In general, the campaign world lags behind the one from which the player characters come by approximately sixty-five to eighty years. Though it does not precisely resemble the latters Jazz Age, there are resonances, thanks to similar societal and technological conditions. Inspiration can be drawn from motion pictures such as Streets of Fire that have deliberately mixed anachronisms.
Most of the industrialized world has good power grids, supplied by hydroelectric and coal-fired plants; the undeveloped world, of course, is still very hit-or-miss. Where grids have existed for decades, it is routine to design electrification into buildings. Steam power plants for vehicles are very advanced, but internal-combustion engines are less developed.
Electronics are even more primitive than many other fields. There is radio and even voice broadcasting, but no television. Radar is the subject of experimentation. Electronic computers are not even in the design stage, and their place is taken by advanced and sophisticated electro-mechanical computers and control systems.
John Browning, probably the most prolific and ingenious firearms inventor in history, died of the Plague in 1908 at age fifty-three. (In the real world he died in 1926 at the age of seventy-one.) That, combined with the lack of full-scale international wars in the succeeding decades and the Plagues aftereffects, slowed advancement of weapon design. Machineguns and even a very few submachinguns (similar to the Thompson or the MP18-1) exist, but bolt-action rifles are still the only significant full-power long-arms. Larger guns are well-developed, but rockets are very primitive and missiles simply dont exist. Nuclear weapons are considered a fantasy.
Surface shipping consists of tramp steamers, ocean liners, early-generation container ships, and of course warships. Anti-air defenses are much more prevalent than in the real worlds equivalent period, for obvious reasons. Submarines, however, suffer neglect as navies concentrate more on airships, and look much like what the player characters would expect to see launched during the First World War. There are, however, aircraft carriers, both on the surface and in the air, and battleships have not faded away, in part because they can carry inordinate numbers of anti-air artillery mounts.
Because steam power managed to compete more successfully with internal combustion engines, both types of powerplants are still in use for motor vehicles and there are fewer motorcycles. Armored vehicles tend to be either small, (relatively) fast, and expensive diesel-powered light tanks and scout cars, or huge, lumbering steam-powered land warships. A few visionaries are predicting, to much sneering and jeering, that the latter will eventually become extinct. Diesel locomotives are in the process of supplanting their mature, well-developed steam predecessors.
Aviation technology merits a closer scrutiny because of its more radical departure from the norms familiar to the player characters (and players). Thanks to the advent of the levitator, lighter-than-air vehicles disappeared even more quickly than in the real world. In their place arose true airships ranging roughly from ten to ten thousand tonnes. Still, aerodynamic aircraft flourished as well, since their strengths and weaknesses complemented their aerostatic counterparts.
Helicopters are only in the very earliest stages of experimentation. However, autogyros became more popular than in the real world because their performance envelopes were a match for airships, and being cheaper and lighter, they made good auxiliary vehicles on large airships. Since speeds were low and did not vary over a broad range, the more efficient but performance-restricted ducted fans became de rigeur for propulsion and, on airships, steering. An additional advantage for airships was that ducted fans could be electrically powered from the same sources supplying the levitators.
Airplanes have been relegated to applications demanding speed over other considerations: racers, couriers, interceptors, escort fighters, and the like. Most are driven by propellors, including early turboprops; there are no jets as yet. Designers are reveling in the possibilities opened up by metal-skinned monoplanes. Canard-plan pushers are very popular, though other planforms exist as well, in bewildering variety.
A levitator consists of a series of spinning disks (rather like a Tesla turbine), the disks horizontal and the central shaft vertical. Each disk is surrounded by a static rim, U-shaped in cross-section. The interaction of the rotors and stators generates an electromagnetic field, much as an electric motor does, that reduces the apparent weight of the mechanism. Under normal circumstances, this reduction is fairly minor.
What makes these disks and rims special is that, when cooled by liquid nitrogen, they become superconductors. The weight reduction suddenly skyrockets, and the levitator can have a negative weight, generating lift. Airships are designed so that clusters of these levitators at bow and stern push up against major structural members. In most designs the levitators can be removed for servicing through access plates on a ships underside.
Levitators are generally installed in counter-rotating pairs, one on top of or beside the other, to cancel out torque. The liquid-nitrogen cooling systems surround them and small dedicated mechanical computers keep everything in balance. A levitators lift is varied by changing the rotation rate of the rotors; the faster they go, the greater the lift.
Lacking the fierce Cold War rivalries that led to the Space Race in the real world, the industrial nations of the post-Plague period have invested little effort in traveling beyond the earths atmosphere. While levitator technology theoretically makes it easier for a vessel to do so, other technologies have been sorely lacking until the last couple of decades. Rocketry was painfully primitive and pressurization and life support are still hit-and-miss.
A number of levitator ships have ascended all the way to low orbit and a few have risen farther—but not all of them have returned safely. Still, by the middle of the twentieth century, some people began to wonder if they could be used to fulfill one of mankinds oldest dreams: walking on the moon. A handful of attempts were made, all unsuccessful for one reason or another. Generally these boiled down to catastrophic equipment failure or lack of adequate planning, and the results tended to be rather gruesome.
However, as the century drew to a close, Germany decided to make another try. The technology had improved, and what more auspicious timing could there be than to land men on the moon at the dawn of the new millennium? An obsolete air-battleship was refitted—guns dismounted and observation domes or galleries, airlocks, and access doors put in their place, for instance—and renamed Luna. Bundles of solid-fuel rockets, attached in place of the normal ducted fans, provided propulsion and steering. Diving suit designs were modified into EVA suits.
The ship departed amidst much pomp and ceremony and, unlike its predecessors, made it all the way to the moon without mishap. After the initial excitement of the successful landing—the site of which was changed at the last minute to Mare Orientale—the expedition settled into a routine of housekeeping and exploratory forays. Many photographs were sent back via photoelectric facsimile radio transmissions, one of many bravura technological accomplishments associated with the program, and the ship ended up staying longer than originally planned, almost to the end of its safety margin. Unfortunately, on the return voyage, all contact was lost shortly before Luna deorbited into the atmosphere. The government at first attempted to ignore the problem, but eventually had to admit it did not know what happened.
Since then, both the United States and Britain have announced plans for their own lunar expeditions. However, the former died quietly from lack of funding and the latter ended with the catastrophic crash of a training vessel carrying a significant portion of the expeditionary crew. Ω
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