Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Gary Gygax, though, was not shy in acknowledging the debt he owed to Burroughs. He mentioned his name in both OD&D and in Appendix N of his AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide and the Greyhawk campaign included at least one expedition to the red sands of Barsoom. Given this, it should probably come as no surprise that, in the same year that OD&D appeared, TSR released a 56-page miniatures wargame entitled Warriors of Mars. Written by Gygax and Brian Blume, this small book provides rules for adjudicating battles, both on the land and in the air, between the various antagonistic cultures of Mars, as envisioned by Burroughs.
If you've never heard of Warriors of Mars, let alone seen a copy, there's a good reason for that. There was, so far as I know, only one print run of the book before the Edgar Rice Burroughs estate contacted TSR about possible infringement of their rights. Rather than risk legal action, the book was never reprinted, making it today one of the rarest -- and most expensive -- TSR products. I've tried in vain to obtain a copy for myself at a reasonable (i.e. not multi-hundred dollar) price for several years now but to no avail. Fortunately, I have known several people who own copies that they've been willing to lend me, so I've at least had the chance to read the book.
Warriors of Mars is not explicitly a roleplaying game; it's a miniatures wargame. However, it wouldn't be difficult to use it as the basis for an RPG, since there are rules for "personalities," like John Carter or Tars Tarkas. Likewise, the rules cover several scales, including 1:1, along with things like experience points, levels, and advice on how to design "personal adventures." Like the Greg Bell artwork used to illustrate it, Warriors of Mars makes for a very crude RPG -- far cruder than even OD&D -- but one could do it, especially if one is prepared to wing it when it came to anything other than combat. Where Warriors of Mars does excel, though, is as an introduction to Barsoom and its various characters, cultures, life forms, and locations. It's no substitute for the novels, of course, but Gygax and Blume cover enough foundational material to get one started if one has no previous knowledge of the works of Burroughs.
Barsoom remains, in my opinion, a great source of inspiration for fantasy roleplaying games. The Red Planet of my Dwimmermount campaign, Areon, owes a lot to Burroughs's conception of Mars (just as my Kythirea, owes a lot to his Amtor). It's my hope that, whatever the virtues or flaws of the Disney movie (I have still yet to see it), it will at least pique some interest in the source material on which it draws. Barsoom is every bit as much the birthplace of D&D -- and the hobby -- as the Hyborian Age or Middle-earth and it deserves to be better known.