Gold in Hyberborea: A Space 1889 Campaign Setting

My previous Space 1889 blog post described Hyperborea, the region around Mars’s north pole. I will here conclude the excursion into that part of the Red Planet by presenting a campaign outline.

Introduction: The Maariti Gold Rush in Hyperborea
Suddenly the rumour is all over Mars: gold has been found in the Trans-Polodaari hills at the sources of the Maariti creek, northeast of the city-state of Polodaar. Many adventurous individuals journey to that part of Hyperborea to test their luck, thereby turning it into an ill-administered and turbulent place for about five years (after which the gold is depleted). This is the background for a campaign in which the PCs attempt to strike it rich in a lawless land.

The Maariti Area
The Trans-Polodaari hills are low and undulating with poor soil that discourage farming. The climate has a distinctly arctic quality (see the previous article for climate facts), so there is a lot more humidity here than further south, particular during the melting season when the retreating snowcap generates a lot of water. Hardy low plants with occasional thorny shrubberies and copses of trees cover the hills. The fauna is fairly varied. Narrow streams flow in the hills, gradually merging to creeks which eventually enter the canal going from the icecap to Polodaar.

The Maariti is one of these creeks, originating about one hundred miles east of the canal. It and some of its tributaries contain auriferous sand, which can be washed from the water by the traditional manual pan process. The streams are rarely more than two feet deep and six feet wide whereas the Maariti itself is equally shallow, but up to twenty feet wide.

The Common Gold-washers
Gold offers an irresistible lure for many, especially for poor people who see it as an opportunity to escape a dreary life. However, those dreams of wealth usually turn out to be just dreams, because few gold-washers are lucky enough to become wealthy. Most just spend some tough years in the hills and then return home as poor as when they arrived — unless they join the really unlucky ones in shallow graves outside the hill encampments.

The average gold-washer is a sturdy but poor Canal Martian lad. He heard the tales of gold northeast of Polodaar, spent his savings equipping himself and trekked the long way to the Maariti. He arrived a bit naïve but soon learned the basic skills of his new trade and the need to work long hours in cold water to avoid starvation. He also learned the necessity of cooperation. A solitary person has slim chances of survival in a place where there are no effective authorities. The common gold-washers therefore band together for mutual benefit; they build palisade-encircled encampments and jointly maintain some semblance of law and order. It is important for them to properly delineate land claims and to find methods of settling disputes without resorting to violence. For those purposes they have adapted the legal traditions of Polodaar to a set of common law regulations fitting their needs.

There is a sprinkling of non-Canal Martians here, too: rough Red Men of many nationalities and young Hill Martians.

A Typical Encampment
The gold-washers prefer to live in sturdy canvas tents, which are easy to transport from one location to another. An ordinary encampment has a population of 20 to 100. It is encircled by a log palisade to keep scavenging animals and unwanted visitors out. Inside, the encampment is divided into distinct sections for tents, for cooking, for artisans’ workshops, for latrines, and for keeping pack animals. Wagons must usually be parked outside the palisade. Usually, the most important joint facilities in the encampment are the latrines and the stable; both arranged to improve the general hygienic standard and avoid epidemics.

The Artisans and the Entrepreneurs
The people that really make money out of the gold rush are those that provide the gold-washers with vital goods and services — like tools, intoxicants, and women — at exorbitant rates, the pricing being by traditional methods of supply and demand.

In an encampment there is always a steady need for blacksmiths, wainwrights, tent-makers, and tailors to maintain and repair the gold-washers’ possessions. Due to the generally inflated price levels, a skilled artisan is able to charge twice or thrice as much as in the cities. However, his costs are equally inflated. Often, an artisan is a part-time gold-washer as well. Since he provides essential services while usually being a fully integrated member of the gold-washer community, he is generally accepted by everyone.

The gold-washers are able to provide much of their own food by hunting and cultivating small garden plots inside the encampments. However, the common man’s skills are not enough to produce items like spices or tasty beverages. The entrepreneurs supplying such merchandise earn well, and are often the subjects of the gold-washers’ dislike and envy, forcing them to employ bodyguards for protection. Many entrepreneurs are criminals from Thoth or Alclyon, sent here by their bosses to make a quick profit.

The Strongmen
Another group of winners are those strongmen who, with the help of their henchmen, exclude others from rich areas and let their underlings exploit their gold with the most sophisticated methods available. Since the corrupt warden Taarir heads the only local Polodaari authority, the strongmen are able to run most of their businesses unhindered as long as they grease his palm. However, Taarir does not accept too blatant a criminal behaviour, so even the strongmen have to clothe their activities with fig leaves of legality.

The Player Characters
Various occupations and pursuits suitable for player characters in this environment, ranging from ordinary gold-washers to artisans to mercenary guards. The two latter categories can more easily move around in the Maariti area in search of jobs and income; hence, these may be more preferable pursuits for the PCs.

The Polodaari Presence
Taarir the Warden
Polodaar’s ruling prince has taken some measures to monitor the situation at the Maariti and to try to curb the worst disregard for law and order. He has organized the Maariti area as a separate subdistrict of the North-East District and appointed Taarir, an officer of the Polodaari army rangers as its warden and judge.

Taarir received a company of fifty soldiers to assist him in his less than envious task. Taarir accepted his mission with dark pleasure in his heart, since he realized that this was good chance to make a small fortune through corruption. Being the only permanent representative of Polodaar in the area, there is nobody to oversee him and discover that he accepts bribes. However, he is not stupid, so he is careful to maintain a surface of respectability and honesty. The best way of satisfying those that bribe him while keeping an aura of credibility is to be elsewhere when something critical happens and to bias the judicial process by an excessive use of petty technicalities to achieve the desired results. Already after one year as warden, Taarir is thoroughly disliked by the gold-washers, but they cannot accuse him of any substantial wrongdoings. Most of their complaints against entrepreneurs and strongmen founder on technicalities, while their opponents are far more successful when they bring their cases to the warden’s judgement.

The Warden’s Soldiers
The Polodaari Army Rangers is a light infantry warband recruited from the rural districts of Polodaar. It has been trained for independent anti-bandit operations in the wilderness. Its soldiers are skilled frontiersmen, which is why they were chosen to accompany Taarir on his mission.

Fifty soldiers cannot keep complete control of several thousand gold-washers scattered in dozens of wilderness encampments. Their main task is to prevent outbreaks of anarchy and banditry, and so far they have managed well. However, they have occasionally been ordered to enforce Taarir’s unjust decisions against gold-washers. This has caused a lot of resentment among these people who no longer fraternize with the soldiers. The two groups become more and more estranged.

The soldiers really dislike going against their countrymen. They think that their main task is to fight bandits and High Martians, not to evict ordinary gold-washers from disputed land. There is therefore a growing discontent among them with Taarir’s policies.

The Hill Martian Natives
Many local Hill Martians disapprove of the influx of greedy strangers who — intentionally and unintentionally — disrupt their traditional way of life. Some natives also want the gold for themselves since they see themselves as the “property holders” of the area (though it was some Red Men that found the auriferous sand). For these reasons there is occasional Hill Martian banditry and the gold-washers’ encampments face intermittent raids. The newcomers have learned the hard way to always travel in well-armed groups.

On the other hand, a lot of Hill Martians earn money by selling supplies to the gold-washers. There is a steady demand for flour, meat and hides, goods that the natives produce themselves and exchange for gold at a good rate. The precious metal is then used to buy tools and weapons from the city of Polodaar.

Hence there is no united Hill Martian front against the gold-washers. Instead, there has already been strife among the natives when antagonistic groups have tried to settle their conflicts by force. (This is fortunate for the Canal Martians; should the natives unite, the newcomers would have little chance of surviving in the hills.) So far, few Canal Martians know of these incidents, since there is so little communication between the two ethnic groups.

The Trans-Polodaari High Martians
There are some High Martian tribes stalking the Trans-Polodaari hills. However, their number is small at this time so raids are very rare. The High Martians have a healthy respect for the Hill Martians, whose hunters have displayed great skill in dealing with their raiding parties.

The High Martians have little information on the events in the hills and do not understand why there is such a sudden influx of Canal Martians. Occasionally, a group attacks a gold-washer encampment to steal food and weaponry, but there is no organized warfare due to the absence of a strong leader to take command over the squabbling savages.

Searching For Gold
A gold-washer is a stationary person, spending long boring days sifting sand in the stream where he has staked his claim. He searches for small nuggets that have been eroded out the Trans-Polodaari rock and transported by water down-stream. The nuggets are, small weighing just a few grams, and pretty hard to spot unless one possesses the proper experience.

It is suggested that the Gamemaster uses the following simple method to determine how much gold a player character discover during a day in the stream. Since this is a fairly boring task, it should be burdened by too much arithmetic.

The Formula For Success
Roll 1D6. Subtract 3 if the stream is of poor quality, 2 if the stream is a good one. Subtract another 1 if the character has worked less than a month as a gold-washer.

The result is the amount of gold, measured in “steps” of 1/16th of an troy ounce (one such “step” is approximately 2 grams), that the gold-washer has found. If the final result is zero or negative: too bad, you did not find any gold today.

If you roll a 6, roll again and add the result; if you roll another 6, roll again, etc. It is an open-ended series of rolls, making it possible, though extremely unlikely, to find quite big lumps of gold.

Example: The experienced Xaanak, who has staked a section of poor quality stream, works hard a sunny day; his player rolls 6, and hence rolls again, another 6, and again, 3, giving 15-3 (poor quality stream) = 12/16th troy oz. So Fred Brown really struck it lucky when he found a gold lump weighing about 25 grams.

His buddy Quoon in the adjacent stake is less lucky, his player rolling a 2, giving a zero result. No nuggets found today. However, he expects Xaanak to make a small celebration with his buddies tonight.

The Seven Mercenaries: A Maariti Adventure
Orthaad is a local strongman in the Maariti area, originally being a crime-lord from Alclyon. He claims a large rich area for his henchmen. However, it already contained some gold-washer encampments, including one settled exclusively by a group Hill Martians from Cebrenia — and their inhabitants showed no inclination of moving out. The conflict between the gold-washers and Orthaad’s henchmen gradually escalate. Eventually the boss sends for seven notorious Hill Martian mercenaries (originating in Karkarham) from Alclyon, giving them the task of cleaning the area of its unwanted occupants.

The PCs, living or staying in one of the encampments, face the choice between fighting the injustice or leaving. Their fellow gold-washers are tough frontiersmen, but not warriors. The seven mercenaries are competent and merciless and plan to kill or scare away the undesirable gold-washers with terror, leaving false clues implicating local Hill Martians as the perpetrators. The mercenaries’ presence is initially unknown, but the PCs have the opportunity of uncovering the true story behind the fearsome events. However, putting them permanently out of action will be a major accomplishment.

Day 1
The seven mercenaries arrive by foot in the area and establish as small hidden camp in a copse some distance from the disputed area. After sunset, the mercenaries’ spokesman walks to Orthaad’s camp to discuss the strongman’s plans.

Day 2
From dawn till after sunset, the mercenaries scout the area to learn what it looks like and how their adversaries work and live.

Day 3–4
A few hours after sunset, the mercenaries capture two gold-washers, who are doing maintenance on their wagons, from the PCs’ encampment. The prisoners are brought to a secluded spot by the mercenaries, interrogated brutally and the situation in the encampment and its surroundings and then killed and buried in hidden graves. The kidnapping is executed with no obvious traces, so the victims’ friends are unable to find out what has really happened. The culprits are skilled frontiersmen and know how to hide their movements. This is a part of the mercenaries’ plan to strike terror in the gold-washers’ hearts, since an unknown foe is always more frightening than a known one.

The disappearances are discovered after a few hours but nobody is able to understand what exactly has happened.

Day 4
During day 4, the mercenaries stalk some gold-washers who work alone and kill and rob three, one of which is Kwaliwi the Cebreni. (None of the victims belong to the PCs’ encampment.) The Karkarhamis do not leave any genuine clues to who did it. Instead, at one murder site they drop a typical local Hill Martian dagger.

The rumours of the killings spread like wildfire in the area. The stories become more and more distorted and frightening as they travel by word of mouth. Soon a lot of gold-washers are convinced that Hill Martian vampires and other terrible creatures stalk them.

Day 5 Onwards
The mercenaries continue their terror campaign, killing and robbing gold-washers. Since nobody dares working alone, the killers have to deal with groups of two and three adversaries, but that will pose no major problem. Fear spreads among the gold-washers and many prepare to depart for other areas. The Cebrenis get angry and decide to hole up in their encampment, while trying to find out who killed their friend.

If the PCs do not successfully deal with the mercenaries, the area will after two weeks be empty of gold-washers, apart from the stubborn Cebrenis. Orthaad’s henchmen will gradually take over the abandoned encampments, while the mercenaries depart from the area. The crime lord has then achieved his plans.

While all this goes on, the Warden and his men will be on patrol in another part of his area of responsibility. He has been bribed to stay away for at least three weeks.

Copyright © 1996 Anders Blixt
Space: 1889 is Frank Chadwick’s registered trademark for his game of Victorian Era space-faring

1 thought on “Gold in Hyberborea: A Space 1889 Campaign Setting

  1. Pingback: Space 1889: Martian Hyperborea | The Dream Forge

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