Bearding The Bear: Space 1889 PBEM by Dorian Davis

Game Summary

Mars, 1890. Far to the north of the British Crown Colony of Syrtis Major lies the Boreosyrtis League, a confederation of city-states whose principal source of revenue is the production of a rare, and mildly narcotic spice: bhutan. In return for certain defensive guarantees, the League has signed trade agreements which give the British exclusive rights to purchase the spice, a fact that angers Martian and non-British human alike.

But now that the British are engaged in a prolonged, bloody war with the Oenotrian Empire, Tzarist agents are rumoured to be snuffling around Mylarkt, an independent city-state which sits astride the vital Meroe-Syrtis Major canal. H.M. government fears that the Russians may have already conducted secret talks with the ruling Prince. Furthermore, raiders from the Meroe highlands have started using a secret pass to swoop down and plunder the rich spice caravans as they journey between Mylarkt and the Colony.

Preperations are therefore underway to raise a small expedition with orders to locate the hidden pass; seek out the skulking 'Bear'; and tame a Martian Prince. Needless to say, the success ofthis (unofficial) operation on the Colony's North East Frontier is crucial to the protection of future British and League interests.

Campaign World:

The universe of GDW's Space:1889 - Science Fiction Role Playing in a More Civilized Time (by Frank Chadwick; copyright 1996).

There are a number of excellent Web sites which detail both Space:1889, the game; and the historical Victorian era. Below are several URLs of interest to prospective Victorian Adventurers:

- The Heliograph Unofficial Space:1889 WWW site:

- The Victorian Research Web Page:

Mature. Some graphic violence may occur.

Playing the Great Game on late C19th Mars.

The 'Game' is best described as a clandestine quest for information and power over the vast tracts of Central Asia and Mars which lie trapped between British and Tzarist Russian geopolitical spheres. During the Game's first phase on Earth in the early C19th, players tended to travel in disguise and great secrecy. It was one of those early players, Lieutenant Arthur Conolly (6th Bengal Native Light Cavalry), who coined the term "the Great Game".

By the 1880s, this silent war of nerves was entering its second phase. No longer was the emphasis on disguise and secrecy, and the rivalry with Tzarist Russia was more blatant. After Russia's intervention in the Hecates Lacus civil war in 1883, and the international recognition of its "special interests" in the region, the Tournament of Shadows, as the Russians called the Game, began in earnest. Mars was about to become "a vast adventure playground" for ambitious officers and explorers on both sides.(i)

This is a most complex issue. As Frank Chadwick writes: "Victorian society was characterised by a strong adherence to a widely accepted set of values ... Each value tended to produce both virtues and vices, sometimes, paradoxically, at the same time and in the same person ... At his best, the Victorian Englishman combined a boyish zest for hard work and adventure with tremendous personal courage and integrity. At his worst, he was smug, prudish, half-witted, hostile to everything alien to his race and class, and pointlessly obsessed with sporting activities ... Players should be aware that a general acceptance of, and adherence to, these basic values is essential to success in Victorian society at large".(ii)

A blend of daring, do-or-die cinematic heroics, and pragmatic realism. "Bearding The Bear" is as much inspired by M.M. Kaye's "The Far Pavilions"; Kipling's "The Man Who Would Be King", and "Kim"; T.N. Murari's evocative "The Imperial Agent" and "The Last Viceroy" (both sequels to "Kim"); the movies: "Gunga Din", "Tales of the Bengal Lancers", and, of course, "The Man Who Would Be King"; as it is by the Larger-than-Life exploits of men such as Sir Francis Younghusband, the Last Great Imperial Adventurer, and a leading player in the Great Game.

The Great Game is both alluring and dangerous. As one of Colonel Creighton's agents tells Kim: "We of the Game are beyond protection. If we die, we die. Our names are blotted from the book. That is

Continuity will be entirely dependent upon the success (or failure) of the Mission. Either way, the Great Game /will/ go on!

Characters should, of course, be Englishmen of sterling character; adventurous in spirit, and heroic of heart. The potential Great Gamer might be a 'special correspondent' for "The Times", a representative of the RMGS, or perhaps a member of a shooting party in search of an elusive eegaar.

Martian characters are motivated to play the Game by the lure of membership in London's learned societies. ('Do you know what Ta-na-Roo really wants? He wants to be made a member of the Royal
Society by taking ethnological notes. Curious, his wish to be an FRS. Very human, too'. Cummings to MacGregor, 25 Jul.1888 Secret, F.O. 77/2310.)

PC Group Structure:
Although the Mylarkt Mission is not (strictly) an Expeditionary Force, it will be formally structured, with a clearly defined Chain-of-Command. Player characters can elect to be either a part of this chain, or act as independent observers/advisors attached to the Mission.

PC Importance:
Officially, characters will not be on secret government service; they are simply freelance adventurers. If they are unsuccessful, their political master(s) will disown them where necessary.

When/if combat occurs, the GM will use Jim Cambias's "elegantly simple" combat resolution system; that is: "all combat is conducted using Skill rolls, employing the standard 1889 Task Difficulty levels". A html copy of these 'rules' can be downloaded from the Heliograph Web Page (see above), or email the GM for an ASCII copy.


Dorian Davis

Game System:
GDW's Space:1889 - Science Fiction Role Playing in a More Civilized Time (by Frank Chadwick; copyright 1996).

Players do not need to own a copy of the rulebook to play, as detailed information on generating a character will be made available upon request. Such players might also want to check out the GURPS:
1889 web page: which contains a transcription of several chapters from the rulebook, notably the "Introduction" and "The Victorian Age". These will tell
players what sort of world they are adventuring in, and explain how the proper Victorian Adventurer behaves.

Player Experience:
Can range from complete novice to experienced pro. Some familiarity with the Victorian era would be desirable, but is not essential to enjoying the game.

Time Frame:
The GM checks email daily, and will respond to urgent questions asap.

The goal is to post one (or two) turns per week, which assumes a turn around time of three or four days. However, this may not always be possible. The GM will endeavour to provide warning of any (unreasonably) long delays.

Turn Frequency:
Player response times may be as long as needed, provided no other players are waiting on the response - if there are, the GM assumes an appropriate response after three (3) days from the other player(s)'posting.

Turn Formatting:
GM turns will have a moderately formal format.

***---***---*** is used to begin and end the turns.

Within the turn, any notes of general interest (exposition, adminstrative comments, etc.) will be separated from the turn text by [square brackets].

Within the turn text, a {Character Name(s)} will indicate each character's (or group's) actions.

(Repost) following the character name indicates text duplicated from an earlier turn, usually for technical reasons.

A centered ---//--- indicates a scene break within an action.

Turns will be presented in annal form (that is: all PC and NPC actions will be written up in the third person).

Player's Turn Formatting:
Players can submit their turn in the format of their choice, just as long as the difference between metagame and in-character statements are clearly defined. The GM would prefer it if replies were written in narrative form (in complete sentences and paragraphs, rather than point form). Players may choose to describe a character's thoughts or just his actions, as they prefer. Please refrain from excessive quoting.

Turn Breaks:
The GM will attempt to avoid ending a turn at a point where there is only one obvious choice; it will be assumed the character makes the obvious choice and continues on. It may take some time to learn what
sort of choices are obvious for each character, however. Initially, assumptions will be kept to a minimum. Each player must decide for themselves whether or not to allow the GM greater leeway in assuming
character actions.

In important conversations, a significant decision may be only one or two lines.

Player responses to GM turns should also try to advance to another significant decision or event; that is: each player turn should stop at a point where the player doesn't know what happens next.

Questions about the story (or the era) that would be of general interest to all players and lurkers, and which does not require an immediate answer, should be included in a player's turn as well, rather than in a private message to the GM.

The game will run more like a face-to-face roleplaying game than a collaborative story. In most games, players have control over their own characters, and the GM has control over everything else, including Setting, Non-Player Characters, and Chance. So, in order to advance the pace of the game, players will be given more control than is usual in a face-to-face game.

If they desire, players can add various elements to the setting, create, and interact with some non-player characters, and decide the results of certain actions that have an element of chance. The worst that can happen is that the GM decides a part of the player's turn did not actually occur that way, and truncates the response. It's okay if this happens occasionally, but if it seems to crop up too often then more elaborate or restrictive guidelines may have to be defined.

Players can elaborate on the GM's description by adding or describing 'typical' things that might be found in the setting that were not specifically mentioned in the GM turn -- so long as it does not contradict or invalidate the GM turn.

If the GM turn relates that your character is in a crowded market place, the player can decide that there is a typical sort of stall nearby - but not that there is a tunnel leading to the Prince's Treasury. If the GM turn describes the character being attacked in a tavern, the player can decide that there is a tray on a nearby table, or that there is a cleaver on the counter - but not that there is a suit of armour in the corner.

Non-Player Characters:
Likewise, players can create common people who might be found in the setting. In the market, a player can describe merchants and passers-by, but not that the ruling Prince is strolling by.

Players can interact with, and describe the actions of, NPCs they create as well, so long as they have them react in a typical fashion. A player can describe haggling over some item with the merchant -- but not that the merchant gives away items for free.

Players can dictate that their character succeeds (or fails) at certain tasks they attempt. Players can assume success for high- probability actions that their character is particularly adept at. For instance, if the character is a skilled craftsman, the player does not have to ask the GM if he successfully creates a professional quality item; the player can just decide that he does, and keeps on writing up his turn.

However, players should never assume that they can significantly interfere with other characters, whether they are run by another player or by the GM. Even if the character is a superb Marksman, the player cannot decide that the character kills someone with one shot. Nor should they just write that their glib investigator convinces the suspected criminal to confess.


(i) Hopkirk, Peter, "The Great Game: On Secret Service in High Asia", London, 1990; p.4.
(ii) Chadwick, Frank, "Space:1889", Bloomington, 1988; p.23.
(iii) Kipling, Rudyard, "Kim", Ware, 1995 (1st edn. 1901); p.173.