend to be extremely secretive. It is entirely possible that there is another cult concealed behind the facade of the Worm, and that the Worm Cultists themselves (although murderous) aren't actually Mythos-inspired.
It's soon common gossip that he spends a lot of time writing but is occasionally seen staring into a metal box, a cube approximately six inches to a side. He closes the box if anyone enters the cabin.
On the fourth or fifth night out, he is found dead with his left hand amputated. The hand is missing, and no papers are found in the cabin. A knife is clutched in the corpse's right hand.
Somehow the box falls into the hands of the PCs. It is empty, although curiously heavy. It is also a little bigger than they remember others saying it to be -‹ about seven inches to a side. The outside is a uniform, plain, metallic gray and is slightly bloodstained, but the inner surfaces are clean and seem to be mottled with moire patterns that never appear the same twice. Although they are never seen to move, they are different every time the box is opened or every time anyone even blinks while looking inside. The lid isn't hinged to the box in any normal manner; it pivots on concealed pins, but it fits so closely that there is no obvious way to inspect the pins short of smashing the box.
Sooner or later someone should put something in the box and shut the lid; if n is opened again, the object that was inside is gone. If something living (such as a mouse or a canary, or even a leaf or a piece of fruit) is put inside, the box seems to expand slightly. It gets about two-thirds of an inch bigger in all dimensions every time this occurs. Expansion is slow, and no seams or joints can be seen. Even the bloodstains on the outside of the box seem to expand.
Even if the adventurers don't investigate the box, whoever is looking after it will start to feel very possessive and must make a SAN roll once every 1 D6 hours. If the roll is failed, the adventurer will put something living in the box and then lose 1-2 SAN. Alternatively, small living creatures (such as spiders, cockroaches, and other vermin) will start to find their own way into the box and somehow push the lid closed.
If the PCs try to throw the box off the ship, it will be found inside again a few hours later. No one can explain this.
When the box becomes a 10-inch cube, or if anyone tries to smash it, it abruptly folds. First the lid opens, then the edges of the box split, and finally n flattens out into a cross shape. The entire flat cross seems to twist and writhe without actually moving. A second later, in a multidimensional rotation that is impossible to describe, the cross becomes a peculiar structure that mathematically minded adventures will recognize as a three-dimensional representation of a hypercube. Anyone witnessing this must make a SAN roll or lose 1-3 SAN.
The whole object collapses again to form a cube which seems to fold in upon itself and then disappears. A second later bells ring, and the entire ether flyer shakes; if the team members look out any porthole, they'll find that the ship is floating inside an eye-wrenching structure of straight lines and planes that seem to meet at impossible angles -- it is inside the hypercube! The internal structure glows without any obvious light source. There is no air. Everyone must make a SAN roll or lose 1 D6 SAN (lose 1 SAN if the roll is successful).
The ship remains trapped for several days or weeks‹long enough for several passengers) and crew members to go insane, but not long enough for food to run short. Anyone venturing outside soon finds that it's impossible to get near the walls of this strange space, let alone damage them. Anyone or anything moving toward the walls suddenly reappears on the far side of the space, moving back toward the ship. The ether screws don't work, and there isn't~t enough light to run the solar boiler properly.
Two other objects are floating in this space besides the ship: a sheaf of papers and Philbeam's hand. The papers are Philbeam's manuscript, which reveals that he bought the box from a Hill Martian tribesman who swore that it had fallen from the skies. At that time it was only two inches on a side. The notes describe the effects of putting small Martian animals inside. At first Philbeam thought this was just interesting; later he found it harder and harder to disobey the compulsion to "feed" the box. The last bloodstained entry reads "I can't find anything else alive, not even a cockroach. It must be fed. It needs to be fed. The kni...."
At the referee's discretion there might be other things floating in this space -- corpses of the missing crew of the Marie Celeste, a boot made of a mysterious silvery material bearing the cryptic logo 'NASA', one or two Things That Man Was Not Meant To Know, a few lost pages from the Necronomicon, and so forth. Don't try to explain them; leave that for the players.
Eventually the hypercube disappears. The ship is floating in space again‹in orbit around one of the Moons of Saturn!
A few simple calculations reveal that the ship will run out of food many months before it can reach any of the inner planets, even if it heads back immediately. More seriously, the solar boiler is unable to be run at all now to provide heat and power for the return trip, due to Saturn's distance from the Sun. The ether flyer the PCs were on is not the only ship present; there are two or three others in similar orbits, all of wholly alien design, meteor-pitted, lifeless, and extremely old. When these ships are investigated, the PCs will learn that none of them seem to have been built with a liftwood hull; all have the remnants of gas bags, which would be useless for a landing on the airless Moon the ship is orbiting.
There's a gigantic building on the Moon, a cube about 200 feet on a side. Scattered around it are the wrecks of more ships. Think big; remember Alien, Forbidden Planet, etc.
Anyone venturing inside the building (wearing spacesuits that trail oxygen lines and telephone cables) finds the entrance to a gigantic, three-dimensional maze. After anyone proceeds a few yards inside the building, it suddenly floods with air, and a guillotine-bladed door slams down, severing the space suit lines and anyone unlucky enough to be standing in the entrance. The only way out is to press on into the maze, which is littered with deadly traps and the desiccated corpses of failed explorers, in hope of locating the exit. Ultimately the maze proves to be a gigantic alien test; its purpose is to find someone worthy to become a god! Eventually someone qualifies. Luck, self-sacrifice, or massive SAN loss might be suitable criteria for selection.
The new god quickly transforms into something beyond human comprehension, losing all remaining SAN in the process. As a last act of compassion, it returns all the remaining adventurers, passengers, crew members, and the ship itself to the space-time they disappeared from, midway between Mars and Earth. The cubic building collapses into dust, but the derelict ships remain in orbit. A mad god flies off into the endless void to seek out its fellows. If the survivors are lucky, they'll never meet it again. If they are unlucky....
Posted Monday, 04-May-2009 19:53:52 EDT