Apparently you guys are interested in my Mars game (or those of you that aren’t, aren’t commenting). So I’m going to keep posting about it here.
I got an interesting long comment that asked, among other things,
Air? Is Mars supposed to be terraformed to some degree, or are our characters in spacesuits constantly?
The setting is based on 19th century ideas about what Mars might be like: a world that is far older than Earth, but basically Earth-like. Mars was once covered in oceans, but is now a dying, desert world, and so its people have built a planet-wide network of canals in order to bring water from the polar ice caps.
The most famous example of fiction set in such a world is Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom series, featuring the Earthman John Carter who is transported to Mars. The Red Martians possess advanced technology, but appear to have degenerated into a violent, chivalrous, fuedal society.
My version of Mars is related to Barsoom, roughly as the Dungeons & Dragons world is related to Middle Earth. That is, ‘my Mars’ is based on Barsoom, but I’ve freely changed the details and added other elements that I thought were cool or interesting (thanks to Adventures on Mars for this explanation).
The Red Martians may be the Anasazi, the “ancient enemies” or “ancient foreigners” of the Navajo. Their cities bear some resemblance to Anasazi ruins.
They may also have come from the civilisation represented on Earth by the so-called ‘Lost City of Z’ in what is now Matto Grosso of Brazil. The Red Martians’ mythology says that their oldest ancestors lived in a forest (or rather “a place of tall plants”, forests and indeed trees being unknown on Mars). Whether this refers to the Amazon, or to a now-disappeared forest of Mars, is disputed.
Some religious scholars assert that they are the Lost Tribes of Israel.
Whatever the truth, how they came to Mars is unknown.
Obviously any of this might change based on play-testing. However, here are my ideas for the game so far.
The setting will be Mars; not the Mars of reality, but that of science fiction, especially the five books of the John Carter / Barsoom series by Edgar Rice Burroughs that are in the public domain.
The first scenario will be as follows: the player’s character was on their way to get married in another city, when their flyer crashed into the desert. It turns out to have been sabotaged. The aim is to cross the desert, and work out who’s responsible for trying to kill them.
The game will be similar to d6 Shooters, but it’s intended to be a new game with similar mechanics, rather than a variant of d6 Shooters. The first draft will probably be closer to d6 Shooters, with new drafts adding or changing rules.
Similarities to d6 Shooters
- The basic mechanic will be rolling a large number of dice, with a number of optional re-rolls, and working out what happens based on how many of each number you end up with.
- The variables will be similar: number of followers (although I’m thinking of adding a ‘Willpower’ stat as well), food, trade goods (although not themed as gold), information.
- The theme will be completing a dangerous journey in a limited time.
- There won’t be a board. You’ll keep track of how far away you are as a number, and roll for encounters as you go.
- Events and cities will be rolled into one: that is, finding a settlement will be a common type of event.
- Combat will be considerably changed, with more options and with combat tending to be more deadly. The rules for this will be inspired by this.
- More possible events, and more choices in those events. This is the biggest single area that I want to work on. Most events in d6 Shooters don’t involve any player choice. I want all events in my game to involve at least one meaningful choice. Events will be handled using a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’-like system of paragraphs.
Now that I’ve finished my second d6 Shooters game, I’m ready to start designing my own version.
Hopefully this will turn into its own game, but I’m going to start from the base of d6 Shooters’ rules.
However, I’d like to try a theme other than Westerns.
I’ve been thinking about doing a game set on a ‘sword and planet’ Mars – mostly like the Barsoom series, but adding in elements from Dune, The Martian Chronicles and so on.
I was also considering a fantasy version of Haiti – based on Wade Davis’ studies of zombie folklore.
Finally, a fairly ‘vanilla’ fantasy setting has the advantages of familiarity and popularity, as well as the capacity to add just about anything (‘brandle’, by the way, is a made-up word from a role-playing blog, but I can’t find the source now – can anyone help so I can give credit?)
Your comments and suggestions?
I found a series of blog posts about the language of Barsoom here. It’s obviously quite speculative, because Edgar Rice Burroughs never tried to invent a consistent language. There is, apparently, only one complete sentence of Barsoomian in the series, and it’s one word long (‘Sak!’, meaning ‘Jump!’). But it’s interesting anyway.
For the John Carter movie, Disney hired linguist Paul Frommer to invent a more detailed Barsoomian language. He did the same for the Na’vi in Avatar. However the details of this version of Barsoomian aren’t available anywhere: it’s just something they used for the film. There’s an interview with him about it here.
Finally, there are some more speculations here, based on the premise that the language in Lin Carter’s Martian novels is the same as Barsoomian.
I’ve just finished reading through Marvel Comics’ series John Carter, Warlord of Mars. One unfortunate coincidence is that, nowdays, some colorings of the Red Martians look like they’ve got a fake tan.
As some people will know, in the Barsoom series John Carter finds that Barsoom has two new colors, unknown on Earth. The people of Barsoom call them the Eighth and Ninth Rays. David Lindsay’s A Voyage to Arcturus (which I thought was earlier, but was actually published three years later, in 1920) has extra colors called ulfire and jale. HP Lovecraft’s The Color Out of Space has an unknown number of “shining bands unlike any known colours of the normal spectrum.”
Carl Sagan wrote that as a child he, inspired by Edgar Rice Burroughs, “spent many long minutes with my eyes tightly closed, fiercely concentrating on a new primary color. But it would always be a murky brown or a plum.”
There’s an article on this concept on the TVTropes wiki, but it doesn’t have any earlier fictional examples than Edgar Rice Burroughs (which doesn’t necessarily mean that he came up with the idea. TVTropes tends to be very focussed on more recent fiction).
Anyway, some scientists claim that they found a way to enable people to perceive ‘new’ colors. The link is here.
I remember when I was a child we had a View-Master, which allowed you to see 3-D images. Each 3-D image was a combination of two pictures. One of the ‘reels’ we had was based on the Transformers cartoon. They’d colored all the laser beams different colors in the two pictures. The effect was very strange – it wasn’t the same as what you’d get by mixing paint in the two original colors – and I wonder if that’s similar to the experiment described above.
In the universe where Barsoom exists, it seems that each planet has a life-cycle which follows much the same course – to the extent that the almost-human Red Martians evolved separately. Thus Barsoom should have had dinosaurs in its past.
Of course Carcosa isn’t a desert. But it seems like the kind of place that would inevitably become a desert after some sorcerous ritual went horribly wrong – or that someone would turn into a desert out of pure evil.
The Red Martians believe that they and the Green Martians descend from a common, ancient ‘human’ civilisation. But this could be a distorted memory of the Carcosan Snake-Men.
The various races of Barsoom seem to be more like Earth people than Carcosans, in that Red Martians for example aren’t entirely red, just their skin. Presumably there was a certain amount of interbreeding over the centuries, so that Red Martians aren’t entirely descended from Carcosan Red Men.
Perhaps Barsoom’s Eighth and Ninth Rays are the jale and ulfire of Carcosa.
It’s a bit strange that the Green Martians have common ancestors with the Red Martians within historical memory, and yet the Green Martians have six limbs instead of four and unhuman heads. No doubt they’re the results of sorcery, mutation or super-scientific experiments. The Green Martians’ general attitude is quite similar to what you’d expect to prevail in Carcosa. Apparently they maintained their ancient folkways while the Red Martians became slightly more humane. Could the white apes be another experiment, or the result of some terrible degeneration?
EDIT: More ficto-historical research in the comments.
I’ve just finished reading volume 2 of the comic The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The story isn’t all that great, but it does have some good artwork of Edgar Rice Burroughs-style Green Martians fighting HG Wells-like Martians.
I’ve been reading through the Marvel Comics series Star Wars recently, after hearing about them on Grognardia (although I actually got a few of them when they first came out in the 70s and 80s).
They’re strangely enjoyable, even though the artwork can be a bit amateurish (and the dialogue is often very stilted).
This post is about issue 53. The story begins with Princess Leia crash-landing on a new planet. Characters do this a few times in the series. It’s a good way to have new stories that don’t have to interact with the main setting. I seem to remember the original Battlestar Galactica did the same thing.
Then she discovers these guys:
The plot (which goes over two issues) doesn’t have very much to do with John Carter, but for some reason I enjoyed this pastiche, whereas I really didn’t like the Magnificent Seven story earlier in the series. Perhaps the Don Quixote character and the talking green rabbit were a bit too much. I do think it’s appropriate that Princess Leia ends up in the planetary romance and Han Solo ends up in the Western.