Friday, October 3, 2014

Grit and Vigor: Thoughts on Weird History and Science

Light German land ironclads in The Battle of Purleigh 1910
The Grit and Vigor game being devised by John Stater is all about the pulpy adventures of manly men from 1850 to 1959. An era of manly men doing manly things. Though over the top action and wild adventure are implied and encouraged, it is largely a historic and human-centric setting. However with that in mind, game-masters should never feel constrained by history and real-world events. As a lifelong student of history- I can assure you that most people don't know jack about history. Most people don't even recognize why they should care. So dont worry too much about it.

My Pulp Age setting for Grit and Vigor incorporates selected components of weird history. This attitude comes both from my love of penny dreadfuls, pulp magazines and the habit of publications of that era having no compunctions about mixing fact and fiction to boost sales. Everything from tales of bat winged moon men to the accounts of Spanish-American War Correspondents are all newsworthy, and might be real as far as the player characters (or other people of that era) are concerned.

So mixed with real history (or at least the history the establishment teaches us) will be a number of strange events, weird technology and other elements of the bizarre.

Science in the 1800's and early 1900's was the stuff of legends. New discoveries, theories and inventions were coming out all the time, and even common joes might invent or discover something extraordinary if they put their minds to it (this was before corporations and academics made a concerted effort to crush such free thinking and innovation). Society at large saw scientists much like the wizards of old. Imperious, mysterious and capable of almost anything.
In the world of The Pulp Age, bizarre chemicals, substances and devices are being discovered, re-discovered or invented all the time. However though such inventions are marvelous, they are mostly in the hands of secret societies, the super rich and-or the inventors who created them. So while death rays and Land Ironclads exist, they are not commonly bought and sold.
But still, with the many skirmishes across the Empire and in the Americas, the Good Lord only knows what devilish devices may be unleashed! Since the Martian Invasion of 1898 as well as interest in Lunar and Martian colonies grows, all manner of strange devices will be needed.

Below are some strange substances that exist in the Pulp Age. Most are only known of by specialists, scholars and the certifiably insane. Whoever has access to these items, they don't share their secrets with the rest of the world. This list is far from exhaustive.

Apergion [Across the Zodiac by Percy Greg]
An antigravity substance with enough power to propel a ship from one planet to another. In the story, the actual use of Apergion is a bit vague, so I would call it a fissionable fuel of some kind. Perhaps the source of the "M-Force" used in The Honeymoon in Space by George Griffith.

Cavorite [The First Men in The Moon by H.G. Wells]
This amazing alloy is not affected by the force of gravity, it can also shield other materials from gravity. It was named after its discoverer, Dr. Cavor. In the Pulp Age, this alloy is derived from the metals used by the Martian invaders, and is instrumental in building the larger sorts of Aeronef airships, Aether Ships and Land Ironclads. The secret of Cavorite is only available to British engineers and metalurgists.

Fleury's Gas [With The Night Mail by Rudyard Kipling]
Lifting and power gas in 'Aerostat airships. This substance is non-flammable, and has five times the lifting power of Hydrogen.

Vril [Vril, the Power of the Coming Race by Edward Bulwer-Lytton]
An extremely luminous compound which can be used as an energy source, a healing agent or a disintegrating agent. This substance is controlled almost exclusively by secret mystical societies who use it to develop what most would see as psychic powers or magic.

These marvelous gadgets would all be game-changers if they were employed in large conflicts. Fortunately, their mass production was cost-prohibitive, so only a limited number were ever made.

Aeronef [Victorian/Edwardian Airships]
Small Aeronef
Heavier-than-air flying vessel, capable of hovering, supported mainly by rotating propellers, often aided by wings in horizontal flight. These are effectively Victorian/Edwardian era helicopters, generally in the shape of a water-going ship. Generally speaking, these vessels function like a cross between an Ironclad and the V-22 Osprey. While some governments and private inventors use these vehicles, they are generally considered too difficult to maintain.

Aerostat [Air-Ships]
Steerable lighter-than-air flying vessel supported by gas-bags or balloons, e.g. a dirigible. Of all the devices mentioned here, the Aerostat saw the widest practical use in the eyes of the common man. Most of these ships use either Helium or Hydrogen as a lifting agent, with a rare few having access to Fleury's Gas for greater lift.

Automatons [Automata]
Automatons are robots that generally resemble mobile water-heaters or other machines. Some are simple toys or useful gadgets, while others are veritable robots that meet or exceed the abilities of modern analogues. The more sophisticated use specialized Babbage Engines as brains, with most being about as smart as a dog. Some are extremely sophisticated, and are as intelligent as a human, but this is very rare. Automatons are only used by the very rich and inventors, as they are dreadfully expensive and require constant maintenance.

Babbage Engine [Difference Engine]
These are computers, only using clockwork rather than magnetic processors. The original Babbage Engines were the size of a printing press and weighing over a ton. However as things progress, these devices are now the size of a typewriter and merely about 200lbs. These devices are very expensive, and require regular maintenance.

Land Ironclads [Tanks]
Effectively super-tanks the size of battleships. These juggernauts were originally used in the Second Boer War, and were devastating against human targets and fortifications. These vehicles vary in appearance and size, but all are BIG, loud and belch smoke like a mobile factory. It is hoped that these mobile weapons will be of use agains Martian Fighting Machines if the invaders are to return.

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I saw Eternity the other night,
Like a great ring of pure and endless light
-- Henry Vaughan