Monday, September 30, 2013

Playtest 2 of Lowell Was Right!

Saturday's playtest session seriously rocked! The group had decided to run an earth-only campaign, where they were secret agents of the League of Nations (Not the historical league, but a super nation of the Eastern US and Canada, the UK, New Zealand, Australia, and a few smaller nations) in a world where the Germans won WWII, and all of Europe save the UK was Nazi.

They had been in Berlin only a few hours when both groups were visited by the Gestapo, and strange questions put to them. One two person group's cover was as a Mormon reporting team from Zion - a Nazi ally, and the other as a husband and wife Italian arms maker from Milan.

There was a League air raid on Berlin, and the power went out. The reporter and photographer went to the factory they were interested in and conducted some investigation and sabotage. Meanwhile, the husband and wife seduced the industrialist who owned the factory and his personal secretary during the raid and blackout.

Afterward, the husband and wife were abducted by a resistance group. They shot their way out and deliberately killed the partisans, plus one Royal Navy officer with them. The office had given them the backgrounds of real persons currently existing. They are starting to think they were being set up.

Lots of tight, tense action, paranoia and suspicion.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Asteroid Belt in Lowell Was Right!

The asteroids are the scattered remnants of the fifth planet, called by the Martians Perago, and destroyed when Mars was at the height of her power, about the time humans were discovering agriculture. From Martian evidence, the people of Perago were much like earth’s naked mole rat. They communicated telepathically at very short range, and had a combinatory intelligence - that is, they were only sapient when 4 or more were in close proximity. Larger gatherings than 7 were unstable, and would fall apart after short periods. The Martians claim that there are Peragoans still living in the asteroid remnants of their home world, but this has been dismissed by scientists as impossible.


Ceres is by far the largest asteroid, and made up primarily of salt water, frozen into ice, from the seas of Perago. It holds the largest population of the asteroids as well, approximately equal portions of Martians, Mars Humans, Galileani and Earth Humans. The ice is melted as needed for water, creating honeycomb caverns all over the surface, filled with air. The surface is covered with solar panels to provide the power required.


Pallas is the second largest asteroid, and made up of core materials of Perago - mostly nickel iron. Pallas has been mined by Martians, Galileani, and now Humans since soon after Perago was destroyed. There is a significant transient population, as well as a large permanent population, mostly miners, of all three peoples.


There are scattered populations on several other asteroids as well - gems and rare earths are mined in several, as well as nickel and iron, and more are being mapped all the time. The remnant Peragoans are said to live in these scattered rocks and iceballs.

The Moons of Mars for Lowell Was Right!


Phobos is Mars’s moon, about 11 km in radius. Long ago, it was reached by Martians and turned into a space station. The interior was mined and hollowed out, and the ends capped with transparent hemispheres of unknown composition. Phobos was then put under rotation, enough to give .5 Martian Gs - equivalent to the gravity of the Galilean moons, or Luna. Inside live a species of Martian unknown on the planet - very tall and delicate, with paper thin ornamental shells. They service ships arriving from elsewhere, and sell the produce of their little hollow world.


Deimos was originally thought to be the smaller of Mars’ two moons, about 15km long and 10 km wide. It is actually a gigantic derelict spaceship - according to legend, the one that destroyed the fifth planet. Several exploring parties have penetrated far into its interior, with one - the infamous Henderson party - never returning.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

An Intro to Lowell Was Right!

I posted parts of this summation before, back in January, but Lowell Was Right! was just getting started back then, and there was less interest. Lowell Was Right! is not steampunk. Ether in the game is science, not Science!. It is set in the present day, just a very strange and different present day.

The original idea for this game came from the fact that what we think of as "Pulp" science fiction of the early 20th Century was based on fairly hard science concepts, concepts the SF authors of the day learned in school, but those concepts were utterly changed before the "Pulp" SF was written.

This game is based on a “What If?” question. “What if the science of the 1880s was basically correct? What kind of world would we live in now?” The name refers to the astronomer Percival Lowell, who reported seeing canals on Mars through his telescope.

Between the 1880s and 1920, the scientific world underwent an astonishing revolution in thought. The basic assumptions of science in the 1880s were entirely replaced by new basic assumptions by 1920, in all the big fields.

If those original assumptions were basically correct, how would things have developed? In developing this game, we took off the board any scientific discoveries made after 1880, unless they could easily be explained - and not contradicted - by those old assumptions.

My co-writer, Albert Bailey, and I spent two years researching the state of science in 1880 before writing a single sentence of this game.

The Science behind Lowell Was Right!

Here's a summation of Scientific thought current in approximately 1880, which is developed further in Lowell Was Right!, which is set in the second decade of the 21st century:

Astronomical Theory: We assume a Nebular theory for the solar system, with a solar system that is only a few tens of thousands of years old. Gravitational collapse is the source of the sun's heat; and the planets are created sequentially, the outer planets being older than the inner planets. Geothermic heat is also caused by planetary gravitational collapse.

As the sun contracted, it threw off planets. Thus the further out the planet, the older it is. As the sun collapsed, it shrank, cooling the outer planets. The newer, inner planets developed later, and became suitable for life in their turn.

Panspermia Theory: Life is spread everywhere by meteors and comets - this theory is called Panspermia, and is a very old theory which has never been disproved - and thus life would develop on each planet or moon large enough to hold an atmosphere, with a similar but different taxonomy. As the inner planets developed, life developed there, each world’s life forms peaking in turn as they developed.

Intelligent life developed in the outer system before the inner system, and gradually died out as those worlds cooled to ice.

Atomic Theory:  Basically, a unified Atom with no sub-atomic particles, which is essentially a knot in the ether. Basically Avogadro's view supplemented by evolved Etheric theory. There is no atomic radiation. Atoms are indivisible, but may be transmuted by Etheric reknotting. Transuranic elements are stable, and can be found in nature - though extremely rare - or created in Ether Vortex Reactors.

Biological Theory: Inheritance is a combination of Lamarkian and Mendelian genetics, with the addition of Vital Force. This means
some acquired characteristics may be inherited - but DNA does not exist. Typical inheritance follows Mendelian form. Vitalism (along with Lamarkism) explains the speed of evolution required with a Nebular theory. Basically, Evolution is very fast. New species arise and disappear constantly, and environmental pressures get an
almost immediate response.

Chemical Theory: Caloric theory, with the addition of friction models, are the basis of chemistry. Since there are no subatomic particles, we also need to presume an electrical fluid. The electrical
fluid also acts as the caloric fluid, following the Wiedmann-Franz law where thermal conductivity is proportional to temperature.

Since we are assuming an etheric atomic theory, we also assume an atomic caloric-electric fluid theory rather than a continuous fluid, though it comes in both forms, new positive and negative pairs of caloric particles being produced by friction. Thermal conductive insulators are explained by the motion of coupled pairs of positive and negative caloric particles.

Electrical Theory: One of the interesting features of Caloric theory is that static electrical charges produced by friction (say rubbing an amber rod with silk cloth) are easily explained: the frictionally produced positive charges produced preferentially collect on one substance and the negative ones on the other. Our own theories of frictional static electricity are forced to invoke some rather complex chemistry.

There is another interesting consequence: vacuum tubes don't work. They rely on the fact that the moving charges are of one polarity, so that a charged screen can block them. With a dual current, a charged screen would repel one polarity but attract the other, giving no change in the net current. This would mean that radio, radar, and electronic computers become impractical for most purposes.

Normally any electrical current would have a positive current in one direction and an equal negative current in the opposite direction. A thermal gradient would have positive and negative currents in the same direction. In combination you could have a current that was primarily positive or negative current.

Geological Theory: Continental Drift, but not Plate Tectonics. There are no crustal plates, but the continents drift on the surface of the earth over time. A unification of Plutonism and Neptunism is made - both theories about equally held in 1880 -on how rocks formed - as neither contradicts the other, except in claims of exclusivity. Catastrophism works much better over the short geological time frames of Lowell Was Right!.

These are all very fundamental differences in how things work. Now we'll see how that changes our world.

Lowell Was Right! - First Playtest Report

I finished my first run playtest of Lowell Was Right last night (Saturday). It started where the last session stopped, where the pilot of the jet airship they were flying in suddenly started screaming that he was going to crash. One of the PCs announced he could pilot it,, so they dragged of the screaming pilot and the PC attempted to fly the craft.

He was starting to get the craft under control when he felt a psychic attack, which he managed to fight off. He felt something hard in the seat cushion, so he took it apart. Reaching into a slit in the cushion, he was again attacked, and again fought it off. Using another member of the crew as a guinea pig, they established that the item was haunted by a ghost - the ghost of a pilot who had died in a crash

it was a t this point that they realized that the first crash - of their ship on Mars - was not an accident. Someone was trying to murder them without leaving a trace. This was the second time this ghost had been used.

When they landed in Syrtis, they tried to think who could be the target - The professional huntress? The Spaceliner steward who seemed too good at pilfering things? The Ex- Boxer turned bodyguard? The only one who was famous was the ex-football star turned action movie star - he was beloved on Mars. But that couldn't be it! No one had the kind of rich, powerful enemies that could do something like this. Finally one of them suggested "What if the first attempt succeeded?"

Then suspicion immediately fell on the ex-bodyguard, whose charge had died in the crash. His employer was Father Mackenroy, who was going to Mars to give something to someone, and feared for his life - that he was the victim of a vast political conspiracy. They still had Father Mackenroy's luggage.

When searched, the teiving steward found a false bottom. There, inside a wooden box, was a gold cross, with martian characters on it. When they asked their interpreter what it said, she replied that it wasn't Martian at all, but martian script used to write "Carolus Magnus Imperator Romanus". This was latin for Charlemagne, Emperor of the Romans.

This was most likely a relic from the time of Charlemagne, but they had no idea why it was so dangerous that someone would kill to stop it. They decided to take it to the Translator's professor at the University of Mars and Earth there in Syrtis.

He examined it minutely, and proclaimed it genuine. The Movie star, suggested there might be more to it, and the steward took a look, noticing a hairline seam along the cross. They opened it up after finding the hidden latch. Inside was a crystal.

Upon touching it, the Huntress began to speak in a voice not her own - using Mediumship, she made contact with the intelligence within - a Martian Ghost AI. The Ai told how Charles had murdered his brother and forged a relationship with the martians, sending thousands of slaves them. In return they eliminated opposition, and his rule widened. The pope made him emperor of the Romans because of his good works and his enlightened rule as well as his power.

They reasoned that it was some powerful faction in the Vatican that was trying to stop the publishing of this news - which could be used to argue against the infallibility of the Pope. When they decided to deliver it to the original intended recipient, the Translator revealed herself to be an agent of this person. She would take the cross to her master. She showed them papers written in what looked like Father Mackenroy's hand. The steward put the cross into the box and handed it to her. She left.

The Steward had palmed the crystal, and they brought it to a newsreel agency, where they were well paid for it. The truth went out.

Throughout this game, I had no idea who the boxer had been guarding. Since I didn't know who *he* was, I had no idea of what he carried. All I knew was he had something someone else wanted, badly.! I called it the MacGuffin, of course. it wasn't until the boxer rolled on random NPC tables to decide who his dead employer had been that  I could even *think* of what the MacGuffin was.

I made up the Charlemagne thing on the spot, while I was telling it to them through the ghost AI in the crystal. I had made up the ghost AI a second before. It worked - it held together well enough for the game, and no one knew I had done it that way. Sometimes life is good! :D

At the end of the session, they made up their next Association, and their next world. They would be playing the "Secret Service" of the League of Nations, and they would be playing on a totally different Earth!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Cover for Lowell Was Right!

Here's the cover for Lowell Was Right!. It may be the only illo I do for it.