RPG Thursday – A Little History (Space: 1889 Red Sands)

21ST LANCERS. LANCER IN SUDAN KIT Original watercolor signed by C.Y. (after Caton Woodville), reproduced in The Illustrated London News, Sept. 3, 1898; mounted lancer in campaign dress,

A while back I was working on a RPG setting I called Savage Aeronef, which was a matchup of the Savage Worlds RPG and Wessex Games Aeronef seting. In the course of developing the setting, I created a character named ‘Ace’ Woodley who had a burning desire to get to Mars where his explorer Uncle died. His only connection; his Uncle’s Radium Gun.

More recently, I got a copy of the RPG Space 1889: Red Sands. This fits well with my Savage Aeronef setting and actually requires little change to use. So when I decided to draw up a Space: 1889 character it was logical that I would draw up Ace’s dead uncle.

In Space: 1889 you start character generation with a concept. In this case, I had a (now) dead uncle that died on Mars. Looking over the book and chargen tables, I decided that “Uncle Martin” had been an Army Cavalryman who ended up on Mars and eventually invented his own Radium Gun. In game terms he can be described as a Veteran-level character:

Agility – d8/Smarts – d10/Strength – d6/Spirit – d6/Vigor – d4
Fighting – d8/Knowledge (Battle) – d6/Notice – d8/Persuasion – d6/Repairs – d6/Riding – d8/Shooting – d8/Survival – d6/Tracking – d8/Weird Science – d6
Airsickness (Major)/Disowned (Minor)/Enemy (Minor)
Army Cavalryman/Arcane Science

Space: 1889 also introduces the concept of “status” which roughly equates to social class.  Given that Uncle Martin has the “disowned” hindrance, this reduced his social status to 1, or the underling class.

Looking to flesh out his life history a bit, I went looking for some background information. As one of his languages was Russian I at first imagined that he may have been involved in the Crimean War and the “Charge of the Light Brigade”. This event took place in 1854, or 48 years before ‘Ace’ and seemed to me to be a bit of a stretch. So I kept looking for something else.

One of the books I looked at for the “Charge of the Light Brigade” was Men of War which was edited by Ernest Hemingway. This book is a collection of short stories. One story that jumped out immediately was “The Cavalry Charge at Omdurman” by Winston Churchill.

The Battle of Omdurman took place on 2 September 1898. The key event of the battle was the charge of the 21st Lancers which included a young Winston Churchill. In Churchill’s account, the battle was exciting, but other accounts point to the slaughter of helpless Dervish troops. Churchill wrote to his mother, “I shall merely say that the victory at Omdurman was disgraced by the inhuman slaughter of the wounded and that Kitchener was responsible for this.” (Cited in Farwell, Bryan; The Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Land Warfare: An Illustrated World View; W.W. Norton Company, New York; 2001; pp 613-614.)

So what could have turned Uncle Martin into the wild Martian explorer? Maybe he was repulsed by the slaughter at Omdurman and left the service in disgust. This could account for his minor enemy (Winston Churchill?) and being disowned – or in this case turning his back on society. Eventually he ended up on Mars, “invented” his Radium Gun, and then met his death. Two or three years for all that to happen is a bit tight but not unrealistic. It also explains how ‘Ace’ and his uncle were close.

In the end, creating Uncle Martin turned into a bit of historical exploration that helped flesh out a character. If one had to play Uncle Martin in the time after the Battle of Omdurman and before his death, the little bit of history creates several interesting hooks. Is Churchill his enemy? What does he do on Mars? Does he join the opposition to the British? How did he invent his Radium Gun? Looks like Space: 1889 and Savage Aeronef are a good match!

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