Diesel-era paleontology

A colored lantern slide view of Roy Chapman Andrews and George Olsen at “nest of the even dozen dinosaur eggs” on the Third Asiatic Expedition in Mongolia in 1925. (By James B. Shackelford) Click on the picture for a larger version.

The American Museum of Natural History in New York has launched a new photographic section on its website, providing plenty of pictures from scientific exploration in the past — link >>>

Gadgets for Space 1889


Anti-fatigue drug
Anti-fatigue drug takes away feelings of fatigue and sleepiness. A person taking this drug can stay awake and work hard without feeling tired and without suffering the usual ill effects of exhaustion and lack of sleep. The effect of the drug lasts two hours per reliability point. Extra pills has no further effect. When the duration has passed, the user quickly falls asleep for ten hours. Prolonged daily use of the drug will gradually halve its beneficial effects and dependency may develop.

Weight: 10 doses per ounce.
Price: £2 per pill.
Research data: Chemistry, Biology, 17, 2.

Cellulose digester
Cellulose digester is a liquid which gives the human intestines the ability to utilize the cellulose found in plant fibers. If a human drinks half a pint of the drug just before a meal, he can efficiently digest grass and leaves just like an herbivore. The advantage is that you do not need to bring any food while traveling in Earth’s wilderness. Instead, you can survive on what plants nature provides. However, the fare is bland and boring. Caution is also necessary, since there are many poisonous plants and the drug does not protect against their effects.

Weight: 1 lb per pint.
Price: £1 per pint.
Research data: Chemistry, Biology, 20, 3.

Dream drug
Dream drug produces very vivid dreams and may unleash ideas hidden in the user’s subconscious. The drug is most likely to be used by authors and artists seeking inspiration. Sometimes it can also be used by a scientist who is looking for a solution to a complicated problem and who hopes that this is hidden deep inside their minds. When taking a pill the user loses consciousness for about one hour, during which he dreams intensely. Add the character’s Intellect and the drug’s reliability to see how many dice should be rolled towards the difficulty level of the problem. If successful, the character will get some kind of flash of inspiration from his dreams. If all the dice are 1’s, the user wakes screaming due to terrible nightmares; for the next 24 hours all his difficulty levels will become one step harder, since he is so upset by this experience. Prolonged daily use of the drug will cause delusions and hallucinations.

Weight: 10 doses per ounce.
Price: £2 per pill.
Research data: Chemistry, Biology, 20, 2.


Stun-ray Pistol
This gun fires a bluish energy bolt that stuns living creatures (up to a gashant or a horse in size) and disrupts the operation of electrical devices. The discharge is accompanied by a loud cracking sound and the odor of ozone.

A person or creature hit by the ray is stunned for (6 + gun reliability – target endurance) rounds. An electrical device hit by the ray is rendered inoperable and must be repaired by a skilled technician before functioning properly again.

Weapon data: Shots 1, Magazine 10, Required strength 2.
Effective range: reliability × 1 yards.
Reloading: The magazine is reloaded by connecting the pistol to an electrical power source for one minute per “shot”.
Weight: 10 lbs.
Price: £30.
Research data: Physics, Electricity, 20, 2.

Ultrasonic Scanner
This device emits ultrasonic signals and measures the time it takes for their echoes to return to produce an outline of the surroundings on a screen (basically utilizing the same method as bats). It is very useful where visibility is limited, such as underground, underwater, and in fog. However, the quality of the screen’s picture is far below that of the eye, since it only shows the outlines of observed objects and they are often hard to identify properly. Humans, Martians and Lizardmen do not hear the ultrasonics, but many animals, for instance dogs and bats, perceive the sounds as unpleasant noise.

Observation range: reliability × 100 yards. (The device does not function in vacuum.)
Weight: 40 lbs.
Price: £50.
Research data: Physics, Electricity, 23, 4.


Rocket Tube
This weapon is a 6ft tube with 4-inch caliber. It is a recoil-less single-shot breech-loader that fires solid-fuel rockets with explosive warheads. The kneeling marksman puts the tube on his shoulder when firing. The loader kneels behind him, feeding ammunition into the tube. The rocket warhead is either shrapnel or shell. When firing, a searing flame extends momentarily about 15 feet behind the weapon; the loader must beware.

Weapon data: Shots 1, Reload 1, Required strength 3, Burst 2.
Effective range: reliability × 30 yards.
Weight: tube 15 lbs, rocket 10 lbs.
Price: tube £20, rocket £5.
Research data: Structural Engineer, Machinist, 7, 0.

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

The Orion Space Craft — Nuclear Bomb Propulsion

During the Cold War, top-notch scientists and engineers in the United States developed plans for a interplanetary spacecraft, called the Orion, which was to be propelled by a string of nuclear explosions, hundreds or thousands of them. Project Orion’s first target was — unsurprisingly — Mars. BBC has made a documentary on the story.

Lady of Eagles

Ashol-Pan, Mongolian falconer and Lady of Eagles. (You will see a larger version if you click on the picture)

The BBC has published a web article about Ashol-Pan, a Mongolian teenage falconer hunting with a golden eagle. Fascinating pictures, too — link >>>

The lady and the landscape match with the Zaki people of my fantasy game-world Gondica: hardy mountain tribes with many warrior women.

X-15 and Its Current Heirs

X-15 heading for space

The X-15 research plane was a legendary rocket aircraft when I was a kid in the 1960s: a sleek black beauty that daring silver-suited pilots steered to the edge of space.

It turns out that its accomplishments fifty years ago have become useful once again in the current development of the state-of-the-art spacecraft SpaceShipTwo and DreamChaser. BBC has published an article on these aspects of the X-15 project – link >>>

And here is a period NASA documentary on the original X-15 project — link >>>

Space 1889: Some Notes on a Venus Story Arc

In our Space 1889 campaign, Venus has always had a tertiary role after Mars and Earth. So far we have only put one story arc there, mainly to test whether our players would enjoy it. The arc comprised a convoluted mix of a missing Swedish prince, a major nectar rush (i.e. a Venerian “gold rush” equivalent), Dutch trade politics, and some Czech nationalists’ anti-Habsburg schemes. After the finale, however, the players concluded that they rather stick to Mars, because Venus proved too limited in scope.

Our campaign had reached 1894 when the player characters landed on Venus, so we, the two gamemasters, made a timeline with various notable post-1889 developments, some of which are non-canon. We created the vast Tavda river as the location for all our adventures; it complied with old-time Hollywood clichés about jungle rivers: shabby riverside settlements, savage natives, ferocious beasts and daring explorers in steam-powered river-boats. (No local Tarzan equivalent, though.) We played this story arc in 2003 and unfortunately I have not been able to find the maps we used.

A Dutch trader's boat steaming on the Tavda river.

A Dutch trader’s boat steaming on the Tavda river. The thatched roof has been installed to keep mischief-making pterodactyls away.

1889 – the Russians Arrive in Venus
A Russian expedition, commanded by captain (2nd class) Nikefor Stefanovich Guzov, founds the Peterski Post outpost at the mouth of the Venerskaya Tavda river system and starts exploring up the river.

1890 – the Tavda Nectar Rush
In the spring of 1890, the dragon lily and its marvelous nectar (see below) are discovered in the Tavda basin by American botanist Dr Isaac Niedermayer of Yale University. When the news reach Earth, it ignites a veritable “gold rush” as fortune seekers and corporations head for that region to explore the rare plant. An international agreement regulates how Peterski Post can be used by all humans that travel on the Tavda.

1891 – Humans Settle in the Tavda Basin
During this year, numerous human settlements are established along the Tavda and its tributaries. This development causes many conflicts, both between humans and natives and between humans and humans. Ergo, Earth is seeing the development of a lawless “Wild Venus” region.

The Dutch establish a notable presence at several locations along the river, capitalizing on their experiences of exploiting tropical islands in the East Indies. Among others things, they have based two big navy zeppelins in the region.

1892 – the Genoa Conference on Venus
In January, an international conference is convened in Genoa to determine how the colonial powers are to divide Venus between them. The proceedings are partially patterned on the 1888 Congo Conference in Berlin, but with a vaster scope. Participants are Italy (whose foreign minister serves as chairman), Great Britain, Russia, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Japan, Austria-Hungary, Denmark, Sweden-Norway, and France. These states initially agree that they will not claim any uncontrolled territory before reaching an agreement about general colonization rules at the conference.¹ (The United States is invited but declines to participate citing the Monroe Doctrine, but actually because its government prefers an unregulated “open door” approach that would benefit American businesses.)

However, the conference fails to reach a comprehensive agreement, mainly because of hostility between France and Germany. Kaiser Wilhelm II has instructed his delegates to ardently pursue a maximalist line, whereas the French government rejects all suggestions that would imply that it is “soft” vis-à-vis Germany. The French delegation departs in March, after which the Italian chairman at the suggestion of Denmark and Sweden-Norway (actually urged by Great Britain) suspends the proceedings for five years. Hence the next session is scheduled to start in March 1897.

One important consequence of the failure is that there is no agreement whether the legal concept of terra nullius is applicable to Venus, i.e. whether the lizardmen aborigines are or are not sufficiently civilized to possess legal title to the land they inhabit². Germany has supported the terra nullius approach, whereas France has opposed it.

Another consequence is that Venus now will face at least five years of unregulated colonial exploitation. For instance, American and European corporations are planning to extract her riches in unrestrained manners that would be unacceptable on Earth or on Mars. They will also be able to function as de facto sovereign political entities in many locations.

Furthermore, the great powers have failed to implement various old terrestrial treaties on Venus, e.g. the Paris Declaration on the abolition of privateering.

1893 – a Remarkable (Non-Canon) Discovery on Venus
During this year, the Tavda Nectar Rush continues with unabated intensity. Humans reach further and and further into the wilderness around the Tavda.

At the end of 1893, a remarkable discovery is made in the upper Tavda region: a population of human natives on Venus. A team of Czech explorers, headed by geographer Dr Vaclav Turm of Prague University and sponsored by the Škoda corporation, discovers a tribe of white stone-age savages in the distant jungle region Husiči Rajon. (Later, several more such tribes are encountered.)

This discovery is a challenge to anthropologists and archaeologists alike: how could humans in the distant past have crossed interstellar space? After all, there are no known material remains on Earth of a sufficiently advanced “lost” civilization. Some scholars, however, point at Plato’s Atlantis or the descriptions of sophisticated machines and weapons in the ancient Indian epics Ramayana³ and Mahabharata as indicators of its existence. Others instead speculate about an antediluvian ice-free Antarctica as its home.


“Jurassic Park” Dinosaurs
A piece of advice: Always have a few Holland & Holland big-game rifles in your group when you explore the Venerian wilderness.

On purpose, we based the Venerian dinosaurs on the portrayals in the first Jurassic Park movie, because the players were familiar with it. In the vein of that movie, we had a shoot-out in a shabby hotel lobby with some raptors that had killed the staff. At that occasion our gun skills proved enough to slay the predators with no loss of life on our side.

Dragon Lily Nectar
The Dragon Lily is a rare Venerian plant (venerilysia draco yalei) with a mild seductive scent. It resembles a terrestrial lily, but its petals are orange with black streaks. The flower contains a nectar (circa 0,1 ml per flower), whose composition still is undetermined by chemists. The plant cannot, so far, be cultivated, but grows only in the wild.

The nectar enhances male vigor and frequently cures impotency. Therefore, there is an incredible demand for this liquid. The price among Venusstadt traders fluctuates around £1 per ml, while it costs ten times as much in London or Paris.

The Rescue Mission
A Swedish prince has vanished during an expedition to the upper Tavda valley. King Oscar II appoints the famous hero Lt.Col. Carl Nordenskiöld to lead a special mission to find out what has happened.

Ergo, the story arc started when the Swedish-British team of adventures stepped off the ether flier on Venus. Their first challenge was to reach Peterski Post, the next to get to the source of the Tavda. The final twist at the destination: the prince had gone native among the human savages, because he preferred their rough Spartan life-style to the polished courtly life in Stockholm. He refused to go home and Nordenskiöld later had to explain that decision to the irate king.

The Czech Conspiracy
The Czech nationalists have build a secret Bond-villain base in the remote wilderness, where they, among other things, are busy developing new technology to be used in their planned rebellion against the current Habsburg rule. They are also exploiting the local human natives as corvée labor in the customary Euro-colonial manner.

In the campaign, the player characters exploited this situation and assisted the natives carrying out a rebellion. The concluding adventure covered the expulsion of the Czechs and the destruction of their base.

¹ The principle of effective occupation states that powers can acquire rights over colonial lands only if they actually possess them: i.e. if they have treaties with local leaders, if they fly their flag there, and if they establish an administration in the territory to govern it with a police force to keep order. The colonial power can also make use of the colony economically. This principle is important not only as a basis for the European powers to acquire territorial sovereignty in Africa and on Venus, but also for determining the limits of their respective colonial possessions, as effective occupation serves in some instances as a criterion for settling disputes over the boundaries between colonies.

² In the 18th century, Great Britain claimed sovereignty over all of Australia by applying a terra nullius argument, i.e. that the stone-age Aborigines were to be considered too primitive to legally possess their land. The same principle was used in the 1840s for the British annexation of New Zealand’s South Island.

³ A pertinent quote from the Ramayana text: “The Pushpaka Vimana that resembles the Sun and belongs to my brother was brought by the powerful Ravana; that aerial and excellent Vimana going everywhere at will … that chariot resembling a bright cloud in the sky … and the King [Rama] got in, and the excellent chariot at the command of the Raghira, rose up into the higher atmosphere.” This vimana is some kind of aircraft-chariot.