The coming storm

Our heroes are in Mumbai seeking the notorious womanizer and drunkard Mark Bond, who they have been told has “gone native”. It is 1857, hot, tense, and it is obvious to them after just a day in Mumbai that there is trouble on the streets of the city: the local population is not happy with the state of things, and after their time in the Anglo-Persian war they have an instinct for the trouble that is coming. They also think, after visiting his house, that Bond did not go native, but has been abducted by the same group that attacked them on the streets of Muscat. They have identified a likely place to look for him, but they need transport to get them there quickly, and so they cut a deal with Ashkarpreet Singh, hero of the Punjab and captain of the former British corvette the Gurmukh: they will raid the home of the Collector, a notorious artifact dealer, and steal back a diamond that belonged to the Sikhs. In return he will take them to the place they have identified, a hillfort in Rajasthan. They have also befriended the mysterious Maori warrior-captain Manawa, and discovered that the Collector holds an ancient cape of her people that confers immortality on its wearer. She told them that the only weapon that can penetrate this cloak is silver, and so after dividing the few silver bullets they own between their two marksmen, they head to the Collector’s residence in the rural fringe of Mumbai.

They arrived at dusk, taking a carriage to a nearby turnpike and then walking past fields and orchards to a small rural compound surrounded by a high wall. Rather than march straight in, they decided to first send a scout over the wall. William Oxbridge took on this task, slipping into the bushes on the far side of the wall and creeping through the garden to examine the compound. He saw a small estate house surrounded by gardens. A horseless carriage stood empty in front of the main entrance, and to the rear of the house he saw a small, unguarded entrance. Between the entrance and the cover of the bushes, however, was a small oriental-styled garden with some strange statues in it that William suspected would be dangerous. A path led from the back yard through the garden to a gazebo, from which he could hear voices. He crept closer to listen.

The death of Flashman

A man and a woman were engaged in breathless whispered love talk in the gazebo. The man, called Flashman, was desperately trying to escape from the garden before the girl Lucy’s father caught him en tryste with her. Lucy was trying to convince him – breathlessly, and with some disputation, since he kept grabbing her in the Flashman Crossgrip – to meet her father so that he could ask for her hand in marriage, but Flashman was having none of it. He departed from the gazebo to a final plaintiff whispered “Don’t you want to be the 8th Earl of Elgin!?”, and with a final “All in good time my love!” sidled off toward the main gate. As he departed, Lucy assured him she would leave the back door open for him to creep back in. William Oxbridge III sneaked back to the wall and crept over it to warn the others: Flashman knew a way into the house that would not trigger the statues.

 

They ambushed Flashman as he flopped over the wall. He was a big, ruddy-faced and pugnacious looking British man, a classic boarding school bully, the kind of man it is a pleasure to beat down. When they surprised them he eyed them up with a nasty, piggish look and demanded to know “Are you from the Maoris?!” and then “Did the Sikhs send you?!” and then “It was that devilish MacArthur wasn’t it? Gods, and his girl was a flat-chested hussy, barely worth the trouble!”

With that they laid into him. He was a hard man, wearing good quality infernal webbing and carrying a couple of useful and vicious little magic items that he deployed to his benefit. Unfortunately he was not the equal of Abdul’s shadow step, and caught without a sword on his devil’s mission to deflower a British lady, he was no match for the four of them. Finally they killed him, and the flower of British colonialism lay dying in the dust of a byway in old Mumbai. They looted him for all his gear, dumped his body in a drainage ditch, and scaled the wall.

The 7th Earl of Elgin

Having killed Flashman they decided to sneak into the house through two routes. First William Oxbridge would use his resurrectionist power to steal Flashman’s form and enter the house through the back door. He would open a side door for them so that they could all creep in, and then go upstairs to Lucy’s room. Disguised as Flashman, he would trick her into revealing the location of the room where her father kept the artifacts, and then come and tell the others. This plan went just as well as they had all expected, and William was forced to bed the girl in order to maintain his disguise. Disgusted with himself and the sad contingencies the universe sometimes forced a man to deal with in the course of his service to the nation, William left the girl dozing and slipped downstairs to open the window of a cloakroom. The PCs crept in here and William crept back upstairs to recover his belongings.

Unfortunately at this point things went wrong. As the PCs were preparing to leave the cloakroom the earl of Elgin emerged in a dressing gown, saw them, and called in his guards. The group were attacked by an animated suit of samurai armour, and as they were forced to defend themselves William was upstairs, unable to help, trying to learn from Lucy where the artifacts were. The Earl of Elgin then reappeared dressed in the Maori cloak of invulnerability, and in joining the battle revealed himself to be a powerful wizard. Fergus shot him with silver bullets, but even with three shots he could not kill the old man. William came downstairs to help but missed with the first shot of his silver bullet, and was then attacked by a second animated armour that hurt him so badly he had to flee upstairs to Lucy’s room. Bursting into the room, he failed to warn her and she shot him with a shotgun. With William hors de combat, the battle raging and Fergus out of bullets, the Scottish madman had to charge across the hallway to grab the pistol William had dropped, while Abdul tried to distract the earl of Elgin. Fortunately the man was by now so wounded that he teleported away, and the PCs had a chance to kill the remaining animated armour, heal William and regroup. As they did this Markus levitated himself out of a window and onto the roof of the house, to look for the Earl. He saw him loading a box of artifacts onto the back of the horseless carriage and beginning to ride away as the others emerged from the house in pursuit. Markus levitated the case off of the carriage and up to the roof, hiding it out of sight, as the rest of the group chased the carriage and finally killed the Earl. They took his cape and wand and dumped his body with Flashman’s. Up close they discovered that the cape was made from the huge feathers of some ancient giant bird.

In the box they found some money, the Koh-i-Noor diamond, and a few other small magic items. They retired to the docks, where they returned the cape to Manawa. In return for this gift she bound our Maori warriors to their eternal service. They parted on the best of terms, climbed into the Gurmukh, and set off for the hill fort where they expected to find Mark Bond.

The Mughal’s Tomb

The flight to the hillfort was uneventful and fast, and when they arrived the fort’s few defenders abandoned it in terror of the approaching corvette. They searched the fort and found Mark Bond in a tower room, his whole body flayed and nailed to a cross, insects crawling in his left eye. He was still alive after two weeks of torture, but only barely. He had not revealed what he knew, but he revealed the full facts to the group: a gang of Hindu extremists planned to desecrate the tomb of an ancient Mughal princess, and through an abominable ritual they would raise a god of death that would destroy every Muslim and Sikh in all the sub-continent and drive the British out. Already they were planning an uprising, that would break out just the next day. Soon after the uprising began the god of death would manifest, and destroy everything in her path. Furthermore – and this was Bond’s secret knowledge – the current viceroy, Earl Canning, knew of the plan for the abominable ritual and was planning nothing to stop it, because he was a virulent racist who wanted to destroy all the Sikhs in the land, and did not know (or did not believe) the reports that the god of death would be part of a plan to destroy British rule. He believed he controlled the Hindu nationalists and saw the extermination plan as a cunning part of the British strategy of empowering local leaders to rule on their behalf. This foolish man had kept the plan secret, helped the nationalists to stay unimpeded by the British army, and was ignoring reports of preparations for violence among the Sepoys as merely the necessary preparations for communal violence against Muslims and Sikhs. He had no idea the powers that were arrayed against him, or the extent of the violence they had in mind.

The PCs thanked Bond, cut him down from his crucifixion, and left him to die with a last sunset as his final view. They climbed back into the Gurmukh and made haste for the Taj Mahal. Even as they arrived they knew the uprising would be beginning all across the country, and they must stop the ritual now or they would face a far, far worse enemy than a horde of Indian Sepoys. They disembarked into the garden of the Taj Mahal, and raced past its serene reflecting pool towards the main gate, accompanied by their Maori warriors. As they attacked the Gurmukh rose up behind them, firing its light cannon at Sepoy soldiers who were attempting to move forward from the river’s edge and driving them back to the water.

At the gate they were attacked by Hindu warriors, wearing light armour and carrying Urumi swords. These swords were like whirling whips of steel, a flexible blade that curled around any parrying weapon and could not be stopped. They beat these men down quickly and charged into the tomb itself, down stairs into the cool dark of the basement. Here they found a scene of demonic terror: a wizard stood on one side of an ancient tomb, which had been hacked and smashed apart and dragged out of the ground, the bones of its occupant dragged out and desecrated with various vile fluids. In each corner of the room stood a terrified acolyte, holding a sacred knife and a cow, that most sacred of symbols in the Hindu pantheon. Near each a single soldier stood, uncertain of himself in the sight of the obvious evil about to be deployed. The ritual was near its zenith, a strange thick mist rising from the ground. The soldiers attacked, and battle was joined. Abdul used his shadowstep power to move behind the priest and stab him, but was unable to kill him. In turn the priest pointed at one of the acolytes, who killed the cow next to him with one smooth sweep of his knife. The priest unleashed the power that the cow’s death gave him, and a strange creeping horror overwhelmed Abdul – a magic of instant, irrevocable death. He resisted it and fought hard to kill the priest. At the sight of the cow’s death, and under the force of Fergus’s chaos bagpipes, the remaining soldiers fled, and the PCs were able to kill the priest before he could kill another cow and attempt to destroy them all. The acolytes gave up and begged for mercy they would not receive, and the ritual ended.

The PCs emerged into the sun leading the remaining cows, sickened and disturbed by the dark shadows of the ritual they had prevented. They released the cows and climbed into the Gurmukh, sailing over the burning towns of the sub-continent as they returned to Mumbai to report the success of their mission and much more besides: the defense of Britain’s only remaining significant colony, against dark powers from beyond this world.

Epilogue

As a result of their actions the PCs prevented the Indian Mutiny of 1857 from becoming something much darker and more terrible: the combined genocide of all the Sikhs and Muslims in the Indian sub-continent, and the ascendancy of a Hindu Empire powered by the dark magics of an evil cult. The mutiny proceeded as in the Earth’s real history, without much magical support, and was put down by the British forces. Earl Canning was forced to retire in disgrace when the group’s reports were relayed to London, and the East India Company lost its grip on India, and power was transferred to the British Raj. British colonial rule over India was strengthened and formalized, and while things for the crown were going badly in the antipodes and in Africa, for the next decades they could at least point to India as a sign of the possibility of success in their colonial project.

But would it last? And what other anti-colonial movements would arise in the future, in the ashes of the death cult the PCs destroyed. What does the future hold for the Raj, in a world of growing magic and colonial revolt?

 

The PCs stand in a wrecked apartment, surrounded by the bodies of dead corsairs. They have raided the nest of assassins sent by Samina’s Corsairs to kill them, and today’s session finds them standing in the blood and gore of their victory. As they scoured the apartment for loot, Siladan dug into the communication logs between the hit squad and their masters, looking for useful information. Today’s cast:

  • Pilot Saqr (Pilot)
  • Gunner Oliver Greenstar (Colonist)
  • Deckhand Reiko Ando (Deckhand)
  • Gunner Adam (Soldier)
  • Doctor Bana Delecta (Medicurg)
  • Captain Al Hamra (Mystic)

The gathered together weapons, armour and money, dividing it up between them and piling the loot they did not need for resale. As this task was nearing completion Siladan emerged from the media room with bad news: one of the hit squad had sent off an alert when the battle began, and now a contingency plan had been enacted.

The corsairs’ plan

Digging through the records, Siladan had learnt the corsair’s plan. Once the hit squad had killed the PCs they would send a message to an ally on the inner planet of Lubau, where two ships lay waiting. These ships, the attack ship Seven Sisters and the disguised freighter Icons Grace 7132, would depart for Rockhome 3. The Icons Grace 7132 was carrying a crew of 24 marines, whom it would land on the asteroid outpost under the cover of a trading mission. These marines would pacify the asteroid, kill its leaders and force the asteroid colony into submission under threat of complete destruction. The Seven Sisters would lurk nearby, jamming emergency signals and attacking any ships that attempted to flee. After Rockhome 3 was pacified, the squad left on Coriolis would travel to the Dabaran system, where the corsairs had a friendly agent called Livam who would be able to launder documents to transfer ownership of the Beast of Burden to the corsairs. They would then take the ship to Samina’s corsairs, where it would become compensation for the trouble the PCs had put the corsairs through.

Once the hit squad raised the alert that they had been found and attacked, the corsairs activated the whole plan. The two ships would soon depart for Rockhome 3, with the intention of taking by force what they had previously attempted to take by guile.

The defense of Rockhome 3

The PCs jumped into action. They already had a small class II fighter stored on Rockhome 3, the Gunmetal Logic, and they guessed they could mount a robust defense of the station using this ship and the Beast of Burden. They decided they would fly there, warn the people of Rockhome 3, and set up a simultaneous ground and space defense of the colony. They would allow the corsair marines to unload and then trap them in an ambush, while at the same time their spaceships attacked the Seven Sisters. If the defense went well they would capture one spaceship and salvage a second. However, they did not think that the colony had enough defenders to take on 24 marines, so they turned to their new contact on Coriolis, the street urchin Mifiln. Mifiln took some of their money to the Court of the Slummer Queen and, as a boon granted in exchange for saving the lives of some slummers, she provided them with 10 thugs and two nekatra, who would help in the defense of the colony. They set off for Rockhome 3.

To spring their surprise they would need to travel to Rockhome 3 with their transponder turned off, but two days into their journey they found themselves passing near a Legion Battleship, the Momentary Lapse of Reason. Being discovered by this battleship with their transponder off would no doubt trigger all manner of unpleasant questions, and they were forced to scramble into an emergency stealth mode. Reiko Ando shut down the reactor while Bana Delecta engaged their ship’s stealth feature, and they drifted past the giant battleship in the dark, hoping that they were far enough away and dark enough with the reactors shutdown that the ship would not notice them. After a tense hour drifting in the dark the ship passed them by without noticing, and they continued on their journey. Perhaps the crew of the Momentary Lapse of Reason were making the same assumption as the residents of Rockhome 3, that the Kua system was free of pirates and bandits, and they did not need to search especially hard for signs of trouble.

The PCs were not so sanguine. They could track the Icons Grace 7132 from its transponder, and they could tell that it was traveling alone. The Seven Sisters had turned off its transponder and was somewhere out there. Most likely it was traveling near the Icons Grace 7132, but the could not be sure. In case they were ambushed as they approached, they sent a warning to the station, and arrived a few days later, unmolested, still traveling stealthy. At Rockhome 3 they disgorged their soldiers, split into two squads, and took the Gunmetal Logic and the Beast of Burden to hide at a nearby asteroid, named the Shoulder of Orion by the residents of Rockhome 3.

The enemy ships arrived together, behaving as expected. The leader of Rockhome 3, Abraham, played his part and allowed the Icons Grace 7132 to dock, while the PCs tracked the Seven Sisters to a location near Rockhome 3. Once the disguised freighter was docked they sprung their ambush on the attack ship. The space battle was short and brutal. Outgunned and outnumbered, the Seven Sisters had little chance against her larger and more heavily armed opponents. At the last, however, as her systems were shutting down and her weapons disabled, she manoeuvred straight towards the Beast of Burden on some kind of collision course. The PCs opened fire on her with everything they had, collapsing the hull and killing the crew just in time to prevent the smaller ship’s captain from triggering a reactor explosion that would have been catastrophic for the Beast of Burden.

Barely scratched in the space battle, the PCs docked with Rockhome 3 and moved in to attack the marines. As they disembarked from their ships they were warned that the marines had established a bridgehead in the corridors between the docking bays and the residence section, and were slowly pressing forward. They were well armed, well armoured and ferocious. The PCs hit them from behind, forcing the marines into a vicious battle to escape the crossfire. This battle did not last long before it descended into close combat, with both Adam (in his defense droid form) and Reiko Ando getting caught in melee with the enemy leaders while Saqr, Adam, Oliver and Delecta fired into the support groups.

As the battle unfolded though they began to think that the captain of the Icons Grace 7132 might do the same as the captain of the Seven Sisters – and a reactor explosion in the confines of the Rockhome 3 docks would be catastrophic! Adam and Dr. Delecta broke off from the battle and rushed into the hangar, to storm the ship and stop the pilot from destroying everything. Here they found the two Nekatra, lying horribly dead on the deck, and a squad of four more marines rushing down the gangplank to engage them. Adam cut them down with rapid fire, and the survivors scattered to take cover while Delecta bravely sprinted across the hangar to the gangplank behind which they hid. Under the cover of Adam’s fire she managed to get into the ship and sprint down its hallways to the rear reactor. Here one of the crew tried to shoot her, and she was forced into gun combat while Adam finished the battle with the remaining marines outside. He rushed up to support her, as the ship announced that reactor criticality was imminent. They shot down the sole crewmember and rushed to disengage the reactor. With just seconds to go Dr. Delecta canceled the explosion orders, and the battle was finished.

Aftermath

They had killed another 24 corsairs, disabled another corsair ship and captured another. They would be able to salvage the wreck of the Seven Sisters, and although some of the Rockhome 3’s residents and the Slummer Court thugs had been killed, they had survived the battle relatively unhurt. They calculated that by now they had destroyed three corsair ships, captured two, and killed probably 40 corsairs, including several ship’s pilots. They guessed that no matter how powerful the corsairs might be, as a mere pirate gang they could not possibly sustain those losses. For at least a short time, while they were recovering, the PCs guessed they would have a pause in hostilities. In the meantime, they would be able to decrypt the stolen corsair data core, find the location of the corsair’s base, and travel to Dabaran to force the corsair’s contact there to register their stolen ships as their own possessions – as well as tell them what he knew about the corsairs. Perhaps then – once they had a small fleet of ships, and had learnt all they could about the corsairs – they would be ready to put an end to this annoying and increasingly frustrating nemesis. Perhaps once it was all done they could even turn the corsair base to their own use … but for now they would rest, and loot the growing pile of enemy bodies they were leaving in their wake.

Oh! We weren’t expecting you …

Our characters were attacked by a hit squad from Samina’s corsairs, who they defeated at the cost of their captain’s life. The corsairs are tracking them down to make them pay for what they did at Rockhome 3, and they now realize they will not be able to live in peace until they have dealt the corsairs a serious blow. Having tracked them to their lair they decided to attack the remainder of the hit squad, and begin preparations to raid the corsairs themselves. The roster for this session:

  • Adam, gunner and soldier
  • Al Hamra, captain (dead, but his soul uploaded into the ship’s computer, and capable of operating through a defense drone)
  • Siladan Hatshepsut, archaeologist
  • Oliver Greenstar, colonist
  • Dr. Delecta, doctor

Mifiln and Kenji

The PCs were helped in their mission by an unexpected pair of new hands. Oliver Greenstar had sent a teenage street urchin to follow the hit squad and find their lair, which they did; and now this urchin returned to their ship accompanied by a big, gruff friend. The urchin, called Mifiln, introduced their friend as Kenji, a thug, and revealed that neither of them had anywhere to live after a small accident in their apartment. Mifiln had noticed that they needed eyes and ears – and contacts – on the deck in Coriolis, who could attend to their interests when they weren’t there, and Mifiln and Kenji were willing to take on this task for a mere 500 birr per month each. They would keep an eye on matters in the station, attend to details the PCs wanted dealt with, and help them navigate the vicissitudes of life on the station. Mifiln also accidentally revealed a talent for telekinesis, which immediately endeared them to the party, and also offered to show them a sure way to get to the corsairs’ lair undetected as a token of good faith.

The path they recommended was simple but a little dangerous. Mifiln knew of a docking bay in the cellars that was used by smugglers and would open, no questions asked, for a small fee. From that bay they could move up the central spine of Coriolis station to an entrance to the lower decks of the Coriolis core, where the corsairs had established their base in an old luxury apartment. There were no cameras on the way up, and the back paths to the area where the corsairs lived were also likely unmonitored. The corsairs did not know they were coming but were certainly not expecting any trouble from below, and had few connections in the cellars that could be relied on to help them. Mifiln, however, had an in to the Court of the Slummer Queen if they needed it, and could give them general directions on moving through the cellar.

They agreed, hired Mifiln and Kenji, and set to work.

Death in the Cellars

They took the Beast of Burden‘s shuttle to the docking bay in the mid cellars, and as Mifiln had told them found they could enter without documentation for just a small fee. From there they moved up the spine, which was a long series of staircases, galleys, empty halls and half-functional elevators that circled around a huge, open shaft. This shaft plunged from the Coriolis core all the way to the very bottom of the station, a vertiginous 5km deep shaft into which protruded various platforms, ruined spars, walkways, sensor spires and random junk. They trudged wearily up the core, walking for hours and stopping regularly. It was cold, tiring and dispiriting work.

After a few hours of climbing they stumbled on a large platform, and as they climbed the stairs to the platform they heard a gunshot, yelling and screams. Reiko crept ahead to investigate, and saw a terrible sight. Two soldiers were standing over a line of ragged-looking cellar denizens, all sitting slumped on their knees with their hands tied behind their backs. One lay dead on the ground, and the remaining five were crouched in terror, scared into silence by the death of their friend. The PCs had been warned about these police: purge patrol, heavily armed and armoured guards sent down from the core to do raids on the people who lived illegally in the cellars. They had free rein to do as they wished down here, and acted essentially as death squads terrorizing the people who lived in the cellar. Particularly for people pushed out from the lower levels to the upper cellar, they were a constant threat[1]. These six had obviously failed to patrol their area closely enough, and had been caught. Reiko explained what she had seen and everyone moved carefully up to the steps to wait and see what would happen.

It was worse than they expected. One guard dragged the woman from the end of the line over to the edge of the platform, where a narrow gangplank stretched out over the shaft. He pushed her, gesturing with the gun, and when she refused he fired the gun once at her feet, forcing her onto the plank. They watched in horror as she backed slowly along the gangplank, remonstrating with the guard and begging for her life, until finally she slipped and fell with a long, fading scream into the darkness. The guard turned away, exchanged a joke with the other guard, and grabbed the next of the ragged crew. This person realized that it was the end of the line for all of them and began struggling to escape the guard’s grip. As the guard raised his weapon Al Hamra lost his patience, and opened fire with his defense robot laser. Without time to make a plan or make any decisions, the party attacked the purge patrol. They killed the two guards quickly but as they were finishing them off were ambushed by two more coming from a covered section they had not seen. One of these guards managed to score a minor injury on one of them before they were able to respond and kill them too. They looted the bodies, freed the prisoners, dismissed their thanks, and continued on their path, hurrying now before their deed might be discovered by any other guards.

Near the ambush site they found an elevator that would take them up to the core, and after some debate decided that it might be wise to activate it, just in case they needed to bring injured PCs down, and in order to escape the zone of the ambush quickly. After a few minutes of work Siladan got it working, and they rose in clanking glory up to the lower levels of the core.

4 Bedroom Luxury Apartment Floor Plans – Floor Plans and Flooring Ideas

The raid

They found the safehouse easily enough, and from outside Siladan attempted to hack the apartment’s systems, to no effect. They were forced to open the entrance and enter blind. From the entrance hall some of the group turned right, moving down a narrow corridor to a large open area with a pool, deckchairs and a bbq area. Its two outer walls were reinforced glass looking out over the beauty of space, and the whole area was aglow in the reflected green light of Kua. At this pool area they found a group of corsairs lounging around, along with their leader. They opened fire on the group but were too late – the men had been warned and were already running into the residence rooms.

Meanwhile the remainder of the group pushed straight into the main residence rooms, heading directly inward from the entrance hall. They immediately ran into an armed and armoured guard who had been watching them on CCTV and was ready, opening fire on them as they opened the door to the inner rooms. Battle was joined!

The battle was short and brutal, with the corsairs taking cover in the hallways in the inner residence and fighting with vulcan pistols while one corsair ran to a weapons room to get heavier weapons, and the sniper emerged from another room with a shotgun. The battle turned to bloody close shooting and hand-to-hand combat in the hallways, and in the fray Oliver was mortally injured, only saved by Dr. Delecta’s hasty work. Finally, though, they pacified the whole building, killing six corsair grunts, the sniper who had killed Al Hamra, and the leader. Al Hamra used the tentacles of his defense drone to kill the sniper personally, squeezing her eyes into her skull and finally killing her by digging the tentacles into her brain. The rest were dealt with in a more orthodox way.

The luxury apartment was now theirs. All its outer rooms had floor-length windows with a full view of the planet Kua as it rotated beneath them, or the distant star depending on the time of Coriolis’s rotation. In the far side of the apartment from the swimming pool they found a media room, which had been used to communicate with the corsair base in Hamura system. Here they were able to uncover the corsairs’ plans for them, and for Rockhome 3. They were ready to launch a counter-strike, a strike heavy enough to bloody the nose of the corsairs and convince them not to push their luck in the Kua system. But first they needed to rest, and heal, and prepare.

They were ready to go to war with Samina’s Corsairs.


fn1: To be honest, I’m not convinced this is a good addition to the Coriolis station part of this universe. It makes Coriolis very cyberpunk or like a failed capitalist dystopia, like a latin American city in the 1980s (or I guess Manila or Brazil now?) and it doesn’t quite work with the image of Coriolis as the stable centre of the Third Horizon. Also this whole space station is only 8 km long and teeming with life, so how can it be that there is a whole underbelly that is completely beyond the control of the authorities and plagued by death squads? It seems a bit out of whack with the whole image of the station. But I’m running with it, for consistency with things that are likely to happen later.

No doubt many of my readers are aware that there is a stream of feminism, which calls itself “gender critical”, that rejects the idea that transgender women are women and aims to “protect” cis women from having these women in women-only spaces. In the 1970s and 1990s this manifested as an internecine feminist turf war over whether trans women should be allowed into women’s spaces. This battle appeared to die down in the 2000s but a new generation of gender critical feminists are now attempting to defend women’s bathrooms, sports and changing rooms from transgender women. They seem to be particularly active in the UK, where feminists like Professor Kathleen Stock are attempting to fight changes to the Gender Recognition Act that would lead to people being able to use the bathroom of the gender they identify with, rather than the gender they were born as.

A core demand of these feminists is that only women who were born female should be able to use women’s bathrooms. In this post I am going to use Bayes’ Rule to show that the inevitable consequence of this political position, if it were to be enforced, would be the widespread harassment of natal women. I will also present anecdotal evidence that this is exactly what is happening now as their ideas gain traction, and discuss the inevitable hypocrisy and contradiction in the gender critical position in light of their responses to the concerns that some (primarily butch-presenting) lesbians have raised about their cause.

Content warning: This post will use a lot of language associated with the “woke” American left, like the prefix “cis”, and also the language of these gender critical feminists, like “natal woman” and the weird distinction they insist on between “woman” and “female.” I will explain my choice of language at the end. Bear with me!

Applying Bayes’ Theorem to Bathroom Exclusion

So how does bathroom exclusion work? The goal of gender critical feminists is that women who were not born female – that is transgender women – are not allowed to use women’s bathrooms, and that this exclusion should be enforced through codification in the Gender Recognition Act. They don’t specify exactly what follows from this but the obvious implication is that if a natal woman in a bathroom fears that another woman in the bathroom is actually a natal man she should be able to confront that person and demand they leave and go to the men’s bathroom, fully supported by the force of the law, public opprobrium and if necessary state force (represented in the US, let us remember, by an armed and trigger-happy police force that has little regard for people who do not follow strict white middle-class standards of dress and behavior).

In practice what this will mean is that a natal woman will need to judge whether another woman in the bathroom is a “real” woman or not by her face, clothes and manner. She certainly won’t be able to demand a genital check[1], so her entire means of discrimination will be by a visual check. Now, discrimination of this kind is a statistical process on which a large amount of theoretical work has been done since the 18th century, and in particular in public health we use Bayes’ Rule to determine the effectiveness of a discrimination process. Bayes rule provides us with a formula that links the sensitivity and specificity of a test to the probability of correctly discriminating between two groups. It depends on three essential quantities:

  • The sensitivity of the test, which is the probability that the test will correctly identify a person with a condition as having the condition
  • The specificity of the test, which is the probability that the test will correctly identify a person without the condition as not having the condition
  • The prevalence of the condition being tested

Wikipedia offers an example based on drug testing, but the rule is universal: it applies to any attempt to discriminate between two classes of a thing with a test that is imperfect, and it has some alarming and counter-intuitive results in the case that the condition being tested is rare.

In the case of bathroom exclusion, we want to know the following three things:

  • What is the probability a normal person[2] will correctly identify that a transgender woman is a transgender woman?
  • What is the probability a normal person will correctly identify a non-transgender woman as non-transgender?
  • What is the prevalence of transgender women in the population?

How good do you think you are at the first two of these things? I’m not aware of any tests of ordinary bathroom users, but facial recognition software has reached high levels of accuracy above 90%. So, let’s suppose that we were to put a facial recognition device on a bathroom door that had 90% sensitivity and specificity, and assume that 5% of women are transgender. Bayes’ Rule tells us that we would have a positive predictive value of 32%. That is, only 32% of the women refused access to the bathroom would be transgender women: 68% of women rejected (2 in every 3) would be natal women who had been misclassified as transgender.

Now, I think that 5% is way too high an estimate of the prevalence of transgender women. At 3%, with the same specificity and sensitivity, only 22% of rejections are correct – 80% of women refused admission to the bathroom are natal women. Figure 1 shows the relationship between specificity and this proportion at a prevalence of 3% for three different levels of sensitivity.

Figure 1: Proportion of women harassed in a bathroom who are natal women, for three different levels of sensitivity. Prevalence of transgender women is set at 3%. The x-axis shows specificity (percentage chance of correctly identifying a non-transgender woman is not a transgender woman)

As should be quite clear from this figure, even at very high specificity – for example where you are 95% likely to correctly identify natal women as natal women, and 99% likely to identify transgender women as transgender women, more than half of all women rejected from the bathroom will be natal women, not transgender.

Do you think that most women using bathrooms have greater than 95% accuracy at accurately determining other women’s birth gender based solely on their appearance? Do you think they have better than 98%? If not, then you are basically setting up a system of harassment of natal women. I have prepared figure 1 in terms of specificity because it is specificity that determines how many natal women you harass in your project to exclude trans women from bathrooms. By way of comparison, the specificity of commonly-used HIV tests is better than 99.998%: less than 1 mistake in 50,000. Can you be that good?

How will discrimination work in practice?

Bayes’ rule is an absolute law of discrimination tests, not some weird philosophical notion. If you set out to discriminate between two groups of people your results are determined by Bayes’ Law, without exception. It applies equally to HIV tests, gender selection, screening terrorists at airports, or picking penis size from nose length. Those three numbers – prevalence, specificity and sensitivity – determine how well you discriminate, without any exception in any cases. When you stride across the bathroom to grab that girl and tell her she’s not a “real” woman and should go to the urinal, you make yourself subject to Bayes’ Law.

Of course in practice your sensitivity and specificity depends on something: you don’t discriminate randomly, but on the basis of certain visual cues. What are those cues? Of course they will be markers of femininity: breasts, long hair, feminine facial features, make up, feminine style clothes. This will be especially the case if the Gender Recognition Act is not changed and a narrative of exclusionary behavior is established that encourages ordinary cis women with no experience of trans issues to begin singling out women for exclusion. These women will have no idea what trans women look like, how much they can “pass” as natal, or what kind of styles and manners butch-presenting lesbians use. The result of this will be what we always see when we establish discriminatory systems: non-conforming people, poor people, non-white people and people with disabilities will be singled out for discrimination. The gender critical feminists will achieve a strange paradox in which in order to be protected from trans women in the bathroom, natal women will have to act extra feminine and hew more clearly to gender stereotypes. We see this being reported now as the bathroom exclusion principle begins to apply. Consider this tweet from a queer Scottish woman:

This woman has had to begin wearing a badge that specifies her birth gender, because feminists keep mistaking her for a transgender woman. This problem will also affect any other women who do not look sufficiently womanly: women with a little bit of facial hair (which is more prevalent in women with certain sorts of illness), sportswomen who don’t dress femme, non-white women who confuse the white majority’s facial recognition, butch-presenting lesbians, and (particularly ironically) feminist women who reject standard stereotypes of feminine dress and behavior. That 80% of women excluded from bathrooms who are actually natal women and not transgender are more likely to be non-white, disabled, or non-gender conforming. They’re also more likely to be lesbians.

This is what gender critical feminism’s completely uncritical approach to bathroom exclusion will do. Here is another example of this, tweeted by a butch-presenting lesbian:

How have gender critical feminists responded?

The first thing to note about gender critical feminists is they seem to be very ignorant of the history of this debate. Holly Lawford-Smith seems to think the whole thing became a feminist issue in the 2010s, and appears to be completely ignorant of the history of transgender wars in women’s spaces in the 1970s and 1990s. Kathleen Stock, one of the major proponents of bathroom exclusion in the UK, responded to the above tweet with this:

“Worse things happen at sea.” Clearly, Stock is willing to throw her lesbian comrades under the bus in order to attack transgender women, and has given no thought to the relative balance of probabilities. She and her colleagues in the gender critical world know nothing about how this discrimination will actually work, haven’t bothered to consider who will be the real victims of their exclusionary practice, and don’t think it will affect many natal women. As I have shown, quite the opposite is the case: the majority of people affected by this exclusionary approach will be natal women.

But the gender critical feminists have become increasingly radical as they have been challenged more on this. Not only do they not take the risk of exclusion seriously, they have also begun to make their definitions stricter and more exclusionary. We see this particularly in response to the controversy around Caster Semenya, where a lot of gender critical feminists appear to have decided that she is “male” on the basis of having difference in sexual development. See, for example, this reddit thread in which they debate whether she is a man or not. So in response to criticism of their original exclusionary position they have extended their definition from “born with female genitals” to “born with female genitals AND normal testosterone.” I don’t think it’s a coincidence that these white feminists from a rich European country have decided to define a black woman who beat feminine-presenting white women as actually a man: this is another example of how their discriminatory practices will play out in practice, as a series of overlapping forms of prejudice work to punish the poor, the dark-skinned and the disabled far more effectively than the wealthy, white, feminine-presenting heterosexual women who make up the majority of the female population. Their concern with “protecting” women is really only about middle class cis white women.

The inevitable hypocrisy of trans exclusion

The underlying principle of gender critical feminism appears to be that sex and gender are different, and that gender differences need to be eliminated. Somehow this has been twisted to mean that trans women who choose to present as feminine – wearing dresses, make up and long hair – are simply “acting” female and aren’t really women at all. Before she was banned from twitter Holly Lawford-Smith liked to criticize transgender women who expressed happiness at successfully passing as women, deriding them for thinking that their appearance and their gender had any connection. Yet when it comes to pushing trans women out of women’s spaces these feminists will necessarily have to judge on the basis of how women present, not who they are. Sure, if they successfully get transgender women excluded from women’s prisons and women’s sport they may be able to do it on the basis of checking genitals (though see my footnote 1 below), but when it comes to bathrooms, women’s spaces on campus or at work, prayer rooms, women’s swimming pools and women’s beaches, they’ll have to do it entirely on the basis of how these women present. And like all human beings everywhere, they will be most likely to believe a woman is a woman if she looks femme. The more strongly they push this transgender exclusionary principle the more they will be forced to judge by feminine presentation.

Worse still, once they release their prejudices into the wild with the backing of the state, ordinary non-feminist women with no experience of trans issues will be the ones doing the judging and excluding. And you can bet that when those women decide to exclude a girl from the bathroom they won’t do it by themselves: they’ll call their masculine-presenting cis white boyfriends, or the police, to help them do it. This will lead to women with facial hair, manly physiques, and non-femme aesthetics being harassed, beaten up and potentially imprisoned (in male-focused custodial settings!) for the simple crime of not looking girly enough. Once it is released in the wild, gender critical feminism will become a feminism of harassing women who do not conform with patriarchal expectations of their physique, clothing and manners.

And that is not feminism.

Conclusion

Gender critical feminists need to drop this bathroom exclusion stuff and their opposition to the changes to the Gender Recognition Act. It is leading to the harassment of lesbian and transgender women now, and if their campaign is successful it will lead to much more harassment of non-conforming women. Rather than protecting natal women from men, it will lead to natal women being harassed by cis women, their natal male boyfriends, and the violent agents of the state. They also need to recognize that there is a fundamental hypocrisy at the heart of their exclusionary policies, and the only way that they can be put into practice is by accepting and reinforcing the worst patriarchal norms of gendered behavior and appearance. Their feminism is very bad for transgender women but it is also bad for all women who do not conform to gender stereotypes. It is toxic, dangerous, hypocritical and confused, and they need to rethink their whole approach to gender.

A note on language

I want to target this post at people who support gender critical feminists’ approach to exclusion of transgender women from women’s spaces, and so in the title and much of the text I have used their terms for things: I have used their name for themselves, and their language of “natal women” and “born women”. I also haven’t touched on the issue of trans men, an issue that gender critical feminists are extremely uncomfortable talking about because it completely ruins their ideological certainty. However, I think that the language they use is wrong and also highly unpleasant. They aren’t “gender critical”: it has been made clear by their feminist critics that they haven’t read the literature on this, and don’t understand the history of or long-standing theoretical debates about transgender issues within feminism. They also haven’t bothered to be very critical of the potential consequences of their beliefs. I think they are far better described by the acronym their opponents give them: TERF. They want to exclude trans women from women’s spaces, which makes them trans exclusionary, and their feminism is certainly radical, though not in the sense they want to believe. So they should be called TERFs, and we should not subscribe to their false dichotomies of “natal” versus trans women. We also should not adopt the horrible American practice of calling women “females” as if they were animals. So although I have used their language in this post, I don’t like it at all and I think it’s another part of their philosophy that needs to be kicked to the curb.


fn1: It’s worth bearing in mind that even a genital check is possibly not sufficient if the trans woman in question has had gender confirming surgery, since most cishet women have very little experience of or exposure to other women’s genitals in any detail, and might not be able to identify the difference between “real” genitals[2] and surgically designed genitals. We’ll come back to this issue later in the piece.

fn2: Here I use the word “normal” to indicate that the person is a member of the population with a standard education, upbringing and level of political awareness, not to suggest that natal women are “normal” and transgender women are not normal

Our heroes have rescued three women from an uprising on the Chagos Islands, and now stand atop a small hill in the lazy afternoon heat, looking around at a field of dead Islanders as they ask the three ladies about the events that led to the uprising. As they might perhaps have expected, the entire uprising was triggered by Alan Marshall, the man they had been sent to the archipelago to find. Spurned by one of the ladies at tea, he had raged down to the hovels where the islanders dwell and tried to assert his overseers’ privilege over one of the local women, but this time his advances were not only rebuffed, but violently put down. He now hung from a tree a short distance from his own house, stripped to his smalls and flayed to the waist. The ladies led the PCs down to the tree, and from that hideous splayed corpse along a small path to the overseers house. This wood cabin held a prized view over the atoll, with cool sea breezes to ease the afternoon heat and a small garden of island flowers that had been tended by an old native lady until the uprising. The islanders had left Marshall’s house untouched, perhaps seeing no point in burning it down when its owner was not alive to see the conflagration, so the PCs entered the cabin to search for evidence of their erstwhile contact’s history.

In the house they found a small box holding 6 silver bullets, a stock of gin, and a collection of letters and documents that they hastily gathered together. Satisfied they had all they could get, they retreated hastily to the ravaged docks, deciding against taking on the bulk of the island population. Sometimes discretion is the better part of valor, and sometimes bad men get what is coming to them. They took the skiff back to the Nostromo, and instructed their captain to make haste out of the bay before the natives returned to the port and decided to deploy the remaining cannon in their direction. At sea they dug through the notes, and were able to learn a depressing fact about Alan Marshall: he was a fraud. He had never been to Rugby school, and all his credentials had been faked in the service of winning a colonial commission. No doubt after a few years of leadership on the Chagos Islands he aimed to step up to a more prestigious post, and make that all-too-common jump from petty bourgeois ne’er do well to colonial boss. His faked letters of introduction and claims to Rugby education had been sufficient to impress some functionary in the Colonial Office and get him on the first step of the ladder of opportunity that the exploitation of colonial properties offer; but his appetites showed him to be manifestly unsuited to the job, and had been his downfall. Now he had perhaps lost the Chagos Islands for the British crown: now that the natives were free they would no doubt strengthen their defenses, and if they had a second wizard capable of conjuring, perhaps they would raise some monster of the deep to defend their new realm. Whatever, it was of no matter to the group: they sailed on to Mumbai.

The Mumbai docks

They arrived in Mumbai five days later, drifting at midday into the busy and hectic ports of the city. In 1857 Mumbai was not the great city it would later be, but under rate pressure of Her Majesty’s continued colonial investment of the sub-continent it was continually developing. Their ship sailed in past a motley collection of Dhows and local freighters to the end of the docks where the foreign ships rested, and immediately their attention was caught by two strange newcomers. At the end of the docks a British corvette floated in the air, tethered to an old cannon tower in place of its usual pylon. This ship would usually be seen floating above a British military corps, giving the Imperial army military superiority over all but the most well-armed of opponents. But here it hung alone in the dusty Mumbai air, bereft of its ground forces, repainted with bizarre markings and flying the flag of a foreign nation. Nearby a large ocean-going ship floated, built of bundles of reeds lashed together around beams of rich dark wood. Two long, narrow canoes hung on divots from this ship’s raised stern, and a hard-faced warrior stood at the gangplank, stock still and carrying a two-handed club. This ship was not of any design they had seen before, and though as large as a galleon it came from no European tradition. Truly, Mumbai was another world.

They docked smoothly and found an agent of the East India Company waiting for them. On his advice they took accommodation at a guesthouse slightly inland and uphill from the docks, and accompanied by a small group of porters they passed through the bustling dock and up the hill to the guesthouse. The three ladies they had rescued, for want of better things to do, accompanied them and offered to help them in their endeavors in Mumbai. “It’s the least we can do for you fine fellows after your valiant efforts to save us from those brutes!” They would go about town gathering information – who would suspect a newly-arrived British lady of being an agent of the crown?

Once their things were settled in they decided on their afternoon’s investigation. First they would go to the docks to find out about the two mysterious ships, because they all had a feeling that their presence was not a coincidence. Then they would go to Mr. Bond’s house and find out what he had been up to, and who his cream-breasted, kohl-eyed temptation had been.

The Gurmukh

The interlopers

They approached the floating ship first, the corvette that had once been a British military unit. It hung above a cluster of men and animals, porters busily loading and unloading equipment from a mid-sized skiff that hung just off the ground, swaying slightly in the heat. As they approached one of the men broke away and strode over to them, clasping his hands and calling to them in greeting. He wore a long golden robe, had his hair tied up in a perfectly-pointed red turban, and wore a wicked-looking ornate dagger at his hip. He was tall, broad-shouldered, scarred but genial-looking. He greeted them warmly and introduced himself. “Akashpreet Singh, captain of the Gurmukh, valiant warship of the Punjab navy!”

They introduced themselves, and with a short conversation learnt that indeed this ship had been a corvette of the British Navy, the HMFS Eagle, which had been captured some months ago in battle with the kingdom of Punjab, and now saw service in the honor of the Sikh people. Akashpreet was not a free-booter, but a soldier in the service of the noble military of the Punjab. He had traveled to Mumbai some two weeks ago, on a mission to recover a stolen artifact of value to his people. On that topic he would say no more, but he did take the time to assure them that he was not at all concerned by the possibility that the resident British soldiers might take offense at his ship and try to recapture it. “They can take offense all they like!” He declaimed. “But they’ll not try to take it if they value their pale hides!”

Intrigued but satisfied, they moved on down the docks to the strange reed galleon. As they approached they gained a closer look at the soldier guarding the vessel. His skin was not the color of Indian locals, paler but not white, and his face was covered in complex whorls of tattoos. He watched them warily as they approached, standing calm and readying with his spear by his side. As they came near they heard a strong voice from the ship itself, raised in greeting. “Hoi, greetings Pakeha! You stare as if you have never seen a ship before!” A tall, solid-looking middle-aged woman came marching down the gang plank, dressed in simple sailor’s clothes and walking with an assured swagger. She strode past her guard with a nod and introduced herself to the staring group. “Manawa, captain of the Manawapou, at your service.” They clasped hands and she explained that she came from the distant land of Aotearoa, which their nations might have introduced to them as New Zealand. Her ship was one of 14 galleons of the Aotearoa navy. They talked a little, and she offered to host them in for dinner. Over dinner she revealed that she was in Mumbai chasing a stolen artifact, which she had planned to send her warriors to recover as soon as she arrived. Unfortunately an old adversary of hers, a man called Harry Flashman, was in town and had stumbled upon her in the markets. She had reason to believe that he was in cahoots with the rich white man who had stolen her artifact – or, more particularly, as was his wont, that he was in cahoots with the white man’s daughter – and had likely told the thief about Manawa’s presence. She was thus waiting in port for a chance to strike, but had not yet devised a plan. The old man she was pursuing was known as the Collector, and had taken a priceless feathered cape of her tribe, which would render the wearer invulnerable to almost any form of damage. The only weapon that could be guaranteed to pierce its blessing was silver, and it was a potent cloak for war.

Manawa also told them a little of her ship. The Aotearoa fleet had been built recently when the first of the Queen’s vessels had sailed into Maori waters, and they had realized they needed to compete with these newcomers. The elders had enacted a ritual, sacrificing 7 white sailors to the tribes’ ancestors in order to draw forth from their distant past the lost maritime secrets by which the people had reached Aotearoa over the oceans some 10 centuries earlier. They had built 14 ships on the basis of that knowledge, and when each ship was commissioned it was blessed with the flayed skin of one of the sailors they had sacrificed to learn the ancient lore. She took them below to her hold and showed them the shrine that lay at the heart of the ship; on one wall was the flayed skin of a white sailor, just his back half, with strange sigils and symbols tattooed over it in disconcerting patterns. She explained to them that the front half – and the face – were hung on another ship in the fleet, and that each of the ships carried one such terrible charm in the hold, to protect it from inclement weather and keep it sailing strong and true over even the most treacherous of waters. This ship and her sisters would serve to protect Aotearoa from the incursions of the white man, which had wreaked such terrible havoc in neighboring Australia, where the land was ravaged by war and the stalking spirits of the native clans’ ancient demons. But while the other ships patrolled the waters of her homeland, Manawa was here, trying to find a way to recover her tribe’s stolen cloak.

They thanked her and asked her what boon she might give if they were to return the cloak, since they somehow suspected that the Collector was entangled with Bond’s disappearance. Satisfied that they had met someone they might be able to turn to for help if they could return that cloak, they bade their farewells and returned to their residence.

Bond’s lodgings

They found Bond’s lodgings easily enough from a local grog smuggler, and visited in the morning. They learnt from the smuggler that the woman they had been supposed to think was his deceiver had disappeared, and he himself had not been seen for several weeks. His house was a small townhouse a little distance removed from the bustle of the port, in a leafy and wealthy neighborhood criss-crossed by small canals lined with fragrant bushes. They pushed their way through the gate and into the garden, approaching the house with a little caution. William Oxbridge crept ahead, carefully checking for enemies, but finding none called the group forward. They entered the house, and began their search.

The house had been turned upside down by intruders, but not in a search for secrets or money; there had been a battle, and it had been titanic. A single corpse lay against one wall, rotten and disgusting and long dead. It was one of the same kind of assassin that had waylaid them in Muscat, and it had fared worse than those who attacked the PCs. There was a knife stuck in its ribs, and its head had been blown apart by a pistol placed right under its jaws, the bloody remains now dried in a huge fountain of crusted brown all over the room’s delicate wallpaper. There was blood scattered liberally across other parts of the room too, and signs that the battle had been vicious and extended. Ultimately though it appeared that Bond had been beaten and captured, and dragged out of the house. Nothing else had been taken, though a lot of material had been disturbed. In particular they found notes scattered around his desk, and a map that had been torn down in the battle but was still largely intact.

It appeared their employer in Muscat had been wrong. Mr. Bond had not gone native, but had been kidnapped by the same people who attacked them in Muscat. Presumably whatever information he carried had been of great value, and they planned to get it from him, and whatever plot they had hatched stretched as far as Muscat. Given that they had been told Mr. Bond was magically bound to be unable to reveal any information under torture, it seemed likely that though he had been taken three weeks ago, it was still possible that he could be alive, and they could rescue him and perhaps help find out what plot was being run here.

For the rescuing they turned to the notes and the map. The notes were not clear, but suggested some plan to unleash communal violence between the Hindu, Muslim and Sikh communities, though no details were written down. The map was a map of the entire northern region of the sub-continent, with 11 sites marked with simple red crosses, and one site marked with a big red tick in a circle. They guessed that whatever the site was, that was the place of interest, and perhaps that was where he had been taken. But they could not be sure – they needed a local guide. They decided to take the map to Akashpreet of the GUrmukh, and see what he knew of the locations marked on it.

Akashpreet was happy to see them and invited them onto his ship, taking them on a tour of its defenses and carefully avoiding showing them the central room where its strange infernal magic kept it afloat – rumour has it that the workings of a corvette are based on magic that requires child sacrifice, and can be unsettling for the uninitiated when they see it. He then took them to his navigation room, called the navigator, and examined their map. The navigator told them that the 11 crosses likely marked sites of religious significance to the Muslim population of the region, and the ticked place was a fort in Rajasthan, infamous as a centre of Hindu resistance to the white invaders.

No doubt then – that was where he had been taken. He must have uncovered some nefarious plot and had been planning to do something at the base where that plot was conceived, the fort in Rajasthan, when he was betrayed and attacked. Presumably now he was held in that same fort, being tortured for whatever information he held. They must rescue him!

But how to get there? Would Akashpreet fly them there in his corvette? Sadly he could not, because he had come to Mumbai to recover a stolen artifact, a diamond called the Koh-i-Noor that was of great significance to his people. It had been stolen by a man called the Collector, and Akashpreet had been planning to liberate it from the collector and could not leave town until he had it. Unfortunately an old adversary of his, one Harry Flashman, had seen him in town, and the cad had no doubt informed the Collector, whose wife he was likely secretly tupping. Now AKashpreet could not mount a raid on the Collector’s home, but could not leave Mumbai until he had the diamond. He would help if he could, but …

So it was decided. The PCs would raid the collector’s home and recover the diamond (and Manawa’s cloak). Akashpreet would then fly them to the fort in Rajasthan, to rescue Bond and find out what plot was in train. Their mission was set! They thanked the Sikh captain for his help, descended from his stolen sky ship, and prepared for battle.

I have a few friends from my old Compromise and Conceit campaign visiting Japan for a few weeks so I am running a three session revival of my compromise and conceit world, this time set in 1857 just after the Anglo-Persian war and the creation of Afghanistan from the rump of the Persian Empire. The PCs are a group of agents returning from active service on behalf of the crown in the Anglo-Persian war, and the adventure starts in the city of Muscat. The PCs are:

  • Duke Markus, an Austrian Hermetic wizard specializing in fireballs and arrogant nobility
  • William Oxford III, a ruffian from London with a dubious past as a resurrectionist
  • Fergus, a Scottish fusilier with bagpipes that can strike terror into the hearts of men and monsters, and a huge claymore
  • Talita Tumani, a Lakota warrior traveling the world to export the Red Empire’s special brand of democracy
  • Abdul Hassan, a Hashashin exiled from the court of the Persian Empire and on a vengeance spree

The system is based on Coriolis, but with a corruption mechanic that I first trialed in my short neolithic campaign and have modified following the excellent stress mechanism introduced by Fria Ligan in the new Alien RPG[1].

Henry’s Hamam

The PCs have gathered at Henry’s Hamam, a complex of massage parlours, saunas and tea houses near the port of Muscat, and the only Hamam in the entire peninsula run by a British man. At this time in history the Sultanate of Oman had just broken into two parts in a disagreement over Zanzibar, but the Sultanate of Oman remained a powerful naval force in the Indian Ocean and the British were their honoured guests and allies, rather than a colonial power. With the secession of the southern portion of the Sultanate, however, brokered by the British, and with debts mounting, Oman’s attitude towards the British had turned from one of trusting equals to resentful junior power, and British potentates in the region were viewed with both awe and contempt. Henry’s Haman was thus an oasis of calm British rectitude, where only the most wealthy and trusted Arab locals were allowed, and where British officials often conducted underhand affairs of state.

So it was that the PCs found themselves in a large drawing room, seated on sofas around a table set with sweets and teas, as the local agent of Her Majesty, Sir Ian Markels, swaggered drunkenly in to do business with them. At 3 in the afternoon he was already tipsy, and dragged a bottle of gin from a countertop as soon as he entered the room. He wasted no time in telling them their task, crashing rumpled and slovenly onto a wicker chair and informing that “One of our spies in Mumbai has gone native!”

Their job, it appeared, was to get this spy back. Sir Markels told them that the spy was bound by magic not to spill secrets if he was tortured, but no such authority prevented him from telling someone voluntarily if he switched sides – and Sir Markels suspected he had fallen for “some creamy-breasted, kohl-eyed wonder of the Orient, all scented and soft-skinned glory”. In between his reverie at the thought of the spy spending lazy Indian afternoons in this imagined sylph’s boudouir, Sir Markels let them know that this spy possessed important information that they were worried he might spill, and they needed him back. They also needed to know who he had told any information to – and those people needed to be “dealt with, whether man, woman or child!” A spark lit up in his eye at the thought of slaughtering the colonials, his warm feelings for his imagined creamy-breasted paramour extinguished in a rush of typical British bloodlust.

Going native, it appeared, was a common problem on the sub-continent, due, Sir Markels informed them, to “a surfeit of heat and creamy-breasted women, and a decided insufficiency of suitable gins!” It constantly threatened harm to the interests of Her Majesty’s Empire, and Something Needed to Be Done. To this end, they were to travel to Mumbai forthwith on the spindrift clipper the Nostromo, find this spy and bring him back. First, however, they were to travel to the Chagos Islands to collect a man called Alan Marshall, who is said to have studied in the same year as the spy at Rugby School, and also to be an expert on Mumbai. As sometime classmates with shared interests, it was likely that this Mr. Marshall – currently working as overseer of the mining works on Chagos – would be able to help them find their spy and convince him to come back. Were they and Mr. Marshall to prove unable to bring the spy back, they were to ensure his secrets were buried, and all people who knew them buried with them.

The spy’s name was Bond. Mark Bond. He was a known womanizer, philanderer and alcoholic, with a fondness for these newfangled mixed spirits, which he drank on ice, stirred and not shaken. He was rumoured to have Scottish heritage, which might explain the ease with which he turned on the empire, and though once a dangerous agent had no doubt gone to seed living the soft life of the Indian colonies. “Those Hindis,” Sir Markels informed them in his increasingly drunken drawl, “ain’t savage heroes like your Redskins – no offence, young lady – nor are they fanatical lunatics like their Mohammedan neighbours – no offence to you either, my good man – and are in fact weak, with little magic to speak of and more interest in bickering amongst themselves and praying to their million fantastical gods than fighting back against our superior race!” With this dissertation on the ills of an entire continent Sir Markels staggered to his feet, told them to be at the Nostromo at dawn, and weaved out of the room, still clutching his bottle of half-finished gin.

As they were talking, some of the group had noticed a curious shift in manner among the servants of the Hamam. Their room was graced with two muscly local men in breeches, whose job was to pump two large ceiling fans that kept the room cool. Soon after Markels entered, a sleazy looking young Arab had slipped in and whispered something to one of these fan-wallahs, who had ducked out a moment later and been replaced by a much less proficient fan-wallah, who seemed much more interested in their conversation than in his half-hearted flailings at the fan. Once Markels left this man left too, replaced by the earlier, much more expert fan-wallah. Something seemed suspicious, so they decided to set out immediately before whatever plot was enacted. Once they reached the outer door of the Hamam they noticed that sleazy chap sidling around the walls, and decided to lay a small trap. Two of the group returned to their apartments to begin preparations for departure, but Abdul, Fergus and William lingered behind. Fergus stayed in the Hamam and left a little late, while Abdul hid behind some spice baskets on the far side of the road outside the Hamam, and William lounged against a wall near the entrance, yelling at the servants that they had been skimping on gin.

Fergus soon saw someone slipping over the outer wall of the Hamam, and set off to follow them. At the same time someone crept up on Abdul and tried to stab him from behind, and battle was joined. Their assailants were armed with poisoned weapons and had supernatural powers of leaping and acrobatics, but eventually they managed to kill both of them, though they weren’t able to keep either alive to talk to. Both wore lose assassin’s outfits, had dreadlocks and a strange pattern of white marks on their chest, a kind of dust that may have been powdered onto their chests in some ritual. They also carried kris, wave-bladed daggers, and poisoned darts.

None the wiser as to who was after them, the PCs dumped the bodies and returned to their apartments. They decided to move to their ship immediately, since their mission appeared to be known about after Markels’s poor choice of venue to hire them. On their journey to the ship they were attacked by six more of the assassins, in a vicious rooftop ambush that would have been their end if they had not noticed it before it started. Two of their assailants fled under the influence of Fergus’s bagpipe music but the rest were cut down in a vicious battle in the darkened alleys near the port. They retreated to the ship, battened down the hatches and waited to depart.

The Chagos Islands

Their journey to the Chagos islands was uneventful, with their spindrift clipper skipping fast and light over calm and clear seas until a week later it arrived at the northern tip of the main island of the archipelago. Here, as they approached Eclipse Point and prepared to enter the inlet to the coral atoll where the British base was located, they saw smoke rising in ominous spires from the island. Their ship skipped over the rough seas at the edge of the atoll and rounded the point towards the British port, and their worst fears were confirmed as it hoved into view – it had been destroyed, with only smouldering ruins left along the seafront. A single small sailing ship floundered in the port, and a skiff had been wrecked on the shore. One of the port’s two cannon had been destroyed, and the other – at the opposite end of the seafront – pointed inland towards the port itself and not out to sea. It looked as if there had been a rebellion, and the island had been thrown into chaos.

As they approached the port they saw a worrying harbinger of their coming troubles. On the beach lay a huge, severed crab pincer, a pincer large enough to crush a man and probably blown off of a crab so large that it would be the size of the wrecked skiff on the shore. Such a beast was clearly not natural – someone had summoned that from the angry deeps, and unleashed its wrath on the people of the island. There was trouble here, and the Nostromo‘s captain refused to sail his ship closer to shore. Until they cleaned up the crab and found out what dangers lurked in this tropical idyll, they would only be allowed to use the ship’s rowboat. They tried arguing but he would not budge, and so finally they all decamped onto the rowboat and pushed hastily for the shore.

Their captain had been right in his suspicions. No sooner had they set foot on the shore than a huge crab emerged from the water and charged towards them, obviously intending to tear them apart on the orders of its summoner. The thing scuttled towards them on hideous legs so large that they could hear them drumming on the sand, and clicked and clacked its pincers with flesh-rending intent. Fergus and Abdul ran up the beach toward the distant cannon, hoping to turn it around and bring it to bear on the beast, while the rest of the party prepared for battle. They need not have bothered, however: William Oxford III took a careful bead with his pistol, fired once, and struck the crab right between its eyestalks, blowing its tiny brain apart with a single well-placed shot. It skidded and crashed to a shuddering halt in the sand, dead[2].

They began to explore the town, looking for survivors, and soon were alerted to action up the hill, in the thick woods of Eclipse point. They heard a rifle shot, and the unmistakable sound of a British woman in distress, as she yelled “Not on your breeches, you fiend!”

They dropped everything and charged up the hill into the trees beyond the burning port, sprinting uphill until they burst into a small clearing and tumbled to a halt. Here they found a squad of rough and ugly native men, wearing just breeches and carrying bows, crouched down and facing an old ruined British fort that stood atop a rocky outcrop facing the sea. They could hear the distant boom of surf far below and beyond the fort, a tumultuous backdrop to the clarion voice of a woman hidden among the rocks of the ruin, as she yelled, “I’ll never accede to your demands, you murderous thug!” and fired another wild shot down the hill.

As they burst into the clearing all the men turned to look at them, murder in their eyes, and battle was joined. The battle was short and ended poorly for the islanders, as the PCs shot down the islander leader – their wizard – in a blaze of missile fire, and Fergus used his evil bagpipes to drive the men away from battle. They soon mopped up the rest with fireballs, claymore and axe, and soon the clearing was silent but for the panting of their pugilist.

They called the lady down, and when she heard European voices she emerged in a rush, accompanied by two other women, carrying rifles and dressed in sweaty, soot-stained traveling gear. They introduced themselves as Elizabeth Bennett, Nancy Drew and Oddeia Landry, young women traveling to India who had been driven off their course by a storm and forced to take shelter here. Unfortunately just days after they took shelter the island’s natives – “sore hard done-by folk, if the story must be told” according to bleeding heart Miss Drew – rose up against their overseer and wreaked havoc on the island. Abandoned by their menfolk, the three ladies had shown good British grit, stolen some rifles and fled to the fort. It transpired that Nancy Drew had been a dab hand at shooting and horse riding as a youngster, miss Bennett had spent long hours on tedious hunting parties with her rich first husband, and Oddeia’s father was a well-decorated hero of Afghanistan, so they had been able to muster a spirited defense for a few days while they tried to find a way to safety.

Sadly, however, the island’s overseer – Alan Marshall – was dead. Flayed, in fact, and hanged alive from a tree just down the hillside. He would not be going to India with the party. But the three ladies were on a mission to find husbands in the colonies, and would their valiant rescuers happen to be heading to Mumbai?

They sighed, helped the ladies down the hill and stood at the edge of the clearing, staring at the smouldering wreckage of the first stage of their mission. They could only hope things would improve when they reached Mumbai …


fn1: I have the quickstart pdf for this and it does look legendary. The stress mechanic seems perfectly poised for space horror role-playing, but I’m not convinced it works so well when translated to corruption for Compromise and Conceit. But who cares, for a three session adventure?

fn2: A 65 on the critical table, instant death.

picture credit: The first picture is a watercolour by David Bellamy, taken from his website. The second is out of copyright, and I took it from the National Gallery of Australia.

Our heroes have returned to Coriolis loaded with Firstcome loot that they stole from a drifting cargo ship beyond the Eye of Anuba. They plan to relax in Coriolis station for a week or two, selling off their loot, repurposing some Firstcome artifacts, and looking for new work. The cast for this session:

  • Pilot Saqr (Pilot)
  • Gunner Oliver Greenstar (Colonist)
  • Deckhand Reiko Ando (Deckhand)
  • Sensor Operator Siladan Hatshepsut (Archaeologist)
  • Doctor Bana Delecta (Medicurg)
  • Captain Al Hamra (Mystic)

Their first act upon arrival at Coriolis was to sell off the torpedoes they had scavenged from the ruined freighter. Once they had done that they settled in to count the money, while Dr Delecta set to work on the strange medical device they had recovered from the ship, and Siladan Hatshepsut tried to reconfigure the defence drone they had salvaged. They learned that the medical device had the power to cure any critical injury just by being placed on the wound, though they weren’t sure how it worked[1]. They managed to not only repair the defence drone, but also to give it a voice-activated command setting, and build an app that they installed on everyone’s tabula so that they could activate it remotely.

The crime

The PCs were relaxing on the third observation deck of their ship (the deck with the sumptuous cushions and the arabesque wood panels) when they were alerted to a visitor requesting access. His calling card introduced him as a policeman, detective Alef, and he seemed quite intent on being admitted. They roused themselves from their mid-afternoon caffeine revelry and assembled in a greeting room, and waved him up.

Detective Alef was a stern middle-aged man, trim but not excessively macho, wearing regulation khameez in a suave dark grey, hair at a business-like buzz cut with streaks of grey running through it. He introduced himself and took a seat, obviously impatient to begin business, and flicked them all a picture of a dead woman. In the picture she lay on a steel floor, swollen face streaked with dried blood and eyes hideously misfigured. They did not recognize her.

“This is Lydia,” he told them. “She arrived on your ship from Rockhome 3 on the 37th of the Merchant, and she was found dead two days ago. I’m here to ask about her.”

With the name and the date came recognition, and they realized this was the sole surviving corsair from the raid on Rockhome 3. Her mother had been with her, and her mother had agreed to tell them everything about the raid in exchange for Lydia’s freedom. They had then brought her to Coriolis and dumped her on the station with a small amount of birr, and the promise that she would not return to the corsairs.

“We found her dead in an old airlock down near the cellars. Conveniently the security cameras and activation alerts were long since dead, probably used by smugglers. You can see she didn’t have a chance. So I’m here to ask you about her.”

They looked nervously at each other, because they could see where this was going. Detective Alef then proceeded to lay out his theory: that they had brought her here from Rockhome 3 to do some criminal work for the people of Rockhome 3, but she had betrayed them and the PCs had killed her in the secluded airlock. He had joined the dots well: he had evidence of Rockhome 3 suddenly paying off a debt that had been festering for years, and the PCs suddenly disappearing on a long journey into the Dark Between the Stars. Was it smuggling? Artifact dealing? Slavery? Organ harvesting? Had she failed them or betrayed them? Which one of them pressed the button that depressurized the air lock and killed her?

They denied everything of course, with all the shifty contempt of people who know they are falsely accused. They could hardly tell him the truth – that they had spaced her mother and left her colleagues to be beaten and tortured by the Rockhome 3 survivors, then brought her here and dumped her on the express condition that she never tell her pirate bosses about who did all that to her. All they could do was deny any knowledge of her purpose and her origins, and assure Alef that they had done nothing wrong and were not involved in crime. Eventually, with no admission and no contradictory evidence, Alef was forced to give up and leave – but not before giving them all his number and telling them that whoever cracked first would be treated leniently by the adjudicators. “Call me,” he grunted as he walked out of the cargo bay entryway.

They shrugged it off. There was no evidence they had done anything. Presumably Lydia had returned to a life of petty crime when her small birr supply ran out and, not knowing the station, had crossed the wrong people. Their promise to her mother had only delayed her spacing for a few cycles. Truly, crime does not pay. They returned to the observation deck, and prepared for the week of job hunting.

The sniper

Al Hamra was returning from a day spent looking for possible work when he noticed a group of stevedores working at a cargo lifter near the entryway to the cargo hold of the Beast of Burden. As he passed them by he realized that their coveralls were a little bulky, and they were watching him a little too attentively; a second glance confirmed for him that their coveralls were hiding body armour, and that these were not stevedores at all. He reached for his tabula to send a warning to his crew, when he was suddenly struck by a huge force in his shoulder and thrown to the ground. A moment later he heard the crack of a sniper’s rifle and realized he had been shot – and terribly wounded. He rolled onto his face, trying to cover his tabula, and played dead. The last thing he saw as he fell was the stevedores reaching into the cargo lifter and pulling out vulcan carbines. Moments later they walked past him, briefly talking about whether to finish him off but deciding against wasting the ammunition. The threat passed as they walked inside, and left Al Hamra dying on the cold floor of the dock.

Al Hamra waited until they were heading up the ramp and sent a message to Saqr, in the cockpit, warning him of the incoming thugs. Then he gritted his teeth and hauled himself up the ramp towards the entry, beating the sniper to the shot and ducking under the cover of the ship’s hull.

The raid

Saqr sent the alarm across the bridge, and they sprung into action. Siladan opened the app and activated the defense drone, which was in the cargo hold that the thugs entered by. As it came to life they noticed it and three of them opened fire on it, while three more ran to the elevator out of the cargo hold. Saqr, sitting in the bridge, sealed the doors to the living quarters and the bridge so that they would be trapped in the elevator access hall when they arrived. Dr. Delecta ran to the rear elevators to descend to the cargo hold, while Siladan and Reiko Ando grabbed weapons and ran forward to engage the incoming raiders. Downstairs the defence drone engaged the three thugs remaining in the cargo hold, and Al Hamra hauled himself up the entryway and into the cargo hold. His wound was very bad, and every action was a struggle, but he had to defend his ship.

The battle that followed was short but brutal. Upstairs, one of the pirates managed to hack the doors and enter the living space before the team could properly gather, and a vicious battle broke out in the main lounge, with Reiko Ando and Siladan in close combat against two of the thugs while Oliver and Saqr fired on them and a third took cover behind the doors. Downstairs Delecta sprinted the length of the hangars and into the cargo hold, reaching it just in time to see the defence drone under heavy fire and Al Hamra knocked down by gunfire. She opened fire from her surprise position at the door, and her intervention was enough to turn the tide: between her and the defence drone two of the three raiders went down, and the third sprinted out the door. Upstairs, with four PCs attacking the thugs from two directions, they cleaned up quickly, although it was a close fight.

The death

With the raiders defeated Delecta was able to run over to Al Hamra and assess his condition. He was dying of his wound, and they would need the new Firstcome medical device immediately. She called to Siladan, who ran to the medibay and trashed it looking for the device. Finally he found it and sprinted down to the cargo bay, but the huge distances in the ship prevented him getting there quickly. As he arrived Al Hamra’s condition had worsened, and he appeared to be breathing his last ragged breaths. They slapped the machine onto the dying mystic’s chest and activated it.

Al Hamra breathed his last, his eyes opened and he died without even the grace of a few last words. Delecta had failed.

Moments later the machine beeped and a robot voice said, “Download completed. Please transfer to stable storage within one minute.”

They looked around in confusion. What had they done? But the machine was insistent – its battery was low and it needed to transfer the data before shutdown. They hadn’t even charged the damn thing! Yelling recriminations at each other, Siladan and Dr. Delecta connected the machine to a data outlet for the ship’s computer and, not really knowing what else to do, yelled at it. “Commence download!”

Moments later the ship spoke to them in Al Hamra’s smooth Zenithian drawl. “You people really can’t do anything right can you?”

Their mystic captain had become the ship’s intelligence.

The nest

As this battle unfolded Oliver Greenstar was returning from a mission to make a deal with a hacker. He saw the remaining raider and a heavily-armed sniper hustling away from the docking bay, and guessed that his ne’er-do-well companions had got themselves into more trouble. He called a nearby street urchin who had been lounging around the docks for the last few days looking for work, and gave him 50 birr to follow the fleeing thugs. The urchin took the job eagerly and disappeared after them. Greenstar returned to the hangar and boarded their ship just as the rest of the group were cleaning up. The PCs had found one of the thugs still alive and were interrogating him in the blood-soaked cargo hold when Greenstar returned.

The thug had little to say, but they learned what they needed to. He and his friends were agents of Samina’s corsairs. They had learnt that it was the PCs who had foiled their mission on Rockhome 3, and they had come to get the ship’s data core of the Algebraic Escalation back from the PCs. They had killed Lydia in the process, and intended to kill the PCs too once they had the information they needed about the ship’s data core.

Well that hadn’t really worked out, had it? They killed the remaining thug and dumped him in the trash disposal with the rest. It was then that the doorbell rang, and detective Alef returned, responding to Al Hamra’s call.

What to do now? They spun a fast story and delayed the detective until they could clean the cargo hold and hide the bodies in the smuggler’s stash. They told him that Al Hamra had called him because they had been under attack by some local thugs, but that the thugs had gone. Somehow they convinced him to leave, and disposed of the bodies in the spaceship’s recycling unit. They were not in trouble with the law – yet – but they still had work to do, because Oliver Greenstar had received a message from his street urchin. The two thugs had returned to a base near the cellars, and they were not alone.

It was time to finish these corsairs. They prepared themselves for battle.


fn1: Actually it’s a recorder, that downloads the soul of a dying person, but they rolled a botch on their skill check and didn’t know this, a fact that will become relevant later …