Shifting Sands

Player Guide


In 1889, Europe is unquestionably the dominant region of the planet, and European culture has become the matrix through which the world interacts. Since the late 1870s, the European powers have begun to aggressively colonize Africa and parts of Asia, with the result that Europe has become quite powerful.

The major powers of Western culture in this period are Great Britain, Germany, France, Russia, and to a lesser extent Belgium. Great Britain controls the largest colonial empire, although France, Belgium, and Germany have developed lesser empires as well. But this has caused countries to come into increasing conflict over territories they wish to control.

Britain is also the most fully-industrialized, although Germany is close behind, and France and Belgium are also important industrial states. The growth of the industrial labor force has led to the unprecedented growth of cities, but has also created massive slums where the working poor have to contend with poverty, poor hygiene, and crime. Horrible working conditions, 14-hour workdays seven days a week (with a half-day for Sundays), and poverty wages have led to substantial labor unrest, calls for legalizing labor unions, and considerable violence as police forces help industrialists suppress them. Another problem confronting the British is the emergence of the Fenian movement, which seeks Irish independence and has been willing to resort to violence to achieve it. In 1872, the British Parliament, encouraged by Queen Victoria, responded to demands by British Feminists and enacted a slate of laws that granted women functional equality to men in matters of employment, property-ownership, and voting. The rapid ascent of Germany on the international stage has made Britain wary, and relations between the world's two biggest powers are cool. As a result, Britain is cultivating relations with Russia and France, although the recent Socialist revolution in France makes both British and Russian traditionalists uncomfortable.

In 1870, the French defeat in the Franco-Prussian War transformed European politics in profound ways. Chancellor Bismarck used the victory to unify the various German states into a new German Empire, which immediately had the largest military and second-strongest industrial economy in the world. Germany’s unification was thus a threat to British economic dominance and a military threat to Russia and France. In 1885, Chancellor Bismarck convened the Berlin Conference, which formalized the process by which Africa would be colonized. Since then, most European powers have been building African colonies at an aggressive pace. As a young country, Germany is well behind Britain and France in their colonial efforts and is determined to make up for it.

The French defeat caused the overthrow of the French monarch, Napoleon III. The unrest was furthered by substantial Socialist agitation on behalf of factory workers, and the eventual result was the emergence of a Socialist government in France that soon passed laws legalizing labor unions, setting a minimum wage, capping maximum work hours, and setting workplace safety standards. The government has begun to contemplate establishing some form of national medical system to ensure that the poor can get basic medical care. Voting rights have been extended to all adult males regardless of property ownership or employment. As a result, France has established an unprecedented degree of social (but not gender) equality, though Socialists maintain that much work remains to be done. Large numbers of French royalists have fled France. 

Belgium is the smallest of the important European states. It is a constitutional monarchy, ruled by Leopold II, and it possesses a Parliament based on universal male suffrage. Belgium has a thriving industrial economy characterized by very aggressive capitalism, and it is nervous about the spread of Socialism in France. To forestall labor unrest, Leopold has encouraged immigration to the Belgian Congo, the largest colony in Africa (which was awarded to him during the Berlin Conference), as well as to its modest Martian colony. The Belgian colony is generating enormous profits for Leopold and Belgium.

The Russian Empire is by far the largest in Europe, stretching from the Baltic Sea all the way to the Pacific Ocean. The country has an enormous population, the largest of any European state. However, economically, Russia lags far behind the rest of Europe; industrialization has only just begun in the past half-decade, so that the country is close to 2 centuries behind Britain in its production capacity. Russia is still an absolute monarchy, with nearly all political power in the hands of the Tzar and a sprawling Russian aristocracy, many of whom are exceptionally wealthy, far more so than most nobles in other European countries. Russian commoners are mostly farmers and factory workers, with virtually no middle class to speak of. However Russia has produced many notable intellectuals, scientists, and authors, a fact that makes Russians very proud.



In the late 19th century, different political ideologies resulted in conflicts both personal and international. Please see the Ideologies page for a more in-depth discussion of the major ideologies and their role in the campaign.


Other Human Factions

The Fenians

The Irish Question is hotly contested at this time. The Fenians are a faction of British subjects who are agitating for the independence of Ireland. In 1867, they led an unsuccessful rebellion that momentarily seized control of Dublin, but the British army was able to retake the city and suppress the rebellion, largely because the rebels lacked organization and equipment. Since then the Fenians have periodically assassinated British officials, but has accomplished little of note since then. The notorious revolutionary Liam O'Connor, thought to be dead, recently surfaced on Mars, eluding British efforts to capture him. Some people have claimed that he fell to his death from an airship.

Royal Martian Areographical Society

The so-called 'Explorers League' is a London-based fraternity of geographers, archaeologists, and adventurers interested in investigating the mysteries of the Solar System, particularly the historical remains on Mars. They recently discovered the Temple of the Spider God.

The Society for the Advancement of Human Knowledge

The Society is a group of scientists led by Thomas Edison who believe that science should advance humanity's standard of living. They argue that science should ally itself to capitalism and government. The Society works to orchestrate scientific research with capitalist investment. They are rumored to be planning a research expedition to Venus.

Scientia Gratia Scientia

The SGS, led by Nikola Tesla, is a group of idealistic scientists who argue that science ought to exist for its own right and that the fruits of scientific labor should be given away as cheaply as possible. The SGS believes in the superiority of women, and that evolved human society will be matriarchal.

The Theosophical Society

Led by the noted Russian medium Helena Blavatsky, Theosophists advocate for the belief in human spiritual evolution, as a counterpart to Darwinian biological evolution. They maintain that the Solar System contains deep spiritual wisdom waiting to be unearthed that will transform human consciousness. They are rumored to be organizing an expedition somewhere off Earth.


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