Thursday, March 12, 2009

John Carter and the Orcs of Mars

Its a common discussion on gaming messageboards: what writers or books inspire your games?

There's a few that I always expect to see, a few I dread seeing, and a few that I hope I'll see, and among those I hope to see are always E.R. Burroughs' tales of Mars. Admittedly, this is not the pinnacle of either High Fantasy or Sword & Sorcery, in a direct sense, but Burroughs' pulp tales of science-fantasy are an excellent source of inspiration for gaming.

Burroughs' world sets some ground rules that are wise to follow in your campaign:

The World is a Dangerous Place. Except for a few havens here and there, the world at large is a dangerous place, not to be tarried in. The wilds are wild, filled with predators, and the environment itself is harsh and unforgiving.

Everyone's Out to Get You. No friend, companion, relative, or neighbor is too loyal to plot your downfall and take all your stuff and your girlfriend too. Betrayal is a standard hazard of the hero business, and its only a matter of time before your drink is drugged, and you wake up chained to an oar while your former captain-of-the-guards is enjoying your wife, lands, and titles.

Wonderful stuff is Wonderful. Why bother with the mundane? Massive flying ships sail the multi-colored skies between mile-high towers, wherein stunningly beautiful women craft tapestries from jewels with colors outside the visible human spectrum.

Science is Magical. And magic is magical. Its amazing, and scary, and flashy. And no one understands it, unless they're elderly and insane. Run away before its too late!

Monsters are Deadly. And irredeemable. The wilds are full of grotesque, snarling predators that can easily tear a battalion of trained soldiers into small, red, wet, strips of jerky in half a minute. These things are bad, and every now and then one gets trapped in the local sewer, or dungeon, or alley, and hangs out there to eat people.

Rewards are Great. Heroes put up with hazardous wilderness, deadly monsters, scary science/magic, and backstabbing manservants for a reason - the rewards are great! Heaps of gold and jewels, honorary titles and positions, and the most beautiful women around. Heroes don't work for a modest salary - the world is there for the taking (and is just as easily lost).

Nothing is as it Seems. Some slavering monsters are actually faithful companions. Some animated rotting corpses just want to play chess with you and help you escape from jail. Some beautiful you women are cannibalistic traitors in cahoots with the evil dictator. Take nothing for granted!


  1. E.R.B. is great inspiration for gaming! I also like Leigh Brackett, Robert E. Howar, Lin Carter, and Clark Ashton Smith.

    Right now, though, I'm leaning towards Film Noir, and humor (sometimes dark humor) for inspiration in an adventure I'm working on. So think, "A Touch of Evil" meets Terry Pratchett or Piers Anthony.

  2. Honestly, I think I can blame a re-reading of "A Princess of Mars" and the idea that "hey, maybe a Barsoom-ish 'Land of the Lost' campaign might cool" for getting me back into gaming.

    Good stuff.

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