How do I turn Space: 1889 into Space: 1914?
January 25, 2009 8:27 PM   Subscribe

I came across my old Space: 1889 books in my parents' basement over the holidays and took them back with me to the US. I'm considering starting a campaign in that universe, but set during the War of 1914-18. Considering the different history and technology how do progress the setting into a Great War like scenario that's both true to the Space: 1889 universe as well as the real First World War?

What especially concerns me is to construct a plausible history that leads to a Great War without altering the Space: 1889 setting while still incorporating these real world facts:

the spread of communism and other important ideologies (nationalist movements, first wave feminism etc.)
real world technological progress (wireless, airplanes, x-rays, etc.)
trench warfare

& every other important historical factor which I'm forgetting.

Facets of the Space: 1889 which might be hard to plausibly incorporate into a Great War type scenario:

ether flyers
more land to colonize (European powers (and the US and Japan) not limited to Earth, but can colonize the inner planets)

The history and new setting don't have to be minutely detailed (that's what GMs are for, after all) but I want it to be plausible enough so that the players don't fall into disbelief too readily.
posted by Kattullus to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (10 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Oh! And I want the feel of the setting to be true to the grim nature of the real World War I rather than the What ho Martian! feel of Space: 1889.

And yes, I do realize that this may be the single geekiest AskMe of all time.
posted by Kattullus at 8:28 PM on January 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

This fellow seems to have a similar idea to you, albeit with minis rather than role playing

A related 1888-1920 blog, again miniatures gaming, some of it in the 1889 universe.

Good luck! I haven't played any Space: 1889 in 10 years or more, but I enjoy reading about it. I found the above by hitting google with "space 1889" and "ww1" or "great war".
posted by fings at 9:32 PM on January 25, 2009

I was talking to cortex and he pointed out that this period of history is modeled by the boardgame Diplomacy. Also, he suggested having "forced scarcity of the novel resources of that setting by the time 1912-13 rolls around [which] would make it easier to keep the neat stuff without significantly unbalancing Reality."
posted by Kattullus at 9:35 PM on January 25, 2009

fings: Good luck! I haven't played any Space: 1889 in 10 years or more, but I enjoy reading about it. I found the above by hitting google with "space 1889" and "ww1" or "great war".

I've found some very basic stuff about the idea of taking the Space: 1889 world into World War One, but nothing very detailed. The players I'd have are all fairly well versed in history so I'd need to be able to make it fit with what I and they know happened in the real world. Besides that, I would find it enjoyable as a world-building exercise to construct a Space: 1914 campaign setting that is about as plausible as can be.
posted by Kattullus at 9:54 PM on January 25, 2009

First, think of the Moon and Mars as just other spheres of activity for the nations--this was the height of imperialism. Each nation would be trying to get colonies on the Moon and Mars. Your adventures will be on the frontiers of human exploration.

There will have been several war scares in the past. WWI should happen the same way, with the same cause. So your characters will be working for Sir Marsdon, the deputy First Lord of the Admiralty, etc.

As for communism, it was scarely a force at the time, whereas the German Social Democratic Party was the largest party in Germany. First-wave feminism was a trickle. Voting rights for women were nearly non-existent and questions of women's relationship to men on an everyday basis was not something thought about by those who are living a middle-class existence (thus making female feminist characters fun to play because they cut against the grain so much.)

There will be little diplomatic missions, including collaborations with local life to stop the antagonistic forces you set up. Profit could be made trading exotic stuff. If you want to think about how the war would be fought, read up on World War I in Africa. Small units, local aliens providing the bulk of the troops, a single piece of equipment playing a big role in a battle between Germans and British or whomever else might be fighting.

You could have communist agitators in Germany and France. The most advanced socialists were in Germany. But the SPD voted for the war.

oh, and have a guy with a monocole
posted by Ironmouth at 9:58 PM on January 25, 2009

The Great War of the Worlds would likely start out in the colonies, where nations and interplanetary cartels struggle to control precious resources (water on Mars, relatively dinosaur-free land on Venus). With little oversight, deniable border clashes and battles with mercenary companies slowly build in frequency and intensity.

Back home on Earth, an implicit "gentleman's agreement" keeps the war off planet and out of the public eye. Sooner or later, though, a nation whose extra-planetary holdings are in jeopardy will be tempted to up the ante just a little, by attacking strategic terrestrial targets, such as a spaceport or shipyard. At that point, the gloves come off and the War of the Worlds begins in earnest.

One of the things that impressed me about Barbara Tuchman's The Guns of August is how everyone wanted the Great War. The struggle for European domination seemed inevitable, the thinking went, so why not just get on with it already? In a Space: 1914 setting, I imagine a long military build-up, starting with the first human extraterrestrial settlements (which would be largely military anyway), increasing nationalism and saber-rattling, and mounting international and interplanetary tensions, just waiting for the Incident that will set the whole thing ablaze.

The pre-War era would be a great time for a spy campaign.
posted by SPrintF at 11:13 PM on January 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

One of the things that made WWI what it was is the use of war gasses. Track down a copy of "A Higher Form of Killing" if you want to factor that into things. Very interesting, very frightning book. You may not want to go there at all since who lived and who died often was more about which way the wind was blowing than anything else.

First thing to ask - will the sides be the same in your alternate WWI? There's no reason it has to be. Look at all the players in WWI and ask why they were doing what they were doing. What would have happened to the Ottoman Empire, for example, if they had just a handful of small liftwood curriers? What are Japan and the US doing in your universe? Have they become colonial powers too? Would they side with England, or have they teamed up and are currently building a giant Ether Cruiser be on some island in the Pacific and sendign a mission to Jupiter some time real soon? It would not be hard to come up with a back-story that ended with Germany and England vs. Everyone Else.

After I mapped the global politics, I'd look at what was going on in Africa and the Middle East in 1910 and start my campaign there, only expand those trends to Mars and Venus. Are there agents provocateur stirring up the locals? Sabotage? Wheeling and dealing?

In terms of technology, I think some techs will advance at about the same pace; some will be DoA because no one will ever bother with them given a ready alternative, and some will be far more advanced than they were in real life. Radio, yes. Biplanes? Why bother. Some sort of super duper ships engine based on some ancient Martian artifacts? A ship powered by THE ATOM ITSELF! (w/ double breasted lab coat and unruly hair) would be cool, but I'd run my universe so that nuclear weapons weren't just non-existant, but not physically possible (and I'd let my players know this off line so they wouldn't try to go there). GDW already deleted some real world science and replaced it - don't be affraid to follow their lead.

I did some writing for 1889 back in the day (for GDW's magazine) and always thought it was a brilliant idea, so I am glad to see people are still having fun with it.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 9:54 AM on January 26, 2009

Remember that Philo T. Farnsworth* first demonstrated his television system back in 1928, so be sure to equip your air dreadnoughts with grainy, early model televisor systems.

For fictional a treatment of the Great War, consider H G Wells' The War in the Air. Writing in 1907, Wells imagined a World War fought by mighty airships. In a war fought without conventional front lines, the "progress" of the war was largely imaginary. Instead, it simply ground on and on and on, destroying population centers until civilization collapsed. (Setting the stage for a Shape of Things to Come-style era: "Wings over the World!")

Taken to the extreme, you get Edgar Rice Burroughs' Beyond Thirty, in which a devastated Europe has literally returned to the Stone Age.

*Good news, everyone!
posted by SPrintF at 12:13 PM on January 26, 2009

Good Lord! Surfing Wikipedia is bizarre. Master Spy Sidney Reilly was a personal friend of novelist Ethel Voynich, who was in turn the daughter of mathematician George Boole and husband of Wilfrid Voynich, the discoverer of the Voynich manuscript!
posted by SPrintF at 12:30 PM on January 26, 2009

You know, the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comics might be worth looking at. They're Victorian, but they incorporate liftwood type flying machines and many of the other technologies you mention.

There's a great book on WW1 trench warfare called Eyes Deep in Hell. It covers not just the technical details but the attitudes of officers and enlisted men.

Finally, not quite related, but I played a great game of Call of Cthulhu set in WW1 at Gencon last year called Dig to Victory. It was run by the publisher of Pagan Press, Adam Scott Glancy. I don't know about you, but I think every game is improved by adding the cthulhu mythos.
posted by clockworkjoe at 10:34 AM on January 27, 2009

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