Six Flags Over Roswell
"My approach depends on examining the six versions as a developmental sequence in which the considerable differences between the core scenarios of each version -- which appear at first glance to confuse and obstruct analysis -- actually provide essential clues that reveal the true nature of these tales."
by Kenneth Hite
-- Charles A. Ziegler, in UFO Crash At Roswell: The Genesis of a Modern Myth
One of my favorite techniques for worldbuilding or scenario construction in my own games is the old Fortean notion of the OOPS, or "Out of Place Stuff." Rather than phantom kangaroos and rains of carp (although I've done my share of that), my OOPSes center around historical events, or even whole historical-political systems. History contains more Neat Stuff than I could think up in a month of Sundays; so, being fundamentally lazy, I take a planet's culture from Almoravid Morocco, or an NPC from the Peloponnesian Wars, and put them into the 25th century. And, of course, if Real History is so fertile, what unseemly crops must spring from the night soil of That Other History? To show you what I'm talking about, I've taken the central legend of UFO mythology and OOPSed it into five alternate times and one alternate Truman. In each resulting Alternate History, the central story gets twisted by the legends and paranoias of its time into a new form which still recalls the shape of the old. And thus are myths, and more usefully, RPG scenarios, born.
Crimson and Gold: Crash at Roswell July 4, 1541Riding across the Southwestern deserts in search of the Seven Golden Cities of Cibola, Coronado sees a golden flash in the southern sky. The conquistador's curiosity is piqued, and rewarded when a few days' ride south reveals ruins of an unknown metal. Coronado buries the three pygmies whose bodies lie in the ruins, but while digging the graves, he finds golden sand. Even more miraculously, the sand restores itself overnight; this crumpled metal dish must be a broken alchemical oven, possibly from Cibola. Coronado quickly builds a church to St. Elizabeth on the site (the metal doesn't seem to work if taken away from the crater) and retires rich.
The Jesuits take over Santa Elizaveta de la Buena Rosa and slowly learn to harness the power of the new metal. However, the priests and scholars who work there report disturbing dreams -- for a while. When the bodies of the pygmies are exhumed and sent "to Spain," no eyebrows are raised; when three metal coffins arrive at an alchemist's den in Germany, no watcher notices. Soon, small gray men are commonplace sights in the courts where Jesuits hold power -- and in the alleys of cities where the rulers oppose the Society of Jesus. Whispers tell of alchemists' vats where these gray homonculi grow from elixirs and a pinch of soil from Nuevo Mexico, but Jesuit gold or a mysterious disappearance into "St. Elmo's Holy Fire" silences speculation. Can a party of bold GURPS Swashbucklers PCs root out the gray heart of the Black Order and free Europe and the world from the grasp of the homonculi from beyond the fixed stars?
Eagle and Serpent: Crash at Roswell July 4, 1827The Mexican Army private never had a chance when he stooped over the twitching gray body lying in the crater. Neither did his sergeant when the thing wearing the private's skin went to report. This sergeant's body rode south to El Paso to report to his captain, and he then rode south to the colonel. The Gray took shape after shape, moving steadily southward in quest of these humans' leader. Finally he reached the one who acknowledged no leader, the one called Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana. Santa Ana's will was stronger than most, and the melding did not go the Gray's way this time. Santa Ana found himself in possession of a new body with unheard of powers, mental and physical, and the total destruction of his sanity was a small price to pay.
When the Texan colonists attempted to rebel against Mexico in 1836, Emperor Antonio I crushed them easily, killing hundreds himself in battle. He defeated the Americans with his mighty lightnings a decade later, flinging the invasion forces back to New Orleans and destroying the American Navy with a deadly storm. Only the combined genius of Robert E. Lee and Thomas Edison was able to hold back the Mexican armies in the War of 1863. The Emperor turned his sights south, conquering everything from Guatemala to Patagonia in 50 years of war. Now, the Argus Group in Washington fears that the immortal Emperor will use 1929, the 100th anniversary of his accession to power, to declare himself to be Queztzalcoatl, Returned God-Emperor of the Americas. To stop him, Argus has recruited elite squads of Black Operatives (like, say, the PCs) to infiltrate the Mexican Empire and find Santa Ana's weakness before it's too late. GURPS Cliffhangers for flavor, GURPS Black Ops for Argus (with Tesla heading Tech Section) and Santa Ana de Gris, flavored with GURPS Aztecs monstrosities psionically materialized from the Emperor's alien subconscious.
Lone Star: Crash at Roswell July 4, 1837During the Texan War of Independence, cowboys chased and evaded Mexican federales as far as the Pecos Valley. One group of Texas Rangers stumble across a jumble of wreckage made from some weird metal. In the middle of the wreck lay a weird, glowing cylinder that drove compasses haywire - the thing's boiler? The Rangers brought it back to Austin, where the professors were mystified. President Houston called in a few favors, and Sir Michael Faraday came all the way from London to study the Boiler. He discovered that it was a "magnetic bottle" containing "anti-matter," and developed a way to extract this anti-matter without too much danger of leveling the city.
Anti-matter bombs and steam-behemoths made the Second War a rout, and Texas expanded from San Francisco to Veracruz, leaving Mexico a beaten shell and vaulting the Republic of Texas to Great Power status. Faraday's connections ensured that Victorian England allied itself with the Republic, as technologists and inventors of all stripes flooded to Texas. By 1867, the Texas Republic is full of horseless carriages (anti-matter pumps pull oceans of oil to the surface) and British (and Californian) gold -- and abuzz with rumors that another cylinder may have just crashed into the Montana Territory of the U.S.A. -- enemy to Britain and rival to Texas. This can set up a steampunk GURPS Old West campaign flavored with equal chunks of Deadlands and Stephen Baxter's excellent novel of Victorian antimatter power Anti-Ice.
Stars and Bars: Crash at Roswell July 4, 1861Lt. Col. John Baylor of the Confederate Army had just proclaimed New Mexico and Arizona the newest Territories of the C.S.A. when explosions tore up the northeastern sky. A few squads of the 2nd Texas Mounted Rifles deployed up to Roswell but rather than Yankee artillery they found some kind of dish-shaped boat with little metal spiders running all over it -- and three dead gray Martians. Confederate General Sibley, of a mechanical bent himself, ordered that the artillery mechanics and blacksmiths in his command try to repair the Martian boat - which turned out to be astonishingly easy after the blacksmiths learn to "talk" to the metal spiders (telepathic interface is so handy). Sibley's flying boat and its supernaturally accurate beam guns let him sweep the Union defenders out of the West and seize not only the rest of New Mexico and Arizona, but California, for the Confederacy.
Eventually, someone thinks to ask the metal spiders to build a beam gun to go on a cannon carriage, and the Confederate Beam Artillery turns the tide of the war. PCs can be GURPS Special Ops Confederate light cavalry and beam artillerists bolstering Maximilian in Mexico, GURPS Espionage Union Pinkertons trying to steal some metal spiders from the Tredegar Works in Richmond, or members of Confederate Navy Captain George Dixon's expedition ordered to fly a newly-built Sibley Boat to the Red Planet and ally with the Gray Martians -- whether that's 1870s GURPS Space (complete with Blue Venusians, no doubt) or C.L. Moore-style GURPS Horror is up to the GM.
Buffalo Standard: Crash at Roswell July 4, 1881Just a few miles west of Roswell lies the Mescalero Apache reservation, and it was that reservation that the young chief Geronimo and the medicine man Nakaidoklini left after the shaman had a vision of "gray men bringing the Ghost Dance from the stars in a dish." Whether any human could have interacted with the telepathic nanotechnology of the Grays, or whether a lifetime of peyote-trained communion with alien thought-forms was necessary became academic when Nakaidoklini opened the hatch and stepped into the glowing dish. His dreams fueled the nanoassemblers: his vision of a world where the Apache dead rose to drive off the white man, the railroads ripped themselves to pieces, and the Sky Spirits kept the Apache strong and well-fed came about in a month of chaos and terror.
Either Nakaidoklini never thought much about the East, or the nanoassemblers had a restricted range, but "Ghost Country" stops at the Mississippi, just as it did 120 years ago. Now, a few elite government teams have been able to enter the West and bring back reports, of shamanic magic given reality and Indian legendry brought to life. With the recent advances in nanotech out of Bell Labs, Sony, and the Oxford National Laboratories the Great Powers and their korps alike believe that they can hold the Ghost Dance at bay long enough to stake a claim in the New West. It's GURPS Reign of Steel meets GURPS Cyberpunk in a New Old West boiling with angry kachina and alien nanotech.
Red, White, and Blue: Crash at Roswell July 4, 1947Truman wouldn't play ball, so he went down, it was that simple. Majestic-12 couldn't afford to have the President as an enemy this early; everything was in flux. The wreck in Roswell opened up the whole "flying saucer" can of worms again, and who knew if the Grays would be coming back for more? Stalin was looking at Europe, the bankers were looking at a postwar recession, and Hoover was looking at domestic rebellion in ten years if the "Negro problem" wasn't shut down. Truman's assassination left things in chaos; he'd never appointed a vice-president, so Majestic popped Acheson into the Oval Office from State. Acheson was good figurehead material, to the manor born. Rockefeller had it sewn up: Dewey would take a dive in '48 and Majestic could get the country under control by 1952.
Unfortunately, Robert A. Taft got the GOP nomination out of nowhere and whipped Acheson in a landslide. Taft knew where the bodies were buried, and in his first 40 days, he buried Majestic-12 and its CIA proxies next to each other. Hoover switched sides, no fool, and blew the Roswell op to Taft. Taft took it public, pulled Robert Heinlein back into Naval service as "Special Advisor to the President" on "this Buck Rogers stuff." Heinlein pulled the wreckage out of Wright-Patterson and turned John von Neumann and Albert Einstein loose on it, and by 1950 Hughes Aircraft had the first atomic- powered XF-23s in production using reverse-engineered gravity polarizers. Taft let Europe go, confident that Stalin would bite off more than he could chew; Communism can't beat Good Old Alien-American Knowhow. This can become a GURPS Atomic Horror campaign, with jut-jawed pilots flying USAF saucers on "bug patrol" over the Pacific and battling Korean jets and the Gray riposte, or a Darkly Strange blend of GURPS Espionage and GURPS Illuminati pitting FBI agents, KGB spies, and the Gnomes of Zurich against each other in a struggle for America's soul and the black cauldron of alien technology.
Article publication date: March 12, 1999
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