Sunday, 3 May 2015

Seven Stars in the Rearview (Part Four)

One of the things that appeals to me about the pulp adventure genre is that it’s straight-forward, meat and potatoes stuff. Always trying to entertain, seldom dwelling on the details for longer than a scene. At its best, pulp adventure is rollicking good, uncomplicated fun. There was that element to SEVEN STARS OF ATLANTIS, but it also had a flip side that was high in drama and romance. It worked for me, in the same way that old Hollywood movies like THE AFRICAN QUEEN work – it was a crowd-pleaser, with a little something for everyone.
Let’s see if I can map the romantic entanglements out for you. See, Margot broke off her romance with Teddy because she had been stricken with an Egyptian Curse which had killed her mother, and she feared it would kill him too. Of course, Margot couldn’t just tell Teddy what was happening – he’d never leave her alone to die. So she simply told him he bored her, and dropped him like a lead weight. Heartbroken and angry (not least because he was just about to propose marriage), Teddy headed off for more adventure with the redoubtable Rex Powell, and that led him to capture by Dr. Song.
After Margot (who hadn’t come to Song’s fortress for Teddy, but clues for some kind of cure), Teddy, Rex and Su Li escaped, things became much more complicated. Not only was there still a flame there between the two of them, Su Li was not shy about her interest in the handsome blue-haired reporter. Margot still couldn’t speak of her feelings, so she had to suffer in silence for a long while as Teddy and Su Li danced and flirted with each other and Rex muttered his disapproval for how she was treating his sidekick. And when the secret did come out, and Margot could no longer deny Teddy her feelings, Su Li made a play for Rex. And, by the end of the game, confessed to Margot that all of her flirtations had probably really been proxies for her true love… Margot herself.
Whew. That’s one complicated love, er, polygon.
The Curse, by the way, turned out to be a kind of exotic poison employed by the Egyptian branch of Dr. Song’s criminal empire. That didn’t stop me from introducing an honest-to-gosh Egyptian mummy defending the Star gem hidden in Egypt, of course, but by and large all the fantastic elements of the game were supposed to be misunderstood technology – specifically, technology that came from Atlantis. Song’s alchemical skills came from his Star gem, which could rearrange matter at the molecular level. Pretty handy if you want to devise a complicated poison. Song also was able to project his thoughts into his sons and daughter after exposing them to another exotic compound that created an affinity between them.
The Seven Stars were intended to act as components of a whole, each providing a component ability that, combined with others, provided the abilities of an Atlantean computing device. One served as a library of Atlantean knowledge (complete with a surly artificial intelligence to protect that information from uppity humans that might come across it), one served as a battery of enormous power (which could be used to project energy sufficient to cause the likes of the Tunguska blast), one served as a hard light projection system, one allowed the user to clairvoyantly see things at a distance (or through time), one had the ability to teleport matter, and one served as a telepathic communication device able to override the thoughts of mere mortals (a “mind control” gem). I had the idea that the gems “bleed” off excess energy, something that can accumulate in cells over time, allowing Rasputin and Anastasia to survive their murders using the energy of the “battery” gem (their cells supercharged with energy much the way Superman’s cells store solar power). The mummy that protected the gem in Egypt had been exposed to the same effect, absorbing low levels of power for centuries, allowing it to briefly reanimate when the tomb was breached.
When the heroes finally reached the extradimensional Atlantis, they discovered that the tall, pale Atlanteans had small versions of the Stars implanted in their foreheads – “constellations” of tiny gems that could duplicate the effects of the Stars on a small scale for an individual Atlantean. When they are active, the constellations orbit around the head of their users, a nod to one of my favourite D&D magic items, the fabled Ioun Stones.
Atlantis itself was placed inside a pocket dimension outside space and time, the better to serve as a base for Atlanteans to conquer poorly-developed worlds like Earth. From their extradimensional headquarters, which look a lot like a “Hollow Earth” setup – a vast city that stretches along the inside of a great sphere with an artificial sun – they’ve been waiting for their earthly Custodians to signal them that it’s time to invade. The Stars draw their holders to the Temple, which rotates out of our dimension to Atlantis.
I know at least one of my players was happy with the inclusion of science-fiction elements, including the big “planetary romance” finale where they stormed Atlantis. Like I said, a crowd-pleaser; something for everyone.

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