Role Play Serial Story from The Messdeck

Sunday, March 22, 2015 0 comments

Lost at Sea Part 1

Our Role Play Group is on a bit of a hiatus while we try to sort out how our main story will carry on into the future.

I'm going to serialize two of the side stories that came up during this time to give you a bit of a feel for the World in which we are playing. The parts of the story are presented here pretty much as they appeared in our role play.

Note that Max (me) tends to talk to himself, which is useful in the RP as a way to give out some more info.  Sections that begin and end with an '*' are descriptive.  I'll try to clarify history and details from previous roleplay as footnotes when necessary.

I hope you enjoy it.

Keep your sightglass full your firebox trimmed and your water iced

Lost at Sea
A serial story from The Messdeck.
Part 1
Collected and edited by Kevin Jepson


While our fine ship, the HMAS Velvet Brush, is in the Airdock for her much needed refit, the crew is dispersed to other duties.  Her Chief Engineer Lt Cmdr(E) Maxwell MacDonald-Smythe aka Max, is ordered to take an old airship, HMAS Doris, up to the Royal Navy base at Scapa Flow. He is to begin testing a new device known as the Chirper, that can determine elevations and depths, much like a modern sonar depth scan.

With him he has several members of the Velvet Brush's crew. Two members of his Black Gang, John Watkins and Philip Simpson who invented the Chirper, the Navigator Lt Iveta Baleva, the communications officer Lt Beulah Bueckert, aka Miss BB, and two of the Marine contingent, Sgt Kade Frazer and Cpl Ellis Cooke.

It is winter and the old Doris has seen better days.

Jan 28
Airdock 6 at the Experimental Airship Division yard near London

*Max is standing at the side of the airdock surveying his new command. Having received her from the hands of the Airdock Boffins only a few minutes before, he now watches as the last of the dockyard workers file away and his ship sits alone with her new crew*

Well Max me lad, she's all yours now. This will be an interesting junket and no mistake.

*HMAS Doris is a smallish, hydrogen filled, cargo carrying airship. Until recently she was a commercial tramp carrier called "The Matilda" on contract to the Navy supplying remote light houses along the Northern coasts of Scotland. The Doris is small, she could fit entirely inside the Velvet Brush between the forward accommodation and engineering, with room to spare! The outer cover of her hull is dirty grey and streaked with coal dust. Bright white squares show where her old threadbare cover has been repaired.*

Well yer no stranger to the North at least.

Max spots the bright crimson uniform of Sgt Fraser approaching "Ah Sergeant, all secure?"

Sgt Fraser snaps to attention and salutes sharply "Aye Sir, ship is cleared of all dock workers Sir!"

"Very good, please maintain ship watch. I expect the last of our supplies will be arriving shortly, make sure they get squared away as soon as possible."

"Aye aye Sir!" Another quick salute and Fraser turns and takes up his post beside the entrance to the control car of the airship.

Well, no luxury on this trip Max, be nice to sleep in a hammock again while aloft though, like sleeping on a cloud, if a bit noisy and breezy.

*Max walks aft past the control car under the belly of the airship his cane making tapping sounds that seem oddly loud in the cavernous space of the airdock. He walks past the cargo car in which the Chirper is safely installed, to the third car that houses the engine. There is an open triangular keelwalk connecting the three cars that hang below the hull like rowboats suspended from a bridge. Using the keelwalk while in flight will be an adventure in itself. As he approaches the third car he sees Watkins climbing down from it, he is covered in soot and his coveralls are all greasy.*

"Well Watkins, will she fly?"

"Aye Sir she will, but not fast. She'll be lucky to make 20 knots and against any kind of wind we'll be sitting still. Don't know how them fellows kept station in the North Sea Sir."

"Well if they could do it we can. Were you able to get something setup for Comms and the Navigator in the control car?"

"Aye Sir, we took that little box they called your cabin and set it up for them, at least they won't have the wind whistling past 'em."

*The control car and the engine car are open with no glass in the windows to save weight.*

"Well we best make sure they have some warm woolies just in case eh?"

Watkins smiles "Aye Sir, but I think Miss BB has that handled Sir."

"How's that?"

"Well Sir, she arrived this morning with a Jessus big trunk and had a couple of the dock yard blokes stash it in the back of the cabin Sir. When I asked her about it she said it were warm rough weather clothes for all of us Sir."

"Hah! Well she is resourceful that one, probably won it all off the Quartermaster at poker if I know her!"

Watkins laughs, "Aye Sir, probably Sir."

"Well I'm off for my final report to Admiral Wilcox, get her ready to go as best you can I don't want anything left adrift when we leave."

"Aye aye Sir!" and with the touch of his cap Watkins heads back up the ladder.

*Max heads toward the gate, past the control car returning Sgt Fraser's salute as he passes.*

Well now maybe I can find out more about what we are supposed to be doing all the way up in Scapa Flow...

But Mary will be there too and I don't dare even say hello, blast and damn!

*At the gate of the airdock, Max turns and looks at his new command one more time trying to imagine here puffing her way through the winter skies on her way to Scotland.*

Well you're no beauty, but I'll wager yer a tough old girl and all.

Ada Countess Lovelace, Charles Babbage and...

Friday, February 27, 2015 0 comments

The wondrous machine that might have changed the world!

In the Airship Technology Speech I gave back in January at the Absinthe Cafe the place where our Role Playing World separated from the real world was when Babbage's Analytical engine was actually constructed and working in 1880.

This world changing event was due to the work of Augusta Ada  King, Countess Lovelace.
In the real world Ada died in November of 1852 before Charles Babbage had perfected his design. In our alternate world she outlived Babbage and was responsible for making his designs work, under contract to the Royal Navy for whom Babbage was working as well.

The Honerable Augusta Ada Byron was the only legitimate daughter of Lord Byron. She married Baron William King in 1835 and when he became the Earl of Lovelace in 1838 she became a countess. Her fascination with mathematics and science as well as what she called "poetical science", describing herself as an "Analyst (& Metaphysician)",brought her into contact with Charles Babbage.

Of her work on with Babbage on his Analytical Engine she said:
[The Analytical Engine] might act upon other things besides number, were objects found whose mutual fundamental relations could be expressed by those of the abstract science of operations, and which should be also susceptible of adaptations to the action of the operating notation and mechanism of the engine...
Supposing, for instance, that the fundamental relations of pitched sounds in the science of harmony and of musical composition were susceptible of such expression and adaptations, the engine might compose elaborate and scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent.

You can read more details of the Countess' work with Charles Babbage on her Wikipedia page.

From the Wikipedia article:

During a nine-month period in 1842–43, Ada translated Italian mathematician Luigi Menabrea's memoir on Babbage's newest proposed machine, the Analytical Engine. With the article, she appended a set of notes. Explaining the Analytical Engine's function was a difficult task, as even other scientists did not really grasp the concept and the British establishment was uninterested in it. Ada's notes even had to explain how the Engine differed from the original Difference Engine. Her work was well received at the time; scientist Michael Faraday described himself as a supporter of her writing.

The notes are longer than the memoir itself and include (in Section G), in complete detail, a method for calculating a sequence of Bernoulli numbers with the Engine, which would have run correctly had the Analytical Engine been built (only his Difference Engine has been built, completed in London in 2002). Based on this work, Lovelace is now widely considered the first computer programmer and her method is recognised as the world's first computer program.

The Countess's translation of Menabrea's memoir and her detailed comments are available at Fourmilabs here:

Sketch of
The Analytical Engine
Invented by Charles Babbage

of Turin, Officer of the Military Engineers

from the Bibliothèque Universelle de Genève, October, 1842, No. 82
With notes upon the Memoir by the Translator

A truly fascinating look into what could have been a major turning point in world history.

As the author of the Fourmilab web page says:

“Sketch of the Analytical Engine” by L. F. Menabrea, translated and with extensive commentary by Ada Augusta, Countess of Lovelace. This 1842 document is the definitive exposition of the Analytical Engine, which described many aspects of computer architecture and programming more than a hundred years before they were “discovered” in the twentieth century. If you have ever doubted, even for a nanosecond, that Lady Ada was, indeed, the First Hacker, perusal of this document will demonstrate her primacy beyond a shadow of a doubt. 


Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.

A fun bit of information given how the Countess' contributions to mechanical computation were fundamental to the development of the fantastic airship we use in our Role Play check this out from her Wikipedia page:

Ada was often ill, beginning in early childhood. At the age of eight, she experienced headaches that obscured her vision. In June 1829, she was paralyzed after a bout of measles. She was subjected to continuous bed rest for nearly a year, which may have extended her period of disability. By 1831, she was able to walk with crutches. Despite being ill Ada developed her mathematical and technological skills. At age 12, this future "Lady Fairy", as Charles Babbage affectionately called her, decided she wanted to fly. Ada went about the project methodically, thoughtfully, with imagination and passion. Her first step in February 1828, was to construct wings. She investigated different material and sizes. She considered various materials for the wings; paper, oilsilk, wires and feathers. She examined the anatomy of birds to determine the right proportion between the wings and the body. She decided to write a book Flyology illustrating, with plates, some of her findings. She decided what equipment she would need, for example, a compass, to "cut across the country by the most direct road", so that she could surmount mountains, rivers and valleys. Her final step was to integrate steam with the "art of flying".
Oh if only the Real World had been less cruel.

Happy 270th Volta!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015 0 comments

Happy birthday Alessandro Volta!

From Wikipedia

Alessandro Giuseppe Antonio Anastasio Volta (18 February 1745 – 5 March 1827) was an Italian physicist[2][3] credited with the invention of the first electrical battery, the Voltaic pile, which he invented in 1799 and the results of which he reported in 1800 in a two part letter to the President of the Royal Society.[4][5] With this invention Volta proved that electricity could be generated chemically and debased the prevalent theory that electricity was generated solely by living beings. Volta's invention sparked a great amount of scientific excitement and led others to conduct similar experiments which eventually led to the development of the field of electrochemistry.[5]
Alessandro Volta also drew admiration from Napoleon Bonaparte for his invention, and was invited to the Institute of France to demonstrate his invention to the members of the Institute. Volta enjoyed a certain amount of closeness with the Emperor throughout his life and he was conferred numerous honours by him.[1] Alessandro Volta held the chair of experimental physics at the University of Pavia for nearly 40 years and was widely idolised by his students.[1]
Despite his professional success Volta tended to be a person inclined towards domestic life and this was more apparent in his later years. At this time he tended to live secluded from public life and more for the sake of his family until his eventual death in 1827 from a series of illnesses which began in 1823.[1] The SI unit of electric potential is named in his honour as the volt.

And Google has a cool "doodle" to mark the day
Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.

Airship Technology Speech

Tuesday, January 27, 2015 0 comments

A presentation!

My character in our role playing game was ordered to make a public presentation about some of the technological advancements embodied in our Airship. Basically the Government wanted to share these advancements with the Civilian companies as a way to boost the Empire's commercial competitiveness.

Just for fun I decided to actually give the presentation as part of an ongoing series of Absinthe Cafes here in Calgary.

I presented it in character and in costume, and it was a lot of fun.

Lt Cmdr(E) Maxwell MacDonald-Smythe
Photo by Lewis King

Here is the text of my speech.

Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.
A January evening in the latter years of the 19th century.

Madame and Mr Chairman, My Lord, Ladies and Gentlemen.
Good evening.

I have been asked, by the Experimental Airship Division of the Royal Navy, also known as the the EAD, to present some of the technical details of one of the marvels of our age!
It is the hope of Her Majesty's Government that by releasing this, hitherto classified, information to the British business and manufacturing community, that the further development of these exotic and ground breaking technologies will help to maintain our Empire's lead in global commercial and military affairs.

Many of you have probably seen or heard the reports concerning the latest experimental airship of Her Majesty's Navy. You may also have seen the speculation concerning many of the developments and mechanisms that she has on board.

I have the honour to have been, and continue to be, her Chief Engineer.

And, Ladies and Gentlemen, as much as I would like to confirm that she is powered by exotic Indian demons and lifted by some remarkable gaseous material never seen before, and even that she can fly in the vast reaches of space, I must assure you that everything we will discuss this evening is in fact the product of the investigations into Natural Philosophy conducted over many years by brilliant men and women just like yourselves.

Nothing of what I will be showing this evening is in the province of the Metaphysical realm.

Having, alas, thus ruined your excitement concerning the information I am about to present to you, I hope that you will find the real information just as intriguing.

And so, to begin…

Here is the object of our discussion this evening.

Her Majesty's Air Ship The Velvet Brush!

She is truly a marvelous vessel, the largest self mobile object ever built by human beings!
Her dimensions are enormous,
  • Her Length is 245 m or 800 ft, longer than the largest ocean liner.
  • The Diameter of her hull is 42 m or 137 ft
  • She contains a Gas Volume of 231,000 cubic meters or 8 million cubic ft
  • She weighs uninflated 150 tons
  • When in flight trim she can carry a cargo load of 28 tonnes
  • Her propulsion system can move her at a steady cruising speed of almost 120 km/hour or  65 knots, thus making her one of the fastest ships in the Airship Navy.
  • Her maximum speed is still classified as is her maximum altitude, however; I can say that she has maintained that 120km/h value at elevations in excess of 1800m or 6,000 ft above sea level on numerous occasions. Her operational pressure height is 1200m or 4,000 ft under normal load conditions.
  • Her maximum cruising range is currently unknown!
I will say that on her very first flight she flew non-stop from the Royal Navy Airdock in Esquimalt British Columbia across the breadth of British North America, and the North Atlantic, to Portsmouth a distance of some 9000 Km or 5500 miles. This trip was accomplished in the dead of winter no less.

Ladies and Gentleman the Velvet Brush is a truly amazing ship, and despite the controversies and scandals attending her construction, she will be a model for future large Aerial Vehicles.

So to the technological developments that allowed the Royal Navy to construct such a stupendous vessel.

There are three developments that I will discuss this evening.

The first is the intellectual development that permitted her to be designed,

The second concerns the key material used in her construction,

And the third is the novel form of her lift generating system.

Many of you I am sure are aware of the advances in mechanical computation that have attended the construction of the Lovelace-Babbage engines in use at Oxford and Cambridge. The Difference Engine, designed by Charles Babbage under contract to the Royal Navy to produce navigational tables, was completed in 1849. Babbage completed the design for his more advanced Analytical Engine but it had not been constructed by the time of his death in 1871.

However his associate Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace, continued working on the design, again under contract to the Royal Navy and the new machine was produced and first began calculations in 1880. Along with the physical design of the machine, the countess was instrumental in composing the grammar for the lists of instructions that the machine uses. Her treatise on "Simulation of mechanical processes by computation", published when she was in her 60s in 1875, earned her a worthy place in the Royal Academy.

One of the first applications of the Lovelace-Babbage machine was the analysis of stress and strength in the metal components of ships hulls. It was also used in the computations to design the first Naval scouting Airships and the first Cunnard Passenger Airships that followed soon thereafter.

The design of such a magnificent vessel as the Velvet Brush would not be possible without the speed of computation, and the elegance of the Countess's Analytical Engine Grammar.

As part of the technology transfer program of her Majesty's Government, two new Lovelace Babbage machines, of the latest design, will be available for public use starting later in the year. One will be in London the other in Liverpool.

Now, as to the construction of the Velvet Brush herself.

Copperfield Ensemble

Monday, January 12, 2015 0 comments

Steampark March!

A wonderful group from England.

Definitely worth checking out.


Here is a taste.


Keep your sightglass full your firebox trimmed and your water iced.

Practical Airship Design Part 6a

Sunday, January 4, 2015 0 comments

More Domestic Tranquility Systems

In Part 6 I described some of the crew spaces and layout of our airship.
This post is a document I produced for our RP group, to give the other players a mental map of the spaces in which we conduct our role play. It references some of the adventures we have had too.

Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.

The table of contents for the whole Practical Airship Design series is HERE.

You can find all my Airship posts by clicking on the tag "Flight Engineer".

Interior layout HMAS Velvet Brush

Since some of our adventures are centered around the physical aspects of our fine ship, I thought it might be useful to have a mental map of how the ship is laid out.

I'm a lousy graphics guy so my attempt at doing a diagram was a miserable failure. Although I could draw one on paper. I might do that and scan it to include here if this description isn't good enough.

Probably the biggest thing to keep in mind is that even though our ship is enormous all the interesting stuff is along the bottom of the hull. If we exclude the lifting part we are a long narrow set of spaces connected by the keelwalk.

What I find fascinating is how the design of our ship has evolved over the last year. There have been some interesting changes that have resulted simply from the need to have identified places in which episodes of our story could take place. A good example is the position of the Captain's cabin. Originally we didn't have one, because we didn't really have a Captain smile Once Captain Hodgson arrived we needed a place for him to hang out.  Another example is the "viewing platform" that Madame flew her bird off of while flying from Esquimalt.  We were never specific about where that was on the ship, it had to be close to her cabin though because she could get there easily. Having it used by the British Consul in Venice means it must be fairly large and accessible from the accommodations.

At the risk of being arbitrary then, the following is the layout as it seems to be at the moment. We can change some parts if needed as long as they don't get in the way of what we already have. We can also do a refit at an Air Dock sometime too, to add extra spaces if needed.
 When thinking about the cabins remember that this is essentially the first floor of a two story block. So far (as of May 20) the upper floor is not populated with named spaces, with the exception of the Captain's cabin right at the front above the Flight-deck and possibly the cabin that First Officer MacLeod was in when the KAR* exploded in Portsmouth.

The Keelwalk is a triangular passageway integral with the base of the ship's hull, inside the circular cross section. This walkway runs the entire length of the ship, some 700 feet, from the Captain's Cabin in the bow all the way to the lower fin at the stern. Note that this walkway is above the cabins in the diagram. It is reached by a ladder outside the Bubble Bath Room aka "Secured Storage" as well as a ladder in the Flight-deck that goes directly into the Captain's Cabin.

Personally I view this passageway as being a corridor like the one that runs through the accommodations with a couple of (as yet undefined) cabins on either side.  Once you head aft of the accommodations however, the keelwalk becomes a simple triangular girder framed walkway, like that in the Hindenburg.

Just aft of the accommodations there is a ladder that runs all the way up to the top of the hull. This ladder reaches an observation platform in font of the bases of the funnels.  Climbing this ladder is quite a process and very hot as it is between two of the lift bags which are filled with steam of course.

The "Last Step" is the main access to the ship and is on the Starboard (right) side just aft of the galley as you can see on the diagram.

Engineering is located nearly 300' aft of the accommodations! This is another space similar in shape to the accommodations and also below the hull. It is reached by a ladder down from the keelwalk.  I've described the layout of engineering on my blog if you are interested.  There are no windows in Engineering except perhaps one over Max's desk and one in the break room for the off watch. Above Engineering on either side of the keelwalk is all the steam and condensate piping. the Tesla power transmission system extends from Engineering right up to the center of the hull which is 50' above. The keelwalk is offset as it passes this device.

There are two cargo holds in our ship. Originally I had them attached to Engineering but not extending all the way to the forward accommodations, but that doesn't work given the ships behaviour, and the movement of loose bits of cargo, in the storm over the Baltic. Also the ease in which people seem to be able to get into and out of it means it needs to be closer to the main accommodations up forward.  Placing the forward cargo hold as an extension of the accommodations makes a lot of sense and also provides a perfect place to put the viewing platform.

This is my proposed layout of the forward hold. From the diagram of the accommodations you can see that the Bubble Bath room is right at the end of the central corridor. I propose that the cargo hold is immediately aft of that space and extending maybe another 60' or so. The forward part of that hold, right up against the aft wall of the bubble bath room, is now walled off with the "secret" machinery installed by the company workman sealed inside. Briggs' armoury and weapons storage is against the wall of the secret compartment.

Access to the cargo hold is just aft of the end of the accommodations and is by a hatch with a ladder down from the keelwalk which runs over the top of the hold.  There is an outside access to the cargo hold in the form of a large cargo door in the side of the hold. This is not normally opened while in flight of course. The hold has no windows or other accesses.

The "aft viewing platform" is a broad platform built around the outside of the forward cargo hold. It is reached from a doorway in the accommodations just outside the Bubble Bath Room. This platform has  a railing is the perfect place to observe fireworks and the passing world below.

The aft cargo hold is a similar extension of Engineering. It is reached by a ladder and hatch from the keelwalk. It also has a large outside cargo door that is sealed while in flight.

The general crew bunk in spaces above the forward hold on either side of the keelwalk and the Black Gang bunk in similar spaces over the aft cargo hold.

Things to keep in mind from an RP perspective is that it takes time to get from Engineering to the Flight-deck, especially for Max who has to use a cane. smile

With the exception of the Captain's Cabin, and the crew and Black Gang's bunks, everything is BELOW the keelwalk. That means having to climb a ladder to get to the keelwalk to move forward or aft in the ship.

I hope this will be of some help in keeping track of what's where in our fine ship.

*KAR Kamikaze Automaton Rat. An automoton shaped like a large rat and loaded with explosives.

Evidence of Late Parasol Duelling

Sunday, December 28, 2014 0 comments


An interesting picture.

Dating from the first decade of the 20th century and ostensibly a fashion plate from a magazine.

It should be quite apparent to any Parasol Duelist that this is in fact an illustration of the latest fashion for Duelists. While uncommon by this time there must have been some schools still operating.

Note that the figures are slightly different but would still be recognizable to a duelist from Victoria's time.

The "reverse plant" shown by the lady on the left is a figure not documented under Her Majesty's rules and may have been a local variation. That or a permitted flirtation move perhaps given the gentleman beside her.

Also the twirl has degraded somewhat as it is allowed to rest on the shoulder.

The previously wide interest and popularity of Parasol Duelling is evident in these late illustrations. When one goes looking for them they seem to be everywhere!

 Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.

About Gears, Goggles, and Steam oh My!

Here I collect interesting bits of information related to the world of Steampunk.

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