Thursday, September 15, 2011

In Layout

The document is blowing my mind. It is so well written and designed. I'm working on laying it out right now.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Martian pics from Mars Rover

All we need is for a Zodangan battle-cruiser to appear on the horizon!

Monday, July 18, 2011

"So, when is Warriors of the Red Planet scheduled to come out?"

I'm flattered that I still get almost daily inquiries like the one above - its a testament, I think, to the durability and lasting appeal of the Sword & Planet genre that so many remain so interested after such a long development time for WotRP.

The good news is that it is pretty much done! The bad news is that, even after at least two full revisions, I have 133 pages of material (not counting a martian atlas that still needs to be finished), and my goal has always been a tidy 120 pages! So I still have a couple of heartbreaking cuts to perform. Maybe I'll provide the excised material as a "web bonus" or something like that.

Its been a fascinating ride, watching something that was essentially a collection of Sword & Planet-focused house rules, random charts, and adventure design notes turn into this whole big thing. Not to mention all the cool ERB, Klein, Brackett, Moorcock, and others I've gotten to read under the auspices of "research"!

If you've been following Thomas's blog, you've seen that he's been steadily turning out beautiful martian landscapes, ships, and characters the whole time.

So what's left?

Basically: layout, putting manuscript together with art, and then picking the best way to put it in everyone's hands. So, we're pretty damn close. There will be no pre-order nonsense, or empty promises ("this will definitely be out in time for your back-to-school shopping!"). As soon as everything is set in stone, and we have at least a 30-day window of certainty, we'll start blowing our horns vigorously across the gaming webiverse :)

Thanks for hanging out here with us in the meantime!

Friday, July 15, 2011

John Carter, or "Dude, where's my Mars?"

"I opened my eyes upon a strange and weird landscape. I knew that I was on Mars; not once did I question either my sanity or my wakefulness." A Princess of Mars

0 years ago, when I went to see the Peter Jackson directed Fellowship of the Rings, I was amazed by what I was seeing: almost everything was exactly as I imagined it! Even as the films veered in and out of Tolkien's actual story, from a strictly visual standpoint, Jackson's films took the idea of bringing a book to life to an unprecedented level of detail and faithfulness to the source material. It took me several viewings to get pissed off about elves showing up at the Battle of Helms deep, because I was so entranced by just seeing Helms Deep itself, up on there on the giant screen, along with Orthanc, Ents, Nazgul, and everything else I had read been reading about for decades.
In other words, "I knew that I was in Middle Earth".

eeing the trailer for John Carter yesterday was a bit... deflating?

As John Carter opens his eyes in the first couple of seconds, he did not look upon a strange and weird landscape. I certainly did not know that he was on Mars - my first thought was that this was part of the Apache chase scene from the beginning of the book. Because John is obviously in an earthly desert, wearing earthly clothes.

"The building was low, but covered an enormous area. It was constructed of gleaming white marble inlaid with gold and brilliant stones which sparkled and scintillated in the sunlight." A Princess of Mars

The trailer then goes to some aerial shots of vari
ous desert buttes, cliffs, and ridges. It was only after my fourth or fifth viewing of the trailer that I noticed faint traces of windows and balconies and realized, with growing horror, what these are likely supposed to be - the ruined cities of Barsoom! Wait, isn't that where Eegah! was filmed?

Now, I'm all for artistic expression. I get it - film directors have big egos, its almost necessary, it goes hand in hand with the drive necessary to finish projects of such mind-boggling proportions. But I am left wondering exactly what is going on here?

It was a bit dismaying to many of the hard-core fans when the word "Mars" was removed from the title of the film. Unless you've read the books, who the hell knows who "John Carter" is? If a movie came out titled "Joe Harris", I would have no idea whatsoever what the hell that movie would be about. Do you know what "Joe Harris" is about? I don't.

Fortunately, I am a fan and have read the books, so I can live with Mars being removed from the title. What I can't live with, is Mars being remov
ed from the film. I was hoping to see this preview and, like with the LotR films, gasp to myself, "holy crap that looks just like I always imagined it would look! I feel like a 10-yr-old again! This is friggin awesome!".

Nope. No sense of wonder, of magic. No sense of

Then I started reading other bloggers reactions to the trailer, which were overwhelmingly positive. Okay, maybe I'm just being too negative. Maybe I'm viewing it with too much of a cynical eye, and it doesn't actually look that much like Conan with flying pontoon boats.

So I asked my 10-year-old son (the movie buff of the household) to take a look at the trailer (incidentally, he watches every new sci-fi/fantasy/superhero genre trailer immediately when it comes out, but had no idea "John Carter" was anything like that), and he gladly obliged. His first words were "Prince of Persia?". Now, he does not have a derisive or ironic bone in his body. If he said it looked like Prince of Persia, it was because he genuinely thought it looked like that. I never saw this movie, so I checked out the trailer for it.

Now, I'm going to need to you go take a look at this (please make sure you're sitting down for this).

WTF!? Its almost a scene-by-scene duplicate! Except the cities look more like how I envisioned a ruined martian city would look.

My 10-year-old could see this immediately. Why can't Andrew Stanton?

I could go on and nit-pick more, but I guess I've belabored the point enough. I'm just not getting that "Barsoom" feeling. Like I do with this, for instance.

There's still a year of post-production to be done. Maybe I'm overreacting, and in the theater this will all look a lot more like Mars and a lot less like what I saw out the window during my last flight to Vegas. Maybe I've built this up too much in my own mind. Admittedly, if the story sticks closely enough to the book, I should be able to overlook the cosmetic issues. Stanton has expressed an interest in bringing the next two books of ERBs martian tales to the big screen as well. If that's really his intention, I hope there's a lot more Mars in this movie that is readily apparent in the trailer.

Lest anyone think the trailer was a complete disappointment, there are some things I liked too:
- John Carter's martian harness.
- pretty much everything from earth, especially ERB and John's diary and tomb.
- I like the lean look of the Thark, though many facial details are different from the book
- Dejah is pretty, with a world-weary quality I like. I don't mind if she picks up a sword now and then either.
- Whatever the crystal chamber thingy is looks cool. I'm guessing this is maybe the Atmosphere Plant? There's no telepathy in the film, so maybe some other way was needed to unlock the place?
- The ships are pretty cool. I was hoping for a more retro-pulpy look, but these are growing on me.
- The two moons

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

If you needed another reason to see the new Harry Potter movie...

...other than your kids pestering you, that is.

Rumor has it that the trailer for John Carter will premier July 15th with this movie.

Oh, and apparently no yellow wigs for the Therns. That's an awful big part of their psyche (their debauched inferiority to their great ancestors, which they try to ignore) to omit. Can't say I'm happy about that - but I'm not sure why the Therns would be in the first movie to begin with? Maybe they've been filming all three movies at once?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Gridley Wave

Named for Jason Gridley, its discoverer, the Gridley Wave has been the chief means of communication with other worlds in the Solar system since the late 1920's. Like the Martian 9th Ray, the Gridley Wave was not something that saw much interaction with the physical realm of our world, but the first tentative explorations of Pellucidar helped to further refine and define uses for the phenomenon. One of the most puzzling enigmas to scientists has been the obvious differences between the first hand reports of earthly explorers to Mars, Venus, and even our Moon, and what our standard technology of telescopes and radioscopes reveal.

As you can see from the marvelous pictures and data from the Mars rovers, as far as we can tell Mars is a barren, lifeless desert devoid of habitable temperatures or atmosphere. Yet the firsthand tales of explorers such as John Carter or Ulysses Paxton tells a different tale, of a world that is declining into ruin, but still a vibrant world full of life.

This has led leading physicists, astronomers, and mathematicians, Stephen Hawking being one notable proponent, to theorize that the Gridley Wave somehow penetrates a time-relativity barrier undetectable, and unpassable, by conventional technology. The possibility of such a barrier between worlds, one of time and not simply space, has opened new speculation about space travel, and a department has been funded, albeit modestly, in NASA to explore new options.

Now, nearly a century after its discovery, new technologies employing the Gridley Wave allow us to move past basic Morse Code, and actually transmit sound and images. Speculative consumerists predict immersive, three-dimensional technologies will begin to emerge within the next decade, allowing us to experience the wonders of Mars from the comfort of our own homes!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Mars Landscapes

For something a little different, here are some purely landscape images of Burrough's Mars. One of the things I find most interesting about his descriptions of the terrain are the vivid colors. He even describes colors that don't exist here on Earth. While that is impossible to convey visually, I do like the idea of painting the environment with very non-conventional colors, like yellow rocks, orange mountains and so on.
 And here is a page of Mars landscape rough marker drawings from my sketchbook.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


I've reread Princess of Mars a couple of times in order to fully grasp the awesomeness that Burroughs created in his fantastic creation. The dress of the main characters is often characterized as completely nude, but when you read the narrative carefully there is a lot of discussion of armor, silks, and furs. It is true that John Carter arrives butt-naked to Mars, but he quickly gets armor. In several passages the armor and dress are mentioned, I just don't picture the characters as running around nude through most of the book.
I've done several sketches of Deja Thoris with various amounts of dress. Here is a page from my sketchbook.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

My favorite Mentalist power

I got to use this on the guinea pigs, er, players in a recent playtest:

Level 1
Range 120'
Duration 1d6 rounds
This power allows the Mentalist to cause up to four victims to hallucinate that they are covered in fearsome, biting insects, which will typically cause them to drop whatever they are holding, flail their arms around, and shriek in terror for the duration.

"Ahhh! Get 'em offa me!"

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

WotRP: Zodangan battle ship sketches

Work continues on art for Warriors of the Red Planet. Fresh from my sketchbook are these concepts for Zodangan battleships. Note, these are just rough sketches - I'll take the best designs and do more polished drawings for the book.

Excerpt: Sorcerers of the Black Gate

Ongoing playtesting for Warriors of the Red Planet has been set in my Omegea campaign setting, which you'll be familiar with if you follow my main blog, Beyond the Black Gate. Omegea has a little of everything genre-wise: Sword&Planet, Dying Earth, Pulp Sword&Sorcery. I originally used the Magic User class from Swords & Wizardry, but as the classes of WotRP evolved, this just didn't mesh very well them.

So it became clear that in addition to the standard classes of WotRP, it would be helpful to include a bit of magic as well, though very firmly planted in the tradition of Vance's Dying Earth as opposed to the more ubiquitous wizards of "high fantasy" literature and gaming. While I felt it should be included, I also didn't want to make it a focus or even standard option of WotRP, but rather something the Referee could decide whether or not to include if it fit his or her own setting. Thus, the Sorcerer class has its own appendix (called "Sorcerers of the Black Gate") at the back of the book, and includes all-new spells (some of which were previewed by a certain Hot Elf Chick recently) and magic items as well as some other goodies. In this humble position, you are free to ignore it or include it, as you will.

Here's an excerpt from this short, but hopefully helpful, appendix:


Sorcerers are weavers of mystical energies and practitioners of Dark Arts. They are typically obsessed with the acquisition of lore and lost knowledge, be it through esoteric research or physical exploration. Beware a Sorcerer – their minds do not move in the same directions as normal folk!

Sorcerers may use any weapon (some are actually quite accomplished fencers!), but typically carry little more than a belt knife. They almost never wear any sort of armor.


Magic Sense: With one minute of uninterrupted concentration, a Sorcerer can determine whether an item, location, or creature has been sorcerously enchanted. While this sense will give a vague impression of the nature of the enchantment, specificity requires more intense and lengthy research.

Esoteric Knowledge: This percentile chance represents a Sorcerer’s ability to decipher ancient languages or magical script, to research lost knowledge, and to learn new spells. Sorcerers with high Intelligence (13+) may add +5% to this chance.

Spells: Legends purport that, in the distant past, thousands of sorcerous spells were once known. Today, fewer than a hundred are known to remain. The more spells a Sorcerer is able to acquire, the greater his infamy and renown! Sorcerers begin their careers with 1d3 spells in their spellbook, and may copy new ones into their book as they find them. While a character automatically knows how to use their "starter" spells, newly acquired spells require an Esoteric Knowledge roll to learn. If the roll is a failure, special instruction must be sought to to help them learn the spell.

At their essence, spells are a refined combination of materials, incantations, geometric patterns, quantum equations, and arcane physics. A spell must be memorized and held captive in the Sorcerer’s mind, like a caged beast screaming for release, until cast out. A Sorcerer may only memorize and cast a limited number of spells each day. Sorcerers of unusually high Intelligence (13+) may memorize one additional first level spell per day.

Corruption: The use of Sorcery is often damaging to the mind and body of the arcane practitioner. Upon attaining each level after the first, the Sorcerer must roll on the RANDOM CORRUPTION TABLE and suffer the result!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Excerpt: "Sample Character Generation"


Carl rolls the following abilities (rolling 4d6, adding up the best three dice) and records them in order on a piece of paper:

Strength 16

Intelligence 13

Wisdom 8

Dexterity 14

Constitution 10

Charisma 11

With strength as his greatest ability, and inspired by ERB’s martian tales of John Carter, Carl elects to become a Fighting Man, and chooses his race as Human. As a Fighting Man, Carl may select a combat bonus to either melee or ranged attacks, and, with visions of flashing swords running through his imagination, selects melee. He then rolls a d6 for Hit Points, getting a “4”, and as a Fighting Man, gets to add three to that number for a total of 7 hit points!

Carl then rolls 2d6, getting a result of “9”, and multiplies this result by 10, which grants him a total of 90gp to purchase his starting equipment with. Scanning over the lists of basic gear, weapons, and armor, he selects a longsword (15gp), an Irradium pistol (20gp), ten bullets (5gp), a basic weapons harness (5gp), as well as 50’ of rope, a grappling hook, and an Irradium torch for illumination (17 more gp). He then subtracts his expenditures from his money, records his equipment on his paper, and figures out his armor class.

Carl decides on the name Parth Parthus as evocative of the tone of the campaign, and hands his character sheet off to the Referee to review:

Parth Parthus

Fighting Man, 1st Level (Veteran)

Str 16 (+2)

Int 13 (+1)

Wis 8 (-1)

Dex 14 (+1)

Con 10 (0)

Cha 11 (0)

AC 6 (Harness, Dex)

HP 7

+1 to-hit and damage with Melee weapons

Unstoppable (free attack with kill)

Saves: Explosions13, Mentalism15, Energy15, Poison13, Falls12, General14


Longsword (d8 damage, +1 two-handed)

Irradium pistol (d8 damage, 30’ range)

10 bullets

Basic Harness (AC7)

50’ Rope

Grappling hook

Irradium torch

The Referee confirms the math on Carl’s sheet, reviews the other players’ sheets, and the game is ready to begin!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Design Notes, continued

One of the decisions made early on was for WotRP to be compatible with the various versions of D&D out there. To do this, I thought that using OD&D for the basic groundwork would be the best idea, but at the same time had to take into account all the other great stuff: B/X, AD&D, the "tweaks" made by clones like S&W, etc. Classes immediately became a point of contention with, um, myself.

On one hand, one of the biggest strengths of OD&D and its clone offspring was the limited array of classes available. When all you have to choose from is Fighting Man, Cleric, and Magic User, but what you really want to play is Aragorn, you tend to pick the closest base class and make up the difference via roleplaying - which makes for an unpredictable and fun gaming environment. Sure, Frank's character sheet says Cleric, but what he's really going to do with that is anyone's guess. Kindly Padre? Voodoo Necromancer? Zen Assassin? So I didn't want to lose that strength - being able to pick from a limited pool of classes and shape them how you want through good story telling.

On the other hand, a bigger variety of classes is important to a lot of players, and one of the reasons AD&D is so popular to this day - multiple evocative, richly defined classes that offer players multiple springboards to launch from. The popularity of having that wider selection of PC classes is obvious - a demand that both Labyrinth Lord and Swords & Wizardry have answered by publishing their respective AEC and Complete versions.

As I discussed recently on BtBG, there seems to be a sort of "natural progression" of complexity and options inherent in RPGing. What if I could work that into the system itself? And make sure to work it into the "sweet spot" between low level and high level play? How to get players to explore all the options available to WotRP's "base" classes, like Mentalists, before running with the "fringe" classes, like Psychic Knights? When looked at from all those different perspectives, the solution was fairly simple (which is good, I wanted nothing more complex than OD&D or B/X), while still opening up a nice range of "Advanced" options.

To be continued...

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Design Notes

One of the challenges faced when writing Warriors of the Red Planet was making it, seamlessly I hope, serve a few different purposes as an RPG.

First, it needed to be a fun pickup game. Obviously, most people running vintage fantasy RPGs are running them firmly (some less firmly than others) in the Sword & Sorcery realm. I want WotRP to be something that anyone familiar with the fundamental rules structure of D&D's earliest editions and variants can just grab off their shelf, roll on the Random Adventure Generation table, and run a "one-off" session when ever the mood strikes the group.

Second, it needed to be a sourcebook compatible with what people are already using. Some Refs aren't interested in running a Sword & Planet game at all, but love to drop the odd Banth, radium pistol, or airship into their current game at a whim. I want WotRP to be the book that's constantly sitting under your 1E DMG, Swords & Wizardry rulebook, or Moldvay Basic book, waiting to be pulled out and flipped through when a little extra "something" is needed for the regular weekly Greyhawk game.

Third, it needed to facilitate long-term play for those who do want to run full-scale, balls-to-the-wall, Sword & Planet or Dying Earth style campaigns. I want WotRP to be a book that's meaty enough to constantly be sitting on top of your 1E DMG, etc, with those other books being pulled out and flipped through when a little extra "something" is needed for the regular weekly Techno-Sorcerers of Barsoom game.

To fill all three of those design goals, WotRP needed to be both "Basic" and "Advanced" at the same time! How the f#@! are you supposed to do that? The secret, it turns out, was hiding in the character classes of WotRP themselves...

To be continued.