Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Fantasy Fiction Tuesday: A Princess of Mars (1917)

((Fantasy Fiction Tuesday is a weekly series where I talk about a fantasy comic, novel, or short story that I like and how one can mine it for ideas to use in a roleplaying game. These will not be reviews, but merely short pieces about the piece of fiction))

Originally published as a serial story in The All-Story under the title "Under the Moons of Mars", A Princess of Mars is a science fantasy novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

The book follows Civil War veteran John Cater who is mysteriously transported to the planet of Mars (called "Barsoom" by its inhabitants), a dying world dominated by a harsh desert environment inhabited by green, six-limbed giants called Tharks, human-like Red Martians who populate a loose network of city-states, and more alien creatures.

While on Mars, Carter falls in with a tribe of Tharks led by the mighty Tars Tarkas eventually earns the respect of the Green Martians. However, when the Tharks capture the Red Martian princess Dejah Thoris, Carter rescues her and promises to return her to the city-state of Helium. Doing so quickly embroils him in the political affairs of the Green and Red Martians and the tense situation between Helium and the city-state of Zodanga.

Like most people my age, my first exposure to John Carter and his adventures on Mars was the 2012 Disney movie John Carter. While I stand by my opinion that whoever decided to change the movie's name from John Carter of Mars to the more bland John Carter is an idiot, I found the movie to be a decent adventure film and I definitely enjoyed myself and wanted to read the source material as well. So, I went out to my local book store and purchased A Princess of Mars.

While Burroughs' writing style took some getting used to and certain elements definitely showed their age (like the obvious racism), I found the book to be a fun adventure story with a really cool setting. So cool in fact that I'd love to run a campaign set on Barsoom. Thankfully, the movie makes it incredibly easy to introduce the concept to the players if they're not familiar with the material and their are a few ways you can achieve this.

The easiest way to run a Barsoom-influenced campaign would be to use the Mars setting for Savage Worlds by Adamant Entertainment. While its not a direct adaptation of Burroughs' Mars, the inspiration is rather obvious and it'll still work. You could also use the planet of Akiton in the Pathfinder Campaign Setting if you wanted to use the Pathfinder rules. If you're not a fan of Savage Worlds or Pathfinder and wouldn't mind doing a little more work, I believe a modified Stars Without Numbers would be a good fit for the setting as well. I'd probably change the available technology a little and I'd have to create a few new alien species (such as the Tharks), but that shouldn't be too hard.

If you didn't want to do a full on Barsoomian campaign, you could also introduce some Barsoomian creatures into your game and give the setting some "weird" elements. For example, you could throw some Barsoomian creatures (like banths or thoats) into the desert regions of your setting. Also, you could make the Tharks the native desert race.

Question Time: Have you read A Princess of Mars? If so, what did you think of it? Did you like it, or did you dislike it? How would you use different Barsoomian elements in your campaigns? Leave your answers in the comments below.