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The Puzzle of the Shard

An Adventure for Space: 1889 by Loren Wiseman

This adventure originally appeared in Challenge Magazine #41.

The market at Meroe, while not as large as the bazaar of Syrtis Major, is still an impressive place. Almost 50 acres of twisting, turning streets, alleys, and back roads lead the adventure seeker along a thousand paths to intrigue, fame, and fortune.

This adventure begins late in the evening, in one of those back alleys, behind a tavern catering to the worst of both human and Martian tastes. Here, the characters stumble upon two thieves engaged in a spirited tug-of-war over the body of their latest victim. The two are actively disputing possession of a small leather pouch and exchanging comments on each other's ancestry. One thief concludes his argument with a knife blade, and the other joins the victim on the ground but will not release his hold on the bag. Noticing the approach of the players, the upright thief drops the bag and flees, vanishing into the rabbit warren of alleys and streets. Pursuit seems pointless.

The Bag

The second thief and his victim are both dead. When the characters manage to pry the bag loose, they will find it contains a handful of small coins of all nationalities, two small figurines of carved eegaar horn, and a small, folded parchment sealed with wax and containing something hard and angular. Investigation of the bag will reveal that it is a cheap affair made of tanned gashant hide, available just about anywhere. The coins total just under three shillings in value. The parchment package contains a small, dirty, semitranslucent crystal and a shard from a much larger crystal of the same type. Prudence dictates that a dark alley in the depths of a bazaar is not a good place to perform a detailed examination of anything, and the PCs rapidly retire to their quarters.

The Figurines

Both figurines are about four inches in height and are carved from the base section of an eegaar horn (the material is quite unique in appearance and is easily identifiable). Old Mars hands will know them to be Homindaar, good-luck charms found practically everywhere on Mars for a penny or two, and so common as to be worthless to a serious collector of Martian curios (but popular with tourists). Both carvings are very common motifs: One shows a Martian water monk at prayer, kneeling over his holy pan in the meditative posture of his sect. The other shows a Martian peddler carrying a bundle of his wares on his back. Both were carved by the same artisan (indicated by the maker's mark on the base of each), and both are done to a high standard, indicating that they might fetch several times the normal market value of such objects (perhaps sixpence for the pair).

The Parchment

The parchment is actually a crude map, showing what seems to be a canal, a city, a number of small villages, and a location marked with a small drawing of the crystal. It is not labeled, however, so it will be a matter of some difficulty to determine what area of Mars the map depicts.

The Crystal

The crystal is hexagonal in cross section, about two inches long, and one-half inch in diameter, ending in a blunt point at either end. The surface is dirty and pitted, but the crystal seems to glow slightly, more at one end than the other. If the crystal is cleaned, the glow will increase; if the crystal is exposed to bright sunlight, a faint beam of light will extend a few inches from the glowing end. Covering the dark end causes the glow to stop.

The Shard

The shard is of the same type of crystal, but it is a portion broken from one end. If the large crystal is proportional to the small one, it was originally over one foot long. The shard is also dirty and pitted, and filled with fine hairline fractures that seem to diffuse light‹ perhaps this explains why it does not glow like its smaller cousin when exposed to light.

A Mystery

The characters will discover that the crystal is one of a rare type called the "Tears of the Sun." It can be used to focus and concentrate the rays of the Sun into a powerful weapon. How the victim came into possession of them is a mystery. Clues soon lead the characters to the city of Polodaar, where they learn that the map is not a completely accurate guide to the crystals, and they will need someone experienced in the northern Martian wilderness to guide them.

The characters' search for a guide in Polodaar will bring them into contact with Damien Van Owen, a prospector whose knowledge of the wilderness will be very useful in the search for the crystals. Van Owen, it will transpire, is untrustworthy, and they will soon have to cope with both his treachery and the dangers of the Martian ice cap in order to locate crystals.

Their quest will lead them to a canal that runs under the surface of the ice, ultimately taking them to a long-forgotten city in an isolated valley forever frozen in the ice. Here, however, Van Owen will finally realize that his only chance of getting a share in the crystals lies with the characters, and he will change from enemy to friend.

Tears Of The Sun

The crystal and the shard are indeed both the same substance and are called Shineek Kar (Tears of the Sun) in Martian legend. These crystals, long thought to be apocryphal, are the secret to the canal-building barges which Jules Verne and other humans have speculated about for years.

If the naturally occurring facets of the crystal are carefully cleaned and polished to mirror smoothness, light entering one end of the crystal is polarized, concentrated, and reflected continuously inside the crystal, causing it to glow. Because of its crystalline structure and polished facets, the crystal allows light and heat to enter with ease, but they cannot exit as readily. As more light is fed into the crystal, it acts as a capacitor, soaking up energy until the front facets can no longer hold it back, and it discharges in a narrow beam. In smaller crystals (those shorter than a few inches), this beam is enough to cause fires at a few hundred feet. The larger crystals, however, are much more powerful.

Using giant crystals, the ancient Martians are able to use the rays generated to melt rock and cut the canals over the face of their planet. This was accomplished as follows: A single gigantic crystal, three or four yards in length, was suspended in a framework slung under a large sky barge. The upper surface of the barge carried a system of dozens of huge mirrors, reflectors, lenses, and concentrators (smaller crystals), which gathered sunlight and focused it at the receiving end of the crystal. The discharge of these large crystals was powerful enough to melt the rock of the surface of the red planet. Properly aimed, the crystal could dig a canal in a remarkably short time. The main drawback to such a device was that it was clumsy. By charging the crystal almost to the discharge point, then covering and uncovering the mirrors at the proper instant, the operators of the barge could fire the crystal at will.


The crystals, called "Tears of the Sun," were formed as a result of a rare combination of pressure, material, and temperature eons ago in the remote prehistory of the red planet. Long before life arose on Mars, the conditions that gave birth to these crystals ceased producing them. Most of them are quite small, less than an inch in length, but a few large ones (more than a yard in length, rarely longer) made it to the surface. The crystals are like quartz or volcanic glass in that they are quite hard and, at the same time, very brittle.

The crystals are brought to the surface as a result of conventional geological processes, and occur in surface or near-surface deposits in certain locations on Mars. All known deposits of the crystals were mined out generations ago, during the period of the canal builders, when they were used in the construction of the canals. No examples of the crystals are known to survive, and they were thought to be mythical by most humans (and not a few Martians).

In their natural state, as the characters will discover, the crystals are pitted and dirty, and will not absorb or discharge energy. Likewise, cracked or broken crystals are similarly useless. Only relatively undamaged crystals will do anything more than glow.


The scenario detailed in the players introduction is only one of many alternatives. The referee is free to devise other methods for getting the shard into the hands of the characters. How the characters come into possession of the shard isn't important. What matters is that they realize the profits to be made from a larger crystal.

Likewise, the adventure need not begin in Meroe, either. The referee should adapt the beginning sequence to fit the needs of the players and the individual campaign. As long as they eventually arrive in Polodaar, all will be well.


The characters will presumably wish to investigate the interesting objects that have just come into their possession. Just how they go about this is for them to decide. The following paragraphs are a summary of the various results.

The Map: A detailed examination of the map by someone knowledgeable in Martian geography will identify the city as Polodaar and the point indicated by the crystal as somewhere to the north at the edge of the Martian polar ice cap. The map is obviously a very crude one, since it is not done to a consistent scale and the locations of certain landmarks are inconsistent.

A guide who has some familiarity of the area north of Polodaar will be necessary.

The Carvings: If one of the characters decides to take the carvings to a dealer for an evaluation, the dealer will remark that the carvings are of exceptionally fine craftsmanship and will offer four pence for the lot. If questioned (or bribed), he will identify the maker as a well known artist from Polodaar whose work sometimes makes it to Meroe. This may be enough to persuade the characters that the solution to their mystery probably lies in Polodaar.

The Crystal and the Shard: If the characters display the crystal and/or the shard at the same shop they show the carvings, the merchant will show momentary surprise, but will quickly recover. After examining them for a few moments, he will remark that they are a curiosity of slightly greater value than the carvings, especially if a large one can be found. He will offer a shilling for the one the players have and will inquire where they got it. Further events will depend on the characters' actions. But the merchant will know the true value of the crystals and will try to steal the characters' map (unless they are fool enough to give it to him.) Depending upon what the characters tell him, the merchant may decide to have them followed, send a gang of thugs to steal the map and the crystals, or offer to come along on an expedition to find crystals. But he will not reveal the true value of the crystals.

The Trip To Polodaar

Aside from a possible ambush by thugs, the characters' trip to Polodaar should be uneventful and swiftly concluded by whatever transport the characters have at their disposal. The normal Martian encounter tables can be used until the players arrive in Polodaar (modified at the referee's discretion). Depending on how vigilant the characters are, they may notice that the merchant has had them followed. If the characters have not aroused the merchant's suspicions by showing him the crystal, the referee may still wish to implement an encounter with a marauding group of bandits, just to keep the group alert. The merchant may have recommended a contact in Polodaar, either Damien Van Owen or some other individual. If this is the case, the ambush by thugs seeking the map will not occur (at least not until later).

The City of Polodaar

The city of Polodaar is one of the northern-most city-states of the old empire, and it presently owes its existence to the regional fur trade. Most of the city is deserted, and the population is less than one-tenth of what it was during the height of Seldon's empire. A canal runs through the city, but only the stretch south of the city is maintained. The only traffic from the north is the annual flood water (in uncontrolled surges) that has often threatened to wash away the city entirely. Travel northward from the city is fairly easy, however, since the canal is scoured clean of debris by the annual torrents of melt water. Nomads bring in hides throughout the spring and summer trapping seasons and trade them in the market for manufactured goods and luxuries. A few small farming villages still exist, scratching out a sparse living in the short and chilly growing season.


Multiple possibilities are open to the characters once they arrive in Polodaar. These depend, to a large degree, on what actions the characters took in Meroe while investigating their collection of artifacts.

The Carvings: The purpose of the two carvings is to draw the players' attention to Polodaar and get them to guess that it is the city shown on the map. Trying to trace down the artist who made the carvings will prove to be a dead end (but the referee should not discourage such action). He will be fairly easy to locate and will readily identify the work as his own, but he will know nothing further about them. He makes hundreds of such carvings a year and has no way of keeping track of them after they leave his shop. He will know nothing about the map and will know only vague legends about the Tears of the Sun (he will tell the players that they are said to store sunshine during the day for use as lamps after dark).

The Map: If the characters consult a person knowledgeable in Martian geography, they will learn the same things noted on page 20.

The Crystals: If the characters have not consulted anyone about the crystals in Meroe and do so in Polodaar, the referee should simply transfer the events in the merchant's shop from that city to here. The merchant will express some slight interest, all the while secretly plotting to steal the map from the characters. Otherwise, the characters will learn little more than they already know.

Searching for a Guide: If the characters ask about a guide to the territory in the north, they will eventually be led to Damien Van Owen (who seems best suited to the job). If the merchant has suggested the characters contact Damien, the human and the Martian will be confederates; otherwise, Damien will be acting on his own. The players can possibly be followed by the Meroen merchant's thugs and the Polodaar merchant's thugs, and be the subject of Damien's plottings all at once (but this may be a little complicated for most referees).


Most of Mars is decidedly warm, but the polar regions are a different matter entirely. The local inhabitants wear much more clothing than their southern cousins, and certain Hems of equipment are required for travellers in the icy north of the red planet. Tents and several blankets are required, of course. The characters might find a couple of other Hems useful as well.

Clothing, Cold Weather: Primarily, this consists of thick woolen undergarments, a long, heavy coat, mittens, knit mufflers, scarves, earmuffs, and so on. Weight: 12 Ibs. Price: £1. Stove, Portable: This is a small, liquid-fuel stove designed to be used to heat a tent or other small enclosure. Weight: 4 Ibs. Price: 8/6.

Damien Van Owen (Experienced NPC)

Damien Van Owen is a standard fixture in many frontier settlements, the broken down old man who has spent his life chasing rainbows and has ended up in the gutter. Van Owen was bitten by the gold bug in the 1840s and was one of thousands who went to California after the discovery of the rich deposits near Sutter's Mill. Like many others, Van Owen did not strike it rich in California, but he did manage to scrape out enough of a living in the gold fields to whet his appetite for more. Since that time, Van Owen has sought gold in Colorado and Australia, emeralds in Venezuela, ivory in the fever-ridden interior of the dark continent, and fire jewels on the high plains of Moab.

It is not for lack of ability or intelligence that Van Owen is still searching. Like many men, he has found a fortune many times, and he has always squandered it while seeking more. Usually he finds just enough to get a grubstake for his next trip, which he believes will be the one where he finds his Ophir, his El Dorado, his Cibola. Although Van Owen is very intelligent, he has never realized that it is the search he enjoys above all else. Finding the Tears of the Sun, however, might be just what it takes to satisfy him and make him settle down. Van Owen will initially intend to betray everyone concerned to get the crystals, but upon arrival in the Valley of the Crystals, he will realize he needs help to accomplish this goal.

Str: 5 Fisticuffs 4, Throwing 2, Close Combat 3 (edged weapon)
Agl: 2 Stealth 1, Marksmanship 1 (rifle)
End: 6 Wilderness Travel 5 (foraging), Fieldcraft 1, Swimming 1
Int: 4 Observation 3
Chr: 3 Linguistics 2 (Koline 1)
Soc: 1 Leadership 1

Motives: Frugal, Stubborn, Ruthless.

Appearance: Van Owen is a short, stocky man in his sixties who looks about a decade younger. He is bald and has a short but bristly beard (which was originally auburn but has been bleached to a grayish yellow by the years and the Sun). His skin has been burnt brown as a nut by years of living in the wilderness, and his nose shows signs of having been broken once or twice. At first glance, he might appear to be just like a hundred other battered old prospectors, but on closer examination the players will notice several things that give the lie to this impression. For one thing, his limbs are powerfully muscled, and he is stronger than many men half his age. For another, his eyes are sharp as a gimlet, and he has a piercing stare that shows intelligence lurking behind the senile facade. Van Owen carries a pair of heavy revolvers, a 12-gauge shotgun, and a throwing knife in his boot.


As described above, Damien is a grizzled, old prospector with some experience in the region, although he has never been to the specific area indicated on the map. If the players show him the map, however, he will immediately recognize several of the key landmarks and will know exactly where the crystals are to be found. He will not reveal this fact to the characters, however, intending to betray everyone concerned and keep the crystals for himself.

Damien will pretend to be a little slow, just enough to convince the players that he is too stupid to be anything but honest. At the same time, he will display considerable knowledge of the area and its dangers, enough to convince the characters that he will make a good guide.

If Damien and the merchant are confederates, the prospector will be planning to betray him as well. If the merchant has had the players followed by his gang of thugs (but Damien is not in cahoots with him), Damien will notice this fact immediately and call it to the characters' attention, as a means of convincing them of his loyalty.

Observant players may be able to see through Damien's act. How this comes about is for the referee to decide. The best way to work it is to have Damien's actions seem odd, but not to reveal too much at any one time.

Whatever happens, if Van Owen is still with the group when they arrive at the Valley of the Crystals, he will undergo a change of heart as he realizes that he needs the cooperation of the characters to get the crystals (and the wealth they represent) back to civilize civilization.

Damien will advise the characters on the equipment they will need for a trip to the ice cap, primarily warm clothing and ample stocks of food. Ruumet breehr cannot survive the cold very well and are not used in the area around Polodaar.

The players will need to acquire gashants (a specially acclimatized northern breed, readily available in Polodaar) if they are to travel by land.

If the players are to travel by flyer or canal boat, the trip will be easier in the initial stages, but Damien will suggest that they take a few gashants along, just in case ("Tha' make good eatin', 'fit comes to that.").

Points North

It is assumed that the characters are making their trip north in the late winter, after the worst of the cold weather is over, but before the large-scale flooding that will make travel along the canal more hazardous. It is also assumed that the characters have no canal boat or aerial flyer, and are travelling on gashants. If necessary, the referee should adjust the situation to reflect the characters' earlier actions and decisions.

Encounters On The Way

During the trip north of Polodaar, use the encounter table below.
Terrain Desert Canal Bank Mountain Swamp Ice Pack/Glacier Anomalous Valley
Encounter # 1 2 3 4 5 6
Die Roll     Encounter Type      
Prospector Prospector High Martian Hunter Lost Prospector Snow-Worm Snow-Worm
2 Hunter Nomad Hunters High Martian Hunters Hibernating Cissawaans Covered Pool Village
3 Lone Hunter Prospector Flying Skrill Quicksand Lone Eegaar Eegaar Herd
4 Roogie Pack Roogie Pack Eelowaan Roogie Pack Valley Hunters Camp
5 Lone Eegaar Ancient Wreck Great Kommota Hunter Impassable Crevasse Roogie Pack
6 Lone Gashant Gashant Herd High Martian Hunters Lone Gashant Lone Gashant Gashant Herd

Ice Pack/Glacier: The only place on the red planet where precipitation falls is at the poles, in the form of snow. As snow builds up, its own weight compresses it into ice. Sometimes this ice pack is trapped by various geological features and remains static. Most of the time, however, it begins to move in an ice formation known as a glacier. The movement is very slow (hence, the word "glacial"), but it can be overwhelmingly powerful as well. During epochs known as "ice ages," glaciers on Earth have periodically moved down out of their birthplaces to grind mountains to powder and have scoured the plains of North America into the flatlands for which they are famous. Because of the known power of glaciers on Earth, it was believed that nothing could live in the polar regions of Mars except a few bands of Hill Martians and the thinly scattered game they pursued. This was a mistaken notion.

Anomalous Valleys: For various reasons, small oasis-like valleys are occasionally found in the depths of the polar ice pack. These valleys are usually the result of vulcanism bringing heat f rom the depths of Mars to keep the ice from building up. In these small valleys (less then a couple of miles across), tiny colonies of plant and animal life survive, surrounded by thousands of square miles of barren ice and drifted snow.

Martian Polar Encounters

The polar regions of Mars are different than similar locales further south. The climate is cooler, and the region is less densely populated. The animals encountered bear some resemblance to their more southerly relatives, but there are significant differences. Use the encounter table above.

Ancient Wreck: This encounter can represent the wreckage of an ancient canal barge from the time of the deterioration of the empire. It was picked clean long ago but may still be of archaeological interest and may be worth a second expedition. The condition of the wreck and its specific details are left up to the referee to describe.

Camp: This encounter represents the discovery of a temporary camp of a group of valley people. The results of this encounter depend upon the characters' actions.

Covered Pool: This encounter represents a pool in the surface of the ice, concealed from view by a thin crust of ice and coating of snow. The only way to discover one is to fall through the surface into it. Quick action is necessary to extract the victim, and it will be necessary to stop, pitch a tent, and dry out the victim's clothing near a fire before proceeding.

Lone Eegaar: This encounter is with a rogue eegaar, driven from the herd for some reason such as disease or age.

Eegaar Herd: These creatures are as described in Space: 1889.

Eelowaan: These creatures are as described in Space: 1889.

Flying Skrill: These creatures are as described in Space: 1889.

Lone Gashant: This encounter is with a rogue gashant, one driven from the herd for some reason such as disease or age. It is one of the northern variety, described below.

Gashant Herd: Wild gashants encountered north of Polodaar are of the specialized northern variety. These gashants are more adapted to the colder climate of the polar and semipolar regions. The main adaptation is a thicker layer of insulating fat than is found on their more southern cousins. They tend to be darker in color than their southern counterparts, possibly as an adaptation to absorb more heat from the Sun.

Great Kommota: These creatures are as described in Space: 1889.

Hibernating Cissawaans: This far north, cissawaans are active only during the warmer months of the year. During the colder periods, they hibernate in large lumps in caves and sheltered burrows. They are readily awakened, however, and can come bursting out of their shelters to take unwary travellers by surprise.

High Martian Hunter: This encounter is with a solitary hunter from one of the mountain kraags of the far north.

High Martian Hunters: The High Martians of the northern mountains have little contact with humans. Nevertheless, they will be slightly hostile.

Impassable Crevasse: This is a wide, deep chasm in the surface of the ice. Its walls are too steep to climb or descend, and it is too wide to jump. Parties on the surface will have to detour around this hex.

Lone Hunter: This encounter represents a single nomad hunter, and is identical to the lone nomad entry in the Martian wilderness encounters of Space: 1889.

Nomad Hunters: This encounter represents a group of nomads on a hunting expedition, and it is identical to the nomad hunters entry in the Martian wilderness encounters of the Space: 1889 rules book.

Prospector/Lost Prospector: This encounter does not represent the individual so much as traces of his presence. The region around Polodaar is not well known for its mineral wealth, and the prospectors in this region are not as numerous as elsewhere. In the case of a lost prospector encounter, the group has run across a prospector who has lost his bearings and is wandering aimlessly. Van Owen may or may not know the prospector, but he will not be inclined to share secrets with him.

Quicksand: This encounter is with a pool of quicksand, which can trap and drown the unwary. Fast action is needed in order to extract the victim, and rescue is usually achieved at the sacrifice of any equipment carried.

Roogie Pack: These creatures are as described in Space: 1889.

Snow-worm: This encounter is with a single large snow-worm, as described below.

Valley Hunters: This encounter is with a group of three to six hunters from one of the anomalous valleys of the polar ice pack. Their reaction to humans will be similar to that discussed under the next entry.

Village: A relatively permanent village of a few dozen valley dwellers in en anomalous valley. Their knowledge of humans will mostly be based on hearsay and limited contact with a prospector or fur trader. At the referee's option, they may be openly hostile or cautiously curious. If good relations can be established, they can prove to be valuable guides and reliable sources of information about local conditions.


The Snow-Worm IS one of the most mysterious and little known creatures on Mars. The beast's metabolism is unique in that its blood contains a naturally occurring compound that counteracts the effects of the region~s extremely low temperatures. This compound enables snow-worms to remain active in temperatures that would leave other beasts frozen solid, even though they are not warm-blooded.

Despite this, snow-worms could not survive in the barren polar regions if it were not for the existence of the anomalous valleys scattered throughout the polar landscape, which provide them with a relatively constant food supply.
Type # App. Size Move Wounds Save Weight (lbs.) Weapons
Snow-Worm 1 1x3 L20 6 31 200 Teeth(3,2,0,1)

Curiouser And Curiouser

The location marked by the drawing of the crystal proves to be the mouth of a small feeder channel for the main canal to Polodaar. Investigation of this area will reveal a number of small sandbars and other deposits containing small Tears of the Sun (an inch or less in length) and broken fragments of larger crystals, evidently washed down from higher up the channel. Any crystals the characters find (this number is left up to the referee) will be pitted and cracked to such an extent that they are useless.

The obvious course of action at this time is to follow the channel upstream, because somewhere up its course lies the source of the crystals. The polar ice soon becomes visible on the horizon, a faint white line at first, gradually increasing in thickness as the characters approach. The channel does not meander like a natural stream‹it seems to have been cut into the bedrock, like a smaller version of the canals. It points straight toward the ice wall on the horizon.

From time to time as the characters travel along the channel, they will find more crystals (always small, cracked, and useless) and occasional large fragments. At some point, to keep up their spirits, they should be allowed to find one or two small crystals in good condition, suitable for polishing (which they are not capable of doing in their present location). As they approach the ice, the weather becomes colder and colder, and they soon find a thin layer of snow on the ground. The snow gets thicker the closer they approach the ice. Finally, the characters arrive at the edge of the ice and find that the channel emerges from a hole about 20 feet up the icy slope of the glacier's edge. At this time of year, a small stream of water trickles from the opening and flows down a small groove in the ice slope. The hole from which it emerges is oval in cross section, and about 30 feet wide and 10 feet high. Sand, silt, and gravel are being washed down out of the glacier, and the channel down the frozen slope is lined with such detritus. Also, fragments of crystal are sprinkled down the slope their source obviously lies inside the glacier.


Van Owen, upon arrival at the edge of the ice, will claim that he has had no experience in travelling on the ice cap and will suggest that they turn back. This is a lie, of course. Although he has not travelled extensively over the polar ice and has never been to this particular section before, he has had more experience at such travel then he lets on. This is a ruse to get the players to abandon the search for the crystals so he can return later and claim them.

If pressed, he will exaggerate the dangers involved and argue against continuing, but he will acquiesce to the characters' demands if it becomes obvious that they intend to continue without him.

Hard Choices

Two options are now open to the players. They can enter the channel in the ice and follow it wherever it goes, or they can climb to the top of the ice and try to follow the channel from above. A short investigation will reveal that the ice allows a small amount of light to pass through to the channel, so the interior will not be totally dark (contrary to what Van Owen says), although it will not be possible to see more than a few dozen yards down the tunnel. Investigations will also reveal that it is possible to trace the course of the channel from the top of the ice, but travel there will be very slow because of a thick layer of snow.

In 10 minutes, any unencumbered human may climb to the channel or to the top of the ice. Using ropes and a block-and -tackle arrangement, they will be able to bring up packs, gashants, and any other equipment they have brought along. This will prove to be equally difficult, regardless of which course is taken. Van Owen may (at the referee's discretion) attempt sabotage by arranging an "accident" during the hoisting process. He is no fool, of course, and will not take any overt action that will expose his plans. Likewise, he will do nothing that will get himself killed (e.g., destroy vital supplies such as fuel and equipment). If the PCs have barges or boats, they will not be able to use them to travel in the subsurface channel or along the top of the ice. It will be impossible to trace the course of the channel from the air, and the PCs will need to send at least part of their group on foot if they have an aerial craft.

The Subsurface Option

Melt waters form ice rivers on top of the ice during the summer. Often, the surface will freeze over in the fall before the flow has completely stopped, forming a cavern-like channel just under the snow. The channels will become more or less permanent features of the landscape, detectable from the surface only by careful inspection of the ice. These channels almost invariably follow the old imperial drainage watershed which leads to the canals, feeding them water each season.

Travel beneath the surface of the ice will be somewhat easier than travel on top of it: The characters will not be exposed to the wind and weather during the trip. A small trickle of water flows down the channel, but not enough to cause problems.

Van Owen will pretend to fear a sudden flash flood, but this is a ruse to persuade the characters to turn back. The floor of the subsurface channel will be lightly coated with silt and sand, and crystals will be found embedded in the ice from time to time. Most of these will be unusable, but the referee should allow enough good ones to keep the characters' interest.

The light level in the channel will change from time to time as the thickness of the ice overhead changes (visibility will range from several dozen yards to a few feet, unless the characters have thought to bring some form of artificial illumination). Sometimes the ice overhead will open up completely, only to close again after a few miles. In this way, surface encounters can be justified while travelling underground.

The Surface Option

Travel on the surface will be half the normal walking rate, due to the deep snow on the surface. Once each day, the characters must check to see if they keep on track with the subsurface channel (use the best Observation in the group for the roll). Failure means that the group must backtrack for a day to regain the trail. An impassable crevasse encounter while following the channel should be interpreted as an opening leading downward to the subsurface channel. This presents the PCs with the option of entering the channel or continuing on the surface.

Valley Of The Crystals

If the characters follow the channel successfully, they will eventually come to the source of the trickle of melt water. This is one of the anomalous valleys of the region. The characters' arrival in the valley assumes that they have successfully ignored Van Owen's attempts to dissuade them from continuing.

The valley is surrounded by impassable walls of ice. The only way in or out is the subsurface channel, which the locals consider to be the passage to the afterlife and imbue with mystical characteristics. The heat from volcanic hot springs enables small-scale agriculture in the valley, but the food produced is limited; strict population controls are necessary.

Heat from the hot springs constantly melts some of the ice (which the moving glacier replaces as fast as it melts). The resulting water drains down the subsurface channel.

The volcano occasionally spews forth showers of ash (replenishing the soil) and (rarely) crystals, which are taken to be gifts of the gods and put to use as field markers, landfill, building materials, etc. depending on their size and condition. Small and broken crystals will be sent down the channel as offerings to the dead.

Society: Government is by council of elders, primarily priests. Since outside attack is not possible, soldiers are unnecessary, except as enforcers of the council's will. Hunters exist only to kill vermin that eat crops. Farmers make up the rest of the population, except for a few craftsmen who live and work in the temple. Everyone has his place, and the society cannot afford experimentation or revolutionary changes.

Religion: The local religion holds that the world consists completely of ice, and the inhabitants of the valley are the last members of the Martian race in existence. The volcano embodies heat, and therefore life, and is the physical representation of spirits and gods of life. The ice embodies cold, and therefore death, and is the representative of all the spirits and gods of death.

The priests use ceremony and sacrifice to maintain a careful balance between heat and cold, light and dark, and life and death. Part of the means of maintaining this balance is the altar of the gods of life and death. The altar consists of a raised platform of rammed earth, crowned by two large (four-foot long) crystals, buried broad end (receiving end) downward. The left crystal represents heat/life; the right represents ice/death. Each large crystal is surrounded by a ring of four smaller (one foot-long) crystals, representing the lesser gods of the local Martian pantheon. Burial customs involve interment in small caverns at the base of the ice wall, preceded by ceremonies at the mouth of the subsurface ice channel (the gateway to the afterlife). Over the years, natural movement of the glacier carries these graves away.


How the characters are greeted and treated when they arrive will depend on what route they take. If they arrive from the surface (lowering themselves by rope down the sheer ice walls of the valley), they will be greeted as representatives of the gods of life. If they arrive from the ice tunnel, they will be greeted as representatives of the gods of death. In either case, the humans will not be considered gods themselves‹merely messengers or servants of the gods (there is a great deal of difference).

If the characters arrive during the day, they will be discovered immediately. If they arrive during the night, they will not be discovered until daylight. It will be extremely difficult for the characters to remain hidden in the valley, since every square yard is used to its fullest extent for cropland, storage, or living space. It will be difficult to find a place to hide. On the other hand, the locals do not have sentries on patrol -- life is so controlled that there is no need for guards except to prevent vermin from eating the crops or the stored food.

During nighttime, any character may remain concealed unless he performs some blatant act, such as firing a gun or attempting to enter a storehouse. During daylight, any moving character must roll against Stealth to remain concealed. If the characters are spotted, they will be immediately identified as strangers.

Strangers in the valley can only be messengers of the gods, and it is important that the priests interview them immediately to determine what the gods want. Within minutes of their discovery, the natives will approach the players, bowing and showing other signs of great respect.

They will greet the characters in a dialect of Old Gaaryani (the nearly extinct language of the old Martian Empire). They will then explain that the priests did not expect a visit and will ask the messengers to follow. The Martians will be puzzled if the strangers do not understand, but after a minute or two they will signal their request by insistent gestures.

Before The Council

The PCs will be taken to the council, which meets in an open space in the center of the valley, before the altar to the gods of life. After a voluminous greeting and small ceremonial chantings, the characters will be brought before the priests, who will ask what the gods wish to tell their children (also in a dialect of Old Gaaryani).

Anything that indicates that the messengers have been damaged (such as the fact that the messengers can only speak gibberish‹cannot speak Old Gaaryani) or a sign that the gods are testing their priests (such as the statement that the gods want their symbolic crystals back) will require the priests to take the proper steps. The proper response, in either case, is to return the messengers and hope the gods try again. If they came from the realm of death, they must be killed and returned in that fashion. If they came from the realm of life, they must be sent skyward by throwing them into the volcano.

On the other hand, if the messengers can speak properly (that is, if one or more of the characters speak Old Gaaryani, even with an accent) and they give an innocuous message ("the gods wish us to watch you for time," or if they present some trinket and say "the gods have sent this gift to their children") their reception will be different. They will be conducted on a guided tour of the valley and shown that everything is being done properly. This will include a short tour of the altar and a description of the upcoming "return the messengers to the gods" ceremony, which will be conducted tomorrow, after a night of cleansing and purification rites. The characters' reactions to this news are predictable. The 10 f ire priests will conduct their rites at the lip of the volcano, the 10 ice priests at the mouth of the channel. The central altar will also be purified and cleansed at dawn, just before the ceremony begins.

Subsequent events will be left to the referee. The PCs will be allowed free run in the valley through the night (providing they don't upset the purification rituals), and some activity, other than sleep, is expected.

As to how they make their escape, there are a number of options.

The Wall: To climb the sheer cliff wall, they must roll against Agility or Mountaineering skill, whichever is greater. Characters are allowed two tries;failure on both means they have run out of time.

The Crystals: The characters can be allowed to gather 2D6 crystals each (roll 1D6x2 for length in inches) from scrap heaps, field boundaries, etc. If they try to take the larger crystals, they will encounter four difficulties:

Time will be an important consideration. It will take one person 10 turns to loosen and free each large crystal; two people can halve this time (additional workers don't help). One turn will be enough to loosen and extract four of the smaller crystals.

Alarm and Pursuit: The six guardian/priests at the alter (Trained NPCs armed with clubs) must be dealt with swiftly and silently, but they will not be expecting treachery and will be easy to surprise (roll once against each attacking player's Stealth, implementing a +1). If surprise is achieved, the defenders can be killed or rendered unconscious within four turns without a gunshot being fired, and no alarm will be raised. If the fighting lasts longer then four turns or if a gunshot is fired at any time, the alarm will be raised, and the PCs will have four turns before reinforcements arrive.

Reinforcements will be 4D6 Martians (Green NPCs armed with clubs and farming implements). Every five turns, roll 2D6 for more reinforcements.

Carrying the Crystals: The two large crystals each weigh about 300 pounds, and the foot-long crystals weigh about three pounds each. Two or three characters will be needed for each crystal, depending upon the characters' Strength and the other load they carry. It is just under one-half mile (800 yards) from the alter to the nearest ice wall, and about the same distance to the channel entrance. If the alarm has been given, roll against the worst Stealth characteristic in the group every four turns for discovery. If the alarm has not been given, roll for discovery every 10 turns. Discovery will be by a party of 4D6 Martians (Green NPCs armed with clubs).

The Channel: The 10 ice priests at the entrance to the subsurface channel (Trained NPCs armed with clubs) will be engaged in purification rituals and will be easy to surprise, unless the alarm has been given. if the alarm is given, they will be alert (surprising them will be a Difficult task in this case). Once the characters have escaped down the ice tunnel, they will not be pursued.


The PCs will come out of this adventure with interesting stories and at least one small crystal (which will make a nice cigar lighter). Also, the characters should get the normal experience points for their actions.

If the PCs made it to the Valley of the Crystals, they can raise a little money (and not inconsiderable renown) giving lectures and publishing articles about the society there. The Royal Geographic Society or some other group may fund an expedition for further study of the polar regions, especially in the light of the discovery of the isolated anomalous valley cultures. The characters will be in a good position to act as guides with such an expedition.

If the characters get away with the large crystals, they have three options. First, they could give the crystals to the government of their choice as a demonstration of their loyalty, trusting said government to reward them properly. Second (more likely, given the way most characters think) they could sell the crystals (preferably exercising some discretion‹it wouldn't do for such weapons to end up in the hands of that rascal Bismarck, would it?). Third, they could keep the crystals and try to build their own heat ray.

Building a heat ray will be quite a job. How to polish the crystals for maximum capacity, how to mount them, how many times they can be used before they shatter from stress, how long they must be exposed to the sunlight to charge them, etc. can only be learned by experimentation and careful study.

It is no easier to invent a heat ray with the crystals than it is without them, but the final product will be 20 percent lighter. A heat ray of the type described in Space: 1889 will require one large crystal and three one-foot crystals as concentrators. Smaller crystals are simply scientific curiosities.

Posted Monday, 04-May-2009 19:54:23 EDT

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