Space 1889: Fighting Leopold’s Tyranny

Our group has been playing one continuous Space 1889 campaign on and off since 1990. Now we have reached 1898, though only two PCs have been along for the whole ride. We have played a group of Swedish and Russian aristocrats with retinues, serving Monarch and Motherland in distant dangerous places.

Leopold II, probably the most evil man in the Victorian world.


However, I have recently decided to make a mood reboot. In 2019, I will start a new story arch that focuses on fighting the rapacious regime of Leopold II, king of the Belgians and of the Congo Free State in the Coprates. His activities have so far not figured in our campaign, because its adventures have mainly been located in the Parhoon/Syrtis/Gorklimsk region.

The players will create new characters that come from the middle and lower classes, and who are working for a Martian equivalent of the Congo Reform Association, though with more guts and glory. I have decided that in our timeline, the Coprates Colony is owned by the Congo Free State government in order to make it a more fearsome and despicable antagonist. The PCs are financed by American philanthropists who wish to see an end to Leopold’s abominable exploitation of the natives. The PCs have a fairly free hand to achieve this, since their faraway benefactors are shielded by a plausible deniability setup. More old-school Mission Impossible and Indiana Jones than Edmund Dene Morel punching Congostaters is a good and righteous deed.

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Space 1889: Martian Gun Towers

These drawings by Jeffrey Chew of 19th-century colonial fortifications, so called Martellos, are easily adapted to the peculiarities of Martian warfare, primarily by the addition of machine guns or pompoms that are supposed to engage airborne foes. After all, raids by High Martians are uncomfortably common at outlying garrisons that guard mountain passes or caravan routes.

On Venus, one would find these towers next to trading posts and ports.

“Space 1889”: Sky Wolves in Action

The year is 1891 and the place is Mars. A pack of steam-propelled airships slogs it out with a sky frigate above a canal city. The small ships display no flags, so their attack is a case of piracy and not a legitimate act of war.

This is a scene from the Victorian science fiction game Space 1889 (link >>> ) by Frank Chadwick. This has been my favorite game since the early 1990s; my buddies and I have experienced scores of adventures in the dilapidated cities and cold skies of the Red Planet.

Click on the picture for a larger version.

Artist: Flavio Bolla at DeviantArt

X-Files 200 Years Ago?

An UFO observation in the early 19th century?

Could this be an UFO observation in the early 19th century? (Click on the picture for a larger version.)

Strange phenomena in the sky? People have reported such matters for a long time, even though the “flying saucer” fad only dates back to the 1940s. In the late 19th century people instead spoke of encounters with human-piloted airships with amazing capabilities, and in earlier times chroniclers mentioned observations of dragons or scary omens among the clouds.

Every now and then old art unbiddingly kick-starts my creativity. When I recently saw this painting by Caspar David Friederich, a Romantic artist active in the first decades of the 19th century, I read it as a depiction of a UFO encounter by two Germans during the Napoleonic Wars. X-Files in a historical setting, so to speak.

Such an interpretation could serve as the starting-point for an adventure in Götterdämmerung (a Swedish 18th-century horror RPG); as a clue indicating that something nefarious travels through time in Skuggornas Mästare (a Swedish modern-day conspiracy-themed RPG); or as the inspiration for an “X-File-ish” campaign that mixes GURPS Age of Napoleon with GURPS Atomic Horror.

It is also possible to realign the steampunk Space 1889 to a tarpunk Space 1809 by letting UFOs take a group of Regency-era adventurers to Mars (that world remains the same, just remove Victorian colonialism). Martian muskets and steam engines use technologies that are familiar to Westerners of that era, and serious speculations about alien populated worlds were introduced in European academia already in the 16th century, by for example Giordano Bruno.