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The King and You: Siam in Space: 1889

Part Three of Siam in the 19th Century

by Chris Jones

The first two articles in this series related the history of Siam in the 19th century, and suggested an alternate history for Siam for roleplaying purposes. This article uses the suggested alternate history as the basis for incorporating Siam as a major player in the Space: 1889 universe.


By 1888, Siam was rapidly becoming a regional power in southeast Asia. The country was, however, still very much at the mercy of various European powers. Although the Siamese Royal Navy had purchased a small Zeppelin from Germany, Siamese leaders felt that their forces would be totally vulnerable to foreign aerial gunboats in the event of a war with Britain or France.

With both his generals and admirals pressuring him to commission an aerial fleet, King Chulalongkorn of Siam decided that an independent source of liftwood had to be found. Unfortunately, Siam was much too weak to carve out a Martian Empire, as many western powers had done. In fact, there was not a single ether flyer available anywhere in the kingdom.

In order to secure a liftwood supply, Prince Devawongse, Siamese foreign minister and one of Chulalongkorn's brothers, devised a plan. He noted that the Martian city-state of Nectar was in a perilous position not unlike that of Siam. It was trapped between two great powers (the Belgian Coprates and the Tossian Empire), and had to struggle just to maintain its independence. Nectar was also quite near to several known liftwood groves.

Devawongse travelled to Nectar in December of 1888 and entered into negotiations with Prince Sitaani. At first, the Nectarans were hostile to the humans and wanted nothing to do with them. But Devawongse was a skillful negotiator and wooer of minds, and he convinced the Nectarans that Siam was also working to resist the forces of imperialism. A personal friendship developed between Devawongse of Siam and Prince Sitaani of Nectar.

Finally, an agreement was reached between them. Siam would dispatch a small group of military advisors to Nectar to exchange their knowledge of modern military techniques, as well as a fair number of modern arms, for a guaranteed quantity of liftwood every year, as well as non-exclusive rights to trade with Nectaran merchants. Siam immediately sent a company of the Royalist Regiment, two batteries of artillery, and a squadron of elephant cavalry to Mars to begin training the Nectarans. The elephant cavalry was of particular interest to Nectar, as they felt that a fusion of Siamese elephant tactics and Martian Rhuumet Breer tactics could be achieved to the betterment of both.

The officer in charge of the Siamese expedition, a young Colonel Luang Bhimook, was an audacious and unconventional tactician, and was considered to be one of the greatest military minds in Siam. It was not clearly understood at the time, but he was also a major proponent of Siamese expansionism and military adventurism. Perhaps it was due to his training in France, but he shared many colony-expanding habits with some of his French brethren. When a February 18th, 1890 border skirmish between Nectar and the Belgian forces in the Coprates turned into a Belgian route, Bhimook urged the forces of Nectar onwards to attack the Belgians and drive them from Mars altogether. The exiled Prince of Melas Lacus (Copratia), who had been living in Nectar, had kept two bands of "Melas Lacus Vengeance" troops (fellow exiles from Melas Lacus) prepared for action at all times. He immediately pledged his support to Bhimook's plan and exhorted the citizens of Nectar to free the Coprates valley once and for all.

With the Siamese units acting as an elite force, the Nectarans overwhelmed the thinly-scattered Belgian forces and drove them back in a panic. The Siamese/Nectaran alliance quickly seized the city of Melas Lacus (Copratia) before the Belgian forces could be concentrated to resist them. After taking the city, though, something of a deadlock developed as the Belgian forces manage to establish a solid front.

The Belgians responded with a declaration of war and by immediately dispatching massive reinforcements to Mars. The French were outraged at this attack on Belgian forces, and began massing troops in Indochina along the Siamese border as well as shipping a regiment to the Coprates in preparation for a declaration of war. Most observers felt that Siam and Nectar would surely be crushed under the weight of the Francophone alliance.

But then the Siamese had a phenomenal stroke of luck. A romantic young Kaiser Wilhelm read of the coming war in his morning paper one day. He was struck by the pluck and audacity of the little Asiatics, to take on two European powers! He immediately ordered his ministers to deliver what assistance they could to little Siam.

His ministers tried to talk him out of it, but Wilhelm was stricken with the romantic notion of big, brotherly Germany coming to the defense of plucky little Siam. The message sent to Paris was simple, a declaration of war on Siam would immediately be followed by a German declaration of war on France!

The French, unwilling to take on Germany in a head-to-head match, yet unable to back down completely, suggested that peace talks be initiated to settle the dispute. At the peace talks, German admiration for Siam and British outrage at Belgian activities in the Coprates lead to the awarding of a Siamese protectorate over Melas Lacus (Copratia). In return, Siam was ordered to pay Belgium reparations equal to 200,000 British Pounds.

After the situation had settled down, the Kaiser initiated new trade relations with Siam. He forced through the Reichstag legislation guaranteeing at least a 5% return on investment to any German company that constructed railroads, shipyards, or textile mills in Siam. When Chulalongkorn politely declined Germany's offer of loan guarantees, the Kaiser was again deeply impressed, and offered to subsidize all construction of Siamese ships in German yards by 15%. German military advisors flocked to Siam to help train and improve her tiny army. They convinced Chulalongkorn to author the "Army Expansion Decree" of 1895, doubling again the size of Siam's army to 20 regiments.

German military and trade advisors couldn't help but notice the strategic value of the Isthmus of Kra. If a canal could be constructed across the upper Malay peninsula, it would cut several hundred miles off of the voyage from Hong Kong to India or Europe. This route would also bypass Singapore and the Straits Settlements, leaving the wealthy British colonies as out-of-the-way backwaters. German engineers immediately began surveying for the project, over the strenuous objection of Britain.

With the construction of numerous infrastructure, trade, and industrial sites by foreign investors within Siam, the small kingdom quickly transformed from a backward, agrarian state to a developing industrial nation. The small towns and villages that had dotted the Siamese countryside grew into crowded cities, filled with working men and factories. Railroads stretched out across the country, drawing the population ever closer together. During every year of the 1890s domestic tax revenues grew by at least 8%, and the growth rates were often much higher. The population swelled to sixteen million by 1900.

Meanwhile, the Siamese protectorate of Melas Lacus was turning in a profit as well. Siam had returned the deposed Prince of Melas Lacus to the throne in 1891, and had since then left him to run most of the affairs of his city-state. Siam required only a percentage of the liftwood and gumme trade, commodities which it sold on the market back on Earth. Under Siamese authority, Gumme harvesting returned to its older and less efficient pre-Belgian methods. But, as the Siamese did not resort to the kinds of cruelty the Belgians had used, the Martian harvesters had a greater incentive to work, and thus Gumme production remained roughly the same. And though neither Siam nor Belgium now had a monopoly on the product, they both profited handsomely from the trade. Total Siamese trade in their Melas Lacus protectorate or stemming from its products was estimated at ten million pounds annually in 1897.

All was not rosy for the Kingdom of Siam, however. Their acceptance of a protectorate over Melas Lacus caused bad feelings with their former allies in Nectar. Though the two remained on polite terms, there was now a constant friction between them. The French and Belgians, both humiliated by the whole Coprates Incident, were constantly attempting to undermine Siam, both on Earth and on Mars. Even the British found their relations with Siam cooling, as the Asian kingdom seemed to be slipping ever more into Germany's orbit.

Siamese Adventuring

Numerous adventures could takes place in and around Siam itself. Besides the healthy dose of Great Power intrigue in the region, there are enough trackless jungles, ancient temples, and long-forgotten valleys in the region to provide all the adventure that daring PC's could want.

Some possible adventure settings are:

Siamese Characters

Outside of Southeast Asia, Siamese are rare, but not unknown. Almost every male member of the royal family was sent to Europe for education, primarily to Britain and Germany. In their bid to become a regional power, the Siamese dispatched dozens of businessmen, diplomats and agent to all parts of the Earth and beyond.

Within Siam itself, there are two major ethnic groups. The first is the native Siamese people. These will primarily be nobles or peasant farmers, though a few earn a living as merchants or in other trades and professions. Outside of Bangkok, most everyone encountered will be ethnic Siamese.

The only large minority group in Siam are the Chinese. Many thousands of Chinese immigrated to Siam in the nineteenth century in the search for economic opportunity. Chinese will largely be found in mercantile professions, though more and more are finding government jobs.

By and large, Siamese characters should be generated as specified in the Space: 1889 rules, but a few differences apply. One of them is the social structure of Siamese society. Information on social levels is given in the chart below. Note that, in Space: 1889 terms, each second generation of noble is one social level lower than its parent generation.

Siamese Social Structure

Social Level 1 peguan or slave (peguans are soldier-slaves).

Social Level 2 Peasant farmers.

Social Level 3 Chinese middle-class merchants.

Social Level 4 Mid-level officials, Siamese middle-class merchants. Titles: Luang, khun

Social Level 5 Minor nobles and moderately-high ranking officials. Titles: mom ratchawong, mom luang, phrya, phra

Social Level 6 Princes, princesses, and highest-ranking officials. Titles: Phra ong chao, mon chao, chao phrya

Social Level 7 The king. Title: Paramindr Maha


Most careers for Siamese or Siam-based PC's will be similar to those described in the basic game, but there are a few differences, which are outlined below.

Siamese Soldier (Peguan) As in basic Space: 1889 rules, but Social level for all ranks must be 1. Riding skill may be horse or elephant.

Siamese Soldier (volunteer) As in basic Space: 1889 rules, but there are no fashionable or even common regiments. All are treated as "Native Regiments". Riding skills may be on either horse or elephant. Language skills must include English.

Chinese Merchant (Often operate floating, riverine markets) Soc 3, Int 3+. Bargaining 3, Linguistics 2, Piloting (boat) 1, Swimming 1.

Foreign Advisor to the King Soc 3+, Int 4+. Bargaining 3 or Science 3 or Engineering 3 or Mechanics 3, Linguistics 2, Observation 2. Wilderness Travel 1 or Riding 1.

Native Guide Soc 3-, End 4+. Bargaining 1, Wilderness Travel 2, Fieldcraft 1, Tracking 1, Marksmanship 1, Linguistics 1.

Buddhist Monk Observation 1, Eloquence 2, Theatrics 1, Linguistics 2, Medicine 1.

A map of Siam is included with this article.


Fournereau, Lucien, Bangkok in 1892, White Lotus Press, 1998. (Orig. 1894). ISBN 974-8434-42-7.

Tips, Walter, The 1894 Directory to Bangkok and Siam, White Lotus Press, 1996. (Orig. 1894). 974-8496-77-5.

Wyatt, David K., Thailand, A Short History, Yale University Press, 1984. 0-300-03582-9.

Last Updated Monday, 04-May-2009 19:54:26 EDT

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