What should I work on next?

30 April 2012

"Y" is for...


   When I was a kid, I thought that 'yankee' was only half of a word, and being called one was good enough to start a fight in the schoolyard down here in Texas. However...

   One of the common aspects of Victorian Science Fiction is an alternate history, not just an alternate technology, and one of the most popular variants of alternate histopry is one in which the American Civil War continued far longer than it did in our history, or in which the Confederate States somehow managed to prevail in Mister Lincoln's War. Which, if you have studied that conflict, is really unlikely.

   In my VSF Universe, the War Between the States lasted longer than in the real history, but the South still lost. Just like in the real world, the war sparked a lot of incredible development in technology. Add that to the possibilities of VSF, and you get some interesting developments. The GASLIGHT game has some material set in an alternate Civil War (Victoria Hawkes, etc.), and there is the RPG Deadlands, where the war is still going on a decade or so later. Deadlands is an overlooked horror/VSF crossover, I think largely because of its setting in the American West. But when you can go to Mars, the West is not really that far a frontier any longer!

29 April 2012

"X" is for...


   Xenozoology is the study of animal lifeforms not of terrestrial origin. It encompasses many species across the solar system, where native life has been located on three other bodies so far (Luna, Mars, and Venus). It also includes the sapient humanoids of those planets, in all their variety.

   Like all science fiction, Victorian science fiction revels in a plethora of "strange new worlds... new life and new civilizations," to paraphrase Captain Kirk. (Speaking of which, I simply must have an aethership captain named that - Picard is far too French - oh, maybe have him captain the French vessel? Yes!) And so we have a lot of different ideas for inhabitants of these worlds.

Barsoom Burroughs's vision of Mars had a dying planet with four truly sentient races, the Red, Green, Black, and White Martians. I do not count the plantmen, since they seemed more like animals than people, even if humanoid. Other creatures mentioned include the thoats, calots, and the great white apes.

Space: 1889 Chadwick developed a different set of Martians, the civilized Canal, nomadic Hill/Steppe, and barbaric High Martians. High Martians have wings and lifting glands which allow them to fly. In addition, a variety of animal life, especially for Mars, is described. He also places insectoid Selenites on Luna, and primitive Lizardmen on Venus.

Wells H.G. Wells postulated an invasion of Earth by Martians which were definitely alien. Beaked, furred, and tentacled, they used far superior technology and dastardly devices like poison gas to try and subdue Britain and the rest of the world.

   In my own universe, I combine Space:1889 and Barsoom for red Martians, with both civilised and barbaric flying martians as well. Venus is teeming with life, and a variety of different sorts of lizardmen, sentient mobile plants, and parrotmen. Dinosaurs wander the Venusian jungles, and a variety of dangerous creatures prowl the Martian deserts.

28 April 2012

"W" is for...


   The key aspect of Victorian Science Fiction is the SCIENCE! Anachronistic science, violating the laws of physics, incredible advances and imaginary substances all play their part in the development of the fantastic technologies that appear everywhere in VSF. You want examples?

Liftwood. From Space: 1889, this miraculous substance is a wood that grows only on Mars, and has anti-gravitational properties. Rare and expensive, it is still favored for the construction of sky galleons. Sadly, it doesn't work on Venus, deteriorating at an incredible rate.

Unobtainite. My own creation. Run an electric current through this naturally occuring element (which forms blue crystals) and it repels gravity. More current, more repulsion. Great for making flying vehicles, and less fragile than liftwood.

Cavorite. From H.G. Wells, cavorite is a metal that pushes against gravity unless shielded from it. Used by Professor Cavor to ascend to the moon.

Radium engines. Verne used radium engines (essentially, atomic reactors) to power the Nautilus. Heck, the Nautilus itself was an anachronism of wonderfully weird science. I like the Disney version.


Babbage's Difference Engines. While this idea really existed, it was never fully developed. In essence, a mechanical computer. In VSF, not only did Babbage perfect it, it has been made ever smaller and more powerful, until it fits in the body of a man-sized (or smaller!) automaton.

Flying Ships, forts, etc.  Either airships (lighter than air) or liftwood, or unobtainite, or cavorite... it doesn't matter, we like ships that fly. And not just small balloons, but big armored warships. Robur thought he could conquer the world from his. A very popular game (Dystopian Wars) is currently in production around the concept that flying dreadnoughts are cool. Because they are.

Automatons. Mechanical servitors, often steam powered, but also clockwork based. These can be man-sized, or smaller, or even much larger. Mad geniuses build them to conquer the world, huge companies market them to the public, and to industry.

Maton's Halfjacks, a Work in Progress photo

Walkers. Walking vehicles are another favorite of the genre. From one man conveyances to massive four-legged (or more!) armoured behemoths, the walker is just fun. Powered by steam, of course.

The engine for HMLS Gargantua, by Colonel O'Truth
I love the flywheel.

Landships. The last item of weird science I will mention here is the ubiquitous landship. Early tanks would appear only a few decades after the real Victorian era, and armoured land trains using steam traction engines had been used already against the Boers. So we just bump that up a bit, add in the improvements in turreted weapons from the 1930s, power it all by steam, and cover it in riveted armour. Can't forget the rivets! Almost everyone in VSF gaming has at least one of thses bad boys. I have several, in different scales.

27 April 2012

"V" is for...


   Really, what else could it be? I mean, since I have already mentioned Her Majesty, Queen Victoria (God Bless Her!)? Following Mars and the Earth, Venus is undoubtedly the third favorite planet for Victorian Science Fiction games and stories. There is something about the mystery of what is on the surface of the Veiled Planet, the Planet of Mystery, the Jungle Planet: VENUS!

   Modern science tells us that nothing we recognize as life could survive on the surface of Venus, such is the density and composition of the atmosphere. Bah! Frank Chadwick and Edgar Rice Burroughs may not have the science on their side, but they do have the advantage of being mroe interesting. No, my friends, the surface of Venus is covered with oceans, marshes and jungles. A few highland areas thrust upward from the trees and wetlands, more comfortable for humans to live than the incredibly hot and humid lowlands.

   The fertile soil of the Venusian jungles has given rise to many strange creatures. Dinosaurs roam the rainforest. Lizardmen, anthropomorphic reptiles and amphibians live in small villages throughout the lands. In the trees, a race of parrotfolk make their nest villages. Animated plants move through the underbrush. German zeppelins cruise the skies over Venusstaadt, and British, Italian, Japanese, and Texican colonies dot the highlands. The riotous biology of the planet has even brought respected scientists like Doctor Vardu to Venus to study the life forms.

One of the Varieties of Parrotmen
[GW Kroot, converted, from Lead Adventure Forum]
   The Parrotfolk of Venus and the Lizardfolk do not get along well. Some tribes of Parrotmen are allied with European powers. This provides the Europeans with scouts, and gives the birdmen firearms. These weapons help the parrotfolk defend their nest villages high in the trees from the ravages of the far more numerous lizardfolk and dinosaurs.

Venusian Manticore Rose, a deadly plant
[QRF, personal collection]
    Much of the flora of Venus is as deadly and dangerous as the fauna. The manticore rose, shown above, actually fires barbed and envenomed thorns from the bulbous head at the top of its stalk. Any creature coming within a few yards is the target of a deadly barrage.

One of many Lizardmen found on Venus
[Khurasan Miniatures, 15mm]
   As previously described in the "A to Z", there are numerous sorts of lizardmen. You can find more out about them here.

Plantmen, Vardu's Sprouts
[25mm Vardu, Hydra Miniatures]
   The final denizens of the Cytherean jungles are the plantmen. No one knows much about these strange creatures. They are the object of much study by the eminent xenobiologist Doctor Vardu. Unknown to pretty much anyone else, Vardu is actually creating plantmen and animal-human hybrids as part of his studies. He has gone quite mad, you see.

   Venus: the Veiled Planet. Planet of Mystery. Also the subject of novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs (though less popular than the Barsoomian series). A great place for adventure, exploration and danger! Plus, lots of neat terrain to put out on the table.

26 April 2012

"U" is for...


   The 19th Century was the last hurrah for really beautiful uniforms, and everyone had them. So here they are, real, imaginary, and awesome. Let the eye candy begin!

French Foreign Legion
   Seeing these fellows makes me realize I need to do some re-painting on my old FFL 15mms. Somehow I missed the madder red trousers.

   Uniformology books are excellent. Loads of research and good images. Another thing I need to be buying more of. German Schutztruppe - very cool colonial types.


    These are my Texicans (originally 15mm Span-Am War Americans). We see here Lieutenant Harold Godwinson, in the butternut uniform of the Texican Marines adopted recently. The regulation campaign cover is clearly visible.

British Patrol jacket, and redcoats
   More from my personal collection, this time 25mm Empress Miniatures (which I absolutely love). The officer is wearing the dark blue patrol jacket fashionable in the latter 19th Century. The regular infantry are still wearing the traditional red jacket in all my VSF units. Why? Because I love it, and its my game, so I play how I want to. Besides, they look awesome.

German Aetherbattalion Sergeant
    One last of my own collection: a paint-converted GW Mordian Imperial Guardsman. This is the uniform of the totally fictitious Aetherbattalions (loosely based on Seebattalion).

8th Canadian Hussars
   A real Commonwealth unit. Love the sabretache and the tall boots. Obviously based on British cavalry uniforms. Check the busby on him, too.  



25 April 2012

"T" is for...


   Nikola Tesla, a man who was both a certifiable genius and just plain certifiable.

   Born in Smiljan, Croatia, Tesla was educated at Graz and Prague, worked for the Continental Edison Company in Paris, and emigrated to the United States in 1884. There he worked briefly for Thomas Edison until the poetic Tesla and the pragmatic Edison fell out. Tesla then went on to sell his patents for a series of alternating current devices to the Westinghouse Electric Company, making Tesla a relatively wealthy man able to set himself up in his own laboratory.  

    So far so good; sounds like the biography of many a successful Victorian electrical engineer. But Tesla was a first-class ego case with aristocratic pretensions. He was a tremendous showman who excelled at giving spectacular demonstrations of what electricity could do. He was an intuitive genius who could visualize all sorts of revolutionary new devices even though he didn't fully understand the principles behind them. He had a remarkable memory, coupled with an intense dislike of writing things down, so that much of his work has come down to us as a mystery. He was a man with no money sense who was able to persuade many an investor into pouring money into his schemes. He was also a visionary who, as time went on and his professional fortunes ebbed, became prone to wilder and wilder assertions about what marvels he would perform and how he could single-handedly change the world.
   Tesla's real achievements combined with his flamboyant dreams made him a regular source for reporters looking for sensational copy and a lightning rod for nutcases who were convinced that he was really an emissary from the planet Venus.
Nikola Tesla (1856 – 1943)

   The thing that makes Tesla such a compelling, yet sad case is that he was genuinely brilliant and had carved himself a real place in history with his accomplishments.  His contributions to the field of electrical engineering are on a scale to rival that of Edison and Steinmetz and we enjoy the fruits of his labours every time we flick on a light switch.  However, his lonely work habits, refusal to write things down, and flat-out eccentricities have made him one of those figures that historians cross the street to avoid.

AC Induction Motor

   Tesla's first great invention was the AC induction motor. An electric motor works by flipping the field of an electromagnet, causing the attraction/repulsion of the magnets to spin the armature around.  Tesla was the first inventor to come up with a practical way of using AC power to achieve the same reversal of polarity; only this time it's done with clever wiring. Unlike DC, where the electrical current always flows in one direction, AC current flows in both directions. By wiring some of the magnetic sections of the motor one way and then their neighbour sections in reverse, the polarity would reverse automatically with the current.

    The trick was how to supply current to the armature itself without burning out the contacts with the high voltages that AC power required. Tesla's answer was to use induction. In Tesla's motor, the induction field set up by the AC current feeds power to the armature without any direct wiring needed.

AC Power

   But the really neat thing about electrical motors is that if you get one working you also have a perfectly good electrical generator in one of technology's rare twofers.  An electric motor works by taking electricity in and turning it into motion.  But if you take a motor and spin it, out comes electricity.  All this means that when Tesla perfected his motor, he was well on his way toward building a new generation of AC dynamos that form the basis of our modern electrical grid. When Westinghouse bought up Tesla's patents, it sparked (get it?) a commercial war between Westinghouse and Thomas Edison, who was a great backer of DC.  There followed years of bitter propaganda battles - Edison invented the electric chair to demonstrate the dangers of AC power - but in the end the AC system won out.

The Tesla Coil

    Curiously, despite his achievements, Tesla never had a very good theoretical grasp of what electricity actually is.  He tended to ignore developments in physics.  In fact, he greeted Einstein's theory of relativity with downright hostility.  For Tesla, electricity wasn't a thing of electrons and energy states, but of fluids, vibrations, and harmonics in a system which he seemed to understand, but which made his explanations the thing of which headaches are made.

    Whatever his theory, Tesla still managed to get results.  He was fascinated with high frequency electricity, but mechanical generators could only go so fast before they started to fly apart. So, he developed devices that could provide higher and higher frequencies without moving parts. The most famous of these was the Tesla coil; this high-voltage transformer is familiar to anyone who has seen an old Frankenstein movie where they were used to generate the electrical arcs that are apparently necessary if you're going to be a respected and card-carrying member of the Society of Mad Scientists. They also produce an electrical field that lights fluorescent tubes and similar devices at a distance, a spectacular parlour trick that led Tesla down more than one rabbit hole.


   Tesla's interest in high frequency electricity had other benefits.  A number of his circuits were basic to radio technology.  Because he didn't understand how electromagnetic radiation worked, Tesla thought that sending messages through the air required transmitting huge amounts of energy, so he never produced a working system, but his patents did predate those of Marconi by several years and Tesla was awarded precedence by US Supreme Court in 1943.

Remote Control

   Another of Tesla's certified firsts was in the field of teleautomation, or remote control to me and you.  In 1898 Tesla demonstrated a peculiar little tub-shaped boat which he was able to control at a distance with a small box.  That may not seem like much today, but this first ever exhibition of radio remote control caused a sensation at the time.  Tesla was able to start and stop his little boat, steer it, and make its lights flash.  With his more advanced model, he could even make is submerge on command.  As an added fillip, Tesla's boats were designed with interlocking circuits that prevented hijacking of the boat by more powerful transmitters. The circuitry he used is similar to that used by cell phones to prevent signals from crossing over today.

Broadcast Power

   In the 1890s, Tesla was playing about with sending high-voltage currents through evacuated glass tubes and he discovered that a tube containing rarefied gas could conduct current rather well.  But for Tesla, this wasn't good enough. He leapt from a simple laboratory observation to declaring that he'd discovered the secret of transmitting electricity to all the world without wires. He reasoned that since he could send electricity through a tube of rarefied gas, and that the Earth's ionosphere was also composed of rarefied gas, then it would be a simple matter to send electricity up into the outer reaches of the atmosphere and charge the entire planet like a gigantic Leyden jar that could be tapped on demand.  With such a system, dynamos, batteries, and the like would all be a thing of the past. Anything from a pocket torch to an aeronef to a battleship would have literally unlimited power at its disposal regardless of large it was, how long it ran, or where it was located. Sadly, it just didn't work.

Superimposed photo of Tesla in his laboratory.


   Many of Tesla's claims in the real world were never realized: death rays, earthquake machines, etc. But in the realms of Victorian Science Fiction, well, he's practically a galvanic god. Tesla's inventions led to handheld death rays, aeronefs, broadcast remotes, automatons, and all manner of wonders. In my VSF universe, he is currently working with the United States government to develop military applications of his technology, including wireless telegraphy!

[Editor's note: A great deal of the above was taken from Tales of Future Past. The author there did such a great job of balancing Tesla's genius with his lunacy, I just couldn't resist.]

24 April 2012

"S" is for...


   Yes, Steam! The power behind all of our Modern Science and Conveniences! From the simple coal-fired pumping engines of our mines and factories, to the mighty handwavium-fueled turbines of HMAS Duke of York! Without steam, our Progress would grind to a halt. Humble heated water, yet Modern Life is inconceivable without it.

Simplified Schematic of Triple Expansion Reciprocating Steam Engine

   At its most basic, the steam engine uses the expanding properties of heated water to gaseous form to push a piston. A series of controlling valves directs the flow of the steam, and increases efficeincy in the use of the working fluid in the system. This sort of steam engine is most common in ships and landships, where weight is not a premium concern, but power and reliability are.

HMS Turbinia, the first turbine warship
   More recent developments include the use of steam to spin a set of turbine blades, which are then connected by complicated gearing to provide motive power for large vessels. The concept was first proven by HMS Turbinia. It has since been incorporated in vessels of all sizes, including the huge aetherbattleship, HMAS Duke of York, and small airships such as the Aphid-class and Dauntless and Intrepid.

   With the advent of handwavium and steam turbines, steam engines have become increasingly tiny and intricate, yet surprisingly efficient. These miniscule wonders power the automatons which are quite the wonder of our Modern Age. They can even be attached to galvanic generators to provide energy to Unobtainite, with all of the gravity-neutralizing effects that mineral produces. This is how Professor Maton, for instance, gives flight to his hoverton servitors.

  And so today, we celebrate Steam!

23 April 2012

"R" is for...


  In the playing of the Great Game, Russia was historically the Big Bad Bear from the British point of view. Being a massive Eurasian empire, and poised oh-so-near to precious India, it was Russia that Britain most wanted to stop from expanding. As a result, the Crimean War was fought. Russian and British interests collided in Afghanistan and Turkey as well.

Something the British never wanted to see in the Khyber Pass!
[Strelets' Cover Art for Winter Uniform Russians]

   Russophobia was even the catalyst for a serious naval building program in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, to counter the two next-largest fleets (French and Russian, who were allies). Now imagine this conflict, or imperial rivalry if you prefer, to the rest of the inner solar system in Victorian Science Fiction. The new Space: 1889 novels have done so, with a mad Russian conducting infernal experiments for the Tsar inside a lunar crater.

   If you are looking for a good counter to British colonialism, but are reluctant to use the more common Prussian/German enemy model, give the Russians a look. There are a LOT of them, and history is really on your side here.

22 April 2012

"Q" is for...

(God Bless Her!)

   Her Majesty Victoria, by Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland Queen, Defender of the Faith, Empress of India. She literally defined the era which was named for her. The longest reigning monarch of Britain, she oversaw the expansion of Empire across the globe, and into the solar system.

21 April 2012

"P" is for...


   The world is hollow, you say? An absurd idea! But at one time many believed this to be the case. Some still do. Edmund Halley is most famous for the comet named after him. He also thought the earth was hollow, a theory he proposed in 1692. The biggest push for the idea, though, came from John Cleves Symmes, who published a pamphlet in 1818 describing how access to the interior could be achieved by traveling through openings at both the north and south poles. Symmes even petitioned the U.S. Congress to fund an expedition to "Symmes Hole!" Sadly, the sticks-in-the-mud in Congress weren't interested.

   Pellucidar was first discovered by David Innes and Abner Perry, who built an "iron mole" to reach mineral wealth deep in the Earth. Their journey ended abruptly when they emerged into the inner world of Pellucidar. The adventures of Innes and Perry were chronicled, starting in 1915, in Edgar Rice Burrough's series of novels about it, beginning with To the Earth's Core.

   Pellucidar is a world without time, without night, and without mercy. Dinosaurs and prehistoric mammals of all sorts roam the interior of our Earth. Humanity is a few scattered tribes of primitive men and women, who are under the control of the beastly Mahar and their savage Sagoth enforcers.

   But Pellucidar is not the only variant of the Hollow Earth theory in popular fiction or gaming. DC Comics once had Skartaris, a lost world accessible only by the polar regions, in which Travis Morgan became Warlord. TSR had a Hollow World RPG. Back to Victorian Science Fiction, the idea is in use by When the Navy Walks, in the world of Earthin.

   Earthin is a strange place inhabited by fantastic beasts and humans of many different cultures. These cultures evolved apart from their surface cousins, and are therefore noticeably altered from them. I can't go into a great deal of detail about this mysterious place... yet.

20 April 2012

"O" is for...


   Herr Doktor Professor Otto Maton, a Belgian mechanickal genius, is the designer of many of the wondrous mechanickal devices that inhabit my Victorian Science Fiction universe. Some of these inventions are in use by a variety of empires and nations. A partial listing of his impressive works includes:
  • Whirlifliegertornister: the whirling flying backpack used by fliegerjaeger
  • Voltaic pistol: a sidearm which discharges a ray of intense heat and light
  • Maton's Aetherpropeller: smallest known aetherpropeller
  • Sentinel Walker: A British light armoured steam walker.
  • Anti-'Nef Rocket: A set of barrage rockets specifically calibrated to shoot down flying vessels
  • Steamhorse: a mechanickal horse, powered by steam, of course
  • Sono-troller: a hypersonic projector which controls automata at a distance
  • Black Smoke Projector: a fiendish artillery device
  • Magneto-gun: using electromagnets, it fires a high velocity steel projectile
   Automatons are, not surprisingly, his specialty. He has built hundreds of them, to serve him in all capacities. They operate under programs written by Maton or his assitants and then inserted into their mechanickal brains. His work with mechanickal beings has left him quite unhinged, however, and Maton is currently in hiding on Mars. His goal is to set himself up as Otto the First, Solarian Emperor.

Brass Soldaten [Clockwork Soldiers, 25mm, Parroom Station]

[Hoverbots, 25mm, Hydra Miniaturs]

Limpet Spiders
[Steam Spiders, 25mm, Wyrd Miniatures]

[Destroyer, 25mm (and HUGE), Hydra Miniatures]

[25mm, Privateer Press]

[25mm, Reaper]
   Maton is served by several nefarious characters of biological origin as well. His primary lieutenants are a Celestial woman named Yuko Oni and a French madamoiselle named Luci D'Amonds, both of whom he has trained extensively in the programming and control of automata. He has another assistant, the mysterious figure known only as Fez. No one is sure where Fez comes from. Many human mercenaries also serve the cause of Maton, in hopes of gaining a position of importance under his Empire. To hide their identities, and protect themselve from the poisonous gasses that Maton is fond of using in his diabloical schemes, they wear elaborate breathing masks.

The Mysterious "Fez"

Masked Minions
[25mm, Parroom Station]
   Maton imagines himself to be a serious threat to the Solar System. To date, he has been more of a nuisance in the badlands of Mars than anything else, although many nations regret the loss of his particular brand of genius. Germany would be very happy to capture him and force him to develop new weapons for them, as would the Tsar.

   From a gaming perspective, one of the nice things about automatons is that they are really pretty scale-neutral. I use the same figures for 15mm and 25mm. In 15mm, they are just bigger and scarier. I also make mine a bit... unpredictable. While they know no fear, they can malfunction. Rules for using Automatons in GASLIGHT can be found in Vol. 1, Issue 1 of The Aethergraph.
   As a side note, every photo in this post comes from my personal minis collection.

19 April 2012

"N" is for...

Emperor of these United States
Protector of Mexico

His Imperial Majesty, in full uniform

The REAL Norton

   Joshua Abraham Norton (c. 1819 – January 8, 1880), the self-proclaimed Imperial Majesty Emperor Norton I, was a celebrated citizen of San Francisco, California, who in 1859 proclaimed himself "Emperor of these United States" and subsequently "Protector of Mexico."

   Born in England, Norton spent most of his early life in South Africa. He emigrated to San Francisco in 1849. Norton initially made a living as a businessman, but he lost his fortune investing in Peruvian rice. After losing a lawsuit in which he tried to void his rice contract, Norton left San Francisco. He returned a few years later, apparently mentally unbalanced, claiming to be the Emperor of the United States. Although he had no political power, and his influence extended only so far as he was humored by those around him, he was treated deferentially in San Francisco, and currency issued in his name was honored in the establishments he frequented.

   Though he was considered insane, or at least highly eccentric, the citizens of San Francisco celebrated his regal presence and his proclamations, most famously, his "order" that the United States Congress be dissolved by force. On January 8, 1880, Norton collapsed at a street corner, and died before he could be given medical treatment. The following day, nearly 30,000 people packed the streets of San Francisco to pay homage to Norton.

The VSF Norton

   In at least one VSF-style world, Norton is a serious ruler. Emperor Norton I is the ruler of the Bear Flag Empire (encompassing the modern-day states of California, Oregon, and Washington) in the Castle Falkenstein series of roleplaying games. Originally installed as a figurehead by the leaders of the Bear Flag Revolt, he was popularly asked to remain as a beloved monarch after the assassinations of the men that had originally propped him up.

  As a ruler, I could see Norton being the driving force behind a war with Peru (they cheated him on the rice!). Or, the Bear Flag Empire might be the focus of a re-conquest by either Mexico or the United States as they try to re-establish control in the aftermath of an extended Civil War. An intersting imagi-nation, to be sure.

   As an archetype of the sort of ruler a Balkanized North America could prodcue, Norton I is a great example. And besides, he's kind of fun. In real life, people went along with the man's delusions of grandeur because it was fun to do so; why can't we do the same now? Outrageous characters are part of what makes Victorian Science Fiction so much fun, after all. And it doesn't get much more (harmlessly) outrageous than His Imperial Majesty, Norton I.

18 April 2012

"M" is for...


“In one respect at least the Martians are a happy people, they have no lawyers.”
--John Carter, Warlord of Barsoom

The REAL Mars

   People have always been fascinated with Mars, that bright red spot up in the night sky. The red color had the ancients think it must be related to the god of war, since it was blood-coloured. Hence, the name. Since Schiaparelli noticed the appearance of channels across the surface of Mars in 1877, people have speculated that Mars was inhabited. This springs somewhat from the mistranslation of the word he used, canali, meaning "channels," for "canals." The lines have since been proven to be an optical illusion. But that is boring, real world science, and I like Victorian Science Fiction!
Schiaparelli's canali


   As far as Victorian Sicence Fiction is concerned, we have two distinctly different models: Edgar Rice Burroughs's Barsoom and H. G. Wells's War of the Worlds version. I'll start with my favorite, BARSOOM!
The Races of Barsoom (from an ERB website)
   Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote about Barsoom starting with his novel A Princess of Mars, first published in 1917. In it, we are introduced to a world of warriors, with flying ships, giant aliens, and beautiful women. Swords flash, guns blaze, and many a buckle is thoroughly swashed over the course of the eleven novels. They are set in years from roughly 1866 to 1940, but on Barsoom, very little changes in the course of the series. The books are romanticist pulp at its finest, with dashing heroes, despicable villains, and beautiful, constantly-emperiled heroines. The planet itself is dying, slowly, its oceans long dry, and the atmosphere maintained only by the wondrous atmosphere plant, which John Carter (the hero of many of the novels) saves at the end of Princess of Mars.

   Barsoom was the inspiration for Frank Chadwick's own Mars of the Space: 1889 universe. naturally, Frank made a number of changes to make it his own. And I love them, too. Flying High Martians, nomadic Hill Martians, Canal Martians huddling in their dying cities, the flying ships held aloft by liftwood, and all of it open to European imperialism! What's not to love in that? The VSF universe that I use is primarily based around this vision of Mars.


   Another popular vision of Mars is that descended from the writings of H.G. Wells. In 1898, he published The War of the Worlds, a tale about an invasion of England by Martians. Unlike the humanoid Martians of Burroughs's novels, Wells creates monsters. Their technology is superior to Earth's, however, and their giant tripod war machines go about southern England, slaying indiscriminately with heat ray and poisonous black smoke. Wells was most likely influenced by invasion literature of the era, especially The Battle of Dorking, which postulated a surprise German ("K" is for Kaiser!) invasion of Britain. The book (The War of the Worlds, that is) is a cracking good read, and has spawned several comics and both TV and film versions (I prefer the 1953 film, even though it lacks tripods). It has never been out of print.

Cover of the 1927 reprint in Amazing Stories

Tripod vs. HMS Thunder Child
   In VSF gaming, the tripod, black smoke projector and heat ray are the most commonly seen Wellsian devices. Some companies (Parroom Station and Black Hat come to mind) make "Cephalopod" figures, tentacled brains much like Wells's Martians. While I personally do not prefer the Cephies, they are described in many VSF gaming sources. I do like their tripods, however, and construction of tripod war machines is somewhere in my long, long list of projects.

17 April 2012

"L" is for...


Chameleon Skink, from DeviantArt

    Lizardmen. The most common denizens of Venus (although the Parrotmen are a close second), and hordes of them live in tribal units and warbands across the steaming jungle surface of the entire planet. There are literally dozens of different sorts, of varying sizes and colors. Some are crested, others are not. Some tower over the average man, some are the size of a healthy child. All are perfectly acclimated to their jungle planet's hot, humid lowland rainforests. They move silently through the underbrush and kill with neither warning nor compassion.

Salamander archers, 15mm, from Khurasan

   Germany has managed to befriend a few tribes of lizardmen who were in the vicinity of the German colony of Venusstaadt. These natives have been trained in the use of firearms, and organized into units of askaris or schutzetruppe to bolster the military strength of the German Empire on Venus. They have the added advantage of being able to travel through areas no human could survive.

GW Skink 'askari' conversion, 28mm

   Some of the larger tribes have very complex social structures, with the priests and temple guardians of the sacred spawning ponds at the very top of the heap, and the lowly slaves at the bottom. Their technology is crude, but effective nonetheless, and they can be trained to operate more complex machinery as well.

Martian Empires Lizardman Temple Guard, 18mm, by Black Hat
   Lizardmen come in a variety of sizes, one of the largest varieties (known in my VSF universe as a Kroc) is seen below. It seems that for the most part, the larger the lizardman, the less intelligent they usually are. Krocs have been known to trade for weapons and ornamentation with their smaller cousins. They have also been known to prey upon them for food.

GW Kroxigor, 28mm

   Some of the more advanced tribes have mastered their larger distant kin, the dinosaurs of Venus. Pictured below, you can see a tribe of blue-skinned lizardmen borne into battle atop a huge Stegadon. Other varieties have domesticated (at least partially) the pterosaurs as flying mounts, and other (mainly herbivorous) varieties as beasts of burden, much as the European colonists have done.

GW Lizardmen Stegadon, 28mm, all rights reserved, used w/o permission.

   The lizardmen make Venus a dangerous and exotic locale for adventure. Victorian Science Fiction would be a much less colorful place without them.

16 April 2012

"K" is for...


Kaiser Wilhelm II, 1890
   Kaiser Wilhelm II Hohenzollern, Emperor of Germany, King of Prussia, was born in 1859 and came to the throne in 1888. He was the eldest grandson of Queen Victoria through his mother, Victoria, and, more importantly, eldest son of Frederick III of Prussia. His love-hate relationship with Britain led to a fierce imperial rivalry for industrial, colonial, and naval dominance. Eventually, this rivalry would help to cause the Great War of 1914-18, even though he was supposedly on good personal terms with his cousins George V and Nicholas II. He was a terrible diplomat, usually angering the very nations he was trying to reassure (the Daily Telegraph interview comes to mind).

   That was the real history. In the alternate history that most Victorian Science Fiction is set in, Imperial Germany is (along with Imperial Russia) one of the great rivals of Britain for dominance of the Earth and the rest of the solar system. Germany is often given the 'bad guy' role as the "Hun," an image from the Great War a few decades after the Victorian Era. Prussian miliatrism and the autocratic government of the Reich (a term the Nazis hijacked later and stained forever) made them scary to the more democratic British.

Imperial German War Flag
   In my VSF universe, the Germans are the prime competitor for extraterrestrial colonies. Like in Space: 1889, they dominate Venus, where the British and Texicans and a few other nations with small settlements are considered by the Kaiser to be unwanted squatters. On British-dominated Mars, they have no official colony, but maintain friendly relations and have sent military aid and 'advisors' to the Galforrian Empire, the largest Martian nation not allied with Britain. In at least one other VSF universe that I am aware of, the Prussians have invaded England!

   So, "K is for Kaiser" - a good villain who really wasn't such a villain. Or at least, was no more villainous in the real world than any other European monarch.

15 April 2012

"J" is for...


    Jaeger means hunter. It was a term used for rifle armed light infantry, and generally considered to be an elite force. In America, we would call them Rangers. Like the old grenadier and fusilier designations, jaeger has, by the latter half of the 19th century, largely come to mean nothing more than an elite status over 'regular' line troops. They were usually equipped similarly to the line, although uniforms - especially dress uniform - would have been different. That's the historical model. But in VSF, as you know, the sky is the limit. And not always then.

    In particular, I am thinking about the whirlifliegerjaegers that Eureka Miniatures makes. I love these minis. They epitomize the crazy gadgetry that makes Victorian Science Fiction so much fun. I mean, having a big, heavy wind-up-key-and-spring powered helicopter backpack on your back to jump into combat. Totally impractical. But very cool. All of them are considered elites, because what military would give expensive experimental equipment to a bunch of raw conscripts to bust, or sell for booze money?

Hauptmann von Schtupp, Fliegerjaeger
    Flying troops like the fliegerjaeger are common to VSF gaming as well. There is a British equivalent, the Skywalkers. And several folks use rocket troops. Space: 1889's High Martians (Kraag Martians) fly without mechanickal devices. And then there are the flying mounts, biological and mechanickal. Lots of room for more aerial conflicts, air assaults, defense from airships, and so on.

14 April 2012

"I" is for...


   When I wrote about "B is for... Britain," it dawned on me that while real nations are often the heart of Victorian Science Fiction campaigns, there are a huge number of imaginary ones being used by gamers and authors. I think that the category could be extended to include nations that really existed, but have ceased to do so somewhere in our 'real' timeline. With that in mind, here are a few imagi-nations I find interesting.

Kingdom of Hawai'i The idea of my friend Eli, where if I recall correctly, earlier exposure to Europeans allowed more immunities to diseases later, and an alliance with Britain makes them a protectorate, so that the United States never really develops control there. Polynesian feathered cloaks and breechloading rifles = fun.

King Kalakaua I
Republic of Texas One of my personal pet projects. My timeline has the Republic never being annexed and developing an alliance with Britain. My friend Jim and I have developed a timeline which extends from 1836 to 2036. Interesting place, the Republic. They have conquered the northern parts of Mexico and even established an overseas colony in the Pacific (sort of a leftover of a war against Mexico and France). The Texicans established a colony on Venus, though only trading posts and consulates on Mars.

Confederate States A favorite of many alternate histories is the idea that the South is not defeated in the American Civil War. Maybe the war is ongoing, extended far past the actual four years. Maybe the reinforcements at First Manassas managed to pursue the fleeing Union troops all the way back into Washington, capturing the capitol. Whatever device is used, the use of anachronistic steam technology in the War Between the States makes for interesting games.

File:Confederate National Flag since Mar 4 1865.svg
3rd National Flag of the CSA
Confederated Italian States Another of my pet projects has Italy still divided, but working together against other large European nations. Garibaldi died as a result of wounds, and the dream of Italian nationalism went with him. The major states of the CIS are the Papal States, the Serene Republic of Venice, the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, and the Kingdom of Savoy-Piedmont.

Laputa Another idea brought to my attention by Eli. Laputa is a flying island which migrates around the Pacific, exacting tribute from the primitives below them. The Laputans have some advanced technologies which they are no longer able to replicate or repair, but can still operate. This includes a variety of flying ships and weapons that are slowly wearing out.

Atlantis The classic mythological 'lost' island, where advanced technology was commonplace. In some VSF universes (When the Navy Walks comes to mind), Atlantis is no myth, but a real place. Atlantean technology can open doorways to the deep seas, and allow players to hunt for Captain Nemo.

Ruritania A classical imagi-nation, from The Prisoner of Zenda, if I recall correctly. A tiny Central European nation, it is mentioned in Soldier's Companion, complete with flag and uniform information. Speaking of which, I highly recommend the Soldier's Companion as a sourcebook, even if you are not interested in the rules.

Free Republic of Ireland Another alternate history nation, where Ireland manages to win a rebellion against the British somehow. My guess would be help from France or Germany at some point, or possibly (though less likely, I think) Russia. Not one I use in my VSF universe, but it is popular in others.

Transbalkania A nation I have never put together, but which I have postulated to exist. It makes up a considerable piece of the Balkan mountains. I know that ethnic and religious rivalries prevent it in the real world, but it gives an excuse for a bewildering array of uniforms.

Bongolesia Originally a setting for Mike Murphy's modern AK-47 Republic game, I took this nation back to colonial-era Africa. It is claimed by several nations, because of the value of one particular plant.

Modern Bongolesian Flag

  And, of course, there are all of the alien nations, city-states, tribal groups, etc., which populate the other worlds of our solar system. Helium, both Greater and Lesser, and Zadonga from the Barsoomian novels come to mind, or my own Galfor, or the Oenotrian Empire of Space: 1889. Really, there are few limits to this categoy of imagi-nation.

   Lastly, one of the reasons we use imagi-nations is to divorce the setting of our games from actual history. This can help defuse any accusations of 'latent imperialism' or Euro-centrism (although the age was Euro-centric!). It's hard to accuse someone of ebing some sort of wannabe Clive or Rhodes when they are 'conquering' an imaginary place using toy soldiers. Sad what we have to consider this point, but there it is...