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.

2 thoughts on “Space 1889: Some Notes on a Venus Story Arc

  1. Pingback: The Seas of Old Venus | The Dream Forge

  2. Pingback: Space 1889: A Trading Post on Venus | The Dream Forge

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.