Apr 30, 2020

A Princess of Mars Adventure - Chapter 4 Prisoners

Chapter 4 Prisoners

The characters are dragged across a dry sea bed to the crumbling ruins of an ancient city where nearly a thousand green men, women, and children have made their home. Here we learn about the culture of the Tharks. They live 1000 years, this long life has contributed to the shortage of resources. They are warlike and savage. Families are forbidden, there is only the community. It is survival and rule of the strongest. The ruins are the remains of an ancient human-sized city, clearly not made by the 15' tall green men.

The characters should learn martian here fairly quickly. I'm not a huge fan of various languages as a game mechanic, it can be made to work in certain circumstances but mostly gets in the way of fun in my experience. The solution in the movie was drinking martian milk that makes you comprehend. Then there is the whole telepathy thing which I don't think adds much.

Things that happen in the City Ruins:
Put into prison
A calot is put on guard duty, if treated kindly it will take to one of the characters and become a loyal pet
If a character kills a Thark the others will applaud and laugh and be impressed.
Learn green martian culture and religion

Apr 28, 2020

A Princess of Mars Adventure - Chapter 3 Advent on Mars

A Princess of Mars Adventure
Chapter 3 Advent on Mars

Ok, our characters have gotten to Mars. Somehow, someway. Whether they were Lawmen chasing an outlaw into a cave, or Apache warriors hiding out in the sacred mountains and being lured by strange lights. Or maybe you don't want to start with a western, perhaps this is an excursion to shake up your fantasy adventure. Your elf magic-user and human paladin stumbled onto a cave or found a strange artifact and ended up on Mars. Some fantasy in your sci-fi. A little like peanut butter in your chocolate. However you've gotten your players there what happens next?

The characters arrive butt-naked. This is an old trope. Anyone who has played [b]A4 In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords[/b] knows what a great challenge it is to take away all of the character's goodies. Apparently this is something Gary Gygax liked doing to his players. At any rate the characters will be at a disadvantage. No gear, the light gravity will make them awkward, they don't understand the language, and they are right by an incubator that is hatching Thark eggs and a dozen green martian warriors mounted on thoats are approaching. They don't take to strangers kindly.

Here we meet Tars Tarkas. He is still very much a thark, just not quite as cold and heartless as the rest of his people. He is intrigued by the characters because they are not like anything he's encountered before. So instead of outright killing them, as the warriors who accompany him are wont to do, he decides to capture them.

The biggest danger will be turning this adventure into a railroad, but the characters end up prisoners of the Tharks and taken back to the ancient city ruins that they have turned into their home.

Thark Fighting Man
Level 12
(HD 12; AC 6[13]; Atk radium pistol (1d6), 1 greatspear (1d10); Move 9; Save 11; CL/XP 12/800)
Str 17, Int 12, Wis 15, Dex 16, Con 15, Chr 16
Tars Tarkas wears the metal of a Thark chieftain. He is a well armed and charismatic leader.

(see Warriors of the Red Planet for green martian stats)

Talindor (Tarniss) Inked Drawing

At some point in the 90's I drew an inked version of Tarniss, the fantasy setting for the Dungeoneer card game, which was at the time being called Talindor. The map drawing has a heavily illustrated border with important characters and scenes from the world. It wasn't completed because I didn't like how the illos were dominating the map. Looking back at it now it isn't as terrible as I thought.

The illustrations are, clockwise from top left:
Princess Perilina: she was a princess with super-powers, inspired a bit by the nameless protagonist in Tanith Lee's novel The Birthgrave.
Draken Lairs: the Shadowhaven mountains are infested with Drakens, basically small dragons.
Fire Pits of Shadar: no specific memories of anything specific about this other than lava pools being a great adventure locale.
Temple of Cholizar: this eventually became the Realm of the Ice Witch expansion for Dungeoneer.
The Kargak: basically like the tarrasque from the first edition Monster Manual 2
Hope, Revelation, Despair: kind of like the Norns from Norse Mythology
Kez the Unwaking: a great hero in stasis who could be reawakened when his sword is put back together.
Dimension: the goddess of 3 dimensional space and time
Broken Sword of Kez: yeah, Kez's sword was broken in 3 parts.
Palanthion: the capital of Dolmaranthus.
Gwildor: a great paladin who battled the demons back to hell, he was obliterated when the gate to hell was sealed. His holy armor spread into the Sea of Souls. He is later named Gvandir in the lore.
Gates of Bandimar: a seal on a portal to hell that is manifested as a great thunder, lightning, and fire storm that whirls over the island of Bandimar.
Haunted Mistenwoods: this became The Haunted Woods of Malthorin expansion for Dungeoneer.
Lilus Arcana: a magic plant
Arcanuz the God-King: the big bad guy of the world. Part lich part insane eldritch lord. He was the servant of the 13 demon lords that once ruled ancient Talindor (Tarniss).

This map is a photo copy in my old high school D&D campaign binder, I don't know if the original drawing still exists or if it's stored in the garage somewhere.

5th Edition Character Sheet - Family Friendly Version

I've been playing the 5th edition with my kids and for the most part we're all enjoying it, but it really feels unnecessarily complicated in many ways. In particular character creation is excruciating. The idea is that most of the calculations and work is upfront so that during play things go much more smoothly.

We found the basic character sheet to be way too busy and hard to read. I made a version that removes much of the clutter and improves legibility. It doesn't have every single thing from 5th edition, but it does have everything you generally need while playing. Making this sheet a much more kid-friendly version. Here is a relatively high rez version you can download and print out for your own games:

Edit: yes, skills are missing. I'm an advocate for players solving problems through clever game play rather than relying on a die roll and a solution on their character sheet. There is room for indicating important skills in the abilities section. It says Ancestry instead of Race because we've been exploring genres other than fantasy. It says Life Saves rather than Death Saves because not only is it a more kid friendly term but it is more accurate as to what the game mechanic does; it saves your character's Life.

Apr 27, 2020

My High School D&D Campaign

Tarniss is the background world setting for the Dungeoneer card game. It appears in the flavor text, character names, and monster you encounter while playing. Tarniss was based on my middle school D&D campaign world that I developed all throughout high school, and into my early 20's as well. It went by many names, originally called Talindor. Fortunately I kept many of the notes, drawings, and maps in a binder. One of the few things I still have from back then.

This is the very earliest map drawing I have in my binder.

It has been a long time since I looked at this. It's surprising how many of the original names and much of the original contour survived through multiple revisions and development of the world. In the late 80's I got my first IBM computer, I don't know when I first drew a digital version of this map but I found this printout.

You can see it's called The Empire of the Domains. A title that represented this was just one of many domains in the solar system. It was a little influenced by Spelljammer there were multiple planets, or domains, you could visit. Some had pretty wild geography and the planets were crazy shapes that look a bit like polyhedral dice. Maybe I'll post some drawings of that when they get scanned in.

As a fantasy world made by a middle-schooler it doesn't exactly have an amazing high concept. Eldritch Lords long ago stole the secret of magic from the elves, turned against them, tore the world apart with their dark arts until they were overthrown by the free peoples. At one point a demon lord created a portal into Tarniss and spread a plague of demons who were beaten back through the portal which was sealed with an eternal lightning storm. It's essentially a gonzo medley of a fantasy world with everything thrown in. But we sure had a lot of fun exploring it.

Apr 20, 2020

TSR Comic Page Ads

Bill Willingham has become a legend in the comic book industry. Creator of the much lauded Fables series, he continues to work in comics mostly writing. He still draws, but more for private commissions than for published work. To D&D fans he was a notable artist on early D&D books including being the first to draw dark elves for the Drow series. Many remember his iconic frontispiece drawing for Red Box D&D of the adventurers fighting a red dragon.

On his YouTube channel Bill Willingham recently talked about his experiences as a young artist in the early days of TSR. He drew all but the first 2 D&D comic page ads.


I barely remember seeing these as a kid, and I didn't even realize they had a continuing story that left on a cliff hanger. This compelled me to look them up so I could read the story. Apparently it had developed a bit of a fan base who were disappointed the stories were never finished. But ending the ads was a marketing decision as they decided to spend their advertising budget elsewhere. Of particular fascination is the restrictions the Lady of Pain inflicted on the ads. They could show no violence and no greed. So no fighting or getting treasures, pretty much the heart of a D&D adventure!

The characters are:

Grimslade the magic-user
Indel the elf
Valerius fighter
Saren the cleric

Interestingly in an issue of Dungeon magazine the characters were given stats for 4th edition D&D. One of the harder editions to convert back into classic D&D, but it can be done with a little effort.

When I was poking around trying to get more information I found the Kuronons blog that has some additional interesting details.

Apr 16, 2020

The Gunslinger

As mentioned I am indeed making a Wild West RPG to accompany the Princess of Mars adventure. I didn't want to do it, but the adventure demanded it. I started playtesting it last week and have a handful of character classes and a rough plan for how it will be structured. The thing about the old west is there are hundreds of colorful characters! When you start brainstorming classes the list quickly explodes. Cowboys, outlaws, gunslingers, gamblers, mountain men, Braves, lawmen, Vaqueros, Cavalrymen, and on and on.

What to collapse into archetypes and what to break out into their own classes? This has always been the problem with class based games. I like the ultra minimalism of the original LBB with 3 classes. Knights, Vikings, Samurai? all Fighting Men. Wizards, witches, and sorcerers? All Magic Users. Priests, mystics, and shaman? All Clerics. Easy peezy lemon squeezy.

The MOMENT you add a Thief class it all goes to hell.

Don't get me wrong, I love thieves, and paladins, and druids, and assassins, and ninjas, and dragon spell dancer sword mistresses! Give me all the classes, I eat them up like candy. Yum.

To get back to the Wild West, lets start with the most iconic, the most cool character possible. The Man with No Name: The Gunslinger. And build on that with specialties called Paths that can be taken to customize the character a bit to taste. The class is definitely OSR in spirit, but a little bit d20, a little bit 5th edition. Not all the details are worked out yet.

Primary Ability: Dexterity 13+ gets a 5% XP bonus each level.
Weapon proficiencies: revolver, rifle, bowie knife

Gunslinging: at 1st level a gunslinger excels with a revolver. They get +1 AB and +1 Initiative to draw.
Horsemanship: at 3rd  level a gunslinger is attuned to riding in the saddle. They nearly cannot be thrown off, and have a +1 to all ranged and melee attacks and have +1 AC while on a saddled horse.
Deadeye: at 5th level a gunslinger is a master with a revolver. They get +2 AB and +2 Initiative to draw.
Getaway: at 7th level a gunslinger is nearly impossible to catch when they are fleeing a scene.
Extra Attack: at 9th level a gunslinger gains 1 additional attack per round.

Gunslinger Paths
Gambler: anyone can play poker, gamblers are just damn good at it. Bluff. Read Opponent. Luck.

Outlaw: An outlaw is one who stole horses, robbed banks, and lived outside of civil society. They were proficient with a lasso, riding a horse, and at aiming their rifle or revolver. Sometimes they’d take a legitimate job working on a ranch, but would just as soon rustle some cattle or rob a stagecoach. Lasso proficiency. Wrangling: outlaws can herd cattle and are skilled with a lariat getting +2 AB to entangle a target up to 25’ away. Pick Locks: +2 to attempts (Dex check)

Mountain Man: some settlers leave civilized life and “go native”. They are the hardiest of men, usually friends with natives and attuned to nature. They know all the best hunting grounds, watering holes, and the plants that are good for eating. Hunting: +2. Tracking: +2 to Wisdom (Perception) checks. Fortitude: +2 to Constitution checks.

Apr 15, 2020

Ft. Grant Area

Continuing the adaptation of A Princess of Mars into an OSR adventure. Here is a map I drew of the Fort Grant area. More detail will be added, but this is a start.

Fort Grant Area

Fort Grant is where the "Bloody" 7th Cavalry was stationed. It was built in 1872 and commanded by Lt. Col George Crook. ERB was stationed there from 1896-1897.
The Cave: this is where Captain Carter flees to from the Apaches, and somehow teleports to Mars.
Safford: the town where Captain Carter goes to get supplies.
Apache Camp: where Carter's friend is captured and taken to.

The opening chapter of A Princess of Mars actually takes place in the White Mountains, which are a bit north of Fort Grant. Of course GM's could have the adventure take place from there instead. I found Fort Grant to be a more fascinating location to start a western in since there is a lot of recorded history such as Billy the Kid who killed a man for coughing or spitting on him in Bonita which started off his criminal career.

Cottonwood will be turned into a hive of scum and villainy for the adventure locale.

I'm working out a western character class like a Gunslinger or a Cavalryman or something to go with the adventure, but this tempts me to make a mini western RPG.

Apr 8, 2020

The Cave

Continuing to turn A Princess of Mars into an OSR adventure. Ideas for The Cave.

I spent part of my childhood in Marana AZ, which is not terribly far from Fort Grant, so I am familiar with what the terrain is like. The Arizona desert is incredible and it is hard to explain how beautiful and wonderful it is, you have to experience it. I'd ride my horse along the washes, which were places that would flood during Monsoon season, and explore the cactus and brush filled canyons and hills. Arizona holds a sort of magical nostalgic feeling for me. I can understand why it had such an impact on ERB though he only spent a short time there.

By May 13, 1896, when ERB arrived at Ft. Grant the Apache uprisings had largely been quelled. There were still some fighting the settlers, like the Apache Kid, as well as plenty of outlaws, and notorious Cowboys, a name which had a very different connotation back then. In doing research I've been looking into the Apache side of the conflict and it is tragic as they fought the Spanish explorers, and then the Mexicans, and finally the US Cavalry to remain free and in control of their homelands.

The Apaches considered Mount Graham to be sacred. And when you read conspiracy theories about the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope the reason they built it there was because of the mystical energy in the place. Here is a narrative thread combining these ideas.

Thurns trying to get a foothold on Jasoom built a teleporter under Mount Graham long ago. The strange activity appeared supernatural to the Apaches thus it became sacred. The Cave was on old gold mine that the Thurns excavated and built their teleporter in. They make it seem haunted in order to scare people away - thus the strange sounds it occasionally emits. Perhaps the mountain holds some nexus of natural energy or magnetic waves.

- A Princess of Mars Chapter 1: Leaving Powell’s body where it lay on the ledge I crept into the cave to reconnoiter. I found a large chamber, possibly a hundred feet in diameter and thirty or forty feet in height; a smooth and well-worn floor, and many other evidences that the cave had, at some remote period, been inhabited. The back of the cave was so lost in dense shadow that I could not distinguish whether there were openings into other apartments or not. 

- A Princess of Mars Chapter 28: As my hands passed over my body they came in contact with pockets and in one of these a small parcel of matches wrapped in oiled paper. One of these matches I struck, and its dim flame lighted up what appeared to be a huge cave, toward the back of which I discovered a strange, still figure huddled over a tiny bench. As I approached it I saw that it was the dead and mummified remains of a little old woman with long black hair, and the thing it leaned over was a small charcoal burner upon which rested a round copper vessel containing a small quantity of greenish powder.
Behind her, depending from the roof upon rawhide thongs, and stretching entirely across the cave, was a row of human skeletons. From the thong which held them stretched another to the dead hand of the little old woman; as I touched the cord the skeletons swung to the motion with a noise as of the rustling of dry leaves.

The cave itself has become a hive. Thurns pretend to be priests in local missionaries, infiltrate towns by running Trading Posts. Some are snake-oil salesmen. There is a lot of potential with their nefarious intentions and the players can slowly become aware of this, or investigate strange activity. All this eventually leads them to The Cave where they have a confrontation with the Thurns, maybe rescue some people they've taken captive for strange experiments, and of course end up getting teleported to Mars.

What if the teleporter is unperfected technology, and the location on Mars where it teleports to is random.

So, I sketched out a map.
1. The dead-end canyon
2. The Cave appears as described in the book. In the back is a secret door.
3. The first room carved with Thurn technology has strange smooth walls and weird machinery.
4-6. various chambers
7. The teleportation machine with a great antennae stretching up to the mountain peak (where the modern day Telescope is now built).
8-9. Gold veins and mining equipment.
10. Prisoners in tubes, their life force is drained to power the teleporter. Freeing them activates the machine, it becomes unstable, all the PC's are teleported to Mars near a Thark incubator just as the eggs are hatching...

Thoughts? Ideas? Discuss here:

Apr 7, 2020

Fort Grant and the Arizona Territory

The novel starts out with a framing device of John Carter's tomb and ERB himself inheriting his property and manuscript of the strange story. I'm not sure how well that fits into an adventure. Maybe it will be worth it to illustrate Carter's home and tomb and tie it into the adventure. But I'd prefer to start with Arizona.

The first map is the Ft. Grant area of the Arizona territory in the late 1800's. Edgar Rice Burroughs was stationed there (really) for 10 months and had some adventures like hunting the notorious Apache Kid. Billy the Kid was also active in the era a couple decades earlier, so it gives some historical context. This was the time of cattle rustlers, outlaws, Apache raids, and prospectors still mining for gold.

To adapt the novel it seemed a good idea to start the adventure out as a western, like the book does. This could be a good intro for players who know nothing of the ERB Mars books as it can seem like a traditional old west game that escalates into a weird martian adventure.

Players create characters as gunfighters, gamblers, scouts, pony soldiers, etc. All basic Fighting Men. It wouldn't be too hard to lure them to the cave. Stories of gold. Chasing a bounty. Investigating the weird-acting priest of the local missionary, who is actually a Thurn in disguise, who keeps visiting the cave.

I have more thoughts on the cave for the next post.

An interesting detail is that the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope is near that area. This could make for some interesting tie ins with strange technology and the Vatican's awareness of it. Maybe that interests me because I've read some fascinating conspiratorial theories about the telescope there, it also happens to be on a place considered sacred by the natives.

Discuss your thoughts and ideas here:



Edgar Rice Burroughs and the Apache Kid

Map of Fort Grant area

Apr 6, 2020

The Adventures of Captain Carter and the Princess of Mars

From time to time the Disney John Carter movie pops up in a conversation and I get to thinking about how it was bungled. Their marketing department said we can't call it a Princess of Mars because boys won't go see a movie with princess in the title, and girls won't go see a movie with Mars in the title.


A Princess of Mars is a perfectly good and catchy title. But, if we're going to play this game let's find a title that can have some legs to it. Something you can really turn into a franchise. Because clearly John Carter is a terrible title.

If I'd been head of marketing my proposal would have been The Adventures of Captain Carter and the Princess of Mars. Hey, it works for Indiana Jones.

Speaking of A Princess of Mars, let's convert the novel into an OSR adventure!

This is the start of a design diary for converting A Princess of Mars into a Warriors of the Red Planet adventure.

I started this project years ago as a sort of high level concept back in October of 2017. Since then it has been on the back burner slowly simmering, as many of my projects do. This is a period of research and development where reference and ideas are collected. Then development really heats up when it becomes my current project.

You might notice a little sidebar of projects here in development, and this Princess of Mars adventure is the next up.

The first step was writing a detailed outline of the book. Figuring out all the locations so rough maps can be drawn and areas fleshed out. The biggest question was whether or not Captain Carter is going to be in the adventure. This is a huge decision I may leave up to the GM. The worst thing would be for John Carter to drive the adventure and the players to just tag along. They need to have the starring role. So my solution is to create a timeline of events and situations, then leave it up to the players what to do as these things happen.

There is a bookend device in the book with Captain Carter's 'death' and his tomb, and his adventures gold mining in Arizona and encountering hostile native Americans. This will be in the adventure, just not required. The players may just start on Barsoom as natives, or possibly Jasoomians somehow on Barsoom. I think these details will need to be up to the GM and players, but the information will be provided.

I've been working on this adventure for Warriors of the Red Planet for some time, but now it has moved to the forefront of my OSR projects and design work is heating up.

Would anyone be interested in me posting a regular design diary here?

Here is how I've broken the adventure down:

1. Introduction and Background
2. Adapting this novel to an adventure
3. Chapter by Chapter of the novel with summaries of each
4. Roster of all the major characters
5. Maps of all the locations
6. Appendices
7. Bibliography
8. OGL

The first challenge was making it for a party of adventurers instead of one man. And whether or not John Carter is a character in the adventure, and if he is how to not have him overshadow the party actions.

Also, taking a sandbox approach to each location. Starting with Arizona white mountains region, Fort Grant, Apache camps, and The Cave.

So this is the kick off. Your thoughts are welcome.