Thursday, November 7, 2019

Reviews: OSR Mars

I have always been fascinated with Mars.  Not just the Mars I used to look at through my telescope as a kid, but also the worlds of Burroughs, Wells, Smith, Heinlein, and more.
I have often, very often, wanted to run an OD&D game on Mars, or rather a mix of Barsoom, Wells, and the Mars of DC Comics.

So one of my "Holy Grail" items has been Gygax & Blume's Warriors of Mars game. Though every copy I have ever seen is so far out of my price range.  Usually over $1,000 and one I have seen for $4,000!

I like Mars, but not that much for something I am also going to house rule a bit on. 

Thankfully, we have many talented people in the Old-School games scene that can help me with my Mars obsession.

Warriors of Mars - Barsoom by "Doc"
Up first is a fan reproduction of the Warriors of Mars book.
This is from the OD&D Forums by a user named "Doc".  The PDF was reformated by Jason Vey and done up to look like an OD&D book with permission from Doc.   The book also called Warriors of Mars uses the art from the original and naturally feels like an OD&D book with better typesetting.  At 28 pages it covers the basics and the focus is more on D&D than the original 56 pages TSR Warriors of Mars which also used a lot of Chainmail rules.  I am happy this one is out there since it gives me a basis of comparison for future books.  Plus it lets me know that I really don't need to spend 1000 bucks.




Now getting to ones you can buy.

Warriors of the Red Planet
by Al Krombach with art by Thomas Denmark and published by Denmark's Night Owl Workshop.
The PDF is digest-sized, single column, with black & white art from Denmark (so you know it looks great). At 128 pages it is a good-sized volume.  And all for $8.00.  They could have made it $10 and still it would have been a great price.  Overtly the book is for Swords & Wizardry.
This game is more inspired by Burroughs than actually being Barsoom.
There are five races to play, Ancients, Elevated, Exotic, Humans and Unliving. And four classes, Fighting Men, Scoundrels, Mentalists, and Scientists.   Each class goes to 10th level.
Mentalists have powers, Scientists have gadgets and they both work roughly like spells.
There are rules for character creation, equipment (including swords and rayguns), and several examples of play. 
While I said it is overtly for S&W, there is Ascending and Descending AC and "Basic-like" saving throws.
There are some great monsters added to this as well.  Any of which can be ported over to any OSR games if you wish.  Many are recognizable from Burroughs, but there are plenty more as well.
Some of the races get more detail in the appendix.  While an Exotic can nearly be anything (with random tables to boot!) some of the more common types are listed here. As per Burroughs we have Red, Green, Black, White and Yellow Martians.  Earthlings on Mars are also discussed.
Appendix A covers all sorts of random terrain, building, missions, and the unexplained along with weird science artifacts.
Appendix B adds the eldritch to Mars with the Sorcerers of the Black Gate.
Appendix C adds an optional skill system.
Appendix D covers ship to ship combat.
And finally, Appendix N (yup) covers suggested reading.
Again, this is a great book and 100% compatible with other "old-school" books from Night Owl Workshop. And easily worth twice the cover price in my mind.

BX Mars
This is a newer book from Michael Gibbons who also does the illustrations.  Here we get a full (8.5" x 11") PDF at 104 pages with Black & White art.  The author makes a note that the B&W art fits the mood of the game and I can't say I disagree.
This book also is more inspired by Burroughs, but the DNA is a little more obvious here.  Also, the book is designed to be used with B/X style games, this also goes to level 10 (not level 14 as some B/X games).  That's also great by me. 
The classes and these are race-classes, are Princess, Warrior, Thark! (no idea why the ! is there), Menton and Terran.  The classes are pretty much what you think they are. A couple of points. Princess is only open to Red Martian women; there is no Prince class (and sadly no Purple Martians).  The Menton is a psionic using class with powers detailed in the book.
There is also something called "Mastery" which works a little like Feats from 3/4/5e but has a solid B/X/Old-school feel to them. They work quite well here.
There is a Campaign/World-building history here.  It is some good background and fun to add to any game whether you are playing as straight-up Barsoom or something else.
This book has a completely different feel than the other Mars books out there.  While all the books I have looked at list mostly the same sources as inspiration, this one comes closer to Heavy Metal than most.  Also if I ever wanted to play a Herculoids game this would be the first book I'd grab.
The art has a really cool style that I don't often see in modern RPG books, but it fits this one perfectly.

If I wanted to describe the differences between WotRP and BXM, I would say WotRP was later Led Zeppelin and BXM is Blue Oyster Cult.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

For a minimalist foundation that is free, you could check out Swashbucklers of Mars and Sailing the Skies of Mars:

https://rpggeek.com/rpg/20604/swashbucklers-mars

https://rpggeek.com/rpgitem/129072/sailing-skies-mars

Alan

Aos said...

Again, Thanks for the review! The “!” At the end of Thark! signifies a loud tongue click at the end.

Timothy S. Brannan said...

@Aos, Perfect!

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