Monday, May 1, 2017

Dieselpunk Manifesto

This is going live next week. I'm not sure if I'm vetted and can put it up immediately or I still have to wait an indefinite period before the folks at RPGNow decide it's innocuous enough to be posted.

It is a systemless set of tables to establish the basics of a dieselpunk style setting. It is running about 24 pages for $2.00.

Note the rest of this post deals with the 1929 vintage comic strips which are insensitive in some sensitive matters. You been warned.

It started with my love of dieselpunk (it had no name when I first encountered it here:

The first Buck Rogers strip (I got a hardbound collection of these for christmas one year)
Buck Rogers strips 1-10.

Anthony 'Buck' Rogers first had his story told in Amazing Stories. He told his tale his story was  in two parts: Armageddon 2419 and The Airlords of the Han. The stories were later combined as Armageddon 2419 in novel form and then picked up by the papers. Tony's name was changed to Buck because it sounded more action oriented.

The book immediately introduces two items that were the bread and butter of Buck and Wilma Deering for many years: rocket pistols and jumpers: belts that let you defy gravity (to a degree). In the strip. Buck is usually pictured with a ray gun of some sort. In the books and early strips it is very clear that the good guys use projectile weapons and the bad guys (the Mongols) used ray guns. Buck is seldom without his trusty rocket pistol. Some original illustrations also
showed the rocket guns that were very nasty, very mobile and quite cool.

Rocket guns are very simple contrivances so far as the mechanism of launching the bullet is concerned. They are simple light tubes, closed at the rear end, with a trigger-actuated pin for piercing the thin skin at the base of the cartridge. This piercing of the skin starts the chemical and atomic reaction. The entire cartridge leaves the tube under its own power, at a very easy initial velocity, just enough to insure accuracy of aim; so the tube does not have to be of heavy construction. The bullet increases in velocity as it goes. It may be solid or explosive. It may explode on contact or on time, or a combination of these two.

The weapons were light to begin with and counterweighted with inertron the reverse weight element. In the book they were far more useful in warfare that ray weapons, like the disintegrator, which were limited to line of sight and clearly showed where they were being fired from. Rocket rounds could hit targets by arcing over hills and barriers. The artillery pieces like these could be broken up and moved quickly enabling stealthy operations. 

Buck and Wilma never used rocket rifles to my recall. They always used rocket pistols, though they sometimes had very elaborate sights for distance work. The 'scope' on Helen's pistol looks like it requires a Masters in Mathematics to operate.

Despite the formidable sights we are told the pistols are very accurate, having no recoil worth mentioning. Buck grabs one and uses it to great effect immediately.

I'll also note that the strips and book were pretty derogatory about the Mongols. In the books at least Nowlan tried to point out they were some sort of hybrid of humans with aliens (explaining their advanced technology) and that all the races in his future were regarded as equal. The strips were much worse as it was the thirties and Japan was a rising power viewed with some hostility by the United States. 

The racism of the strips is sort of at odds with some other conventions such as female soldiers For it's tie this idea might have been as bizarre as a jumping belt. Wilma fares even better in the comic strips than she does in the book. In the book she'll engage is sabotage and murder and be as ruthless as any man but then faint afterwards. There's none of that nonsense in the strips (there's different nonsense.) For a quick look ahead:
I had a serious crush on Wilma Deering when I was 12 and fan service just aggravated it!

The other great invention was inertron which I already went on about. Jump belts not only reduced your weight, allowing you to make huge jumps and fall great distances vertically (yay wind resistance). Interesting trivia. The Amazing Stories that featrued Arm:2419 had this cover:

But the illustration was for another story. Apparently there are several types of reverse weight substances. 

Inertron lightened loads. When someone wanted to know what a piece of equipment weighed the proper response was, "What do you want it to weigh?" It had other properties I went into, none of which made it to the strips. In particular it was a perfect defense against disintegrators! Apparently the newspaper people didn't want Buck to have too easy a time.

The first ten strips also give a pretty graphic illustration of the destruction of United States around 2029. Oddly the American forces of 2029 seem to have WW I surplus gear. It's only 12 years away and I guess we'll find out then. They soon encounter Rogers' first Mongol Raider.

Mongol airships were said to fly on 'repellor rays'. They're your air raft's grandfather. Obviously there are paralells with dirigibles of the day. The craft were armed with the deadly disintegrator ray that could evaporate mountains (or at least small hills). At this point the Americans' defense policy is best described as 'run for it!' In Arm:2419 Rogers becomes the first American to down one of the craft when he discovers the repellor beams actually grab stuff from the ground and suck it up the beam. He fires a highly explosive shell from his ever present rocket pistol  and blows out the forward beam causing the airship to fall over. 

This may be the first case in SF of a person from our own time being better than the natives/aliens/contemporaries at survival or fighting an enemy they have studied for generations (also known as the 'Avatar' syndrome).

As an aside the Mongol disintegrators made Star Trek's phasers look weak. They would blast continuous destruction in a wide swath. They didn't play out after disintegrating a couple of lousy humans.

As an amusing aside no one (except Wilma) believes Rogers' story about being in suspended animation (this was years before Captain America after all). He thinks he's to be executed when they say he's getting the 'chair', but it turns out to be a relatively painless interrogation method/lie detector.

By the end of strip 9 Wilma is reported missing on a patrol and Buck  takes a 25th Century biplane to go looking for her! Dick Calkins was a very good artist and he knew aircraft of the era. In this case his knowledge either made him hesitant to create bizarre new vehicles or he decided to start with forms that were recognizable to readers.

The aircraft were described in Arm:2419 as being far superior to the ones Buck was familiar with. In the first strip we learn that Anthony Rogers was an aviator in the First World War. Even so it is amazing how quickly he gets into a plane and begins flying it. Perhaps they have sort of computerized controls or at least aids that made flying them easier than biplanes of Rogers' home time.

They probably had some inertron used in their construction. With the large amount of lift the planes could probably take of or land from very small spaces (always a plus when the Mongols were ready to dis your landing areas. They also might be designed to be low noise and low sensor signature. The North Americans move on to really cool rockets shortly after this, so they may have been progressing rapidly as aviation engineers and just started out with a fairly simple aircraft to cut their teeth, one that was easy to  build and maintain.

Nonono. They are sophisticated aircraft of the 25th Century, not old time biplanes. Honest!

More next week!