Warriors of Mars

“The Warfare of Barsoom in Miniature”

Copyright 1974, Tactical Studies Rules

By Gary Gygax and Brian Blume
Illustrated by Greg Bell

5 1/2" x 8 1/2" booklet, 57 pages

 

Contributed to the Museum by Luther Martin

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Warriors of Mars was not a role playing game. We include it in the museum because it represents the flip-side of Dungeons & Dragons. Both rules sets were published in 1974, with Gary Gygax as the lead author, and both were an attempt to write rules to allow games about pulp fantasy or science-fantasy using miniatures rules as a base. Where D&D was a game about individual figures with armies in the background, Warriors of Mars is a game about armies of miniatures, with individual figures taking a prominent role in those battles. As might be expected, there was cross-fertilization of these two games: D&D had Barsoomian wildlife in its encounter tables, never described, while Warriors of Mars told readers to buy D&D if they wanted to conduct "individual adventures" in the pits beneath Barsoomian cities.

Physically, Warriors of Mars bore a strong resemblance to original D&D, with the same typesetting and similar style illustrations. Because these are miniatures rules, the material is rather different. Rather than go into the details of the miniatures game (which seems to be fairly basic and workable, although we are not experienced enough to judge properly), we will comment on the suitability of these rules for role playing.

 

Characters

Unlike D&D, Warriors of Mars is intended to work within a single coherent universe. The prominent characters from Barsoom are provided: John Carter, Tars Tarkas, Cathoris, and others have combat values. As is appropriate to the setting, John Carter is all but invincible, with Tars Tarkas only slightly weaker. John Carter and Carthoris have special jump moves. There is no provision for creating new characters, although the experience point system implies players choose someone of relatively low power and work them up, much like D&D.

 

Combat

Units were rated for their combat ability in levels, ranging from 1 (females) to 13 (John Carter). Regular troops (Helium soldiers, perhaps?) were 5th level; Green Martian males were 6th. Melee combat for individuals was fairly simple. Initiative followed a rigid sequence, being decided by, in order, surprise, weapon length, charging, man or creature, and finally, who moved. The attacker compared his level to the defender, and rolled 3d6 against a pair of target numbers found on a combat table. Beating the more difficult number meant the defender died; failing that, beating the lesser number meant the defender was wounded. If the attacker failed to hit, the defender could roll on the table to try to obtain initiative. If not, the attacker kept initiative and attacked again. After one side had three attacks, initiative automatically shifted to the other side. The number of wounds a figure could take was based entirely on its level. A Regular could take 6 wounds; John Carter could take 15.

 

Role Playing on Barsoom

There were eight pages dedicated to "Individual Adventures." These basic rules included simple encounter tables, a simple D&D style experience table to boost the level of one's character (remembering there was no way to generate characters) and descriptions of adventure hooks. Most interestingly to us was the section on adventuring in the pits: readers of Barsoom may remember many cities featured underground tunnels. The authors recommend interested players to read all eleven of the original books, and "pick up a copy of DUNGEONS & DRAGONS, Rules for Fantastic Medieval Wargames Campaigns". (This is exactly as it appears.) Adventure hooks also included capturing and taming wildlife as battle companions, or dealing with assassins. There were notes on the honor code of Barsoom, which had most warriors ignoring their radium rifles and fighting with swords.

 

Background Material

The book included four hemispherical maps of the planet and some brief character notes on some of the major personalities (John Carter, Ulysses Paxton, Carthoris, Tars Tarkas, and Solon of Okar). There were notes on the major races of Barsoom: Red, White, Black, Yellow, and Green Martians. A few creatures were described: white apes, darseen, malagor, and orluks. Readers were pointed to the original Edgar Rice Burroughs stories for all other inhabitants of Barsoom, although combat statistics were given for a few more creatures: apts, banths, calots, plant men, siths, thoats, and zitidars.

Of course, because this was a miniatures game, there were combat statistics on fliers and the armies of the various major powers.

 

Summary

The rules have their sexist side: females were decidedly inferior to same-race males in combat, but this could simply be Gygax and Blume adhering to Edgar Rice Burrough's original material. If one was going to use these rules as a basis for role playing, there's no reason a female PC couldn't be as powerful as a male, although the attitudes of the Barsoomian peoples may need some adjusting.

Warriors of Mars was not an RPG, but more of a "proto-RPG". The rules suggested individual, D&D-style campaigns and gave some notes on how to do it, but a referee was pretty much on her own. Four years later, Heritage Models put out a short-lived John Carter RPG, but Barsoom hasn't been officially available for role playing since. GDW put out Space: 1899 which had some Barsoom influence, but it was more like the Victorian colonization of Africa with science-fiction elements. More recently, Adamant Entertainment published a game set on a "planetary romance" Mars which bears a very strong resemblance to Barsoom. Their rules were d20-based, and they also published their setting separately for the Savage Worlds. (Savage Worlds also now has a sourcebook for the Space: 1889 setting.) It's a good time to be a Barsoom fan.

This book is a real rarity. The copyright holders of Edgar Rice Burroughs's work forced Tactical Studies Rules to stop publication, and this game went out of print very quickly. It's more of a curiosity than anything else today: any referee who really wanted to game on Barsoom should check out Adamant's Mars products or work directly from the original source material. We feel this game sits in the Museum best for those old D&D players who wondered where the Barsoom encounters in D&D came from.

January 29, 2004

—RAD

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