John Carter of Mars - an early adaptation

 John Carter of Mars was a comic-book serial adaptation of the Martian novels written by Paul S. Newman and drawn by Jesse Marsh. First published by Dell Comics in 1952, the series was released under several different imprints (Four Colors, and Gold Key; Gold Key printed the comics out of order). Later it was republished by Dark Horse as "John Carter, the Jesse Marsh Years".

This creature sheet from the comic, designed to inform the readers, is a fascinating early interpretation of the strange inhabitants of Barsoom. Creature design has come a long ways since then.

Dell's adaptation mostly followed the original books in terms of plot, but the art deviated considerably from what was described in the books. For one thing, John Carter was no longer a former Confederate soldier; now he was a US Army soldier fighting in Korea. Also, he and his Martian allies were all trapped in "strange, unsightly pieces of cloth" - comics were still considered a medium for children, and so the scant sword-and-planet dress code was traded in for attire that appeared to have been lifted from Krypton. Additionally, Marsh portrayed the Black Pirates not as warriors with jet-black skin but as vaguely Asian or Russian-looking men in black costumes, with a helpful Jolly Roger emblem across the chest to inform the reader of their profession. The Therns became Germanic, and the Okarians became cousins to the Black Pirates, and thus also ambiguously Russian or Asian. (-from the Encyclopedia Barsoomia


Happy 93rd Birthday to Frank Frazetta!

The grand master of fantasy illustration would be 93 today. His work is a never ending source of inspiration for imaginations everywhere. Here are a few of his great paintings not as commonly posted as some of his other more well known classics.


Here is a warmhearted video put together by his granddaughter who carries on his legacy.


APoM Adventure Design Diary #22 - Alien Cities

Short Princess of Mars update.

My taste for the design of the alien cities of Mars runs more towards the Al Williamson and Frank Frazetta aesthetics rather than much of the modern sci-fi that is being done these days. While I am amazed at how incredible futurist concept designs have become, especially with modern 3d tools. I still like that old time rock n' roll.

When it comes to designing something new, yet interesting and believable I always like to look to real world objects and see how I can use them for inspiration. In this case brass decor and other miscellaneous household objects come in a wide variety of shapes that I could imagine being alien cities. And it also reminds me of the sci-fi architecture in the art of Williamson and Frazetta.

Here are just a couple of pages from my sketchbook of ideas for Barsoomian city buildings. And then I took one of them and designed it further into an adventure map.

Here is a sideview of one of the buildings. Reminiscent of those sideviews in the original and Basic books that were so good at stirring up ideas for adventure locales. I'm considering whether the buildings should be keyed with descriptions, adventure hooks, creatures, tricks, and traps or left more open sandbox for the GM to customize. Probably a mixture of both.

The elevator shafts could be powered by some strange tech that the players will have to figure out how to activate. Or natives may know and just have to get it up and running in ruins, or solve the security code to active. In this building the shafts are put at opposite sides of each floor to encourage exploration.

I still need to work out the plan (top down) views of the levels. This task could turn into an overwhelming challenge with hundreds of designs and maps, so I will necessarily have to keep it reasonable in scope and only draw what is needed for the GM to be able to run the adventure. And this will set a template for the creative gamer to use the format to come up with their own great alien city adventure maps.


Swords and Super-Science of Xuhlan

Swords and Super-Science of Xuhlan is a campaign setting for use with the Warriors of the Red Planet Roleplaying Game. Published by Swedish RPG makers Svartkonst. It is quite good.

New character races: Mutant, Robot, Rogue Formian, Rogue Formiankin, Lizard Folk.

Rules for Psychic Combat and Super-Science Research.

Wyrd Stones, mysterious artefacts that let you manipulate the matrix of Matter, Energy, Time and Space.

18 new creatures including Spectral Walkers and Winged Squid.

Seven strange Alien Godlings.

Campaign map with 100 detailed hexes.

The city state of Yankara.

The Vaults of Illumination, a 22 room starting dungeon. 



Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Game Free on DTRPG

One of the last iterations of the basic D&D game before TSR was purchased by Wizards who abolished the basic line for a unified 3rd edition, the Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Game has just been made available on DriveThruRPG at no cost.

It has two books; a fairly minimal Rules Book, that packs quite a bit in it for the size. And an Adventure Book with 3 decent adventures.

Character progressions are described for 1st-5th levels. It has 7 character classes with 8 pregenerated characters:

Human Fighter
Human Priest
Halfling Thief
Human Paladin
Dwarf Fighter
Elf Fighter/Wizard
Human Wizard

The print set had character folders for player convenience. The classes are far from complete, like there is little in the way of spell descriptions. The DM section has nearly the most minimal set of rules possible and very little in the way of treasures. 

The monsters section is an eclectic collection that is almost as random as those from the Holmes' Basic. Including a level 9 Dragon!

For adventures it has a much cleaned up Random Dungeon Generator reminiscent of the tables from the DMG. The three adventures are:

  1. The Mystery of UnderTown. A classic evil lurking in a peaceful village trope.
  2. The Haunting of Black Isle. An old abandoned temple on an island.
  3. To Find the Dragon’s Lair. A Dragon predating on the local farms. A surprising inclusion for such a basic low level adventure set.

It also has a DM's screen and a large fold out area map of the town of Haven.

I missed out on this set when it came out and it is one of the few Basic sets I didn't already own, so it's a pleasant surprise to be able to pick the PDF up for free. I may even run the adventures in my home game.

How does it rate? Well at a price of $0 it is a must buy, worth downloading it just for the adventures. Other than that it doesn't come close to comparing to the Moldvay red box. Though I think it may be an improvement over some of the later basic sets. Not a terribly bad sendoff for the basic line.


Update: it's been pointed out to me that this is more of an introductory set for 2e Advanced Dungeons & Dragons than it is a Basic set. Having read through it I agree that there are some 2e like elements such as THAC0.